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Published on
31 December 2020
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#updates

The year in review: 2020

Our first full year of business! Of course, we picked the messiest one we could find. We didn't accomplish everything we'd planned, but we made it through in one piece, which feels like an accomplishment on its own.

Every month, Matt and I have a “monthly summit”, which we schedule for the 8th at 8pm (we are really into the octopus theme, okay?). It may seem silly to have an “all-hands” when you’re two people living in the same house, but it’s really helpful to regularly review what we’ve done well—and what we haven’t.

I often think New Years’ lists are a bit played out. But I like the thought that, in ten years’ time, we’ll have an archive to look back on.

So, with that in mind—here’s some of the high (and low!) lights of this especially tumultuous year:

🏚 We moved to Portugal (and bought an old house)

We really didn’t intend to move during a pandemic—but Brexit meant that our time was running out for a project we’d been planning for years. When it seemed like things were at their calmest, we packed everything we could on Matt’s motorbike and drove through Scotland, England, Spain, and Portugal as quickly as we could. We spent nearly two whole days in a tiny room on the ferry, which was actually more pleasant than it sounds.

We wound up falling in love with an abandoned house from the 1700s that a local viscondessa had built for her servant/paramour, in a charming little village near some stunning hiking routes. The house needs a lot of love (there wasn’t even running water when we moved in), but we’re slowly working on bringing it back to life.

Learning Portuguese, making the house liveable, and dealing with mountains of paperwork, has consumed a great deal of our time and energy this year. Right now, we have running water and super-fast internet, but we’re still working on hot water and a functional roof. It’s an uphill battle, but Portugal is beautiful, the people are friendly, and there’s lots of pasteis de nata to keep us full of sugar energy while we demolish things. 😋

🚀 We shipped our first app

We released Mic Drop, our mic-muting app for Macs in early 2020, right after lockdowns started in earnest, which seemed like fortuitous timing.

It was featured on MacRumors in JuneExternal link, which lead to a giant spike in sales and was really cool! Releasing and supporting an app is an exhausting, but exhilarating, process. We’ve learnt so much about all sort of different things, from pricing and marketing an app (still not a major skillset) to dealing with oddities of macOS APIs.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and doing all of our own support on a product we directly control has meant we’ve been able to fix bugs quickly and improve the app thoughtfully.

😢 We didn’t ship as many apps as we wanted to

Our original intention was to ship an app every quarter. That obviously hasn’t happened yet—we only shipped one (Mic Drop) and our second (Turnip) is nearly ready for beta. As it turns out, shipping even a super simple app is an absolute boatload of work, and everything took more time than we’d expected. We also spent a great deal of time on client work, volunteer work, and personal stuff (see: moving during a pandemic).

That’s okay—we’ll get faster in the future as we know more and have more infrastructure built up, and ultimately we’d much rather release fewer, higher-quality apps. We always want to take the time to be thoughtful about our decisions, and if that makes things take longer, that’s okay.

Hopefully next year we’ll be able to double our productivity and release two.

🚧 We had our first (and only) hack weekend

We’d planned to do hack weekends once a quarter. A great excuse to go visit a new place, get into a new headspace, and do some heads-down work on a new project (or really focus on improving an existing project!)

We planned our first for a long weekend in Aberdeen in March, and then very suddenly the UK went into lockdown and we couldn’t go anywhere. We stayed home instead and got lots of work done. It wasn’t quite what we’d envisioned, but we managed to build an alpha of Turnip that we’ve been using on our machines ever since.

Our hope for 2020 is for more of these focussed, intensive work sessions—even if we can only do them from our currently-unheated office.

We launched 13 new client sites

Our regular client work took up a lot of time this year—there was lots of work that needed doing! We worked with a number of different charitable organisations focused on providing relief to various sectors impacted by the pandemic and to promoting social justice.

We also worked with the Scottish Tech ArmyExternal link to design & build Open TextsExternal link, a project from the National Library of Scotland dedicated to making the digital collections of public libraries around the world more accessible—basically a search engine for free books. We did this work for free as volunteers because it seemed an awesome project to be able to give our expertise to. It was a super fun project to work on, especially for booky creatures such as ourselves. (Mostly me. I have a book problem.)

We started making charitable donations

We released Mic Drop in April, right around where everyone was suddenly being forced to work remotely. The timing was accidental, but we were aware that we might benefit from that bump. Of course, we want our business to be successful, but that doesn’t mean holding onto every dollar whilst others are suffering.

So we decided to donate 50% of all Mic Drop revenues to charitable organisations impacted by the pandemic. We donated £667.60 donated to Scottish Women’s Aid and £306.38 to the Scottish Refugee Council, and we have one last cheque to make out once our numbers for Q4 are in.

For 2021, we’d like to continue this habit, but tying the values to our overall profits, rather than just a single product.

Goals for next year

We like to keep our goals measureable and concrete:

  • Donate at least 1% of profits to charitable causes
  • Ship two new apps
  • Hold four hack weekends
  • Publish ten blog posts

So this year, we didn’t accomplish all our goals, and that’s okay. We did make it out the other end in mostly one piece, and we strengthened our personal and professional relationships whilst laying groundwork for what we hope will be a better year to come.

Oh and hey, we managed to get our “year-in-review” post out before the year had technically ended this time, so that’s definitely progress. 😜

A photo of a young redhead wearing sunglasses and smiling.
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Written by

Sarah London Semark

Chief Design Octopus. Advocate for the user. Believes in constructive criticism. Buys books based on their covers.

Octopus Think

Octopus Think is a design & development duo based in Scotland and Portugal. We build smart, inclusive, usable digital products that make people’s lives better.

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