Oliver Sild

Jan 5, 2020

11 min read

Learning to learn more: my exceptional 2019

I like comparing myself (how I think and what I value) with my past self from a year or more ago.

I find it interesting how much can change within 12 months and how differently I may think about even the smallest things in life.

I’ve started to consider the difference between my current and past self as a benchmark of how much I have grown over a set period of time.

I decided to write down some of the highlights from the past 12 months. It has been an incredible year for my personal growth and I can’t wait to read this article at the same time next year.

Work-related highlights

January 2019 — Forwardspace was recognized by the Prime Minister of Estonia for regional development

I’m not from the capital, and I have chosen not to move there either. A complete missionary project I’ve been co-founding is a co-working space in Pärnu which we literally built with our bare hands together with a group of friends in 2017.

Over the year of 2018, we became the local start-up/entrepreneur community powerhouse. We’ve received different awards by the local municipality, but in January 2019 we were awarded “Regionaal Maasikas” (regional strawberry) for the effort we’ve put into improving the life in our region.

February 2019 — WebARX closed the second round of funding

I still remember the 2018 December when I was in Paris and even though I was on a vacation (which my fiance and best friends got me as a birthday gift) I ended up having one or two video-calls with different investors per day.

It took some time, but eventually, we managed to close a funding round which included the most helpful, hands-on and experienced investors (many of them founders themself) to fuel the growth of WebARX.

March 2019 — WebARX company retreat at Canary Islands, Spain

Our team is completely distributed, meaning that we cover different timezones and we don’t have a central office where everybody comes together on a daily basis.

That’s why we are doing at least 1 or two full-team gatherings somewhere on the Earth. Last time it was in Tallinn, Estonia and this year we met at the warm Canary Islands.

June 2019 — WebARX hosting the security meetup at WordCamp EU in Berlin

WordPress is massive, as a software, it’s running more than 35% of the top websites in the world and it’s backed by a huge community. WordPress is also the first platform we started protecting with WebARX when we launched.

Over 3000 people were attending the WordCamp EU and since we already went there, we decided to throw our own “WordPress Security Meetup“ near the main venue.

I met a lot of new people, paved the way for new partnerships, had a talk on a podcast, showed up uninvited to a GoDaddy afterparty and spent my mid-summer day early morning (we call it Jaanipäev in Estonia) next to a bonfire at some genuine Berlin underground techno club.

July 2019 — Introducing a lot of changes in WebARX

I guess the first half of 2019 can easily be summarized with “talking with the customers”. I decided to take the customer support mainly on myself, including support chats, customer emails, etc.

Talking to the customers and prospects by trying to understand them as well as possible gave us the confidence to change the product plans structure, trial terms, and even pricing.

Today, I’m still keeping customer support as a high priority task for myself. I’m not just helping them solve the problems or answer the questions, but instead, I’m creating relationships.

August 2019 — Being part of organizing the Future of Work festival in Pärnu, Estonia

I’m a true believer that the digital revolution is happening and part of it means that people no longer need to move to the big cities, but instead choose the best life-quality for their personal HQ. This all comes down to the future of work, as it largely happens online.

We had a meeting somewhere in May with Marten (one of the co-founders of the co-working space we built) and with someone from Fundwise where we just had a random idea that why not organize the first startup/tech festival in Pärnu, Estonia and the concept should exactly be around that topic.

A dangerous idea, since we had no idea how big of a work that is (especially when you only have 4 months to organize everything), but it’s hard to express my gratitude to Kai who quickly combined an A-Team who then pulled it off (and saved our ass).

We still hear from the local municipality how big of a deal this was for the city and many people still mention this as one of the most authentic and intimate startup/tech events they attended this year.

Oh, and big props to Andreas… A guy who managed to make the whole concept live visually and even got the festival nominated in Estonian design awards.

September 2019 — Some from WebARX moved to new challenges

One of our first and also the youngest employee in WebARX went to chase new challenges. An exceptional young security researcher who I’m sure you will hear about in the future.

Since 2018 May when he first joined us, he helped us with development, research and had no problems with solving unexpected tasks that surfaced from technical support.

It’s amazing to see from aside how fast someone can grow and learn. I definitely learned a lot from the time we worked together. He’s now following his dreams as a professional penetration tester.

September 2019 — Plugbounty released as a beta

Plugbounty is something we discovered as a missing piece. While helping digital agencies and web devs to protect their sites from infections and breaches in general, we’ve learned quickly that the main issue is vulnerabilities within the third-party components they use.

The heavy use of open-source components nowadays has introduced a large attack vector that receives a lot of attention from all kinds of hackers.

We introduced plugbounty.com as a bug bounty platform, but with a clear difference in focusing on open-source web app components.

It’s still in closed beta with 160+ security researchers, but you will hear more about it in the first half of 2020.

October/November 2019 — WebARX finished YC Startup School and got invited to Y Combinator interview

October was an epic month. The end of 2019 started getting better and better every month and our KPI’s were reflecting the same.

I actually wrote about the Startup School and YC Interview experience in a separate article here.

November 2019 — Techstars Startup Week and CTF Pärnu

Through Forwardspace, I’m still actively contributing to the startup community and this year I was happy to organize the official satellite afterparty of Techstars Startup Week Tallinn.

It was a combination of the networking event after the CTF Pärnu which happened earlier on the same day where ~30 young hackers competed against each other on the regular hacking competition we organize with Kristjan and Oliver. One of the smartest guys I know.

December 2019 — Overall retrospect with WebARX

We took pretty much the whole of December to just retrospect the whole year. We have a lot of ideas for 2020 and therefore we need to take some time to analyze the previous year and prioritize everything for the next one.

