For the past few years, I found inspiration in reading Syed Balki‘s and Nathan Barry‘s annual reviews. While reading their 2023 reviews, I realized the power of pausing and looking back. So, inspired by Syed & Nathan, I wrote up a yearly review myself – mainly as a record for myself. It’s easy to take things for granted, so taking time to reflect on the past year is good practice. Plus, it’ll be fun to review these years from now!
Overall, it’s been an excellent year, personally and professionally – with an even more exciting year coming up in 2024.
TLDR: I sold my business, had plenty of adventures, and I’m gearing up for a 4-month world trip with the family.
Reflecting on 2023, I realize there is much to be grateful for. First and foremost, the kids are doing well, and we had many memorable family moments! It’s surreal to see how fast they grow up. Levi turned one, and Fleur turned three this year!
This year, I’ve spent plenty of time with them. It’s often the little moments that count. Since we just returned from a 2.5-month trip to Bali in 2022 and are about to go on a 4-month journey at the start of 2024, we didn’t plan any international family trips this year.
We started the year with a holiday in the Netherlands filled with family activities like swimming, going to the zoo, etc. We mostly stayed home during the summer while doing fun trips and activities with friends and family. In September, we went on another family holiday for a week in the Netherlands. Unsurprisingly, this holiday was also filled with activities like swimming and visiting the zoo.
The next adventure was a fun one: Hunted! Hunted is a Dutch TV show where contestants are on the run for two weeks from a team of specialists with access to every security measure you can think of (as if you’re an AAA criminal). Security cameras, tapping phones, you name it.
In case you don’t know the show, here’s a trailer:
Against all odds, we got selected out of 10,000+ applicants. Of course, being entrepreneurs, we did put in some effort to increase our odds 😉 For the first round, we sent a “video cake” to the studio (yes – you can send a cake with an LCD screen on top).
Here’s that video:
In the second round, every applicant had to send a 90-second video explaining who they are and why they should pick them. We sent this video:
And we got selected, which means we were in! We were on the run in the Netherlands for two weeks: no money, no phone, nothing. Just hitchhiking, knocking on people’s doors, asking for a place to sleep, etc. It was way more fun than I expected! Not just playing the game itself but also exploring the Netherlands as a hitchhiker – wondering where you’ll sleep at night. We didn’t get caught until (literally) the very last second, being one of the finalists of 2023.
When the final episode aired, we rented a cinema for our friends and family to watch it with 200+ people. You have to celebrate life every now and then!
Trips with friends
2023 also brought some incredible trips with friends. In March, I went snowboarding with fellow entrepreneurs in Austria. It’s been a few years since I went snowboarding, so it was about time!
In September, I went on a multi-day hike in the Pyrenees with (mostly) the same guys. I’ve always loved hiking, and it was double fun with this group – being in nature while having good, deep conversations about life and business.
As my business underwent some changes this year (see below), my work-life balance improved vastly. I’d say it was already pretty good, but since I currently don’t have a business to run, it has obviously improved further 😉
What’s cool is that my wife started her online business as well! For years, we talked about how, at some point, she’d want to start her own business, but she wouldn’t like to do it alone. When we traveled to Bali, we met a Dutch couple (Nynke & Bart). Turns out Nynke had a similar thought. They really connected and started brainstorming what they could start together. Since Caroline still had her full-time job, being a mom, social life, etc., she realized she didn’t have time to dedicate to her soon-to-be business, so she boldly quit her job to go all-in! It’s been great to see her learn a ton of things in a short amount of time. Creating the shop, running ads, etc. Proud of her!
All in all, it’s been a great year. It was not as eventful as 2022 (Levi was born + traveled to Indonesia with a 3-month-old and 2-year-old), but it was a great year nonetheless.
As we end 2023, we’re gearing up and preparing for an epic world trip with the kids! In February, we’re headed to South Africa for two months, followed by two months in Bali. I am super excited about this trip!
Business-wise, a lot has changed in 2023.
At the end of 2022, I flew out UpViral’s leadership team to Barcelona to plan the years ahead. I was ready for a change, so we made big and bold plans for the future. It was great to mingle and brainstorm with Danny & William (part of the leadership team) in person. It was the first time I met William after working together for many years!
As 2023 started, we finalized new strategic plans to take the business to the next level. It was a great plan, and I was (and still am) fully convinced that it’d be transformative for the business when executed well. In line with this plan, I published my first book the “Viral Referral Method” shortly after.
The problem? I didn’t get excited by this new plan.
While digging deeper, I ultimately realized it was time for a completely new challenge. Two years prior, I sold Connectio to fully focus on UpViral. I now realized it was time to turn the page completely, and let someone else grow the business from here on out.
