My 2022 Annual Review

For me, 2022 was a year with many divergent themes – investing in my business vs. investing in my hobbies; stability vs. freedom; listlessness vs. a sense of meaning.

My solopreneur content business, Peak Frameworks, has continued scaling well. I’m fortunate to have doubled my revenue over 2021 while roughly halving the amount of time spent on it. I feel very lucky to enjoy my work and I think there’s a lot I can do to optimize the business this year.

A few months ago, I also launched my music project, Arial Ten, which was a great personal milestone after not sharing music all these years! I’m hoping to shift more of my attention to music this year to see whether I enjoy being a struggling artist more than being a finance content creator.

2022 was also the first time I ever had to deal with real grief and loss, which colored most of my year with a melancholic and introspective theme. My partner’s mom, someone who exuded love and thoughtfulness in all of her actions, passed away last year from an unexpected cancer diagnosis. She was a beautiful woman who made the lives of everyone around her better, a lesson she made sure to teach her daughters.

Dealing with this tempered my perspective on what is “actually important”. In truth, it’s become a little hard pretending that my career and personal ambitions are any more than fun little distractions.

I also now see that grief is very likely the most difficult emotion to deal with – a pervasive emotion that words don’t come close to adequately describing. The notion that you never know what someone else is dealing with is painfully true.

Peak Frameworks

I started Peak Frameworks in early 2020, which made 2022 the 3rd year of me running my own business.

If you don’t know, Peak Frameworks is a content-driven interview preparation business that helps people break into finance. I personally still think it’s the best resource for people who want to break into private equity, though I try not to get complacent.

The processes and customer touchpoints of Peak Frameworks have improved a lot this past year.

I’m now fully reliant on a video editor in Ukraine and my customer support is outsourced to someone in the Philippines. I also launched Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter accounts for Peak Frameworks, a decision which I’m not yet sure has been a net benefit. Social media is a ton of work and most of my social traffic is still from YouTube.

Social media “work” also has the deceptive trait of blurring consumption with productivity, which I really despise. It’s also way, way harder to grow on Instagram than I initially thought.

I’ve also noticed that competition is increasing in my niche! I’ve seen people copy my content and/or repurpose my videos. I also get the sense that some people are using ChatGPT to blast out blog posts, but that’s part of the game.

I’m not 100% sure what areas I will focus on for Peak Frameworks in 2023.

I think I’ve developed courses for everything I can reasonably do myself and I would only want to partner with someone I genuinely like working with. I toyed with the idea of building a real estate or hedge fund course with a friend, but I’ve since scrapped all of those plans.

This year, I think my efforts will be around further optimizing the business as opposed to making new products. Some ideas I’ve written down:

  • Raising prices on the PE course (by far the most price inelastic product I have. Sorry to any potential students reading, but this makes the most economic sense for me)
  • Try building mini-courses to post to other platforms (like SkillShare)
  • Try affiliate marketing
  • Spending more energy to optimize Facebook, Instagram and Google ads
  • Explore ChatGPT to more efficiently write blog posts or ideate content
  • Hire a social media person to loosen the chains my phone has me in
  • Explore the idea of a paid community (e.g., $9 a month for access to a job board, Discord, and more interview questions). This kind of seems like a lot of work though

My multi-year goal is to grow Peak Frameworks to a consistent $1mm annual revenue where I can work <20 hours per week. I think I can do it if I don’t get completely distracted by music.

I’m also starting to understand the allure of continually moving financial goalposts after you achieve them. Without some feeling of scarcity or career inadequacy, it’s easy to feel like your efforts aren’t important. Complacency is boring and boredom feels really bad.

Arial Ten (My Music)

I started making music in 2018 and finally had the confidence to start putting out some beats last year. Pretty much just my close friends and some spillover followers from Peak Frameworks follow my music, but it feels really great to share something that I really enjoy doing.

I kind of have always felt like I’ve had this split personality between the arts and sciences, so having a musical outlet has been such a great feeling.

Here’s a fun remix I did of a British singer named Honey Mooncie. This song is a mix of R&B, electronic, and pop.

I post music content on Instagram under the handle @ArialTenMusic.

Putting out music was also a good reminder that most people really don’t care what you do – so go ahead and do whatever you want.

There’s so much apprehension before you’ve launched something, but pretty much all of that discomfort is self-imposed.

In launching my own music, I also started to understand how much time and effort music professionals really put into their craft.

The social media side of things alone can take a few hours per day to do well and it takes a huge amount of mental attention. I used to think social media and business development would be a competitive advantage for me to get my music out there… but it’s been pretty unpleasant so far.

