Meet Down-to-Earth Ryan Carson, the Treehouse Founder Who Works 4 Days a Week

January 13, 2014

2:08 pm

Thirty-six-year-old Ryan Carson usually starts the day at 5 am with what he likes to call “me time.” In those two hours of quiet, he goes through email, organizes the day ahead, and maybe writes a blog post or browses his favorite weight lifting sites.

Around 9 am, five of his Treehouse employees show up at his house in Portland for work. (Most of Treehouse’s 60-some employees work remotely on building the programming education website.) By 7 pm, Carson disconnects from his computer to spend the evening with his wife and two young boys.

He repeats this process Monday through Thursday – but not Friday. Yes, Treehouse is one of the rare startups with a four-day workweek. On Friday to Sunday, you’ll find Carson watching movies, lifting weights, playing with his kids – but not sending many emails.

“No matter how much work I do, it will never stop,” he says. “I’m probably not going to move the needle enough to make it worth it.”

Carson’s four-day workweeks started at Carsonified, the company he cofounded with his wife. Unable to believe that the dream of entrepreneurship meant working 24/7, he started taking off on Friday to travel, volunteer, and enjoy his hobbies. Now, the four-day workweek has become almost a philosophy for him.

“We’ve somehow gotten used to a culture where we’re always busy, we’re always working, and it’s always justified,” says Carson, who also founded DropSend. “But I think a general reset of how much we need to consume and how much we need to produce would be a good thing. How can you argue with the fact that I get 50 percent more time with my kids and my wife than almost everybody? . . . When you put it in those terms, you think, gosh, the people you love, they’re going to die someday, and if you are able to spend 50 percent more time with them, would you do that? Would you take a slight hit in productivity and profit?”

But Treehouse doesn’t seem to have taken a huge hit. Founded in 2011, the company has raised $19 million, is making over $8 million per year in revenue, and has over 54,000 active students. And Carson isn’t hiding the fact that they work four days a week: you can hear it on Treehouse’s answering machine, and he finds that investors don’t have a problem with it.

This is what “balance” looks like for Carson, if you want to call it that. And his lifestyle is a powerful response to the burnout culture that’s common in the tech world. He’s certainly not the only entrepreneur who could use a little “me time” – but he’s one of the few who actually takes it.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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