2021: Year in Review

Jeff Novich
15 min readFeb 20, 2022

2021 was a strong year.

In May we welcomed our baby daughter Marlowe and officially crossed into family-of-five territory! OMG. Determined and excited to move our family the Netherlands, we did a ton of planning and coordination… only to learn that Classpass will not complete the sponsorship. 😿 So we’re back to square one and will continue to call NYC our home. For now.

I mostly fixed my right wrist tendonitis and by April got carpal surgery and fixed both my wrists. I’m able to type without pain now. Our family got fully vaccinated as early as we could, then boosted. Our son got vaccinated as soon as it was possible and then on Christmas eve tested positive for COVID! But the entire family was basically asymptomatic so that’s great. We hosted several cargo bike meetups and put another 1,000 miles on our Urban Arrow. The kind folks at Urban Arrow hooked us up with the rain cover (aka bat-mobile) and that has been a game changer for the kids on cold days.

We spent nearly 6 weeks in the Netherlands, living like locals in the Hague, Haarlem and Amsterdam. Met tons of people. Got to meet Urban Arrow, Jason from Not Just Bikes, and several other wonderful people and families. We spent a great deal of time with Maddy’s dad and his partner (who is an honorary grandma in our family). They helped out with watching the kids and we even got to travel to Gent, Belgium on our first ever kid-free mini-vacation, ever.

For ClassPass, I worked on a range of exciting projects. We finally got a new office in NYC and it’s beautiful. (Though as of 2022 we no longer have that office…) I was grateful to return to my 5-mile bike commute down to Chelsea for several glorious months.

We’ve aggressively started clearing out stuff, selling Jack’s Legos (with his permission) and basically anything we own that we don’t actively use. We began working with a financial advisor (a former colleague of mine), which has been really eye opening and valuable.

Overall, I think I’ve been able to achieve most of my goals for the year.

Family

Broaden our family’s perspectives

  • Have baby # 3 and survive: In May, we welcomed a beautiful daughter Marlowe, and officially became a family of five. WTF!? She’s already 7 months old and we’re so happy. She makes a lot of noise, just like her siblings, but we are eager to learn what kind of zany personality she has and are terrified of our 3 kids just nonstop talking at us. Send help.
  • Live in Amsterdam for 6 weeks: We weren’t able to travel abroad in 2020 so we were really making up for it in 2021. Normally, we home exchange with families (they live in our place in NYC and we live in theirs). However, because EU citizens could not visit the US in the summer of 2021, our plans were a bit more complicated. We managed to spend time in 4 different homes in Haarlem, Den Haag (the Hague) and Amsterdam. We got to really know the cities much better than when we just visited for a day and met some wonderful people. This was just a huge trip for so many reasons: got to spend several weeks with Maddy’s dad and his partner (who is an amazing grandma to the kids!), got to spend a week with the ClassPass Europe team (Amsterdam crew but also team Germany and team Sweden were in town for their end of quarter get together so I crashed their social events and got to do a bunch of classes together and dinner. It was a blast.); Maddy and I got to go on our first ever vacation alone (with just Marlowe but she’s easy) for 3 days to Gent, Belgium while her dad and dad’s partner watched the big kids; We met the Urban Arrow team and toured their HQ; I met Jason from Not just bikes; I test rode a Vanmoof from their HQ, we met a ton of wonderful people and biked all over the place including the beaches and dunes. So much more but I’ll leave it at that.
Visiting Urban Arrow HQ.
  • Prepare for our move to Amsterdam: So… our big plan was to move permanently to Amsterdam (or really Haarlem) in July 2022 through a visa with Classpass. To pull this off, we had to do a ton of planning and prep — everything from getting official documents for the visa, exploring selling our apartment, talking to moving companies, and so so much more. However, this process got truncated in late 2021 for a few reasons but basically I won’t be able to get sponsored through Classpass. So we’re extremely bummed.
Beautiful Haarlem, NL