Music is one of the most competitive and saturated spaces out there and I realize it’s probably going to take me another few years before I get any meaningful traction.

My goal this year is to put something out on Spotify (most of my efforts so far have been remixes or small clips on Instagram). I would also ideally like to work with a vocalist, which means I need a portfolio of music to impress people with.

Making art is really beautiful and really fun. Sometimes I think it’s one of the only times I feel truly human. There’s a lot of noise and darkness out in the real world and being caught in the flow of making art is one of the most consistent ways out of that darkness for me.

Financial Planning

Some people (my parents) ask me what I plan to do “after” Peak Frameworks (presumably because content creation is a dishonorable young person’s game).

I think Plan A is to still operate Peak Frameworks for the next decade or so and then sell it if possible. It’s a fairly high cash flow business and running it is pretty fun/rewarding, so it seems like an easy call. I should continue to improve as a content creator and the brand should grow if I continue to treat my customers well.

“After Peak Frameworks”, I would honestly probably try to build another digital solopreneur business. I just love it that much and I’m convinced that geographic and organizational flexibility are huge benefits worth sacrificing for.

There is also the small possibility I pursue music full-time after Peak Frameworks, in which case I likely won’t have the bandwidth or desire to build another business.

I’m still intrigued by search funds, but it’s starting to seem much harder to do than I initially thought. It kind of seems harder than building a business from scratch sometimes.

I think I also need to start thinking about investing into different asset classes to grow my wealth. There are options like triple net investing in real estate or buying a vacation property and outsourcing the management that seem interesting, although I’ve done virtually no research.

Digital Nomad and Settling Down

My girlfriend and I spent 5 months on the road in 2022, which is the most we’ve ever done and in my opinion, probably a little too much.

We did Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Canary Islands, Hong Kong, Thailand, and London each for at least a few weeks. My girlfriend loved Mexico City (great parks, crazy high dog : human ratio, good weather), whereas my impression of California continued to improve.

Me being a traditionally cool guy

London was also intriguing, but I doubt I would settle down there for any meaningful amount of time. It reminds me of a more laid-back version of New York with worse food and better travel options. I don’t really need another New York chapter in my life though.

As much as I appreciate other cultures and countries, the coastal North American culture and pace is definitely the one that continues to resonate the most.

My innate desire to settle down is definitely increasing. I really hope we can buy a comfortable house in Toronto in 2023.

Traveling and seeing the world is phenomenal, but like every other parameter in life, there is still an upper bound for what is comfortable and desirable. I think 2-3 months per year is probably the optimal amount of travel for us or we at least need to reduce the number of cities visited. When your comfort : commute ratio is too low, travel feels tiresome and a bit joyless.

I want to be clear that I’m extremely, extremely grateful to have done this – I just want to give a balanced and fair take because it’s easy to think being a digital nomad is all glamor.

Having a habitual life where you get to see your tribe on a consistent basis is honestly probably better in most categories except novelty.

I also recognize that there’s absolutely no way I could be doing this if my grandparents and parents didn’t slave away to build me a solid foundation. I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Non-Core Life Facts

  • My most-played artists in 2022 were nearly identical to that of 2021. I unfortunately think I’m falling into the documented phenomenon of people’s music tastes stagnating as they age. I need to try to expand my horizons in 2023, lest my own music become an emotionless husk of what already exists.
  • I read way, way fewer books in 2022. I forced myself to read Dilla Time because all these music producers were hyping it up, but it was so dense and biographical that it completely nuked my joy of reading. I also started consuming a lot more podcasts, which scratched the “self-improvement knowledge itch” for me.
  • I’m definitely becoming way more high maintenance – I think I used to have a more negative perception of being high maintenance, but honestly, it just takes more effort to feel the same as you age. Also, I took bad care of myself in my early 20s. In 2022 I got a red light machine, started intermittent fasting, and started taking some supplements (Vitamin D, Omega 3).
  • I made a very conscious effort to reduce my alcohol intake – I realized how reliant my leisure was on alcohol, how almost all of my worst life decisions stemmed from alcohol, and how it absolutely wrecked my sleep quality. My new rule is to only drink with old friends… or if the social burden is so incredibly high that you need to use relationship goodwill to avoid a drink.
  • My favorite purchase this year was a MacBook Pro. It kind of feels like a turning point for me from finance peasant to content creator peasant. I do really miss Windows hotkeys and being able to cleanly use Excel, but my MacBook is way better for music production and video editing. I really hate switching software.