Dominik Sobe

My 2020 Annual Review

January 1, 2021
15 min read
Annual Review

We have officially closed the door on 2020. This year, I'm writing my first Annual Review, which will give me a chance to review what went well and what could have gone better while also giving me a moment to enjoy the progress I've made over the past 12 months.


Before I begin, I would like to mention one thing: It seems a little weird and almost scary (I seriously have a weird feeling in my stomach) for me to share this Annual Review because when I write about the good stuff, it feels like I'm bragging and when I talk about the bad stuff it feels like I'm being strangely vulnerable with the world. Ultimately, every Annual Review is a personal process.


This is what my year looked like, not a suggestion of what yours should include. Everyone runs their own race at their own pace.


That said, I think that holding myself accountable in public can be a great way to stick to my long-term goals and I hope that you'll find my stories, stumbles, and insights useful.


If you'd like to spend some time reflecting on your year, you're welcome to use a similar format for your own Annual Review.


Inspired by James Clear, my 2020 Annual Review will answer these three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  1. What didn't go so well this year?
  1. What did I learn?

I will then conclude with what I am working towards in 2021.

Let's get it started...

1. What went well this year?


Shipping products.

I launched my first full-stack SaaS. In December, I finally launched version 2.0 of StorePreviewer after its MVP ranked #5 Product of the Day on Product Hunt and received a lot of great feedback. I am a self-taught developer. At the beginning of the year, I had some frontend knowledge but lacked everything on the backend. This is the first full-stack SaaS I have built from scratch and I am excited to see where StorePreviewer will be in the future. I am also well aware that it might also just served as a great playground for me to learn all the necessary concepts of building a SaaS.

Some more stats from my products:

  • Filmtypes: Filmtypes always amazes me. It is the project which gets the most feedback. People seem to really love it. It proved to be hard to monetize in the past, so I have not had the time to really spend on further developing it. In spring, I stepped out of my comfort zone and designed + build my first "physical" product, which was a printable DIY exposure calculator. I had great fun making it. Unfortunately, it didn't even earn enough to buy 4 Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks (> 20$). That said, the traction shows me that I just have not found the right monetization model yet and there is a lot of potential!
  • CaseTools: Switched from one-time fee to subscription model. Handling subscriptions on iOS is a nightmare, to say at least. I had to code the entire backend myself and I am still amazed that everything runs and charges smoothly. The first few days after the first subscription purchase were filled with anxiety, let me tell you that. CaseTools is currently making ~ 180$/month.
  • Heldsein: As Austria's corona situation got more serious, I felt the need to somehow make use of my programming skills and create something useful for our community. So I built Heldsein ("Be a hero" in German), a website that collected all available possibilities for citizens to help the vulnerable people affected by corona in one central place. It also provided essential workers with a platform to express their appreciation for their outstanding work. I had wonderful friends helping me with this project and was amazed by how much we could get done in just 14 days. The feedback was tremendous, and we hope it could motivate people to get out there and help.

Successfully graduating with a bachelor's degree.

In early February, I found myself in one of the most stressful situations I have ever experienced. I studied Management and Economics and there was this one final finance exam I had to take (and pass!) that has a failure rate of more than 60%. There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders since I had an internship in San Francisco waiting for me right after graduation and if I would have failed this class, I would:

a) not have been able to do it and

b) not pursue the master's degree in Lisbon that I got accepted for in autumn.

Fortunately, I passed the exam and everything worked out as planned. While I strongly believe that you don't need a business degree to start a business, I am very grateful for everything I have learned and the wonderful time I spent in Innsbruck, Austria.


Moving to Lisbon and starting my master's degree.

This was a big step for me. In July, it was time to pack my suitcase, say goodbye to my parents (+ cats) in Austria, and I was off to a new start. Some months later, I can say that I feel 10x happier here in Lisbon. The weather is excellent almost throughout the whole year, the next surf spot is 20min away, I already met a bunch of cool digital nomads and even got the chance to become friends with this relatively unknown alpaca Pieter Levels. Should you ever be in Lisbon, let me know and let's have a coffee together ☕.


