May 02



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Recently we tried something new at Treehouse and it’s working wonderfully well, so I thought I’d share the secret with you.

We recently crossed the invisible it’s-impossible-to-communicate-effectively line. The strange place where it feels like you’re small enough as a company not to have ‘communication procedures’ but large enough that somehow everyone is no longer on the same page (and misinformation spreads like wildfire). For us, that number was around 30 employees. We’re at 53 now, so it was time for a new strategy. 

Previously, we used Campfire as our ‘water cooler’. The place we’d hang out and chat about stupid stuff, random news, celebrations, etc. This was really important because we have a distributed team across the World, so we couldn’t rely on physical interactions to boost morale and communication.

The problem is that if you miss a conversation in Campfire, it can be difficult to go back and figure out what happened. The lack of threading, comments and up/down votes makes it very difficult to decipher what’s worth reading and what’s just random banter. Everything has the same importance in a chatroom.

Internal Reddit-clones

In an email thread about this issue, Jim brought up the idea of building an internal Reddit-clone. He cranked it out in a couple days, called in Convoy (because the movie is full of awesomeand here’s what it looks like …

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The idea is simple: If it’s not actionable or urgent, post it to Convoy. Here’s the general guidelines:

  • Phone or Google Hangout: Need an answer immediately
  • IM: Need an answer in the next hour
  • Email: Need an answer in next day or two
  • Convoy: No answer required

Jim even built in a bit of gamification with points and user activity streams …

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We still use Campfire for quick banter that’s too transient for Convoy. The Developers and Designers live in Campfire and really use it as a hive-mind. The rest of us though tend to abuse Hubot a bit in Campfire but leave the real discussions and random posts for Convoy.

We don’t have any rules about having to check Convoy or Campfire. It’s all about how much each person wants to stay connected. If they’re feeling out of the loop or disconnected, Convoy is a fun and easy way to jump back in.

Now that we’ve been using Convoy for a couple weeks, I definitely feel a palpable difference in the company culture. We’re more connected and everyone is having a chance to weigh in on discussions. Previously, you’d see these huge email threads about topics that may or may not interest you. Now email is less noisy and a lot of the discussions are happening in Convoy. Email is preserved for actionable items, which is great.

In conclusion, I’d highly recommend using an internal Reddit-clone so that your Team has a chance to discuss non-urgent/non-actionable topics or just offer encouragement or distraction. We love it.

Apr 17



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As we scale Treehouse, I’ve been getting an on-the-job-MBA. It’s both stressful and really fun at the same time. One new tactic I’m trying is a bi-weekly 30 minute 1-on-1 meeting with each person I lead, with a very specific agenda. 

I have a 30 minute meeting (Google Hangout or in-person), every other Monday, with the following folks:

  1. Chief Content Officer - Nick Pettit
  2. Chief Operating Officer / Chief Financial Officer - Mike Watson
  3. Chief Marketing Officer - Alan Johnson (He’s my Co-Founder but he’s running the Marketing Team for a year)
  4. Chief Commercial Officer - Chris Zabaleta
  5. Head of Design - Jeremy Jantz
  6. Head of Web Development - Tommy Morgan
  7. Head of Mobile Development - Marshall Huss
  8. Head of Treehouse Labs - Jim Hoskins

Managing eight people is about right. Probably a little on the high side for a CEO, but it’s a good structure for us right now.

The agenda

  1. What are the top five things you’ve been working on the last two weeks?
  2. Do those match to the items you’re accountable for in the 90 Day Plan?
  3. What are you doing to advance the careers of the people you lead?

I use a Trello Board with a list for each person. Each 1-on-1 I ask them to pre-populate a card with those three items as lists. I’ve made an example public board for you to see.

Don’t manage People, manage Activities

I got the idea of this 1-on-1 meeting structure from Rod Rice, an all-star executive who I met recently. He was key in taking Bowflex from $2m in revenue to $600m. Not bad :)

Our leadership team is currently reading Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and I got the idea of managing activities, not people. No one wants to be ‘managed’. However, they do want to be guided on whether they’re working on the right thing, at the right time. 

