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Keen Goes to Sleepaway Camp


We know summer is ending, but we haven’t been able to admit it. (The megadrought isn’t helping either.) At Keen, we’re doing our part to extend our summer vibes. We’re going on a trip together. And not just any trip. Keen is going to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica! For the next week, we’ll be staying together in a glorious villa overlooking the Pacific coast. This isn’t just a retreat for executives or veterans, engineering or sales. This trip is both a celebration of our history up to present (with a successful Series A at the start of the summer!) and as a very important preparation for the future.


To be clear, while this trip is about having some fun and taking a little break from the day-to-day of everything it is also about far more than that as well! When we’re not going for a morning swim or sunset stroll, we’ll focus on work we don’t normally get to prioritize, have an internal hackathon, go on a few adventures in the jungle, and spend plenty of quality time with each other. Think of it as summer camp.


At Keen, we constantly seek to improve; both at creating a product we’re deeply passionate about and building a lasting company that we’re utterly dedicated to nurturing. We’ve thrived up to this point with a deeply bonded internal community, seeded by the initial members who have known each other closely for a decade. Their shared experiences and values were the warm glow of a campfire to our external community.

About a year ago, Keen was nine people. We are now just shy of thirty! The majority of that team growth happened over the last three months. It is tough for new and old members to undergo the doubling of a company. Now our ranks have swelled. We have a host of new teammates with superpowers! But building Keen is time-consuming enough that we haven’t yet gotten to know each as well as we could. We have had to reevaluate our communications, processes, and overall internal structure.


Making all these improvements has been totally great! But, just like any emotional, rebellious teenager, growing up and staying true to yourself is difficult for a company. One big challenge this past year has been pushing the boundries of our incubator, HeavyBit Industries. While they’ve been incredibly accomodating with our growth and eccentricities, it’s been difficult to truly create our own home under someone else’s roof.

Although us Keenies are all united by a singular purpose, it’s a special opportunity to go away together for an entire week. Living together in our own space will allow us to discover new ways of working together and explore fresh ideas. The cross-pollination resulting from a full week together will rapidly accelerate our bonding compared to the office setting.

We’re thrilled about the serendipity of writing API designs on the windows before lunch and coming back to them with a different group after a night of dancing. When we next face a crisis, we’ll know who can handle which tasks the best. Overall, we trust that we will walk away from this week as a stronger team that’s more empowered to create even better experiences and solutions for our customers.

So… we’re all going away to camp! At Camp Donhaftagrowup all the campers are counselors and all the counselors, campers. A space where the rules and context are enough different that time becomes more precious. We can use that time to get ourselves sorted, get our heads on straight, and get to know each other even better. We’re going to get back from Camp Donhaftagrowup with plenty of merit badges.


How to plan a retreat in 297 steps

Can you imagine pulling this off? It’s like a company wide heist, stealing everyone away from their lives for a week. Most adults don’t get summer vacation! Fortunately, at Keen we’re working on a minimum vacation plan that strongly encourages actually taking time off. But don’t worry, we still have around-the-clock rotations for monitoring our platform and we’ll be available during business hours for anything else you might need!

I volunteered for the challenge of organizing our trip abroad. For me personally, this was an exceedingly influential project. Although hired as a generalist engineer, I’ve worn just about every hat possible. Planning an international trip for this many was an exhilarating rush. I’ve casually enjoyed event planning and I haven’t been abroad since high school, so I loved being able to take into account the needs and desires of our individuals while shaping an itinerary that will emphasize our growth together. Simultaneously, I spent the summer developing a much-requested API feature that went into limited release to a major customer last week. Additionally, I spent time structuring our project management. And even though the workload was heavy, Keen still encouraged and supported me as I was crazy enough to play on a competitive ultimate team that traveled to tournaments around the state.

This flexibility to pursue any and all kinds of work at Keen (whether from home, the office, or a foreign country) succinctly captures why this truly is the dream job I moved across the country for. I’ve been able to explore my natural strengths and weaknesses to further define my career vector (while having a total blast along the way). I’m beyond excited that this trip will help set that tone for current and future Vikeens.

All through this process I have had the incredible support of one of our people developers (Michelle Thompson) and I couldn’t have gotten through this without her. Chelle, you were my Batman! Robin went to summer camp, right?


Words to camp by

In planning this whole massive excursion these two quotes have inspired me and they’ve resonated with Keen all the way up to the board. They frame our expedition perfectly even though they’d never fit on a camp banner:

“When you want to build a ship, do not begin by weaving sails, gathering wood, reading the stars and assigning tasks, but rather awaken in the hearts of men the yearning for the vast and boundless sea.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (abridged translation)

“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.”

– Eduardo Galeano

I couldn’t think of a better place to teach, learn, and yearn with my fellow Vikeens than gazing at the Pacific horizon in Costa Rica.

As they say in Costa Rica — Pura vida!