Raunak Hajela


2021 Year in Review

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“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

– Peter Drucker

This year felt like one of the happiest, most surprising, and quality years of my life.

If I have to describe it in one word then I would say this year was like ‘Biryani’. 

Every two seconds, one biryani is sold. It is mixed with rice, Indian spices, and meat. Similarly, we wrote billions of lines of code this year for our projects, which brought in a variety of clients each adding their own flavour with it. Some experiences turned out to be finely cooked, and some overcooked.

Just like last year, 2021 obviously didn’t go as planned. 

However, I am still relieved that I made quality progress toward my goals this year. I also spend more time resting which I wasn’t able to do the previous year. 

This year focus on 4 main goals:

  • Mindfulness
  • Health
  • Happiness
  • Wealth

In this 2021 year in review, I am going to share what went well this year, and what is put at the Backlog for the next year based on the above 4 main goals. 

Personal highlights

This year I turned 26 years old. The year started just like 2020 stuffed with news related to Covid vaccine updates, and usual work/meetings. The year taught me the importance of health, building relationships, and reminded me again that time and death don’t wait. So, spend as much time as you can with your loved ones.  

In February, I went to Landmark hotel, Kanpur to celebrate my birthday party with friends. This was my first visit to Landmark which was super fun. There I met my favourite food vloggers Rocky, and Mayur and the birthday party turned out to be lucky 😇 

You can catch me, and the gang in the background here:

I also started a new habit in Feb which I learned from Amy Landino to write 10 ideas a day. I wrote around 220 ideas this year. 

Covid cases suddenly started increasing and from March-end till May we had many deaths in relatives and closed ones. And, this is the first time we had a panic situation at home hearing so many deaths of our nearest relatives including the healthy ones. I lost my uncle 😭

These 3 months turned out to be the worst months in 2021. 

I also helped some friends of mine with money who were deeply affected due to Covid, and I am glad I did that. 

Around this time we also had a car booked as a gift to Dad which also got delayed. 

At the beginning of June, we finally got the good news that our car arrived all the way to the Bangalore car facility in Kanpur, and we can make the booking. This was the first car that I bought with my hard-earned money (no loans) and gifted it to my Dad 🙂

(From left) Dad, brother, me, and mom receive car keys from the salesman

In between, I also enrolled on some courses related to stocks, crypto, and started my investment journey. I also restarted the #100DaysofCode challenge but failed at maintaining consistency. 

By July – October, I did lots of client meetings, follow-ups, hiring, standups that I hit mental burnout. I ended up damaging my sleep cycle, took my covid jibe, lost 2 talented staff members, lost money, and got more work stress.

November – December, I took huge breaks due to Diwali, had lots of sleep, family hangouts, and attended 2 of my best friend’s weddings. I lost interest in work, doing daily standups and meetings and found this break really rewarding. 

I got a surprise visit from a fellow intern Lavisha, who came all the way from Nashik with her family. She gifted me handmade chocolates. We had lots of fun, and meeting her became memorable. 

Special thanks to Lavisha, and her family for helping out us during our Car purchase.

Lavisha, and me

My other two friends, Reeta, and Suraj also visited me around this time. We discussed the usual business stuff, agenda for 2022, and had some crazy time. 

I finally launched this website which was delayed for a long time, and now I am trying hard to create consistent content.

I also got active on Twitter from the advice of my mentor/friend Yash. I am writing threads, creating content, and actively participating with my audience. I must say, Twitter is the best investment I made this year ❤

After a lot of thinking, I gifted myself the M1 Pro MacBook that was launched this year. 

I also had my first night out where we roamed across Kanpur streets around midnight, broke my wheelchair, ended up with a scratch on the car, and got myself health insurance. 

I ate so much good food this year, discovered new mouth-watering dishes, and managed to make a good connection with 4 restaurants that now deliver food directly to me 😁

If you are looking for some food options in Kanpur then try Dahi kebab from Pind Baluchi and Jamie’s Kitchen, Mutton/Chicken biryani from Behrouz, and Gopal biryani, Chicken tikka rice, and mutton cutlets from Jamie’s Kitchen wraps from Desi Palette, and lastly Momos, or other Chinese options (pure veg) from the Kingdom of Momos 😋    

The biggest win for me this year is that I had fewer expenses and more savings 🕺🏽

Ps. After 2 years of waiting, I finally watched Spiderman: No Way Home in the theatre.

Work Highlights

I am not the one who likes boasting about revenue figures. So, not going to do it here and will only share the key highlights of my business journey this year.  

2021 turned out to be another successful year for us in business. We worked with a total of 15 clients, closed 6 projects, hosted 6 virtual events, and lost 4 potential clients. 

The first month started off with 2 of our previous year client projects, we got contracts for 2 virtual events, closed 1 NGO project followed by regular follow-ups, or discussions. 

We planned to host an online Vue3 Bootcamp, and started preparations for another virtual event planned for April. 