The 1-on-1 meeting structure above really focuses your Team on what actions they’re taking to advance the company’s goals. I’m not delegating things to my Leaders. I’m asking them what they’re doing to advance the goals of the company. They have freedom to attack our top priorities however they see fit, and then I hold them accountable to that.

Apr 10



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We just announced that Treehouse has raised $7m in funding, led by Kaplan with S+C participating.

I think this is a great place to take a stand and say you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley (or a “startup hub”) in order to raise money for your startup or be successful. 

Paul Graham and I had a disagreement about this when he did a talk titled The Future of Web Startups at our conference in 2007. Afterwards, he summarized his thoughts on our interaction in his post Why to Move to a Startup Hub. That post is 5.5 years old now so I’m not sure what his current thoughts are. Paul and I are frienemies because we respect each other, but have different opinions on a few key issues. This post isn’t meant to be disparaging to him.

I hope that the following facts will be one counterpoint to the “You’ve got to move to a Startup Hub” message. Treehouse has …

  1. Raised over $12,000,000 in capital from some of the World’s best investors (Chamath Palihapitiya, Kevin Rose, Reid Hoffman, David Sze, Greylock, Mark Suster and Kaplan)
  2. Acquired 25,000+ active and paying Treehouse Students
  3. Grown to a $5m yearly revenue run rate and growing fast (18% top line growth last month alone)
  4. Hired 55+ employees distributed across Orlando, Portland and the rest of the USA (and one in the UK)
  5. Established a 4-day work week
  6. Received coverage from national news media

One of our core values at Treehouse is “We do it our way” and this fits nicely in with that.

Startup Founders: Don’t be afraid to do it your own way.

Apr 04



I tweeted this last night and it drew a lot of replies, both interested and mocking …

Our entire infrastructure at Treehouse is built on Google Apps: Contacts, Calendar, Hangouts, Mail and Docs. The poor support for Google is driving me mad and I’m sick of it. 

Daniel Lewis, one of our designers, showed me his Nexus 4 and and I was instantly convinced. It was a pure-Android experience, without all the carrier crap added on top.

I currently have an iPhone 4s and the power button is jammed, so I’m ditching it and making the switch. I’m also excited about moving over to a Chromebook or the Chrome Pixel (and yes, I’ve heard the terrible reviews).

I live my whole life on the web. Besides Skitch, I use zero native desktop apps. I need an operating system on both my phone and my desktop that’s designed for that.

I’m hearing from a lot of people, who really value design, that they’re making the switch. It feels very much like the underground movement of the web design/dev community to OSX back in 2001-2002. I have a feeling that we’re starting to see the slow decline of Apple. Only time will tell.

Mar 11



I worked my ass off to lose 10% body fat. My weight dropped to 175 lbs but at 6’4” tall, that was too thin. So my next challenge was to gain lean mass and get that weight up to 185 lbs (and ideally closer to 195 lbs).

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I was working out hard, eating right and staying active, but just could not put on lean mass and break that 175 lb barrier. I had been sticking to a Paleo-like diet for over 1.5 years (which my wife kindly supported me through) when I came across a post by Tim Ferriss called The Diet of UFC Champion Georges St-Pierre: How He Transformed Himself. It documents how St-Pierre gained 12 lbs of lean mass in eight weeks.

I had never heard of the three body types:

  1. Ectomorph – Thin build, challenging to put on weight (muscle or fat); Example: long-distance runner.
  2. Mesomorph – Muscular build, can lose or gain muscle easily (fat gain minimal); Example: sprinter or gymnast.
  3. Endomorph – Large build, easy to put on weight (both good and bad); Example: shotputter or football lineman.

I didn’t realize I was an Ectomorph and I needed to be eating healthy carbs. No wonder I wasn’t gaining any mass!

I changed my diet to something very similar to Georges St-Pierre in this post and continued doing the 5x5 Strong Lifts.

Bam. I’ve gone from 175.9 lbs to 184.6 lbs in just 28 days, while simultaneously decreasing my body fat % from 13.7 to 13.6%. That’s a gain of 8.7 lbs of lean mass.

Why didn’t I do this sooner?

I’m kicking myself for not taking control of this earlier in my life. I had this capability my whole life and I didn’t understand how my body worked and how to affect it. I lived a lot of years not feeling happy with my body which seems stupid now. 

