These Years in Review provide a public archive of my life. They cover little snapshots of my what I got up to in a year, and include reviews of books I read and music that moved me, memorable undertakings like travel experiences, major life events and business highs and lows.
Here is what happened in 2019.
Books I read
21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as Harari’s debut, Sapiens, or his follow-up, Homo Deus. Nonetheless, 21 Lessons is a stimulating read with lots of relevant and interesting questions and insights about our current times and the near future.
- “Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”
- “Morality doesn’t mean ‘following divine commands’. It means ‘reducing suffering’. Hence in order to act morally, you don’t need to believe in any myth or story. You just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering.”
- “Silence isn’t neutrality; it is supporting the status quo.”
- “Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.”
- “One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility. National, religious and cultural tensions are made worse by the grandiose feeling that my nation, my religion and my culture are the most important in the world – hence my interests should come before the interests of anyone else, or of humankind as a whole. How can we make nations, religions and cultures a bit more realistic and modest about their true place in the world?”
- “At present, people are happy to give away their most valuable asset—their personal data—in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. It’s a bit like African and Native American tribes who unwittingly sold entire countries to European imperialists in exchange for colourful beads and cheap trinkets.”
- “Individual humans know embarrassingly little about the world, and as history has progressed, they have come to know less and less. A hunter-gatherer in the Stone Age knew how to make her own clothes, how to start a fire, how to hunt rabbits, and how to escape lions. We think we know far more today, but as individuals, we actually know far less. We rely on the expertise of others for almost all our needs.”
- “When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it “fake news” in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath).”
- “If you cannot afford to waste time, you will never find the truth.”
The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis.
I’ve always enjoyed Lewis’ books (especially Liar’s Poker and The Big Short), so I wasn’t surprised when The Undoing Project also hit the mark. If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (which I highly recommend), then you will really enjoy this book. The Undoing Project explores the fascinating friendship between Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two phenomenal academics whose research uncovered incredible insights into our minds and cognitive biases, and today forms the basis for behavioural economics.
- “Man is a deterministic device thrown into a probabilistic universe. In this match, surprises are expected.”
- “Amos was not merely an optimist. He willed himself to be an optimist because he had decided pessimism was stupid. “When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice,” Amos liked to say. “Once when you worry about it and the second time when it happens.”
- “The nice thing about things that are urgent,” he liked to say, “is that if you wait long enough they aren’t urgent anymore.”
- Halo effect, where one sees a favorable single attribute and lets that impression impact the assessment of other attributes.
- Anchoring, when one takes new information and simply makes adjustments to their initial judgement.
- Representativeness, explained using the ‘Linda problem’, which asks whether it is more likely that Linda is a bank teller, or a bank teller and a member of a feminist organization when all you’re told is that Linda is a feminist. Many people chose the latter option, even though the first option contains the second option via a less restrictive description. For example, if the probability of Linda being a bank teller is 10%, and the probability of her being in a feminist organization is 99%, then the first option has a 10% chance of being correct, while the second has a (10% x 99%) chance of being correct (which is less than 10%).
- Availability bias is similarly explained using a problem that asks whether a particular book has more words with the form _ _ _ _ ing or _ _ _ _ _ n _. Since words ending in ‘ing’ are easily thought of, respondents chose the first option, ignoring the fact that the second option includes all words that also meet the first option.
- Endowment bias in exchange transactions, assigning more value to items that they already own simply because they already own it.
- Kahneman and Tversky offered an alternative to Bernoulli’s utility theory. Utility theory tries to explain certain behaviour by labelling individuals as either risk-tolerant, risk-neutral, or risk-averse. If faced with choosing between $50 for free or taking a 50% chance of winning $100 or $0, theoretically a risk-neutral individual would be indifferent to the decision. A risk-averse individual would take the free $50 and avoid the odds since the utility they get from the first $50 is higher than that of the second $50. However, in practice utility theory does not hold up as individuals do not rely on pure probabilistic payoff odds. Kahneman and Tversky added to the theory the ideas of regret aversion, where individuals place undue weight on potential negative outcomes, and loss aversion, where individuals will actually be willing to take more risk (as a risk-tolerant individual would in Bernoulli’s framework) when faced with the same decision as above but with losses instead of gains. In other words, if choosing between an assured $50 loss or taking a 50% chance of losing $100 or $0, an individual who is risk-averse on the gains side may choose to be risk-tolerant on the loss side.
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
If Steve Jobs fascinates you, then I highly recommend this biography. It’s thoroughly researched, beautifully written and deeply insightful. Based on over 40 interviews with Jobs, and countless others close to him, the book provides a deep look into the mind, character and life of one of the greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of the 20th Century.