For the first time since What a Story’s launch this year, we put huge efforts into Marketing, specifically Instagram and gained 253 new followers. We repurposed old posts, created carousels, reels, IGTV videos, and did live streaming with guests. It was a huge work because we realised we don’t have the right audience and we needed something to showcase our new work. So, Instagram seemed like the right choice. 

Previously, we didn’t have anything consistent. We were posting content over LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter but it was occasionally. Since we didn’t have any direct impact on our business from Social media, we decided to not focus. Going forward, we realised we have to change this and make social media into a business conversion and networking machine. And now I can proudly say that since April we didn’t miss a single day creating or publishing content, and we now have a small talented Marketing team that is very hardworking. Special mention to Tushar, Deepshi, Rohan, Rees, Shiwani, Himani mam, and other ninjas that were involved. 

We now have 1156 Instagram followers, 1530 YouTube subscribers, and 1055 LinkedIn followers. Twitter is on our agenda for 2022. 

We started hiring lots of people in What a Story this year and hired 10+ new talented ninjas. Want to join our little shinobi gang, we’re hiring 😃

In October, I participated in Hacktoberfest which I didn’t do in 2020, and we launched two new open-source projects DonorGrid, and Tailwindify. They still need a lot of work but I am still relieved that we launched something of our own this year. 

We also did massive improvements on ZapBG this year. We released its browser or, Figma integrations, some AI improvements and preparations for the B2B launch which is scheduled for 2022. Overall we had a huge leap on ZapBG but it’s not perfect, and there is R&D going on. 

So stay tuned for 2022, and keep an eye on the API launch 😍

Here are some of the other projects we did this year if you are interested to know:

  1. Mintted
  2. Musicbox
  3. Aavenir
  4. Red Eagle Politics

We started getting huge queries on Blockchain-based projects. So this year we took some mini blockchain projects for our work portfolio and we started preparing for 2022 as we are transitioning to be a Web3 company. 

Since we target both B2C and B2B in What a Story. This year I’ve partnered with 4 startups providing services in Marketing, and Software Development.

We got so happy with the performance of 2 colleagues that we gifted them M1 Pro MacBooks this year. It felt really amazing seeing these colleagues grow from past years. These 2 are some of the best investments we made this year. I am excited for more awesome work, and their experiments in 2022. 

This doesn’t mean other colleagues are not talented. We hired lots of new talent in our engineering team who did a fantastic job in whatever projects they were involved in. Special mention to Shreya, Jay, Shivam, and Bhaskar. 

I also gave good holiday breaks to my staff this year which we were unable to do in 2020. Overall, this year was a mix of good work and health. I am glad we provided these breaks which led us to good productivity, and ultimately we had happy clients. 

Beats this year

We got a huge bump this year as Covid situations started getting better across the world and virtual events started decreasing. So we did fewer virtual events compared to last year which affected us a little in business.

Furthermore, one client of ours didn’t pay us the outstanding amount for the work we did and turned out to be 💩 both to us, and his own company.

The hiring process turned out to be a real pain in the @#$ due to heavy demand for talent in the industry. The ones we got worked with us for a while and then switched to different companies. As a result, we lost 2-4 talented staff members and spent a huge time in training, hiring, retraining on repeat. 

Things I discovered this year

Apart from work, there are some things I discovered this year that I thought was good to share in the annual review. 

  1. Naval Ravikant
  2. Jira for agile project management
  3. Slash for task management, and productivity
  4. Kakeibo method for budgeting
  5. The Promised Neverland anime series
  6. Vauld for crypto investments
  7. Deepstash for byte-sized reading
  8. Kukufm for audiobooks, and summaries
  9. Play app for iOS app development
  10. Friendspire for movie, series, and book recommendations
  11. Humans can’t multitask

Lessons learned this year

I learned plenty of lessons this year through work experience, life, books, watching videos, people, anime, trial and error.

1. Verify your client, and finalise scope at every stage of the project 

Earlier this year we worked 24×7 on one SaaS project. We spent huge hours writing code but our client was never satisfied and made complaints that they weren’t able to launch a project, lost X money. 

There was a scope creep which added more delays to the project as we have to wait for the 3rd party integration support team responses. Since this project has our close friend involved we accepted the changes and provided everything we can and trusted the client team. We overtrusted the team and considered them as friends as we had previously worked with them. 

Ultimately, we weren’t paid for the extra work we did. The next few months that followed for the outstanding invoice was extremely frustrating.

Later, we got to know our client turned out to be the con man for his company who didn’t pay employee salaries, botched up the project and is spending time partying with the money. 

So, I learned a hard lesson to not overtrust anyone, have a clear understanding of the scope of work, and always verify twice while working on any new project or startup. 

2. Avoid Slack for client projects, and use it only for notifications. 

In our current process, we are using Slack for clients projects. We create a new Slack channel for each client, where we share task updates, announcements, and provide them support.

