Alchemist Camp 2020 Year in Review

2020 was my second full year running Alchemist Camp as a screencasting business, and it enjoyed some growth. Looking at my dashboards, it's fallen short of the goals I set last year, but it's still considerable progress given all that's happened. (Disclaimer: These numbers haven't been audited and are simply what I've pulled from various accounts and spreadsheets. The year isn't quite over, either)

Alchemist Camp is a site with many screencasts for programmers learning Elixir. Most of them are free and on YouTube, but many are restricted to paying subscribers. I've also launched a couple of adjacent products.

# 2020 goals recap

I had set four goals for 2020:

  1. Double gross subscription sales to $28k
  2. Keep lifetime retention above 60%
  3. Launch the second product I've been working on before the first of March
  4. Finally travel to the US for an Elixir conference

#1 (miss): Growth has been very slow since March.

growth chart

#2 (barely): Retention of existing subscribers was decent, and barely cleared goal #2 as long as people who subscribed and churned multiple times only count as a single churn.

#3 (hit): I got a 2nd product launched by March! It was the starter kit I'd already announced would be a freebie for my existing Alchemist Camp subscribers last Black Friday.

#4 (miss): I've been in Taiwan all year since arriving from Japan at the end of February and wasn't able to make it to an Elixir conference in the US. I won't count this one due to the pandemic.

# New products

I released two new products this year, both for Elixir devs.

# Phoenix Igniter

Phoenix Igniter is a starter kit for building Phoenix apps that includes various boilerplate code I've found myself writing repeatedly across projects. It's in beta, and is useful for me but I'm having a hard time getting any user feedback.

Thus far, it's been entirely driven by what I want on my own projects. It's a one-time purchase product, so sales are very spikey. I gave it away to every Alchemist Camp subscriber during Black Friday of 2019, so there are considerably more users than paying customers.

growth chart

I have high hopes for Igniter. Ultimately, I can see it appealing to a much broader group of devs than my screencast subscriptions on Alchemist Camp can.

# 5 Little Potions

5 Little Potions is an ebook for beginner Elixir learners and I'm currently about 45% of the way writing it. I had a few goals in starting this book. First of all, I wanted to have something substantial for beginners. About the first 15 screencasts or so I did for Alchemist Camp are aimed at beginners, but the last 150+ have been aimed more at peers and people digging into specific topics.

I also felt like coding some games instead of just business-focused web apps!

It hasn't brought in a lot of revenue, due to the low price, but I think it's a great way to reach more learners. As I finish the 3rd, 4th and 5th games in the book and get ready for its launch, I expect to see quite a few more people buy.

growth chart

Okay! Let's have a look at the stats...

# Financial stats

# Alchemist Camp

  • Alchemist Camp revenue: $18,846.63 (+35%)
  • Wage per hour: ~$38 (+52%)
  • Paying subscribers: 96 current
  • Lifetime retention: 60%
  • Expenses: $4901.56 (-1%)
  • Profits: $13,945.07 (+55%)

# Expenses Breakdown

  • Stripe: $2,295.98
  • ConvertKit: $441
  • Digital Ocean: $316.86
  • Domain names: $120
  • Services Total: $3,222.84
  • Technical books: $724.15 (Mostly Manning, Pragprog and No Starch Press)
  • Screencasts and courses: $954.57 (about 50/50 business and technical)
  • Educational Total: $1,678.72

This year's expenses ended up almost identical to last year. However the breakdown is very different. Stripe cost considerably more, due to a combination of higher volume, increased fees and using more services. In particular, Stripe moved its customers from Subscriptions (for which I was a free forever plan) to Billing, which has a percentage fee on every transaction.

Another major cost increase was due to my moving from Mail Chimp to ConvertKit. I was spending $49/month for marketing email services for most of the year. It wasn't worth it for me in the end, so I migrated to SendFox.

My educational spending was less than half what it was last year. That's not because I'm any less of a believer in investing in it, but mostly due to being behind my revenue goals and finding better bargains.