Here are two nuggets that stuck with me, but the video below from a 1994 interview really sums up Jobs to me.
- “Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
- “Steve Jobs: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
How To Get Rich – Felix Dennis
Dennis was an eccentric publishing mogul behind some of the most iconic magazines of the 20th Century (Oz, MacUser, Maxim, The Week and 100s more). In How To Get Rich, Dennis shares his insights on how he amassed his fortune and how others can do the same. It’s a great read, full of counterintuitive ideas, sound business wisdom and sharp-witted prose. It also features some of Dennis’ poetry, like this one, which has the same title of the book.
Good fortune? The fact is
The more that you practise,
The harder you sweat,
The luckier you get.
Ideas? We’ve had ’em
Since Eve mated Adam,
But take it from me
Execution’s the key.
The money? Just pester
A likely investor.
To get what you need
You toady to greed.
The talent? Go sign it!
But first, wine and dine it.
It’s tedious work
With a talented jerk.
Good timing? To win it
You gotta be in it.
Just never be late
To quit or cut bait.
Expansion? It’s vanity!
Profit is sanity.
To walk on two legs.
The first step? Just do it
And bluff your way thru’ it.
Remember to duck!
and good luck!
- “Ideas don’t make you rich. The correct execution of ideas does.”
- “Most of the worst errors I made in my life came from forgetting to act small.”
- “Because ownership isn’t the important thing. If you want to be rich, it’s the only thing.”
- “Talent is indispensable, although it is ‘always’ replaceable. Just remember the simple rules concerning talent:
And when the time comes, Fire It.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck – Mark Manson
Meh. This wasn’t my favourite read of the year. It’s easy-going and entertaining. Good airport literature but I would probably leave it on the plane.
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
If you have grandiose visions of building a business empire, then Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog is a must-read. The memoir covers the history of Nike from it’s founding in 1964 as a company called Blue Ribbon Sports, through to its IPO in 1980. It’s an incredible story of the high and lows that went into building one of the World’s most iconic brands.
- “I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
- “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
- “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen.”
Finding My Virginity – Richard Branson
Finding My Virginity is Branson’s follow-up to his iconic first autobiography, Losing My Virginity, which was published 20 years earlier. The memoir kicks off in the new millennium and covers everything Branson has been up to for the last 20 years, which is a lot to put it simply.
For me, Richard Branson is one of the most fascinating people in the world. Not only does he manage to cram more into a year than most people achieve in a lifetime, but he seems to do it in such style and at the same time have so much fun. Even when times get tough (and they regularly do for him), he is the eternal optimist. One can only marvel at his extraordinary life.
- “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!”
- “The way to become a great leader is to look for the best in people – seldom criticise – always praise.”
- “The key enterprising skills I used when first starting out are the very same ones I use today: the art of delegation, risk-taking, surrounding yourself with a great team and working on projects you really believe in.”
- “If I had to give one reason why I have been fortunate enough to experience some success, it would be my knack of bringing together wonderful people.”
The Millionaire Fastlane – MJ DeMarco
Some people hate this book. Other’s love it. I definitely fall into the latter camp. Personally, I think this is one of the best business books I’ve read. DeMarco has been in the trenches, made multiple millions, and codified his thoughts on wealth accumulation into a set of principles and frameworks that I think are incredibly insightful. If you are looking to generate wealth, then I highly recommend this book.
- “Instead of digging for gold, sell shovels. Instead of taking a class, offer a class. Instead of borrowing money, lend it. Instead of taking a job, hire for jobs. Instead of taking a mortgage, hold a mortgage. Break free from consumption, switch sides, and reorient to the world as a producer.”
- “All events of wealth are precluded by process, a backstory of trial, risk, hard work, and sacrifice. If you try to skip process, you’ll never experience events.”
- “Stop thinking about business in terms of your selfish desires, whether it’s money, dreams or “do what you love.” Instead, chase needs, problems, pain points, service deficiencies, and emotions.”
Great businesses don’t break any of the NECST criteria.
- Need: Is there a need for your product/service?
- Entry: Can anyone get into your business overnight?
- Control: Do you have control of your business or are you at the mercy of another party such as Google?
- Scale: Can this business scale or is it limited by location, market-size etc?
- Time: Can you separate your time from the business?
