2018 reflected: equity crowdfunding, silver linings, and Grandma.

As 2018 is coming to an end, I thought I’d spend some time to reflect on the two most important lessons I learned in 2018, the first one about what’d predict success in an equity crowdfunding, and the second one about silver linings in trying times.

Lesson 1: Equity crowdfunding is powerful and empowering, but not for everyone. It makes the most sense when your business is 1. community-oriented and 2. independently-owned.

Why community-oriented?

Since the launch, startengine.com/hackernoon has attracted 38,000 visits, >85% of which is from the Hacker Noon community. We put the campaign link atop hackernoon.com, our newsletters, our social media channels and other media assets. It’s clear: our community does rally behind us. Collectively, they’re telling us this: please keep publishing the best tech stories for tech professionals!

What is it about us? We are not the next cool software, an industry disruption, or a groundbreaking idea. We do have 200k daily readers, 7k writers, and 8M monthly pageviews. I believe, the difference is this: people who already know and use our site can now own a portion of our company. The receiver of the experience can now help design the experience. How often do you get a chance to own a portion of the site you read? It is pretty damn empowering.

You could be a small but popular restaurant, a Facebook group of “Fans of the Office”, or a school. If you have an awesome community already, crowdfunding can be a good option for you.

Why independently-owned?

Before deciding to launch this campaign, we did go through a few acquisition talks. The process was taxing, but incredibly educational. Many were interested, but no one was ready to commit the right numbers with the right terms. Big firms want big returns on their own terms. Small firms like ours can rarely afford our own terms.

With equity crowdfunding, we publicized our terms, front and center, and available for the public to dissect. Potential investors can choose how much they can afford to lose. The minimum is the price of a fancy meal for two. It’s about finding fair market value.

Now, instead of having a few big bosses, we have a few hundred small bosses, some of whom are our family and friends, most of whom are our readers and writers. It’s beautiful.

As an independent media site, we highly value this independence from vested interests. It allows us to optimize for OUR work flow and our desired products. It’s a win-win-win.

Lesson 2: in trying times, value the silver linings.

I always like lotus. It’s the Vietnamese national flower, and it blooms from mud. Lotus reminds me of strength, resilience, beauty against all odds.

Personally and professionally, this year has been a trying one for me. David got into an accident just before we were told that sponsorship can no longer exist on Hacker Noon. Then, as soon as this crowdfunding campaign launched, my grandma got seriously ill, half way across the globe. She passed away before seeing me or David for the last time, and her great granddaughter for the first time.

Yet, I’ve found grace upon grace upon grace in these trying times.

David’s accident got me to rethink about how to dance that line between personal and professional. How much of our life are we willing to let out, as business owners? At the end of the day, we decided to be vulnerable and honest. People seem to relate to that. There’s no use in pretending that we are not real humans living this perfectly curated life whose only job is to hustle for and only for the business. Alexis Ohanian calls that hustle porn, and I cannot agree more. #stopwiththehustleporn

Being told we can no longer do sponsorship atop our site was hard to swallow, as it was our primary source of income. But it did lead to our best decision of the year yet: rejecting laughable buyout offers, low buyout offers or even kinda interesting buyout offers. Instead, we decided to bite the bullet and go with strategic investments. We are still a long way from being fully subscribed. But we are in such a better spot than we would have been had we continued with Medium’s Content Management System.

My grandma’s death reminded me how short and fragile life is. And how precious it is that my grandpa is still alive and well, just enough to see his granddaughter. My grandma would never be able to do so. My dad, a professional violinist, dropped 100% of his daily commitments to nanny our daughter Norah. This allows us to work more hours a day than when we were able to in Colorado. And, after 2.5 years of being in the US, we finally go back to Vietnam, seeing how half way across the globe, community is thriving, tech is growing, and 75% of people who showed up to our event last Saturday have read Hacker Noon! I know my grandma would be so pleased to know all of these happened because of her!

If you read until here — thank you. If you decide to hit that invest button on our crowdfunding page, remember this: we are real hard working and positive thinking human beings behind these words, these numbers, and this business. We wish we could meet each and every one of you. We cannot express our gratitude enough. We will work harder and harder each day for you.

Onwards and upwards, to 2019!