Regardless, now that I’m in control of my body I’m gaining a huge amount of confidence and enjoyment out of the process. It’s actually fun, which is still shocking to me.

Further info

The tool I use to measure my body fat percentage is a BodyMetrix Personal.

Here is where I’ve started with StrongLifts and where I’m currently at:

  • Squat: Started at 75 lbs, now at 160 lbs
  • Overhead Press: Started at 45 lbs, now at 85 lbs
  • Deadlift: Started at 95 lbs, now at 175 lbs
  • Bench Press: Started at 65 lbs, now at 105 lbs
  • Barbell Row: Started at 65 lbs, now at 105 lbs



Now that we’ve got 50+ people at Treehouse, my main role is communicating - mostly over email. Here are some tips I’ve learned to make email efficient and effective …

#1 - Reply Inline

When you reply to someone, say hello at the top, and then reply to their points “inline”. You can see examples below. Three big reasons for doing this:

  1. You don’t have to re-state their questions or points. You simply reply below them.
  2. You don’t have to add weird formatting like bold, colors or underlines, in order for the recipient to see your comments
  3. It’s easier to see the conversations history

Examples …

Email #1

Hi Enrique,

What doe you think we should do on Issue Number One?

Also, I’d like your thought son Issue Number Two. Thanks.

All the Best,
Wanda

Email #2

Hi Wanda,

Answers below …

Hi Enrique,

What doe you think we should do on Issue Number One?

I think we should move forward on this issue.

Also, I’d like your thought son Issue Number Two. Thanks.

Please go ahead and do this today, thanks.

All the Best,
Wanda

Thanks!
Enrique

Email #3

Hi Enrique, answers below …

Hi Wanda,

Answers below …

Hi Enrique,

What doe you think we should do on Issue Number One?

I think we should move forward on this issue.

What’s the budget?

Also, I’d like your thought son Issue Number Two. Thanks.

Please go ahead and do this today, thanks.

Will do! I’ll let you know when it’s complete

All the Best,
Wanda

Thanks!
Enrique

All the best,
Wanda

#2 - Use BCC

When someone introduces you to someone, the best thing to do is remove them with BCC. This keeps them from getting stuck in reply-back-and-forth-purgatory. For example, if someone named Jim introduced me to someone named Michelle, then I’d do the following …

Thanks Jim, moving you to BCC.

Michelle,

Great to meet you! I’d like to give you a call, if you have time, to discuss …

Your tips …

So those are a couple of my simple tips. Please share yours below!

Feb 05



"Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but nobody wanna lift heavy ass weights" - Ronnie Coleman, Eight times Mr Olympian winner

I’ve noticed a recurring theme in the lives of successful people: 

  1. They’re naively optimistic about what’s possible
  2. They work hard and smart to get there

That’s why I love that quote by Ronnie Coleman. Everyone wants to be successful but few are willing to do what it takes.

Work longer?

What I’m not promoting is working longer hours. As you probably know, we work a 4-day week at Treehouse. What I am promoting is being willing to go through pain and fear. Not just willing, but expecting and welcoming these things.

I see a lot of similarities with working out at the gym and succeeding in the rest of your life. There’s no way around the fact that if I want to get stronger and healthier, I have to cause my body to ‘hurt’. Fatigue, exhaustion, aches, feeling sick. It’s all necessary.

The same is true with success in the rest of my life. I’ll never get to where I want to go without experiencing fear, doubt and exhaustion.

It’s normal and it’s good. Not always and not forever, but it’s definitely been a part of my journey.

Jan 30



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I’ve written about doing it alone but I’m also learning the importance of surrounding yourself with people who’ve already achieved your goals and push you really hard.

That’s why I joined Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) this year. To join you have to be the CEO or own a controlling share of the company, and be doing $1m+ in yearly revenue.

They have a complete list of the benefits on their site but the primary reason I’m joining is for something called Forum. A Forum is a smaller group (8-12 people) within your local EO chapter that meets once a month.

Forum members take part in growth-oriented meetings, employing special protocols to support a trusting environment in which they can safely explore business and personal issues. The idea is that everything you share at the meeting is completely confidential (you can’t even tell your Partner about it) so you can reveal your biggest and scariest challenges. The ones you can’t talk to your Team/Partner/Kids/etc about because you’re supposed to have the answers. 