Coffee and Steak.

The lockdown made people do things they thought they would never do. Here I am, telling you that I spent countless hours on youtube and blogs learning about brewing the perfect coffee and grilling the best steak. Together with some Austrian friends, we got so into it that we hosted our own bi-monthly steak/code event. We called it SteakOverflow (I know, I know – the name is genius).



Before coronavirus hit us all in February, I have been going to the gym five days a week for more than five months and absolutely loved it. With my gym friends' help, I realized that gaining muscles and getting stronger is not a year-long project. In fact, if you follow a proper system (hint: get enough proteins, get stronger focusing on basic compound exercises and know that you build muscle when you’re resting, not when you’re working out) combined with showing up when you have to show up, you can see results faster than you might think. Eventually, everything worked out as planned and on a positive note, I am delighted with the progress. As you will read in section 2, things went quite downhill after that.


My best lifts of the year were...

  • Deadlift — 102.5 kg (226 lbs)
  • Bench Press (Barbell) — 67 kg (148 lbs)
  • Bench Press (Dumbbell) — 38.5 kg (85 lbs) per dumbbell
  • Back Squat — 85 kg (187 lbs)
  • Leg Press — 240 kg (529 lbs)

(I didn't do any 1RM – it was always a set of 6 reps | @72 kg, 158 lbs/ 172 cm, 5'8 ft)


Family and friends time.

I must admit the lockdown early this year had more ups than downs for me. When it started, I decided to leave my apartment in Innsbruck and move back to my parents for a while. In the past few years, I was not home a lot, so I really appreciated the time I spent with them. They are seriously the best. Besides, I also decided to link up with friends I haven't talked to in a while and I had great Zoom/Jitsi talks that would probably not have happened otherwise. A enormous shoutout to my long-term friend Marijan for always pushing me and just being an awesome friend. I also had the chance to read and learn a lot about bootstrapping and programming.

2. What didn’t go so well this year?


Working without boundaries.

As of now, I have one real obligation where I have to dedicate time to: University. Besides that, I have plenty of time that I can commit to whatever I want. Being an Indie Hacker, my goal of working towards profitable internet businesses and financial freedom is probably pretty apparent. That's where I put my heart and time into. Not really having a time constraint on how many hours I can work is a blessing and curse at the same time. Until some events that happened to me recently, I was not aware of the latter. You see, one of my biggest passions is programming and having all the time for it seems like the best thing that can happen to you. And it is, but I took it too far. I exaggerated. I overworked. Doing something you love is great, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't put a cap on it. Setting boundaries is essential to keep motivated and to stay mentally and physically sane – more on that in my learnings below.


Focusing on too many projects at once.

As a developer, I love to solve problems and build new things. As you may know, quickly getting something to work vs. launching it to production are two completely different beasts. For example, my mobile app Nutri, a personal nutrition guide that helps you to learn about the essential macro- and micronutrients, is 90% finished, but I can't seem to find time for the last 10% without dedicating full focus to it. Lately I have been thinking that for any project to be truly successful, it will take your full focus (at last for the initial phase). Don't get me wrong, I believe you can run your business in parallel and my friend Mike Rubini is a great example for that, but I think that for me personally, it might work much better to set a full focus on a product, at least in its very early stage. This is what I am trying to do with StorePreviewer now. I will dedicate full focus to it for January and see where I can take it.


Neglecting physical health.

As I said: Until February, my health seemed to be better than it has ever been. Then coronavirus knocked on the door and gyms had to close. For multiple reasons, I just could not motivate myself to workout from home. I decided to focus this newly available time on learning programming skills and also started neglecting my diet. Ever since, it felt hard to get back on track – especially nutrition-wise. As StorePreviewer proved to be much more work than I initially expected, my sleep rhythm had to suffer too. Lately, I am realizing that neglecting my workouts, diet, and sleep definitely had an effect on my mental health. I want/need to change this asap.


Traveling less.

