The Medellin Internships
In March I put up a post offering internships to come work with me for six months in Colombia. In April I had chosen three smart and enthusiastic young men from three continents for the job. In May they arrived and in June I sat on the phone with my father — a successful entrepreneur and employer of more than 30 workers — who told me that it was incredibly unlikely that I’d end up hiring more than one of them when all was said and done.
Until this year, the most I had ever managed was my mother’s cat. I have managed to avoid conventional employment my entire life and with it the necessary hierarchy of headaches that is known as management.
But this summer that changed. The listing was posted as an internship for them and as a learning and growth experience for them, but I had a lot to learn as well — about managing people, about crafting strategy and developing accountability, about what my business needed and didn’t need.
1. Let’s start with the facts: three interns were flown into Medellin for six months, one left last week with a job offer. Site traffic doubled. Total revenue almost doubled. Approximately 63 liters of Aguardiente was consumed. Good times were had by all.
2. The details get more complicated. Both interns who didn’t get offers had areas in which they could have performed better, but their full-time employment also had the paradoxical effect of revealing that the work they were doing wasn’t as necessary for the business as I originally anticipated.
It was kind of liking hiring someone to build and landscape this beautiful backyard for you only to find out that few people in your house actually wanted to go outside.
Even though overall the guys did an awesome job and were very capable, it became clear some months into it that the needs of the business were different than I anticipated.
So in a weird way, the internships were just as valuable in showing me what the business didn’t need as they were in the actual work they produced. An expensive lesson to learn, but valuable nonetheless.
3. I learned that managing kind of sucks and that I’m not that good at it.
(This is nothing against the three guys. They’re smart guys and genuinely cared about doing a good job.)
I’m incredibly self-sufficient and work best when left unconstrained and unsupervised. What I discovered is that 1) most people aren’t like that, and 2) I had a hard time relating to them when they weren’t. When I was building this business, it was not unusual for me to work 16 hour days and teach myself new skills just to try some new crazy idea and see if it worked. So when these guys came to me with problems, a lot of times my knee-jerk reaction was, “Can’t you figure it out on your own? Isn’t that what I hired you for?”
The result was that my feedback and accountability as a manager was sub-par, and their autonomy and self-sufficiency never quite reached my expectations. I originally hired these guys because I wanted to delegate most of my business and have time to focus on writing — the thing that I do best and the thing that affects the bottom line the most.
But while I delegated out a lot of the tasks and responsibilities that held me up previously, I now spent that extra time supervising, checking over people’s work, and discussing strategy and ideas. Instead of spending 50% of my time hopping from task to task, I was now spending 50% of my time managing three people who were hopping from task to task.
So in a way, I was a bit relieved when it turned out their work wasn’t as crucial as I had expected. This has taught me to refocus on what I enjoy and what has the most impact. It’s made me re-evaluate why I’m doing this in the first place: because I’m passionate about sharing my ideas and affecting people in a positive way. The money, the credibility, the products, the marketing and guru stuff, that’s all a side-effect and not the primary purpose or even necessarily desired.
The writing is the purpose. That’s why I’m still here after five years. And that’s why hundreds of thousands of people come to this site.4. The social aspect of the experience turned out to be fun and rewarding as well. Obviously, the three guys were thrilled to be breaching a new culture and push their own comfort zones. But I’ve spent most of the last three years living and traveling alone. Having three friends and roommates to share cultural experiences, social connections, and just the daily riff-raff with, turned out to be really enjoyable for me.
5. The confluence of emotionally stressful situations made the first couple months difficult for everyone. Two of us had never lived with other people in years. I had never managed before. These guys had a new job and were learning new skills. There was the culture shock, being in a new country and not knowing anybody. And then the pressure of performing to a certain level within six months or else.
All things considered, I think we all came out stronger and better people in the end. My tendency has always been to throw myself into situations that are perhaps a little bit TOO extreme and this was no exception. In hindsight, there were a lot of ways where I could have eased the transition and made things a little less stressful for everyone. But on the other hand, it forced a lot of growth and introspection on everyone, so it was still a great experience.
6. The guys really came together for the launch of Escape Plan in the last two months. Even though it was clear by then that we weren’t going to hit our goals and things weren’t going to turn out how everyone had hoped, everyone stepped up and did a great job on the marketing and launch.
7. So what about the next internship? After all, I received 67 applications for the first internship, and I’ve already received around 10 emails from people inquiring about the possibility of there being another round of internships next year.
I’m sad to say that I have no plans for more internships at the moment. The business has a lot of room to grow with my employee and I and thanks to these past six weeks, I have a clear vision on what I need to do over the next year or two.
With that said, I am open to the possibility of joint ventures and collaborating with people, assuming it’s win/win and it’s a worthwhile time investment for me. I’ll be writing a post in the next week or two detailing how to go about working with me if you have an idea or proposal.
8. As most regular readers know, the central theme — perhaps even the defining theme — of this website is the idea of taking action towards your dreams and desires. Whether it’s in your dating life or your relationships or defining your life purpose, the idea is to have your vision for yourself and then take bold and calculated steps to make it a reality.
With this blog I’ve tried to practice what I teach, to not just write about taking bold actions but to take bold actions myself — like this internship, like giving away a trip somewhere in the world this fall (an intern’s idea, by the way). In each case, I’m putting my own money out there, sending the message: “The action of doing something cool and life changing is what’s important, so what are you doing?”
Despite the fact that the internship did not proceed as planned and did not accomplish the tangible goals it set out to accomplish, the intangible benefits and lessons we gained from it will stick with us and our success for a lifetime. That’s ultimately what matters most.
So I’d like to thank the guys, for having the courage to go out on a limb with me and try something mildly insane. And of course, for all of you following a long who dare to give a crap about such things. Thank you. And who knows what the future will bring.
PS: If anyone has questions for the interns themselves, you can ask them in the comments section. I’m sure the guys wouldn’t mind answering them and talking about their experiences.