🐧 2023 Business Annual Review

INSIDE: Year 1 Highlights, Lowlights, and Lessons
December 31, 2023

Here’s my reflections from Year 1 of my entrepreneurial journey.

Today, in 10 minutes or less, you'll learn:

  • Highlights
  • Lowlights
  • Learnings

 2023 Business Annual Review

Every year, I write a personal Annual Review that I share with my inner circle.

For 2023, I’m experimenting with a business Annual Review, which covers my insights and learnings from my entrepreneurial journey. 🛣️ 

To start off, I wanted to share a bit about my career journey for readers who are new to Money Abroad.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been building and growing products across Silicon Valley, Singapore, and Southeast Asia. I’ve worked as a product leader and PM for public companies (Dropbox) and growth-stage startups (Xendit, Creativelive).

In January, I left my last full-time role managing a team of 10 PMs and for the first time in my life, embarked on an entrepreneurial path. I started two businesses: 1/ fractional product leadership and 2/ Money Abroad newsletter.

Why did I decide to go off the beaten path? That’s a story for another time (subscribe to hear more!). But in brief, I sought a new adventure. I saw problems I could solve.

My first year running my own show has been a rollercoaster ride. It’s been filled with chaos and unknowns. It’s been marked by exhilarating highs and frustrating lows. But I still feel happy and fulfilled by choosing this path, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you for reading and being on this journey with me. I look forward to sharing more of my learnings with you in 2024!

Highlights

Grew from 0 to over 5,000 newsletter subscribers, 5x’ed my Linkedin followers, launched our Webflow website, and been featured by global brands.

This year, I’ve gone from avoiding the spotlight to getting decent at playing the distribution game. I’m not minting any book deals like Tim Ferriss yet. But I feel satisfied that I’ve given my best shot.

Linkedin was our primary growth channel, driving ~70% of our subscribers. I hit almost 7M impressions with 8 viral posts doing over 90k impressions each, including one that hit ~3M impressions. The rest of our subscribers came from from a mix of Twitter/Instagram, Twitter ads, and cross-promotions/recommendations.

Along the way, we crossed a few other milestones. We launched a Webflow website in August, growing organic search traffic 30%+ MoM. We were lucky to have also partnered with top brands like Fincon, MoneySmart.sg, Singapore Global Network, Stashaway, Kubera, Carry Finance, and Doola.

Nearly hit my revenue goal of US$10,000 in a month (across newsletter + consulting)

I wanted to celebrate my portfolio coming close to crossing the $10k milestone in my first year of business (even though consulting was the bulk of it). This doesn’t include investment income. Thanks consulting for paying the bills in 2023!

Monetized the newsletter with our first course beta program (38 paid students) + US Expat Tax Service (~5 referrals/mo)

In the last 6 months, we tested a number of monetization levers: sponsorships (needs bigger audience), affiliates (still early), events (hard to scale), career coaching (less demand), courses (working well) and a tax service (working well). This process was messy, and several experiments failed or will take months to ramp up.

But, the Remote Side Hustle Profits beta program (launched in November) surprised me by selling out 100% of our $74 seats in less than 1 week. The internet can sometimes be an incredible place. Now the pressure is on for us to deliver a phenomenal student experience.

The US Expat Tax Service (launched in October) has also seen a steady stream of referrals to our tax partners, despite being in a slow season. The real test will be if the referrals use the service during filing season in 2024.

US Expat Tax Service page

Built a content engine that consistently delivered high-NPS content.

I’m proud of creating a system to ship useful content every week. We managed to publish 3x-5x Linkedin posts and a newsletter edition every week for the entire year—except for 1 week where I went hiking in Patagonia. It honestly took a lot of work. Setting up a Notion content workflow. Iterating constantly based on what readers said they wanted. But, it was worth it end the year with over 85% of newsletter ratings being 5-stars.

Newsletter customer ratings

Lowlights

Fell short of our newsletter growth goal of 10,000 subscribers.

We hit ~50% of our subscriber goal. Off by an order of magnitude. If I had to break it down further, I can think of a few gaps:

  1. Topic selection & structure - It took more time than I expected to uncover our winning topics (e.g. side hustles) and structures (e.g. personal and business stories).
  2. Scaling Linkedin winners - I disliked being repetitive, but I should have rinsed and repeated our winning topics and structures more frequently.
  3. Building relationships earlier - I could have connected with other founders and creators earlier on for collaborations.
  4. Cracking recommendations - Many newsletters at our scale tap into recommendations as a major channel, but we haven’t figured this out with Beehiiv (email me if you have!)
  5. Prioritize lead magnets - I sunk too much time and money into building the Net Worth Comparison Calculator, which ended up not attracting quality subscribers. I could have allocated that time into more effective growth levers.

Didn’t crack the code (yet) for 80% of monetization experiments.