WebARX growth in 2019

I’m genuinely excited about 2020 and I see how our plans can easily make this the best year for WebARX.

Few personal highlights

Now when I think about it, since I do everything I mentioned above with a huge passion and when I say I would probably do all those things even without getting paid, I would find a way and I really mean it.

But, there still are a few things I need to mention which didn’t fit into the list above.

June 2019 — I finally have my own home

I’ve been renting flats for way too long and this year, we decided that we need to have better use of money when it comes to where we live.

I will never, ever see any pennies of what I have paid for rent over the years and this was one of the reasons why we decided to buy our first apartment.

It’s hard to express how happy I am. Interestingly, it has even improved my eating habits (because we have a nice big kitchen so we cook a lot more at home instead of eating out). I also read more because it’s cozy and quiet.

Summer 2019 — Water

I’ve never been a huge fan of any activities done in water or even near it. My friends used to call me a swan because every summer my skin was so pale they thought I’m reflecting away all light from the sun.

This summer, we spent a lot of time on the river with a speedboat which my friend bought last summer and looks like something out of 80s Miami.

Meanwhile, I really started to enjoy skimboarding, which who doesn’t know is when you run with a board to the water and surf on the thin layer of water near the shore.

I did fell a lot in the beginning, so the skin on both of my knees was visibly damaged the whole summer. I enjoyed it so much, once we even did it in the dark during midnight at a beach party.

I also spent a lot of time on SUP boards and swimming at midnight is something that I really enjoyed as well.

August 2019 — I quit Instagram + killed the Facebook feed

It’s a random thing, but I really feel how this has affected me. I’m more focused on my own life and I care much less about others (in a good way). It’s just one less trap to get you into the mighty infinite scroll.

I use Facebook a lot because I talk to a lot of customers/partners on chat and Facebook groups. One thing I found annoying is the Facebook feed, it’s useless anyway since it’s full of crap, but there is that infinite scroll trap again.

There’s a cool browser extension I use, which gives the facebook feed a much better functionality. It replaces the feed with a random quote every time you reload the page. Here is a link to get it.

September 2019 — Won an e-residency hackathon

This was actually an awesome experience and pretty funny at the same time. We went to the hackathon to validate an idea of a co-working space network in rural areas and ended up building a web app that was giving discounts to every one part of the e-residency program all over Estonia.

We pivoted at least 3 times over the 48 hours period and we eventually came up with something called Tangufy (Apparently “Tang” means cash in slang).

At some point, we thought that every other team has some super complex solutions solving a huge problem and then there was us — we started to take all of it as a joke at one point and just decided to have fun.

I was a single developer on the team (even tho we had pretty easy web app with an interactive map), but with the pivots and changes, I was impressed I managed to deliver the MVP even though I haven’t coded for years.

To our surprise, we ended up winning the hackathon and won 3000€. Crazy…

November 2019 — Yoga

Yeah, such a cliche right. Anyways, my fiance insisted that I should give a try and I did. I found myself really enjoying Hatha and Yin Yoga.

It’s interesting how Hatha yoga is getting more and more challenging each time (I guess it’s because you do the poses right?).

I don’t bend at all! I mean really, I couldn’t even touch the ground with my straight legs and Yin yoga really has improved that. Very exciting.

It’s really great to completely reset your thoughts a few times a week. Both Hatha and Yin do that extremely well.

I think Yoga was just a really simple thing to get into, not sure if I continue to do that but it really got me back into working with my mind/body. I’ve always been interested in martial arts, so maybe I will explore this in 2020.

December 2019 — Christmas with friends

I’ve never had that Christmas eve dinner with friends. It has always been with the family of mine or with Agnes.

This year we decided to host a Christmas dinner at our place with the closest friends and it was amazing. Hopefully, this will remain as tradition.

What I think I have I learned in 2019

I’ve been reading and studying much more than I did in 2018. The main thing I still remain to learn over and over again is the fact of how much there is still to learn and how few I really know.

I think I’ve been caught up in work too hard. I mean when I do 12 hour days + work on the weekend, I haven’t taken time to work with my own mind and body. One thing I’ve managed to control is the sleep, I always get 7–8 hours sleep, I think this is very important.

Gladly, it hasn’t gone too far and the end of the year really showed me how much more effective I can be when I introduce a better balance to make smarter decisions and be healthier, happier and more efficient.

Top 3 books I really liked in 2019

  1. “Social Engineering: The science of human hacking” — Christopher Hadnagy
  2. “The subtle art of not giving a fuck” — Mark Manson
  3. “Everything is fucked: a book about hope” — Mark Manson

I also need to add here that I really, really like an app called Blinkist. It’s a service that creates audio summaries about books.

Sometimes, a 15-minute summary gives you a bunch of good ideas for a day, sometimes it makes you research the topic even deeper, or get you interested in reading a whole book. I really enjoy listening to them.

My plans for making 2020 exceptional

Overall, read more, work-out more, make better and more efficient use of my time.

I definitely plan to make bolder business decisions, execute faster to learn even more than I did in 2019.

Three very specific things I plan to do this year:
- 100 days of coding challenge. I’ve been getting rusty since I haven’t coded on a daily basis for 2+ years now. Being a single developer in our team on the hackathon really showed me how rusty I am.

- Complete more courses (online and classroom) and continue to learn more about infosec, economics, and business management.

- Zoom in my own focus and reduce the number of things I work on. Clear up the noise from my day to day activities and keep WebARX & CTF Pärnu (cybersecurity) as my main focus.