Financial independence / peace of mind

  • Save 30% of earnings: Determining what percent of your earnings is being saved (as opposed to being diverted to expenses or taxes etc) is a fundamental metric I discovered while reading about the FIRE movement. It is simply your “savings rate” and the higher the rate, the sooner you can retire. It’s a great metric because it blends tax minimization strategies (eg maxing out your 401k is the simplest) with minimizing expenses. By calculating this I realized we had some room to improve (also working with a financial planner is invaluable). In 2019, we were at about 20%, then in 2020 we were at 25% (largely due to a big cut in expenses) and this year we’re at just over 30%.
  • Work with a financial planner: I always knew it would be valuable to have someone way more experienced than me managing our finances. It’s also really useful to have someone intimately familiar with your finances to bounce ideas off of, to see if certain decisions make sense. I wanted to be careful who to work with. I looked at a bunch of places like Northwestern Mutual (they just want to sell you a boatload of insurance because it’s their primary product, so major conflict of interest there), Betterment, Personal Capital, and several of the big ones that come up on google searches. Ultimately, I got word that Igor, an old coworker of mine, had started a financial planning company. I got on a call with him and was hooked. I highly recommend Vilga Financial Planning.
  • Get a CPA: I use TurboTax and it’s great, but with our planned move to the Netherlands we knew we’d have more complicated taxes. Not the case yet, so it’s back to TurboTax!
  • Refinance home mortgage: The year didn’t start with this goal but when a good friend explained just how low rates were and how I should start exploring options, it became clear there was a big opportunity. I talked to about a dozen mortgage brokers but ultimately worked with Melissa from Citibank which worked out great. I learned quite a lot from this process, mostly that I should have been more actively looking for deals. A mortgage represents easily the biggest purchase one will make in life and so it follows that when there’s that much money involved, there are opportunities that arise to save money. If you own your place, you absolutely should be regularly checking on rates and talking to brokers. While it did take 5 months (!!), we got an awesome deal. AMA.

Personal

  • 20th Anniversary of Jeff Makes a Movie: In college I made a feature length comedy called Jeff Makes a Movie that went on to several film festivals and became a cult classic for maybe a few people. 2021 marked the 20th anniversary and I thought it’d be cool to do a kind of reunion over Zoom and watch it together and have some laughs. I managed to reconnect with the entire cast and crew but Jesse and I didn’t set up the event. So maybe the 25th anniversary?
  • Digitize and organize all videos/tapes: I have a pretty large trove of 8mm video, Digital8 and miniDV tapes that I recorded for a wide range of video projects over the years (short and long form documentaries, work projects, interviews, filmmaking, etc). These have been collecting dust and I decided this would be the year that I digitize and throw them away! I got the ClearClick digital converter and it’s an amazing little device that just works. Only problem is tapes take a long time to record and many have very little context or have multiple things that should be recorded as separate files for proper organization. But I’m getting through them.
My digitizing setup with my trusty Sony DCR TRV-510 Digital8. 22 years old and still works nearly perfectly.
  • Blog: Amsterdam move: I wanted to put all the details about our move into a fun and in depth blog post but no move, no post. :(
  • Play 200 chess games: We were pretty motivated to play chess after watching “The Queen’s Gambit”, like the millions of other people who watched it. It was a short lived goal but my son has gotten more into chess recently, went to a tournament (!?!) and has been playing. So I’m now learning new strategies and things as he learns them.
  • Meet 5 new Amsterdam people: While we were in the Netherlands for 6 weeks, we got to meet some really wonderful people. Lots of friends of friends, Jason from Not Just Bikes, the team at Urban Arrow. Additionally, I got to meet (and reconnect with) in person with the ClassPass Europe team from Amsterdam, Germany and Sweden!

Get in the best shape of my life

I have an ongoing goal to stay healthy and active. It’s honestly getting trickier as I’m getting into my 40s. But hey, I can still run and bike, and I still have my hair, so I’m doing alright!

