Jan 117

2016: A year of learning

2016 has been a year with good moments and bad moments. Overall, it wasn't my favourite year, but despite some sadness in how it's gone, there's been a lot to be thankful for. That's what I'll focus on in this years review.

In this review I cover:

  • Books I've read and listened to and my thoughts on each.
  • How our side projects have gone.
  • Places I've visited.
  • Fitness update.
  • Best purchases of the year.
  • A few of my goals for 2017.


This year Mike and I both decided to try out listening to audio books. I spend a fair amount of time commuting to and from work, which makes audio books ideal.

On top of that I also bought a Kindle and enjoyed reading both to unwind at night and to relax when travelling.

Here's the books I read and listened to in 2016, and my brief thoughts on each:

Books I've read (7)

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
★★★★½ — Superbly written, humbling read about a man taken before his time. Recommended.
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan and Burton G. Malkiel
★★★★☆ — Nice simple insight into economics, my first foray into the topic and learnt a lot. An important book that gives a pathway for understanding the basics of economics, which more than ever is a hot topic worldwide.
Intercom on Jobs-To-Be-Done by Intercom
★★★½☆ — A key book for any product person to read, helps to shape how we see the products we create from the viewpoint of the user.
The UI Audit by Jane Portman
★★★☆☆ — A nice short read for founders looking to get their head around the basics of their UI. A good guideline and useful resource.
I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic by Zlatan Ibrahimovic
★★★☆☆ — A relatively short autobiography with an interesting insight into one of the bigger characters in world football.
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
★★★☆☆ — As with most self-help books, some useful points, all rather obvious but a nice prompt to put them into action.
Intercom on Customer Engagement by Intercom
★★½☆☆ — A decent book on an important topic for any product person, but a little premature read for me so it didn't quite stick.

Books I've listened to (24)

In 2016 I listened to 24 audio books, with a total listening time of over 202 hours.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (15h 40m)
★★★★½ — Captivating throughout, had me listening intently and thinking about it when not. Despite not being much of a fiction man, this was my favourite book of 2016.
Deep Work by Cal Newport (7h 44m)
★★★★☆ — An important piece for a society that has little time for focus. Not just theory, the author shares how the tactics he espouses have had a direct, positive impact on what he has achieved and how he has lived whilst doing so. Recommended.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (10h 56m)
★★★★☆ — A superb insight into how habits are formed and the power they wield in our lives. Recommended.
The Chimp Paradox by Prof. Steve Peters (9h 45m)
★★★★☆ — The first book of the year and a great one to start on. A very accessible book on how the brain works, shedding light on some of our more irrational behaviours. Has helped me to gain greater control of my thoughts and behaviour.
1984 by George Orwell (12h 22m)
★★★★☆ — A classic that lived up to its billing. Harrowing how accurately it portrays elements of modern life.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (7h 14m)
★★★★☆ — An enticing read, that drew me in and had me hooked. Very much enjoyed.
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson (25h 7m)
★★★★☆ — An enjoyable, balanced view into the life of one of the most creative men of the past half a century.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (13h 23m)
★★★★☆ — An insightful look into one of the worlds most intriguing men helping to shape our collective future.
The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford (11h 53m)
★★★½☆ — An enjoyable novel with useful lessons about how to run a business.
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki (6h 9m)
★★★½☆ — Useful for anyone wanting to get a better grasp of their finances.
Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (5h 51m)
★★★½☆ — An enjoyable listen with many moments where simple sentences are slightly tweaked in humerous ways. Didn't captivate but amused.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (5h 47m)
★★★½☆ — As above.
Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams (6h 32m)
★★★½☆ — As above.
The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal by Prof. Seth Freeman (12h 45m)
★★★½☆ — A useful introduction from a university professor on a topic important for any business person. Already come in use.
Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford (10h 17m)
★★★½☆ — An evermore important topic, well covered, a good grounding for anyone concerned or interested in what the future may look like and the societal challenges we may face.
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers (1h 31m)
★★★½☆ — A nice short listen with counterintuitive tips that make you question the considered wisdom of how to run a business.
Sprint by Jake Knapp (6h 9m)
★★★½☆ — A handbook on how to drastically speed up innovation by getting answers to the big questions quickly. Certainly worthwhile reading for those interested in product development.
Drive by Daniel H. Pink (5h 58m)
★★★☆☆ — A useful yet not overly notable look at what motivates people.
Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley (5h 16m)
★★★☆☆ — Sheds insight into the benefits of making people wait, and how to make the most of scarcity, whether real or artificial.
Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday (2h 17m)
★★★☆☆ — A decent introduction to the mentality of the growth hacker.
Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg (10h 22m)
★★★☆☆ — A collection of useful tips on how to improve our business lives, yet due to the scattered nature of the book didn't leave me with notable takeaways.
Purple Cow by Seth Godin (2h 58m)
★★★☆☆ — A simple book that drives home one important message, marketing is all about standing out from the crowd.
Man's Search For Meaning by Victor E. Frankl (4h 47m)
★★½☆☆ — An important topic, but quite monotonous at times and tough to stick with. Potentially says more about my attention span than the books content.
People over Profit by Dale Partridge (3h 5m)
★★☆☆☆ — A decent message but the book didn't captivate. Nothing offensive but never offering anything too notable, won't be rushing to recommend.

