13 min read

2021 Review

Dive into an inspiring 2021 reflection that covers marriage, pregnancy, and business achievements. Discover insights and personal stories of growth and success.
2021 Review
Photo by engin akyurt / Unsplash

Welcome back to another year of reflection — I’ve been doing public annual reviews since 2014. This year was a big personal year for me and much less dramatic than the rollercoaster that was 2020 (as I’m sure it was for many of us).

I’ve been doing an annual review process every year since 2013 for personal reflection and learning. This allows me to ensure I’ve taken on the learnings of the year as well as understand what I want to take into the new year. 

I’ve been publicly sharing these since 2014 and mostly do it for me. If you find this valuable or have any questions, I’d love to hear from you on Twitter once you’ve read it. Or to read the short abridged Twitter thread of this post, go here.

What went well

Got married

Emily and I got married in April after several COVID-related delays. 

We decided rather than keep delaying to go for it. We rented a local Airbnb for the weekend and hosted a small intimate ceremony with a few of our closest friends. Turned into a whole weekend together, it was epic and I’m so glad we did it the way we did it.

Cathryn and Emily wedding

Got pregnant!

We didn’t waste time (insert U-haul joke here). Most times when couples announce it’s pretty obvious who is pregnant — so we had fun with our announcement. We opened up guesses for the first 24 hours.

If this were a betting game I’d have been the underdog, with over 80% of votes going for Emily.

Pregnancy reveal

Fun fact: We didn’t choose who was going to go first. We let nature decide by both trying (at the same time) and seeing what stuck first.

“But what if you both got pregnant?” I know that’s what you’re probably thinking.

Well then, we’d have gotten a TV show because that would have been WILD.

Luckily, that didn’t happen… There are only a few days a month when it’s even possible for a woman to get pregnant. Even then the chances are on the lower side. We went into it assuming it would take a while to happen, especially given we were doing it DIY style. 

By that, I mean with a home kit (Mosie Baby) rather than a medical professional.

Our donor is a good friend and has the gene trifecta we were looking for:

  1. Tall
  2. Healthy & handsome
  3. Great at math & escape rooms

✅ Genetic jackpot 

The most expensive part of the process was paying the lawyers to draw up the paperwork (aka the Known Donor agreement). This costs around $2000 to cover both sides’ legal fees. 

And then it worked… 6 weeks later I found out I was pregnant. 

I couldn’t really believe it. Emily suspected it at first and I said “No way, that’s impossible”…but after taking 3 pregnancy tests within 24 hours I realized it was true. I was pregnant — on the very first shot.

Turns out efficiency really is my thing

I’m due in mid-March so coming right up.

Business

BestSelf

2021 was my first full year of total ownership of BestSelf after buying out my business partner in late 2020. A big part of the gameplan in 2021 was upgrading our operations to efficiently scale and increase profitability. Unfortunately, growth was very little YOY, but we increased profitability significantly and laid the foundation for much more profitable years to come.

One of the first big things that helped was that we’d negotiated 120-day terms with our biggest manufacturer — ⬆️ from the previous 60 days. This meant being able to sell the inventory before paying for it, which is great for creating a negative cash conversion cycle.

Here are some ways we did that:

1. Moving 3PL’s:

FYI 3PL stands for 3rd Party Logistics, which is the warehousing and shipping for your e-commerce store. When you buy from BestSelf Co, the 3PL packs and ships the order to you.

Moving 3PLs is a costly decision as it means moving all your stuff to a new warehouse. We’ve had to make the move once before in our early days and it’s a pain… but when it works out it’s well worth it. For us moving to has been everything we could have hoped for.

Only regret? Not doing it sooner.

Since moving we’ve seen:

  • Much smoother customer experience (less damages & claims)
  • Reduced shipping costs & speed (cheaper for us, faster for customers)
  • Reduced customer support tickets (⬇️ 60% lower in Q4)

The last year at our last 3PL was rocky, often they would take days to ship out orders and it was a terrible experience for our customers.

A perfect example of the difference between new and old was when we were in the midst of the move and were splitting orders. This is so we can sell out of inventory rather than pay to move it. Half an order was coming from the old 3PL and half from the new 3PL. We are looking to save 4-5% of topline revenue from this move in 2022.

We saw many customers receiving orders from our new 3PL before our old 3PL had even shipped the other half (!!!)

2. Partnered with a manufacturer in Colombia

I will get into the negative parts of ecommerce below but one of the big issues we faced was huge delays in the supply chain. Finding a great partner in Colombia to work with helped for several reasons:

  • Reduced tariffs (e.g. journals have a 25% tariff if they come from China,)
  • More environmentally friendly products; including fountain paper friendly sugarcane paper
  • Faster production times (4-week production time, ⬇️ to 12)
  • Reduce inbound logistics % cost (2-3 week shipping, ⬇️ from 8-12 weeks)

The benefits of this relationship won’t really come into effect until this year, 2021 was just laying the initial foundation.

