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2017: Year in Review

In Life by Matthias0 Comments

Another year, another year in review blog post.

 

Being a believer of the maxim “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, at the beginning of the year I set a number of goals which I hoped to achieve throughout 2017. This was the first year in which I sat down, thought about what I wanted out of life, and wrote it down to act as a constant reminder and hold myself accountable. Having had something to work and track progress towards makes it much easier to now take a look back and reflect on the previous year – to be able to take stock of my life, analyse what went well and what didn’t, and decide on the next set of goals that will help me grow even further in the coming year.

 

Here’s a glimpse into my 2017; the goals I set out to achieve and how I performed, along with some other highlights that happened along the way.

Reading

I wanted to read at least 5 books in 2017 and ended up reading 6. While that’s by no means an impressive number, I did manage to achieve my target. Here’s the list of books I read with a few thoughts on each of them:

 

  • The Lean Startup by Eris Ries – The quintessential book about modern product development. While I do consider the lessons in this book invaluable for anyone wanting to start a business or develop a product, I must admit that it contained a lot of fluff – I often found myself slightly bored reading about the same ideas presented using different words. It’s a must read, but not always an enjoyable one. Recommended.
  • Who Moved my Cheese by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson – A short book about anticipating and dealing with change presented in the form of a fictional story. I quite enjoyed this one and will be on the lookout for more short stories, be they educational or just for fun. Recommended.
  • Hooked by Nir Eyal – A guide to building habit forming products. In terms of learnings, I consider this right up there with The Lean Startup. But unlike The Lean Startup, I found Hooked to be much easier to digest. The concepts are presented in a structured, yet simple way, and it feels like each turn of the page teaches something new. Highly recommended.
  • Sprint by Braden Kowitz and Jake Knapp. A guide to running Design Sprints, a process developed at Google Ventures for quickly finding effective solutions to real user problems. Sprint is the perfect companion book to The Lean Startup – it covers a hands-on, practical approach for applying lean theories, and similarly to Hooked, is presented in a simple, structured way. Highly Recommended.
  • Intercom’s On Product Management by various authors. More a collection of lessons from the Intercom blog than an actual book. What I liked about On Product Management is that, whereas most product books cover topics more relevant for early stage products, like market analysis and idea validation, On Product Management covers some of the more common day-to-day problems that a product manager of an already established product faces. Recommended.
  • The E-commerce book by Alexander Graf and Holger Schneider. Fun fact: Alexander Graf’s current venture – Spryker – which seeks to address the future problems of commerce outlined in this book, was co-founded by Project A, the company that I currently work at. Long story short, this is a reference book for e-commerce, explaining what goes into building an e-commerce shop, what new challenges and opportunities lie on the horizon, and finally, a healthy does of case studies. And for a book about such a specific subject, it’s actually quite pleasant to read. Recommended.

Writing

I wanted to write at least one blog post every month and managed a grand total of…2. Including the previous year’s review post. While I’m not happy with the result, if I want to do better next time, it’s important to take a look at why I failed. The obvious answer is a lack of time. But this is just an excuse, time is always a problem and if you want to do something you have to make time for it. The more nuanced answer is that I don’t really enjoy writing, at least not in the way that I was trying to do it. Staring at a blank screen after a day of work and waiting for inspiration to strike was neither productive nor fun. I was just trying to write for writing’s sake, the idea being that practice makes perfect. But I quickly realised that I’m not a fan of sharing whatever randomly pops into my head with the world, as evidenced by my few, forced social media posts. I still believe that writing is an essential skill to possess, but next year I will definitely need to come up with a different approach for improving in this area.

Travel & Adventure

While my list of visited countries was around half of what I managed in 2016, I still experienced so many new things that I can definitely consider 2017 another success in this department. My main trips allowed me to cross another 4 European capitals off my list.

In April I had a wedding in Odense, but made a quick stop in Copenhagen where I spent 3 hours dragging my carry-on over the cobblestone streets in search of sights and cinnamon swirls.  In May I bussed it to Prague where I stayed in a shared-room at a hostel, by myself, for the first time. In July I spent two exciting weeks in Lisbon and the Azores – we got robbed, had my first (minor) car accident, learned to surf (almost drowned), ferried people from an old yacht to shore in a rickety rowing boat (almost drowned again) and swam with wild dolphins. Finally, I visited Vienna and Graz, and also got to spend some time relaxing in the countryside.

In Berlin itself I also had a couple of exciting days. The first one that stuck out was when we went to the Christopher Street Day parade and got caught in a torrential rainstorm. And to wrap it all up was NYE in Berlin. NYE in Germany is like the movie “The Purge” – being able to buy and launch fireworks in the middle of the street seems out of place for a country as obsessed with rules as Germany, but it’s incredibly fun, especially when you *almost* lose a finger.

Moving to Berlin

“New job, new country, new people. I need to make this work. This change is all about forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and growing. I’ll consider this a success if I’m still there a year from now and happy.” – this was the goal I originally set out with, and was by far the most important one on the list.

After being in Berlin for almost a year I can say with confidence that this was definitely the right move. It took me a few months to adapt to my new environment, but I was lucky enough to make some great friends really early on who made it easy for me to find my place here. I’ve had some great experiences with them, free dinner at the Hotel de Rome, 7am fish brötschen after a night out in Hamburg, an Italian dinner party with mozzarella flown in from Naples just hours before, and even some which didn’t feature food (but they are far and few between)! Overall, I highly recommend to anyone considering a move to just do it.

Conferences & Meetups

I managed to attend 4 conferences this year. Beyond Tellerand, Facebook Decoded, Mind the Product in Hamburg and the Project A Portfolio Day. Apart from these conferences I also attended many product and tech related meet ups including those organised by The Family, On Product, Zalando and Slack. These events inspired me to take on my next…

Career Move

In September 2017 I finally made the switch from development to product management. Even though I wanted to take on more product responsibility at my previous job, I had not planned on completely changing roles this year. But after realising how mature the product management environment is in Berlin, I started to look around for product jobs just so I would figure out which skills I would need to focus on. Then one day I came across an opening for a junior product manager position at Project A – a Venture Capital firm offering operational support to the startups they invest it. It seemed like the perfect place for me to be able to learn all aspects of what product management has to offer. So I applied, had a couple of interviews and after a tense waiting period, was offered the job!

4 months on the job is a bit early to tell whether product management is my true calling. I do miss developing some days. But the beauty of a career in tech is that your role is never static, each new experience adds new skills which add a new dimension to a job you already had or open the door to a completely new position.

Passive Income

Unfortunately, I didn’t invest enough time in this area to come up with a new income stream. On the plus side, my Udemy course is doing surprisingly well 2 years on and is a great showpiece for how a little bit of hard work really pays off in the long run. The success of the course also strengthened my belief that it is more lucrative to create and sell products rather than services.

Building a personal brand

The closest I’ve come to a personal brand is having my own website and using the same “mattkentz” handle across various websites. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be known for. This goes hand in hand with my writing issues, I still haven’t found my point of view or voice. In 2018 I definitely want to have some actionable points for figuring this stuff out.

Wrap up

2017 has been a year of exploration. It was all about saying yes to as many new things as possible and trying to figure out what really mattered to me.

Trying out new things doesn’t always come naturally, humans are creatures of habit after all. But having these goals helped to keep me motivated to keep exploring. I didn’t accomplish every goal I set out with, but that’s OK. My goals are there to guide and not to restrict. Priorities change over time and when new opportunities present themselves. Having a plan is extremely important, but being flexible even more so.

Overall, I’d say 2017 was another successful year. I learned a lot about myself – especially, how much I have left to learn!

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