  • Goal: 250 Peloton workouts. Actual: 88. 2021 was our first full year of owning a Peloton. I had really thought I’d be on it a lot more. But I think when our office re-opened and I resumed my Citibike commute to Chelsea (about 35 min each way), I felt like I was getting some pretty good biking in. With 88 rides, I only achieved about a third of my goal but not bad. I also started using my friend Oskar’s phenomenal app Pelotrak that has also helped me track my metrics and chart my progress.
A sample Pelotrak post-ride screen.
  • Goal: 50 Classpass workouts. Actual: 20. This was a major challenge because I didn’t even start to go back to in-person workouts until August 2021. But damn did it feel great to be back in a studio working out with a group and having that all-in experience. I missed it and by October, I was generally getting in 1–2 classes per week. I got 20 ClassPass classes in and tried to get into more rowing for a few consecutive weeks.
My first in-person ClassPass class since March 7, 2020 was 18 months later, vaxxed, no masks at Rumble with my coworker and motivation, Wilson, and it was glorious. I’m so delighted to be back in studios!
  • Goal: 50 Runs on Strava. Actual: 38. I managed to do 38 runs overall, which wasn’t too bad.
  • Do the 5 boro ride: I was so so looking forward to doing the 5 Borough Bike Tour with Planned Parenthood. This would have been my 3rd time doing it, and I would have done it, yet again, on a Citibike (more on that here). It was cancelled in 2020 and while it is normally in May, the 2021 ride was scheduled for late August which was great. 29 amazing friends and family donated and helped me blow past my $1,000 goal with $1843 raised for Planned Parenthood NY! I went and picked up my bib and gear.. but Hurricane Henri had other plans. The organizers cancelled the ride (a good call since, you know, it would have been during a hurricane) and postponed it by 1 week. Sadly, we were already in Amsterdam when the ride happened so I missed it and followed along on Twitter. Next year!
  • Fix my carpal tunnel on both hands & fix tendonitis: Yeah so these are pretty medical. I had been dealing with carpal tunnel for a few years and planned to have carpal release surgery on both wrists. Also, somewhat randomly, I also happened to mess up my right wrist early in 2021 and got an awful tendonitis in my wrist which took a while to (mostly) heal. I basically became BFFs with my hand/wrist doctor. But things are all on the mend.
Over several months the scars have healed up and now you can barely see them.

Noteworthy

I almost got killed by a reckless turning driver of an oil tanker.
  • I met Helen Rosenthal outside her office. She noticed our cargo bike and commented on it and I noticed who she was! We talked a bit about the CPW bike path (which reclaimed 400 car parking spaces) and how the initial community board meetings were filled with screaming drivers. She said that after it was installed she barely got any complaints from drivers.
  • We did the Harlem River ride with TA.
  • We tried biscuit sandwiches by Chef Boots at Harlem Biscuit Company (scrumptious!!). Several times.
  • My request for a bike corral to DOT finally got installed in front of my apartment. It took 1.5 years. It immediately led to a few members on my condo board getting upset, talking to the DOT and the Harlem community board (CB10) and several months later it was ripped out. An SUV is often parked there and the hydrant is frequently blocked by drivers with hundreds of parking tickets, or drivers who idle for hours. So job well done team.
It took 1.5 years to replace 1 parking spot with a bike corral and safety measures for a dangerous intersection. It took 4 months to undo it entirely due to bureaucracy and not getting 1,000 signature from people on the block to sign off on this change. Not like we’re in a climate emergency but yeah let’s keep arguing about parking spaces.
Maddy and I were briefly in a Streetfilms about open streets!
  • And then again recently in a brilliant piece about cargo biking families in NYC!

Expenses

We’re pretty obsessed with accounting for every penny of our expenses and spotting trends, patting ourselves on the backs when we do well and finger wag when we rocket past our budgets. Overall, our expenses were down 3.5% from 2020 (and down 12% from 2019). This time around I’ll just highlight the biggest swings by category — good and bad.

