Not Silicon Valley’s Ego

This is Part 3 in my Not Silicon Valley series. Part 1: Not Silicon Valley’s Timeline, Part 2: Not Silicon Valley’s Talent Pipeline, and more coming soon.


What I was constantly told, and subconsciously came to believe, was that if I wanted to build a truly great tech company, I had to be more like Mark Zuckerberg in the movie The Social Network — punk, genius, traitor, billionaire — or just plain disruptive.

The media often portrays founders of tech companies as brash, charismatic and abrasive.

Just look at this Fortune cover image of Travis Kalanick, the Founder of Uber.

Sneering, wearing cowboy boots and saying “I don’t think I’m an asshole.”

We’re told that, to be successful, you’ve got to have a huge ego and be willing to trample a few people on the way up the ladder.

Why is that? In our everyday lives, outside of the tech industry, we don’t value any of those traits. Infact, we would actively try to avoid anyone with those characteristics and would definitely shun their friendship attempts.

Yet at work we think that acting like an ‘asshole’ is somehow cool and what is required to succeed in our fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world.

Let me tell you now, it’s not. Tech founders don’t have the luxury of being in a category of their own when it comes to human decency. In truth, they are the ones that should be setting the example.

I’ve been running Treehouse for eight years and I’ve learned that just being a maverick won’t cut it. It’s actually nowhere near good enough. Yes you need strength and you need to be tough to a certain extent. Maybe the word is ‘thick-skinned’. But more than anything you need to be …

  1. Humble —you’re not the only one with good ideas or the right strategy. Admit that some of your success is because of luck and how you were raised.
  2. Hard-working — be comfortable with being uncomfortable, every day. Do the difficult work, even when you don’t want to.
  3. Results-driven — decide what numbers really matter, then work every day at learning more about how to change those numbers.
  4. Disciplined — stick to your plan, even when you want to chase distracting new ideas.
  5. Inclusive — Say aloud, ‘people of every color, gender and sexual orientation have equal value to add’ and really mean it. And act on it.

I call those things H.H.R.D.I., pronounced ‘hardy’. I try to follow these guidelines at Treehouse.

So to all you leaders out there, who are tempted to style yourselves on the new ‘disruptive’, ‘bold’ or ‘genius’ type of founder, or whatever else the entertainment and media industry comes up with, just remember that stamina, focus and plain old decency will always win. Just like it always has.


Thank you to Gillian Carson for collaborating with me on this article.


Hi, I’m Ryan, the Founder of Treehouse 👋😃

My mission is creating the future of education, so I can help as many people as possible. If you enjoyed this post, please give it a clap!

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