Here’s a few of my most recent test:

  • Sponsorships - Our ideal advertisers—SaaS, fintech, and financial service companies—want more subscribers (>10k) and buyers in specific geographies (US-only). For now, we’re going to prioritize our time on owned products and affiliates/partners.
  • Affiliates/Partners - So far, demand is limited to tax and a couple fintech products. Yet, affiliates is a huge revenue driver for similar businesses. I believe we can turn it into an ROI-positive lever with a bit more effort next year.
  • Events - We ran two Money Abroad Circles, a invite-only mastermind style event, over the summer. Reception was positive, but we haven’t carved out time to figure out how to scale this into a larger business. Put on the backburner for now.
  • Expat Career Coaching - I’ve had decent success with Product Coaching over the past 4 years, but the expat service was lukewarm. Why? 1/ Personalizing to the expat’s country is challenging 2/ For most people, moving abroad is a dream they probably won’t take action on (no urgency).
  • Expat Investing Course - I ran a live workshop and started a waitlist, which got some interest. But the demand still paled in comparison to the side hustle course.
Our first Money Abroad Circle

Learnings

Building an (online) business is a mentally grueling marathon. You must stay laser focused, lean into what energizes you, and find your tribe.

  • Stay laser focused - Many entrepreneurs fail because they overstretch themselves and burn out too quickly. I started this year thinking I’d grow on Linkedin, Twitter, and Tiktok while writing newsletter deep dives. But I was quickly humbled. I cut down to Linkedin and the newsletter—plus, killed many darlings— to be more sustainable.
  • Lean into what energizes you - I thought I could write about any popular topic, but I was wrong. In reality, I do best when I choose topics I feel energized by. For example, Financial Samurai writes about real estate because he loves it. Even though my real estate content gets great engagement, I don’t love it enough to write about it weekly or even monthly.
  • Find people on a similar journey - Connecting with other founders and creators in my niche has made the whole experience less lonely, rewarding, and open doors for growth. I could have done more of this earlier, but now I’m making up for it.
Chatting with Viktor - from Linkedin to IRL friends!

Consulting and coaching are challenging to scale-up.

In parallel with building Money Abroad, I was consulting with a handful of B2B and individual tech professional clients. While this was an excellent way to bolster my runway as a bootstrapper, I don’t get excited about the prospect of building an agency or hiring a team to run a larger-scale consulting venture. In 2024, I’m leaning towards trying to replace some of this income with some other sources, then scale down to serving just the very best clients.

Differentiate in the market by tapping into personal stories and a “spiky point of view.”

My top-performing content are my personal stories and perpsectives. And yet, I still feel imposter syndrome broadcasting my personal story. Fear is a funny thing.

I’m working on getting over this fear. I strongly believe that sharing lessons from my own career and entrepreneurial journey will be critical to building a differentiated brand. And future growth in 2024. Especially if I can also share more of my unique beliefs and perspectives. With platforms getting flooded with generic AI-generated content, what people want is to genuinely connect with people they can relate to and trust.

Build a value ladder or different tiers of products for different customers.

Even though I worked in growth in Silicon Valley for years, I had never heard much about Russell Brunson, founder of ClickFunnels. I came across his book Dotcom Secrets and found it surprisingly useful.

Recently, his value ladder idea is one I’ve been pondering though: instead of spending more to acquire new customers, how can you grow the value of your existing customers?

For Money Abroad, the newsletter and free tools attract audience. Courses and partner services (like tax) are the middle value. But I haven’t thought deeply enough yet about the frontend and backend value (hello 2024).

Final thoughts

That’s the end of my 2023 Business Annual Review. It’s my first time capturing my entrepreneurial lessons from this past year.

Thank you for reading and can’t wait to share more of my learnings with you in 2024!

🌐 Beyond your borders

🌐 Reddit: Rank the places around the world where you’ve lived. Amsterdam, Singapore, Sydney, Seoul, San Francisco. I loved reading this thread of first-hand ratings. Guess which ones are 10/10? Thanks Chris for sharing (link)

🇮🇩 Indonesia announces a 5-year multi-entry visa for tourists. They’ve been talking about doing something like this for the past couple years. It’s finally happened! (link)

🇸🇬 This Singaporean set up a website to rate financial advisers. Good initiative in my view to add more transparency into the market (link)

📆 How I can help

That’s all for today!

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

1. Work with my tax team - Get personalized guidance from a US expat tax professional.

2. Sponsor this newsletter - Get in front of over 5,000 professionals and business owners in the US and Singapore.

For daily insights, follow me on X (@dexteryz) or Linkedin.


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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, a website focused on financial independence for professionals abroad. He has 10+ years of experience building products and teams at companies like Dropbox, Xendit, and startups. He's lived and worked across the US, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global publications like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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