Wednesday, April 23, 2014

No more all-nighters for these techies

Going over to Gates for a cup of coffee is often like walking into a sleep study. You can overhear students talking about the all-nighters they’ve pulled or plan to pull to finish coding that game. It’s become a part of the tech culture–working all night. One company has observed this extreme behavior in its sector and created a strategy to set them apart from their huge competitors.

Treehouse is a 4-year old organization that develops online courses in website building, code writing, and mobile apps. The founder, Ryan Carson, upon graduation worked as a software developer. During his time as a software developer he was asked to stay overnight to work on a project, which resulted in a 48-hour workday. (1) As a result of this experience and this general expectation of employees of start-ups, he made a 4-day workweek a priority for his own business.

Initially when recruiting new employees, Treehouse did not tell the candidates about the alternative workweeks. Carson said that he “really wanted people who were passionate about our mission of low-cost online education.” (2) Upon realizing that Treehouse was operating with huge competition, he differentiated his company by changing his recruiting strategy. Instead of talking about Treehouse’s admirable mission, he decided to open with the short week. This differentiation and understanding of his competitor’s corporate cultures helped him set Treehouse apart and as a result, he has been able to recruit top talent. Now, he says some of his talented employees are turning down frequent offers from giants like Facebook because they cannot offer the same work environment.

Although Carson’s initial strategy was to provide low-cost online education, he quickly recognized that he could better achieve this goal by providing his employees with a work-life balance, something that is rare in both the start-up and technology sectors. Obviously, losing a full eight-hours of work time has presented some challenges, but it has become the company’s core strategy that is propelling their work towards their mission. He said he often considers how much more could be accomplished with an additional work day added to the week, however with the positive results Treehouse has already achieved, it is no surprise he’s sticking with it.

According to Carson’s blog (3), so far Treehouse has:
  • Been profitable
  • Attracted the attention of the “world’s best investors”
  • Garnered a lot of press coverage
  • And, developed “an unbelievable company culture” filled with people who are very excited to work towards the mission.
With top talent, Treehouse is able to achieve their goals. While their product may not be groundbreaking, their strategy for providing quality instruction stems from the founders analysis of his competitors and his ability to offer an alternative, differentiating the company to potential employees.

1) Anne Fisher, “This startup thrives on a four-day workweek,” CNN Money, April 22, 2014, accessed April 22, 2014,
2) Ibid.

3) Ryan Carson, “We work a 4-day week and just raised $4.75 m,” The Native Optimist, April 24, 2012, accessed April 22, 2014,

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