I considered stepping down as CEO (while keeping ownership) but figured that ultimately, as long as I was the owner, I’d still get involved every now and then. That’s when I reached out to Ismael & Thomas from FE International to help me sell UpViral.
At this point, the business was capable of running independently from me, which I had “stress-tested” the year prior during our 2.5-month family trip (no calls, no emails – nothing). This made it easier to sell the business.
In Q3, I found the right business to take UpViral forward, and we closed the deal in Q4 2023. For the remaining period of 2023, I’ve been involved in guiding a proper handover.
Here’s what I shared on social once the deal closed:
Special thanks to Dan Martell for teaching me how to build a sellable SaaS. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have had two exits within three years. Also, thanks to the entire team at FE International. It was the 3rd time I sold one of my businesses with their help. Great team to work with!
Besides focusing on UpViral (and the exit), I’ve been more active as an investor this year – which is something I’d like to do more of in the years to come.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do as many business trips this year. I only visited Dublin for SaaStock in October. It was fun to mingle with fellow SaaS people for a few days!
All in all, I’m looking back at a transformative year for my business. I started the year operating UpViral, and ended the year essentially “business-less.” In other words, a blank slate ready for something new!
As I write my first yearly review, I figured to include some lessons I’ve learned this year as well.
The biggest lesson learned is definitely to let go. In hindsight, I perhaps should’ve sold my business earlier as I was ready for a change, but I held on to it because of my relationship with the team. This year, I learned that it’s okay to “let go,” even when there’s nothing to replace it (which can be a scary thing).
One belief that changed this year is how I perceive businesses. I used to believe that the product was the core of a business value, but I’ve learned that the real value of a business is the team. With a great product, you can build or pivot into any product you envision.
I also internalized the power of the compounding effect much better. While I’ve always known what the compounding effect is (my previous business relied on it), it’s now something I’m adopting in many more areas, such as investing. In line with that, I’m starting to play the game with a much longer horizon as well.
After the exit, I’ve been thinking of what comes next. Although I don’t want to start anything new right before or during our trip, I’ve realized what the constraints or core principles of my ideal business will be. These aren’t universally applied to every businesss, but they are the principles that help me build my “perfect business”.
In summary, my core business principles:
- At least 70% of revenue should be recurring.
- Business should be a painkiller, not a vitamin (so it should address a critical, immediate need and be indispensable for the customer)
- Surf a macroeconomic or technical trend.
- CLTV > $10k (over time), so B2B.
- > 60% margin.
- No inventory (fully digital like SaaS)
- Relatively high barrier to entry
- Built with the exit in mind (e.g., stand-alone brand, team, legal structure, etc.)
- (This list is a work in progress)
I’m sure there have been more lessons, but this is what first came to mind.
This year, I read a lot more than I used to. In the past, I mostly read physical books. This year, I switched to a Kindle, which got me to read much more.
My favorite reads this year:
Elon Musk’s autobiography by Walter Isaacson
As a Tesla investor, I found it inspiring to understand Elon’s unique approach to problem-solving and his philosophy of simplifying complexities (“the best part is no part”). Whether you like him or not, I recommend reading this one.
The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery
It’s one of the few personal development books I read this year, but for some reason, it really resonated. Highly recommended!
Buy Back Your Time
This year, my former mentor Dan Martell released his book. To be honest, the title doesn’t do the book justice, as it sounds like it’s “just” a productivity book – while it’s much more than that. Very practical, too. Recommended for entrepreneurs at any level.
The Road Less Stupid
Alright, I’m cheating here as I first read this book a few years back. I revisited this one in 2023, because there are a lot of questions inside that you should probably ask yourself. Recommended.
101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think
It’s easy to believe what we think. This book helps being more aware of various biases you may have, allowing you to essentially think “better”. Recommended!
My Goals for 2024
Normally, I’m always very goal-driven, as setting big goals motivates me a lot. This year, I’m kinda going in the opposite direction.
For the first part of the year, I mainly have one goal: to enjoy the time with Caroline and the kids during our 4-month trip. It will be a family adventure that we’ll never forget (well, the kids probably will, but we won’t 😂).
My main overarching goal for the remainder of the year is to “figure out what’s next.”
This means staying curious and continuously up-leveling my skills. For example, I’ll read at least 20 books in 2024.
This also means staying in movement. I’ll start at least four initiatives as MVPs, most likely in different domains and industries, to (again) learn new skills and figure out what I enjoy doing most.
Since, IMHO the most important factor in starting something new is your mindset, I’m also dedicating more time to hanging out with fellow entrepreneurs, which, to me, is motivation fuel.
Overall, I want to remain curious and explore new topics to discover my next big leap. Exciting times!