Last Days of August Memo

Last Days of August Memo

Maxwell Ryan
Aug 28, 2015

July 2015 Stats

The Kitchn

- 18,021,000 (record for 2015)
- Month Over Month: + 9% from June
- Year Over Year: + 25% from July 2014
- Comscore rank: 8 of all Food Sites

Apartment Therapy

- 10,484,000
- Month Over Month: + 7% from June
- Year Over Year: + 20% from July 2014
- Comscore rank: 9 of all Home Sites

August is almost over, but I want to use this quiet time to push out a few updates.


July was a great month for us as traffic began to rise a little earlier than usual and on the heels of doing some major fixes to our SEO abilities. Both The Kitchn and Apartment Therapy are now firmly in the top 10 sites of their competitive sets and we expect that rise to continue as we head to the end of the year.


On August 3rd we officially completed our three month Tune Up process, which entailed an exhaustive brainstorming and documenting of everything from departmental Values, Visions and Missions down to Processes, Job Descriptions and even a Glossary of Shared Terms (all inspired by David Marquet's Turn This Ship Around). I want to personally thank all the full timers for going through it and contributing. In doing so we all began the first steps towards becoming a Leader/Leader Organization in which all 43 full time team members now in line to own and lead their area of influence in order to make the work better, faster and stronger.

All full time staff now have what we call The Hub Folder on their desktop, which includes all the core shared documents we work from as a company: The Dashboard (numbers and stats), The Guide (Vision, Missions, people and processes) and The Glossary (shared terminology). More will be added to this as the months go by as will the numbers be updated in the first week of every month.

In addition, as a direct result of Tune Up I was able this week to approve requests directly tied to all five departments missions to accelerate hiring, adding 14 new people in the next six months to Ad Sales, Rev Ops, Product, AT and TK.

This is an enormous push for us and an early commitment of nearly three quarters of a million dollars over the next year in additional salary, and it will radically transform our daily work. There is no way we could have done this beforehand, as both the ideas and the workable structures were not yet in place.


In everything we do from this point forward, we have committed to doing only those things that will make our work stronger and to serve the readers and clients better. Everyone is asked to lead by solving problems as they arise and by bringing insight to future opportunities. Everyone is given more freedom to make requests and ask to change the way they work if it would lead to improvements all around.

We will also be measuring everything we do in order to understand the impact of what we do and learn how to do things better. If we can't measure it in some way, we can't know if we are improving.

I really believe that this will be a big part of our Special Sauce as we grow over the next few years. The more we build in leadership and problem solving at every level of the company, the faster and smarter we'll adapt and innovate as we move through this quickly changing digital landscape. We're already seeing the effects of it during Staff Updates this month as a bunch of you made perceptive observations and requested changes/improvements that would directly improve our work. We still have work to do in terms of focusing everyone on their own goals and giving them the tools to see how what they do locally directly impacts our global movements. We are still in early stages of wanting big things for both sites, but not quite shaping our individual goals for the next three months to directly line up with those aspirations. It will come.

At the core of all of these changes is a simple but challenging idea, the Decision Tree, which breaks all decisions into four levels. Here's a simple pic to give you a visual:

(Image credit: Culture Hacking)

Leaf decisions we all make many of every day throughout the day and they require no approval or notification.

Example: "I intend to take a half an hour to clean off my desktop and re-organize the image files from last week so I can work productively on my posts today."

Branch decisions we make less of and they require that we tell the person we report to or anyone directly affected that we've made a decision and acted on it.

Example: "I decided not to photograph the House Tour in SoHo yesterday, because there was a better one in Harlem that I photographed instead. It will be my House Tour for next week, and I want to let you know that I made that change. "

Trunk decisions are those that require approval, but the important thing about them is that they also bring a solution and the intention to move forward and NOT a problem or a puzzle with no solution. Trunk decisions are an important new place for us all to operate from as we suggest changes and improvements in our work or come forward with the way to solve a problem with everything fully thought out and ONLY asking for approval.

Example: "I intend to take all of Thursday and Friday to overhaul our recipe archive given what we've learned about improving our SEO, because I believe there's a big problem with those old posts, which is dragging us down. I know no one has been talking about this, but I've been thinking about it a lot, and I can tell you more about why this is a good idea. Can I have approval?"

Root decisions should be few and far between as a few decisions can only be made by those with more knowledge, experience or the power to make crucial decisions that affect everybody.

Example: "I've just received an email asking me to take down a post and saying that we will be sued if we don't. I didn't want to do anything until I brought it to you."

Most organizations spend a great deal of time bringing problems for solving or deciding at the Root level, when really most all of them should be decided at the Trunk level and below. The "What should I do?" moment should be an extremely rare occasion in a healthy environment. Instead, we should all be hearing "I intend to do XXX, do I have approval?" and "I did XXX because it was a good idea and I wanted you to know" every day.

As we move forward you will all be hearing more about these four levels, and I would like to challenge you all to stop and think before you bring up a problem or decision with someone in charge and ask them to take it off of your hands. The more we each take the role of Leader and not Follower, the better we will all be and our work too. It's about shifting responsibility down and taking it upon ourselves.

As John F. Kennedy famously said at his inauguration in 1961:,

"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."


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