We later realised Slack is acting as a blocker for productivity, and clients mistook it as a form of project management, not communication. They create tasks on Jira, inform us they created a task on Slack, share a Jira task link on the slack channel seeking updates, and then expect updates on Jira. Furthermore, they expect engineers to be constantly available on Slack for a quick chat which is never quick or join huddle resulting in bad focus due to Slack buzzing all the time.

To avoid this we are moving to a ticket-based system instead and use Slack only for announcements, or status notifications not any form of task-related communication. 

3. Be serious about code refactoring, optimization, and documentation

This is one of the major learning lessons I have learned in 2021. In our 4 projects due to the ignorance, or lack of code refactoring, optimization, and documentation we faced several issues like in the web application performance, issues building new features, huge code debt making it difficult for other engineers working on the same task who are later involved in the project. 

Most clients have a tendency to focus on the features not optimisation and refactoring of the existing code. Mostly it’s due to the rushed deadline, and scope creep. 

Since we work on B2B SaaS projects where we collaborate with client team engineers from junior ones to the interns. We realised that even engineers from the client team ignored code refactoring and documentation due to the rushed deadline. 

In our case, we provided several reminders to our clients to pause a few features, so we can focus on refactoring, and documentation for what we built but it was ignored due to the rushed deadline or launches, and due to the time refactoring, or documentation might take which they can utilise in a different task.

So going forward I am going to take this lesson more seriously, and we will spend a good time in refactoring, and documentation that makes our life easier.

4. Stay calm during hard times

This is another important thing I learned this year during pressing times. Around March-April and November due to Covid, we had many deaths in our close relatives that resulted in delays in work. Not just me, even with our team we had similar issues like health, distractions at home, internet or power, or wedding. 

But since we promised a deadline, we have to provide a deliverable eventually. There were few clients who understood, and there were few who acted like a total jerk and spent hours debating what was not delivered or missing. Few projects got cancelled, a few were delayed, and the ones that are delivered we have team overworking than the time committed. 

I learned to stay calm and make clients calmly understand issues so we can spend time more on the solutions than debate. I learned to stay silent after sharing my piece and not fill the silent void that is left during such meetings resulting in more debates.

5. Always listen to audiobooks or podcasts in your mother tongue

I learned this from Ankur Warikoo. Previously, I used to listen to book summaries from Kindle, or other apps which were mostly in English and not engaging to me. Later on, I lose interest in listening and get distracted because in my thoughts I am spending more time understanding each word than actively listening. 

But since I started listening in Hindi which is my mother tongue. I am actively listening, easily understanding, and enjoying the book even more.

6. Don’t reveal too much information

I am an extrovert and an extremely social person. I’d like to share stories, talk with transparency, and emotions. I have this habit of sharing things with utter transparency, and revealing too much information than required to my team, or sometimes clients. 

Later on, they use my word for their advantage, and I am having a major loss. I learned this the hard way and stopped revealing too much information.

7. Plan every scenario and think well ahead of all the possible moves

It’s always important to be prepared for anything. The professor from Money Heist was one step ahead of everyone else, knowing what they were going to do before it happened and planning his moves well enough that he never got caught- even when police crowded around him with guns drawn!

I aim to do similar things for my projects, and business. I am working on SOPs and systems for every scenario or challenge that might come. I am writing down all the loopholes in my current system that my clients or team used to their advantage and aim to eliminate them. 

This is not easy, but something better than nothing isn’t it?

Books I read in 2021

Reading wise I am a slow reader, I read a minimum of 15 minutes a day, or like 1 chapter a day from any book. I had a goal to finish at least 12 books this year out of which I finished 7. 

I started reading biographies followed by books related to productivity but later I realized that I enjoy reading biographies, and books related to mythology more. 

Here are those 7 great physical books that I read this year:

  1. Almanack of Naval Ravikant
  3. Shoe Dog
  4. The Immortals of Meluha
  5. The Secret of the Nagas
  6. The Oath of the Vayuputras
  7. Atomic Habits

Aside from that, I listened to a couple of audiobooks from Kukufm. Previously, I struggled with listening to audiobooks mostly because they were not engaging and sounded more like an AI voice. The ones that were good were not in the native language so I kind of lost interest in them. The great thing about Kukufm is that their audiobooks are engaging and available in the native language. 

I consider this as my second biggest win this year which already has had a huge impact on my life.

Goals for 2022

I don’t have huge goals for 2022. I want to do things that were in my backlog for 2021 but I was unable to finish them.

My personal goals for 2021 are:

  1. Take control of my time, delegate tasks, and focus on what is necessary
  2. Launch my product
  3. Travel with family to a foreign land
  4. Improve existing systems, and eliminate blockers
  5. Take more Blockchain projects
  6. Create content for raunakhajela.com, and Twitter

Despite all the blockers, I am happy that 2021 turned out to be so successful and I am fortunate to have made differences in the lives of some people 🤗

So cheers to a better, happier, and more successful 2022! 


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