# Phoenix Igniter (starter kit)

  • Phoenix Igniter revenue: $1,140
  • Stripe fees: $44.16
  • Profits: $1,095.84

# 5 Little Potions (ebook)

  • 5 Little Potions revenue: $1,575
  • Gumroad fees: $129
  • Profits: $1,446
  • YouTube Views: 77.7k (+26%)
  • Monthly Unique Visitors: ~12k (excluding bots)
  • Accounts created (all time): 4705

# Big wins

  1. My RSI is nearly healed!
  2. Podcasting with Justin Vincent
  3. Overcoming crazy obstacles
  4. The idea muscle
  5. Doubling down on learning

# Healing wrists

Three years and a month ago, I could barely use a phone or mouse at all. It hurt just to brush my teeth. I had severe repetitive stress injuries and was in a pretty bad bind.

Even last year, I was still far from better. It's a big part of why I've put so much time into reading, podcasting and other hands-free activities the past couple of years.

But now, I'm finally feeling about 90%. I still do stretches and still do 100% of my computing from an ergonomic keyboard (or iPad + pencil), but I can actually bang out an 8-hour day of coding and typical computer use and feel okay the next day. I'm not pushing it, but I'm thrilled about the improvement!

# The podcast

The level of serendipity I experience in my life sometimes astounds me and this is one of those cases. In my yearly review last year, I wrote:

But then this spring, a funny thing happened. I got sucked into this long-running podcast called Techzing and started listening to the archives (which go back ten years) and I heard some interviews they did with Amy Hoy.

Well, things have progressed. I just finished recording the 44th episode of, a mastermind-based podcast a few hours ago. My co-host is Justin Vincent—one of the two co-hosts of Techzing. He's got far, far more entrepreneurial experience than I do and it's been a good learning experience.

This certainly wasn't remotely a goal or something that even seemed within the realm of possibility a year ago, but it's been great! If we're living in a simulation, I'm pretty sure I'm a player character 😎

# Overcoming crazy obstacles

I was in Taiwan on a 90 day visa-free entry when borders started closing due to the pandemic and managed to get an entrepreneur visa good for a year.

Then later in the spring, my bank closed my account and disabled my debit card due to an error, while I was abroad... in the middle of the pandemic. That was truly a crisis since 100% of my income flows through the account and I needed things like food, housing and water.

But, I managed to hustle and overcome both obstacles mostly intact. All I lost was some sleep and some time. All-in-all, that's not bad for 2020.

# The idea muscle

I've been religiously sticking to James Altucher's Idea Muscle practice, picking a topic and generating at least 10 ideas every day. It seems like a small thing, but after a month or two, I really started feeling a difference. I attribute both the book I'm currently writing and my increased screencasting productivity to it.

I've been doing all of it on an iPad and just using Apple notes with the pencil and it's been just as good in terms of writing, thinking and processing as a paper and pencil were last time I tried this but it's easier to save and review them.

# Doubling down on learning

I've continued aggressively trying to deepen my technical skills while picking up some new ones that will help me make progress as a founder. Humble Bundles and ebook purchases in general have been paying off the most.

One great thing I've realized is that an iPad + pen is a near ideal tool for active reading. I can fearlessly highlight the heck out of any book I read and later erase any highlights I don't want to keep.

# What didn't go so well

  1. Growth
  2. Decision paralysis

# Growth

My audience is growing just as slow as it was a year ago. I noted an increase in competition in the market then and it seems to have continued, likely in part due to the pandemic.

At that time, I wasn't too concerned and saw such competition as likely to grow the market overall and mostly have little effect on me. Now I'm not so sure.

Elixir is a tiny market, and I'm seeing the low-end of it getting flooded with new courses while the total number of people learning it or using at work is fairly flat.

This is part of why I've broadened my business into adjacent territory with the book and the starter kit and why I'm looking at still other opportunities involving software as opposed to educational products.

# Decision paralysis

I know I can make faster progress than I have so far, but it's very difficult to evaluate what business efforts are worth investing time into.

I'm currently evaluating a lot of options, including finding contract work and investing money as well as time into a project.

# Goals for 2021

  1. Break $75k total revenue
  2. Launch a SaaS product, likely a micro-SaaS
  3. Find a banking setup I can rely on while living outside the US
  4. Finally travel to the US for an Elixir conference???
  5. Grow sales in all three existing products

Despite everything, I'm feeling even more confident this year than I did last year. I may experience some pain revolving around banking and residency status again, but I'll find my way through it and keep investing in the long-term.

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