I am not Christopher Columbus, but I enjoy traveling and learning about new cultures a lot (Duh, so basic Dominik. Who doesn't, right?). While in 2019, I got to travel to France, Ireland, and Denmark, in 2020, it was... Portugal. My internship in San Francisco had to get canceled too. Nothing we can do about, so I am just hoping that our borders will all open up safely soon.

3. What did I learn?


Building a full-stack SaaS from scratch is hard.

It is. As a solo founder, you wear all the hats. Many hats including but not limited to billing, onboarding, help desk, customer support, legal, marketing, UI/UX design, analytics, security, error tracking, logging (here is great checklist). At the beginning of this year, all I had was some frontend knowledge. It did not know anything about the backend. Lo and behold I managed to learn a considerable chunk of what is necessary over the past few months and I feel quite comfortable now to build full-stack applications. I am a big fan of the JAM stack and all the third-party software to ease the development. It sometimes feels like connecting the pieces of a big puzzle. That said, it also creates a lot of components that all have to be managed individually and work together seamlessly. If you are curious about my tech stack, check my About Me page.


Even your passion can be stressful.

This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. StorePreviewer was the first SaaS I have built from start to finish. It was sort of my playground to explore everything I need to learn for a full-stack app. The curiosity to learn new things and feature creep lead to this thing that let's users upload and manipulate images and videos and receive real-time feedback using web sockets. I am very proud that I managed to build this somewhat complex thing from start to finish, but I had to pay a price. The price was approaching a burnout closer than I thought (at the age of 23). I worked countless hours on StorePreviewer, day and night, for three months. It was this thing I needed to prove myself, and I eventually did. However, I didn't set any boundaries on the time I spent on it day by day and neglected many other important things that eventually caused a chain reaction of problems. After all, I strongly agree with Arvid Kahl in believing that to achieve something great, you do need to suffer a bit. I could elaborate on my experience much more, but I will leave it for a separate blog post.


Apple Calendar doesn’t work too well for daily tasks.

I would consider myself as an early-adopter of most software products and always love to use the coolest and newest tools. Yet, up until today I used the Apple Calendar to plan and track my day-to-day tasks. It worked horribly and I hated it for 90% of what I was doing. Things always overlapped and everything seemed unorganized even if it was organized. This year I want to try to shift my goal-first approach to a schedule-first approach – more on that in section 3.


Don’t set up "guilt systems".

I have a couple of books sitting in the dust on my bedside table. There is this daily Apple Calendar notification at 7 pm prompting me to go to the gym and stretch. I do not intend to read these particular books in the near time and I will have to change my gym schedule (aka introduce again). Essentially, I was too lazy to remove them and thought I might pick them up again. Every day I saw these objects and subconsciously felt bad about not doing them. All of these things build up this system of guilt. Should you find yourself in a similar situation. Try to get rid of them. I have moved the books out of my daily sight and deleted these old lingering notifications. It's a small task for a potentially big reward.


Muscle building takes a lot of effort, but retention doesn't.

Gaining muscles and getting stronger takes time. Following a proper system will help you be more effective than you might think, but it still takes time and effort. During my five-day gym months, I was always scared of potentially having to skip a week of training (due to catching a cold, etc.) and losing all of my muscles. If you stop training for around three weeks, muscle atrophy will occur. Since I am not a robot (yet), I did lose some muscle mass. I have not trained adequately for the past seven months but tried to eat plenty of protein, maintain my calorie intake, and use my muscles through surfing. Interestingly I have lost much less muscle mass than I have expected. On top of that, it is entirely possible to regain what you’ve lost. And thanks to muscle memory, it can happen faster than it took to gain that muscle the first time around.


What am I working towards?

Toggle to learn more.

🎯 Focus on marketing and sales

2020 was the year of coding. I improved my frontend skills a lot, learned about the backend and the most necessary DevOps skills. I feel confident now to quickly bootstrap things. I will continue to try to write cleaner and more modular code since I learned that bigger projects tend to become very hard and painful to manage if you don't structure your code properly. I might take a look into Typescript and GraphQL. What I am definitely still lacking is marketing and sales knowledge.