Side projects

At the turn of the year Mike and I were half way through writing our book, Learning To Launch, and had ambitions to focus on one project, in an attempt to move from simply launching side projects to building a business.

The year didn't quite take the shape we'd hoped it to, but we made progress nevertheless.

Learning To Launch (the book)

It turns out writing a book isn't all that easy. We kinda knew that before embarking on it, but now we know that in a more tangible way.

After writing over 20,000 words, we deleted almost half of it and ended up shipping the book at the end of March. It went down well on Product Hunt but wasn't a project we intended to heavily focus on, and as a result we haven't pushed it much since.

This is a cycle we've been in for a while, one we purposefully put ourselves into a couple of years ago to get us into the habit of shipping, and is one we're now looking to level up on, shipping still, but then growing a product from there.

Writing the book was a goal in and of itself for us, and I'm glad we did it.

Real Time Users

In June we launched Real Time Users. Having launched 8 tech projects in 2015, RTU was our only tech launch of 2016. RTU was inspired by a couple of comments from Marc Köhlbrugge and Justin Jackson.

We built and launched it in a weekend, primarily to get back into the swing of things, and it felt good to ship something again. We also learnt a good amount about the basics of running our own analytics app.

You can read the story behind Real Time Users here.


I've appreciated the benefits of community and accountability for a while, it played a big part in our (comparative) success of 2015. This year I took it up a notch and joined a mastermind group. We meet up online each Monday night for an hour and check in on our successes and failures from the past week, and what our goal(s) are for the week to come. We also have a rotating hotseat, that gives one person each week a chance to go deep on a topic.

Since joining the mastermind earlier this year I've already seen superb results, with each member making good, if not great progress towards their goals.

With it being our first half year together, I'm excited to see where we go individually and collectively in 2017.

The podcast

One of the biggest projects we undertook in 2016 was starting up a new podcast, Hit Reply. We started it with the aim of creating a high quality, relatively short podcast to help founders get an inside view at another startup, from pre-launch through to scale.

Unfortunately, after getting 8 episodes in, and receiving listening numbers far higher than we expected (over 4,500 listens), we realised this wasn't a good fit for us. Each episode was taking up nearly all our time that week, and the audience we were building wasn't one we wanted to focus on in the near future.

As a result, we stopped the podcast to focus on other endeavours. That said, it might be something I'd look to revisit in the future. There's certainly some benefits to podcasting over other content methods like blogging, and with Product Hunt promoting podcast episodes it's an interesting avenue to explore.

Sold FoundersKit

Having launched FoundersKit over 16 months earlier, we decided it wasn't a project we wanted to pursue. It didn't really fit with our plans moving forwards and we knew it would work better in someone else's hands. We reached out to Leon at Startup Foundation in early December and happily agreed for him to acquire FoundersKit a few weeks later.

note: As part of the deal, FoundersKit has been rebranded to Startup Deals.

Relaunched fredrivett.com

After a prompt from Helen Tran, I finally got round to launching a new site for myself, fredrivett.com. It's a simple setup, with Middleman generating static files and hosting them on Github pages.

21 weeks straight of weekly blogging

In August I set out to up my writing game, and set myself the challenge of publishing weekly. On top of hitting publish, I started sending a small email to our list with a heads up about the new post.

I've definitely improved as a writer in that time, or at least in my ability to actually write. I now find it easier to sit down at my laptop, collect my thoughts and write a post. There's a real benefit to regularly taking a mind dump. It always brings more clarity to my thoughts and I often find things in there that I wasn't consciously aware of.

I'm not sure if it's a goal I'll continue in 2017, but I want to continue to take a seed of a thought and expand it out to see what else is there.

Spent way too long trying to do it right

Most of all though, we spent way too long trying to do it right. We knew that we had to change tact from 2015, but we ended up swinging the pendulum from "silly little side projects" way too far over to "serious business thing".

We wanted to find something we could commit 3, 6, 12 months to, and spent too long trying to find the perfect idea. This part is hard. We did a lot right (we spent a good amount of time working out who we wanted to serve and what we enjoyed doing) but I'm sure we could have cut out a lot of wasted time. Hindsight is beautiful though, and the main thing is we made progress in the end, despite frustrations on the journey.

Started contracting

A big change for me was going from permanent work to contracting. In September I left my role of 18 months at TPO and signed my first contract with Spoke. It's been a good move for me, taking me into the next step professionally. I'm enjoying working in a small team on an interesting project, being paid to get further experience in the early stages of a new product.

Plus, I've been working 4 days a week which has been a nice stepping stone, giving me more time to focus on our side projects.

Visited 4 countries (10 cities, 9 new)


In April, I headed out to Barcelona for a quick weekend trip with a couple of friends. We booked everything up on the Friday, flew out Saturday morning and back on Sunday night.