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
This is the first Neil Gaiman book I’ve read, and boy did I enjoy it. As you can probably tell, I read a lot of non-fiction (something I’m planning to change), so Gaiman’s Neverwhere not only provided a welcome break from the drumming monotony of life but also took me on a fantastical journey into London Above (the world we live in) and London Below (an underground parallel world that is not accessible or visible to the inhabitants of London Above). It’s a fast-paced adventure story that takes the reader through secret passageways in iconic London buildings, an amazing floating market in Harrods, and an Underground service to magical stations. If you like London and enjoy fantasy, then you’ll love this book.
Against The Wall – Simon Yates
Against The Wall tells the story of Simon’s climbing expedition to scale one of the world’s largest vertical rock faces, the 4,000 foot Central Tower of Paine in Chile. It’s an absolute epic! For adventure lovers, and climbers, in particular, this is a must-read.
For those interested, Yates is the guy who was faced with an impossible situation of either saving himself or potentially dying along with his climbing partner (who he thought was already dead) whilst climbing Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes, in 1985. He chose the latter and cut the rope, which unbeknownst to him at the time saved both his life and that of his climbing partner, Joe Simpson. Simpson later wrote about the epic tale in his book, Touching The Void, which is one of my favourite adventure books of all time.
Podcasts / Youtube Videos I really enjoyed
- Making Sense Podcast – Sam Harris and Ricky Gervais
- Stephen Fry’s Oxford Union address
- Adam Buxton Podcast – with Billy Connolly
- Principles for Success by Ray Dalio
- How the Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio
Music records I really enjoyed
- Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
- Kanye West – Ye
- Sam Fender – Hypersonic Missiles
- Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
- Nicola Cruz – Prender el Alma
- Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
- Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
And a few songs too…
- Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 – Martha Argerich (this performance is transcendent)
- Trojans – Atlas Genius
- Something – Gangs of Ballet
- Paddling Out – Miike Snow
- Come Down – Anderson .Paak (this NPR Tiny Desk performance is amazing)
TV / Films / Documentaries I really enjoyed
- The Spy
- The Irishman
- Rolling Thunder Revue
- We bought a lovely little house in March and spent most of April and May turning it into a comfortable home. It’s nice to finally have a place of our own.
- We received amazing news in April when we found out Mila was pregnant. At 09:31 am on 27th December 2019 we welcomed our darling little boy, Lev, into the world. Mila and I are still buzzing with uncontainable love, excitement and joy.
- We spent the first few months of 2019 in Cape Town. It was great being home – seeing friends and family, enjoying the great weather and getting in some much needed R&R.
- We also spent the month of July in Berlin, with a short interlude in Slovenia.
- Our overall business revenue grew 73% year-on-year and profits were up 264%.
- The large increase in profits is because we sold a web asset (more on this below).
Mountain IQ (MountainIQ.com)
- After being locked into an exclusivity arrangement with a tour operator, we managed in late 2018 to negotiate terms that would allow us to partner with other companies as well. Diversifying our leads to multiple operators increased our conversions and thus commission revenue increased by 53% on 2018’s numbers.
- What was really surprising is that we managed to get this increase despite a 20% reduction in enquiries from 7739 to 6191.
- Unfortunately, Mountain IQ got hit with a Google algorithmic update in November 2019 that has halved our traffic on this site. This has been incredibly deflating and highlighted just how vulnerable we are to the whims of Google.
- Our content marketing company, Contentellect (a JV we launched in 2018 with an old school mate, Marc), topped $116k in revenue.
- We have 3 full-time contractors on the team, including Marc, and around 12 freelance writers.
- Our goal for 2020 is to grow Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) to $20k
- Our gear brands, Duc-Kit Pro and TYTN Gear (which are run as a separate business with another friend) had a topsy-turvy year. We’re approaching 6 figures in turnover but are still struggling to crack America and turn a profit.
Other Business Projects
- In 2018 I helped scale-out two sites – AntarcticaGuide.com and ExpeditionCruise.net – with a mate. The project took an interesting turn in June when a UK tour operator expressed an interest in acquiring both websites from us. The offer they put forward ticked all the boxes for my mate whilst also giving us a great return on our investment, so we agreed a deal and the sites were sold in August 2019.
- Back in 2011, I started my first website, SustainableBusinessToolkit.com (SBT). The site went through many iterations and taught me so much about digital marketing. By 2015 though I had transitioned onto other projects and SBT sat dormant. In early 2019 we decided to sell and were delighted to let it go to an investor in the US.
- We continue to make monthly donations to my old College, Pembroke, and the RSPCA.
- I volunteered my time as a business advisor to the Young Enterprise programme in Guernsey.
Skills and Learning
- 2019 was a dire year in terms of skill acquisition and learning. With the arrival of Lev, I’ve made a firm commitment to make 2020 the year I finally get basic conversational skills in Russian.