"Start marketing the day you start coding" by Rob Walling

To run a successful online business, you should spend as much time on marketing as on programming. For this reason, one of my main goals is to get much better with marketing and sales, specifically focusing on inbound such as SEO.

🏃🏽‍♂️ Validating ideas smarter and faster

As of now, all of my products originate from problems I have personally faced and wanted to be solved (essentially the scratch-your-own itch approach). I like this approach since it can strengthen the Product-Founder fit. However, you can quickly forget about properly validating your ideas and I have definitely fallen into this category in the past. Therefore, I want to experiment more with the "Selling stuff on a busy beach" and "Audience first" approach.


Another thing is to try to take action rather than motion.

"When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome." by James Clear
✍🏽 Start writing

I am nowhere near being an expert in any particular topic, but I believe that the beautiful thing about helping others is that you don’t have to be an expert. Instead, you only have to be a little further along than the person you’re assisting. Most likely, there is at least one person on a similar journey to you. For the past two years, I kept quiet because I:

a) thought if I am not super successful (¡Hola imposter syndrome) I have no cause to write and

b) felt like I don't have time for it.

I have a lot of thoughts and I feel like I want to have an outlet for them. Writing is a great way to reflect on my thoughts and actions, it makes me have actual skin in the game, and... serendipity.

⚙️ Focus on systems rather than goals

Last year I set up a bunch of goals for the year. They were very ambitious, I admit. For example, I wanted to reach 500$ in MRR by the end of September, even though the university was very demanding and I had to learn so much for getting your app to production. A lot of people, including me seem to optimize for the outcome instead of the process. Goals are good for setting the direction, but systems are best for making actual progress. When I first heard about this concept, I was shocked how exactly it fit to me. The problem with goals is that they restrict your happiness. Until now, I have always thought Once I reach my goal X, then I’ll be happy. Essentially, happiness was always something for my future self to enjoy. As with everything in life, things don't always turn out the way we want and a goal-first mentality will make you even more depressed. This, including implementing a proper time management system, is something I really want to change this year. I know it's gonna be hard but let's see how it will turn out.

🍎 Healthy habits

I want and need to introduce more healthy habits into my life. This will probably be the most challenging part of all. Having a proper nutrition and sleeping habit can be a really powerful weapon in the productivity war and will help me stay sane in the long-run. I felt so good physically and mentally when I had my gym routine earlier this year and I will reintroduce it as best as the situation allows it.

Furthermore, a big focus will be on a more ergonomic work setup. I talked a lot about this with Pieter and initially, I was totally neglecting it because I find it very hard to get comfortable using an external keyboard and mouse (It just feels mehhh). Eventually, he managed to make me feel so bad that I am committed to improving it this year. I am trying very hard to nudge myself into this, so I ordered my first mechanical keyboard. Curious if this will help me to adapt.

🏄🏽‍♂️ Surf better

Quite recently, I started surfing and fell in love with it. It feels refreshing, demanding and I love seeing small but steady improvements. I feel like there is a lot of room for improvement in 2021. The ocean is such a great way to get your mind free from all the bits and bytes and helps me to connect with nature.

🧖🏽‍♂️ Build with balance

Doing something you love is great, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't put a cap on it. Setting boundaries is essential to keep motivated and staying mentally and physically sane. Proper time management, the right schedule, introducing healthier habits, and not overthinking life too much will hopefully help me building products with a long-term mentality in mind.


Well, that wraps up my 2020 Annual Review. I'd like to close by thanking you for reading. I don't have all the answers, but I'm delighted to share what I learn with you along the way. Here's to an awesome 2021.

Want updates from me?

I occasionally send out an email with updates about my startup journey or when I have an interesting story to share.

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January 2, 2024 · 5 min ·

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Hi ツ I am Dominik and here I document my journey and share my thoughts as a 26 year old founder. From Austria, living in Lisbon.