The main purpose of the flight was a trip to Camp Nou, arguably one of the greatest football stadiums, home to one of the best teams and one of the best players in the world.

There's definitely something to be said for quick weekend trips like this, they're a great way to explore new places and make memories without spending too much time or money.


In May, after the success of the Barcelona trip, a couple of us headed out to Valencia for a long weekend. The Airbnb we booked was new and hadn't any reviews, so it was a bit of a risk. Fortunately it turned out to be a great shout, with the flat, host and location (opposite Valencia beach) perfect.

We made sure to catch a game at the famous Mestalla stadium, home to the steepest stands in Europe.

Paris, Lyon & St Etienne

In June, we headed out to France for Euro 2016. We started up in Paris, heading to the fanzone under the Eiffel tower. On the day of England Wales we arrived in central Paris early in the day England shirts on show. Unfortunately we didn't plan for a downpour, and got totally soaked. Straight from there we headed to the fanzone, where the fans were embracing the wet weather.

After a few days in Paris, we got an overnight coach (an experience) down to Lyon. We spent a few days there, heading down to St Etienne to watch England Slovakia.

Overall, it was great to visit Lyon and St Etienne, two new cities for me, and experience the tournament atmosphere.


In September I headed out to Berlin, my first visit to the capital of Germany. I met up with a few friends out there and enjoyed getting a grasp of both the historical and current sides of this great city. Will certainly return.

San Francisco, LA, San Diego & New York

In October Mike and I headed out for a Californian road trip with a few days in New York on the way back.

We landed in San Francisco, spent 4 days in the city and the Bay Area. I enjoyed cycling the Golden Gate Bridge over to Sausalito, a beautiful little town just ten minutes away from the city. Stanford was a superb experience too, a real world class place to study.

After San Francisco, we spent 3 days driving down the coast through Big Sur, before arriving at LA.

We only spent a couple of days in LA, but more than enough time to have a few stories that we won't be forgetting in a while.

After LA, we drove down to San Diego, staying the night in La Jolla, a beautiful little area on the outskirts of San Diego.

The next day we flew from San Diego to New York. With it being our first time in New York, we spent most of it seeing the sights and being a nondescript tourist. A cool city, one I plan to visit again.


2016 was a decent year for fitness. I definitely made progress, if nothing remarkable.

At the turn of the year I'd put on a bit of unwanted weight, so decided to try out Intermittent Fasting. I didn't follow any specific version of IF, simply skipping breakfast and lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, effectively creating two 24 hour windows where I didn't eat each week (dinner 'til dinner).

Some people speak of health benefits to IF beyond simple calorie restriction. Personally those health benefits were just a bonus if true, with IF providing a simple way to limit calorie intake either way.

I personally find this method of calorie restriction far easier than more standard diets, as I pretty much ate as I pleased outside of these two periods. Another bonus has been my significantly reduced appetite.

After 52 weeks of fasting, I'm happy with how it's worked out, having lost a good amount of body fat.

Alongside fasting I swam on and off and stepped up doing bodyweight exercises (read: chin ups and push ups).

Having started the year unable to do a chin up, I can now do 10 in a row, which just goes to show the progress that can be made with a little effort every now and then.

Despite the progress, I've still got some way to go with some of my fitness goals, namely to get running and playing football again.

Best purchases this year

I'm generally quite frugal with my money, only buying something when I know I want it and will benefit from it.

Each of the three main purchases this year were ones I'd thought about for months before deciding to take the plunge. I'm happy with all three.

Bose QC35

These headphones are very good. The sound quality is decent, certainly good enough yet nothing remarkable, but combined with the excellent noise cancelling these are superb headphones for anyone who's regularly in noisy environments (think commuting and open plan offices).

The benefit of getting a bit of headspace is hard to put into money. The fact these headphones are wireless is a really nice touch too. Very happy with these.

Kindle Paperwhite

I've been wanting to get a Kindle for a little while, but the stack of paper books at the side of my bed has kept me from rushing out to get one.

In 2016 I finally got involved and I'm very happy I did. The reading experience is great. Primarily due to the distraction free nature of the device, mimicking the paper counterpart, coupled with the portability and a few little niceties. I particularly enjoy the subtle backlight and reading stats (% through book, minutes left in chapter).

Fitbit Flex 2

The final purchase of note was a Fitbit Flex 2 in November. Mike's been a Fitbit fan since the summer and with the Flex 2 release I was happy to jump on the bandwagon.

The Flex 2 is my type of wearable: minimal. I'm not a watch wearer so this little device has been a good stepping stone. I'm also looking forward to testing out the swim mode in the new year.

Looking ahead to 2017

I've not yet fully thought out my goals for 2017, but here's a few I want to target:

  • Sort out my legs to get running and playing football again.
  • Get a stranger on the internet to pay us a monthly fee for a product we make.
  • Visit a new continent.

I've got a fair few stretch goals, and a few personal goals on top of this, but if I only achieve those three it won't have been a bad year.

Fred Rivett's face@fredrivett