  • Housing -9%: Thanks to refinancing our mortgage in a time with historically low interest rates!
  • Student Loans -76%: Thanks to a loan freeze. But we’ll likely resume payments at some point.
  • Misc Expenses -37%: Not really sure where to attribute this to.
  • Babysitter & Daycare -22%: We had a third child! But our middle one began a 3K program that was paid by the city.
  • Groceries -10%: Somehow we spent a bit less on groceries.
  • Amazon: -26% We’ve curtailed a lot of our Amazon spending.
  • Car Services +575%: Ok so this went from under $100 in all of 2020 to about $600 this year. For context this is in line with our 2018 car services expenses.
  • Gym +64%: This is a great sign. It’s a mix of Peloton costs and as things re-opened, my wife’s Classpass membership.
  • Soylent & Ample +56%: Liquid meals are all the rage in our house, what can I say! I’m a big fan of Soylent for on-the-go, I-can’t-think-of-what-to-prepare-and-want-fixed-calories-that-taste-good meals. Maddy is a fan of Ample, a more nutritious, protein-heavy meal in a bottle.
  • Order in +175%: Ok, maybe not super proud of this one but we indulged a lot (for us) this year. Spending nearly $100/mo, which is probably not much considering it’s for a family of 5. But it’s way up from our low of $100 for all of 2018!
  • House Cleaning +210%: Once vaccinations made it way safer to have people come over, we picked back up on our biweekly and then weekly cleanings and it’s probably the best money we spend. Turns out, kids are the worst roommates and within 1 day of our house cleaning, the place is a disaster again. But for those few hours when the apartment is clean, it’s delightful.
  • Medical +138%: Not to get too personal but we had a few planned [low risk] surgeries and a child birth, so we increased our premiums on a better insurance plan and diverted money to the healthcare FSA. It had taken a bit of spreadsheet hacking to determine how to optimize our overall yearly cost given the expenses we knew were coming, but we’re confident we did the best we could.
  • Vacation +34%: Since we pride ourselves on budget travel (housing via home exchange, flights on points) we try to keep our costs quite low for what we do. This was true this year but we spent 6 weeks in the Netherlands, did a 3 day trip to Gent, Belgium, and spent a week on Fire Island in NY. So we are reconsidering our vacation budget to allow for these much larger blocks of time abroad.

Amusing

Top Twitter

Unbelievably, I had 3 tweets that exceeded 1,000 likes! This is exceptional for me mostly because I have no idea what will catch fire. I thought talking about Mr. Frumble (from the Richard Scarry books) would be gold.

My most popular tweet EVER was just some shaky footage while I biked over a Dutch highway, pointing out their awesome their noise dampening walls.

Article mentions & Advocacy

A portion of a Bloomberg article about NYC idling vehicles for which I was interviewed.
  • In December 2021, I finally sent the Reported 2020 Calendar to Mayor Adams and DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. This was a meaningful project that was derailed by the pandemic.
  • In January 2021, I provided public testimony at the City Council hearing about Intro 2159 which proposes a citizen complaint program for illegally parked cars on sidewalks and bike lanes. The full livestream is here and the public comments are profound and moving.
I provided public testimony at the City Council hearing about Intro 2159.
  • Brian Newborn did an NYU project on smart cities and included data from Reported. His full report is here.
  • Biked in Ben Kallos’ UES New Years bike ride. (tweet)
Via Bman tweet.
  • Maddy (cargobikemomma) was featured in a great biking interview on Propel’s channel with Chris.
This wasn’t about me but I’m so so proud of my amazing wife. And Chris is awesome too.

Reported

I refactored a few things in the Reported workflow so it could handle more reports reliably. What this basically means is the “time to submission” (the average number of minutes from when you hit submit on the app to when my script submits the report to 311) is down to 5 minutes, which is near real time.

My big goal for 2022 is to make a few major improvements to the app’s reliability [thanks to Denis/Devin] as well as begin migrating some of the data layer to a new schema.

Technology

New stuff I got and why it has been life changing.

  • Insta360: A tiny but powerful alternative to the GoPro that I think just works way better for my needs. It’s way smaller and lighter. It’s got the battery and SD card built in AND has magnetic backing so it’s basically already Snap Mounts. It saves files that are way smaller than Gopro’s so transferring to the iPhone is a lot faster and there’s way less of a need to then compress (although I still do).
  • Iphone 13: Just an amazing piece of technology.
  • ClearClick digital converter: This is the device I’m using to digitize my old videos and it just works. It’s got a little screen, takes RCA cables (or HDMI) and writes MP4s to an SD card. It is pretty magical to be honest and has allowed me to digitize 100s of tapes.
  • Nixplay: This is a dynamic picture frame where you load it with photos wirelessly and it shows them in an endless slideshow. Sounds hokey but it is an exceptional piece of technology (tons of really neat, well designed features) and it gave us a place to put all our professional family photos so we can more regularly see ourselves through the years (rather than put up a few static framed photos).

If you made it this far, congrats! Let’s go rock 2022!

For past OKR reviews see

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Jeff Novich

product @ClassPass | husband & dad | Transit & #bikenyc advocate | creator @Reported_NYC