3. Launched more Tier-A products

We both launched more and killed low-performing products. I talk about product tiers in this video, but essentially tier A is the flagship product people will come seek you out for. They are what build your brand. While a big focus was on new products we also eliminated products that were not performing well but were sucking up resources.

In 2021 we launched:

4. Focused on new sales channels & wholesale

We grew our Amazon sales, ⬆️ 120% YoY in December, pretty good despite the constant inventory issues we had.

The move to a new 3PL reduced our customer support load. This meant team members could focus more on wholesale and bulk orders as well as getting us set up and approved on sites like Walmart.com.

We also maintained or grew partnerships with smaller retailers, including Goop

On top of that, we also had executive teams buying products for their staff which was awesome.

5. Reduced complexity

We stopped doing things that weren’t working well and that took a lot of team effort and doubled down on the things with a higher ROI.

  1. Closed AU warehouse and centralized operations in the UK. We shut down our Australia 3PL to reduce complexity and now just fulfill those orders from the UK warehouse. We had 3 warehouses from when we first launched BestSelf in 2016 but it became a pain. For every new warehouse and new country/continent comes headaches and paperwork, not to mention constraints on inventory resources to have things spread out. Being compliant in the US is a lot of work as it is, don’t even get me started on international rules. Brexit didn’t help either…
  2. Hired eCommerce-focused accounting & CFO Company
  3. Launched more Digital products (customers love them and they have little to no COGs)
  4. Hired a video ad creative team
6. Promoted one of my key people to COO

Last but not least, I promoted one of my key team members James to be COO. He’s been the leading domino in the operational efficiencies and upgrades we’ve done this year and took a lot of brain damage off my plate.

Zero to DeFi

I mentioned in my 2020 review that I’d gotten into DeFi in July 2020 and it had become somewhat of an obsession.

Since then I’ve only gone deeper down the rabbit hole, and in March started teaching some friends how to get into it. If you’ve followed my content over the years, you likely noticed the sharp right turn into DeFi last year… sorry not sorry.

I wrestled with whether to be public about it as it was so different from my usual topic. But it’s where any time outside of BestSelf was going and I’d noticed there needed to be more women in crypto — so I became one.  I hoped some of you would join me on this journey.

For anyone curious about the space I urge you to follow your curiosities! There are a lot of incredibly smart people getting involved and it’s a fun place to be. There’s a big opportunity cost to not be getting into it (more on that soon).

Anyway, after getting friends into DeFi in early 2021 Emily urged me to create a course. Mainly so I wouldn’t need to keep re-explaining things over and over again…

And so Zero to DeFi was born and has been my most fun project of 2021! As the space is constantly evolving, so is the course. The Discord is one of my favorite spots to hang out.

Zero to Defi

Office space

I got an office outside of my house for the first time! After testing a private office at a local coworking space for 6 months I decided to sign a lease for a solo office. It’s 5 minutes from my house, next door to my gym and I can bring my dogs — they love it.

Has allowed me to separate work life from home life… and I have no excuse not to go to the gym next door.

What didn’t go well

E-commerce supply chain

The dominoes of COVID continued to fall in 2021 as supply chains ground to a halt. Everything got way more expensive and took way longer.

For BestSelf after record sales months between Dec 2020 – Feb 2021, we ran out of our bestselling inventory. We were out for months

A big part of this was supply chain issues. But there were also internal faults where we had not adapted ordering timeframes to match the new world order — something we’ll be working on in 2022.

This is how the supply chain looked like before and during COVID:

BestSelf production before and during covid

I tweeted about this in September 2021 and it’s gotten even worse since then.

We’re now in 2022 and still experiencing delays, now it’s more of an issue at the ports. For example, we have a container sitting at port for 70 days waiting to unload.  It’s been like pulling teeth trying to get a response or any movement.

E-commerce is very cashflow intensive so this situation sucks because cash is tied up in inventory that can’t be sold. Even with our more favorable 120 payment terms, that time has been largely eaten up by these delays. 

The supply chain issues meant we struggled with inventory management and outages all year.

Digital Marketing got harder & more expensive

Between Facebook changes and the iOS updates this year it’s made advertising that much more difficult and expensive. Tracking is a shitshow, the marketplace is more competitive and costs are increasing.

Now the challenge is finding new traffic sources and exploring other channels.

Bad Batch

After finally re-stocking products from these expensive $20,000 containers, we learned that one product had all arrived damaged from the factory. That meant 60 pallets of damaged goods we couldn’t sell.

So after all the waiting for production, shipping costs, and time — we had nothing to show for it. That was a blow going into Q4 of a product we needed for the holidays.