Before you can join a Forum you have to go through Forum Training, which is a full day immersion course in how to listen and give feedback to others. EO Forums use the Gestalt Protocol which basically means you can only speak from experience, instead of giving advice. I’ve actually been using this in other areas of my life and it works really well.

Speaking from experience removes the pressure for the listener to take your advice and it also has real factual value, as you’re sharing real-life stories and what did or didn’t work for you. The listener can listen to your experience and then translate it into action however they see fit.

I’m really excited about EO. I can tell I’ve been thrashing around as an entrepreneur for the last seven years and it’s time to get freaking serious about growing, learning and kicking ass. Bring it on!

Jan 28



As many of you know, I don’t have a business degree, so I’m learning as I go. At 50+ employees, Treehouse is now at the phase where I have to build out the management structure and operations to allow it to become a big company.

The reason why I want the company to be large is because that will allow us to achieve our Mission of bringing affordable Technology education to people everywhere, in order to help them achieve their dreams and change the world. We can’t help millions of people unless the company is big and operating efficiently.

As I said, I never went to Business school so I’m now hiring folks who know how to scale companies and build out operations. One of our newer Team Members is Mike Watson and he’s helping us do this. 

The 90 Day Plan

One of the first things that Mike did is help us create a 90 Day Plan. This is a Google Spreadsheet that is shared among the Leadership Team. It’s a simple list of actions with priorities and the person responsible. Here’s how we created it:

  1. We wrote down our most important actions in the near term and gave them a priority of 1, 2 or 3.
  2. We assigned a point-person for each action.
  3. We grouped the actions by business area (B2B, Content, Growth, etc).
  4. We shared the doc with all the Leadership Team and asked for feedback.
  5. We refined the document
  6. We shared the document with the whole company

The key thing to note is that everything on the 90DP is an action. No goals or fuzzy items. Everything has to be an atomic action point. Several of them are “Research XYZ and then make decision” as you often don’t know which action should be taken until you investigate.

Running the 90DP

Now that we’ve finalized the 90DP, it won’t change for the next 90 days. That’s the power: The whole company can stay focused for 90 days and execute. Unless there’s a red-alert-emergency, we can all focus and get things done. 

We meet once a month as a Leadership Team and review the 90DP. The person who was assigned to an action will report on progress and everyone is held accountable. We take minutes so that everyone is held accountable for the next monthly Leadership meeting.

A key to the monthly Leadership Meeting is that everyone is required to prepare materials and circulate them a full week before the meeting. This allows all the raw information exchange to happen before the meeting, thus allowing us to discuss (argue) the data and then decide on next actions. 

Before we implemented the 90DP, the Leadership Meetings I ran where fairly useless. We just regurgitated facts on what each Team was doing instead of discussing strategy, holding each other accountable and then deciding on next steps.

Letting Go …

One big goal of mine this year is to let go and let my Management Team run the company. Like most Founder CEOs I have a tendency to meddle and micro-manage. 

Thankfully my Leadership Team was honest with me and told me this was becoming a problem, so I’m being proactive about fixing it and stepping back so they can make decisions and act without me being the bottleneck.

This is the awkward moment in every Founder’s life where they realize that they can’t directly affect anything the company does - it’s down to the smart people they hired to take the company and really make it fly.

I’m excited because I know we have the right people on the Team to kick ass and conquer the world :)

Jan 18



Since we moved to Portland we’ve made a conscious decision to not wait to live.

What I mean by this is proactively planning experiences and not letting the busyness of life dominate.

All of you with kids will especially be able to relate to this. It feels like you have zero personal time and any romance you once had with your Partner has been squeezed out by the tyranny of the urgent.

Gill and I have been spontaneously grabbing opportunities to hang out and it’s amazing because it feels like we’re dating again.

We grabbed last minute tickets to see Lady Gaga and then on Wed we just drove to Timberline (1.5 hrs away) and snowboarded for 3 hours. It’s been freaking awesome.

I know these things are harder to do if you don’t control your work schedule or cash is tight. However I believe it’s a frame of mind - I’m not going to wait to live until “everything is under control” or I’ve hit my personal goals.

Stuff I Like

@ryancarson on Twitter

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