We did manage to get a credit from our supplier for COGs as it was their issue. Yet that refund of COGs & shipping didn’t make up for the loss of sales due to not having inventory.

Dog Attack

Cute doggos

Late July 2021 while on my morning walk with my two dogs we got attacked by two dogs — a pitbull and a German shepherd. They were roaming with no collars and came right at us. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.

I got knocked over and cut in the scuffle but was fine physically (6 weeks pregnant). My dogs Hugsy and CJ bore the brunt of the injuries and are still scarred from it.

Luckily we’re all doing okay now (since the attack I’ve heard many stories of people and dogs who weren’t so lucky). I shared more about what happened on my instagram here.

What did I learn

One of our prompts from the Icebreaker Deck is “What lessons did it take you more than once to learn?” 

This could have gone in the ‘What didn’t go well’ section but also fits here. It’s a lesson that I’ve gotten several times and am now learning from.

I ignore my gut, even when it yells at me… then it pulls an ‘I told you so’ later. A friend pointed out this blind spot.

Why don’t I trust myself and listen to that feeling when it arises?

Had to do some work around that one. Believe it or not, your gut feeling is not an emotional feeling based on nothing. Our gut takes in our experiences, subconscious knowledge, and natural instincts. It’s our subconscious giving our brain a shortcut to make decisions — even if we can’t understand where it comes from.

When I look back and the big lessons learned over the last 5 years one common pattern is when I ignore my gut. When something doesn’t quite add up, I can’t put my finger on it. I haven’t trusted my intuition enough to listen to it alone and would often override it based on other's opinions or business needs.

It happened with a business partner, an ex-inventory embezzler, and again with an outside vendor this year.

I won’t go into details but during our supply chain woes, we tried to fill the production gap with someone local. I had a bad feeling about him from the beginning but I disregarded it as we needed inventory — and we got screwed out of $$$.

Six-figure lesson (finally) learned. Trust your gut.

Travel

First Tesla road trip

Emily has been wanting to take a road trip in the Tesla since we got it in 2018 — and this year we finally did it! We went from Austin to Bloomington, Indiana, because why fly 2.5 hours when you can drive 17 hours.

Roadtrip Cabin

Home to Belfast

After 2.5 years of not traveling internationally, we got to go back home for a few weeks which was fun. I became a godmother to my new 6-week-old niece (you can tell she’s excited as I just told her I bought her some crypto)

Cathryn with her niece

Denver, COthe

Visited Denver to attend and speak at the Blue Ribbon event, and then Emily flew out so we could spend the weekend with our friends Frank & Lauren.

hiking with friends


Investments

My friend David and I started an LLC to do some investments. We made our first investment in Pier 1 in 2020, and last year we invested in Convertkit (after being a paying customer for years it was a no-brainer). We’re going to be doing more investments in 2022.

Real Estate

Feb 2020 I put down a 5% deposit for a 2/2.5 property in a new community across the street from where I live now. Construction was originally supposed to be finished in Q3-Q4 2021. However, due to supply chain delays, closing keeps getting pushed back.

I’m in no rush as I hate dealing with mortgages (paperwork is my kryptonite). The good news is that by the time it closes, the value should have ⬆️ of 40% of the purchase price agreed in 2020.

Emily and I also put down 5% for another property due to finish in 2023, this one we would plan to live in rather than be an investment property. 

Crypto

My crypto portfolio has grown 5x-ish in the last year, but in 2021 I was trading much less to buy and hold strong projects. If you want to learn more about what I’m into and what projects I’m bullish on, pay attention to my YouTube or join the Zero to DeFi discord.

Favorite Things

Media

Books:

Products:

Ice bath

What I’m Looking Forward to in 2022

Become a mum in March!

Excited and looking forward to the next life chapter. Looking forward to lots of time being present and enjoying it (and getting as much sleep as I can… that’s what I keep getting told). Emily can take some time off for maternity so it’ll be good for us to have some quality time with the baby.

E-commerce sabbatical

After almost 7 years working on BestSelf and being in the e-commerce space since 2012 (10 years!) I’m taking a much-needed break as of the end of February 1st! With the baby due in March — I’d like to spend any time I have left diving more into the DeFi / Web3 space. I know with the baby due I won’t have the bandwidth to continue with BestSelf as well as DeFi so I’m stepping back! Luckily I have an amazing team to handle everything while I’m out.

I expect to return with a bunch of ideas for babies and parents that I currently have no perspective on.

Content

Mid last year I moved from talking about business/productivity to  DeFi which I plan to continue much more of. I’m a believer in working on what gives you energy — and that’s where mine’s at. I’ll be posting at least 1x per week to my YouTube channel (subscribe here)

As I start 2022 I’m feeling grateful and excited for the year! If you want to keep up with me, I’m @cathrynlavery on Twitter or you can subscribe to my newsletter below.