I’ve been running a venture-backed tech company for seven years now. Treehouse has been teaching people how to code since 2010 and we have raised three rounds of funding totaling $13m.
Typically, silicon valley investors would expect one of two outcomes by now:
- Failure — the company has gone out of business or been sold in a fire sale
- A ‘Liquidity Event’ — the company has sold or has been acquired
Seven years is a long time in the tech industry. Yet in our case, neither of these two options has materialized. Treehouse is still going strong. We are not seeking more investment and I feel a real peace with where we are now as a company and where were are going (albeit at our own pace) in the future.
I wake up every day filled with gratitude that I get to lead Treehouse — that I’m still leading Treehouse.
Lot’s of people question this. How can you be so happy as a founder of a tech company, while your company looks nothing like the typical Silicon Valley unicorn?
My question to them is, why are you so eager for me to “have an exit”?
I believe in our Mission and I don’t want to stop working on it. You’d have to kill me to get me to quit. I’m not interested, at all, in putting profit before purpose. We need both. We need sustainable growth. Not growth at all costs.
I feel that the Silicon Valley narrative of raising money, burning through it, raising more money, burning through it, getting to $100m in revenue as fast as you possibly can, selling or going public in seven years or less, is flawed. Deeply flawed.
This is our tech industry yet we let people who are motivated, mainly, by money run the show and tell us how to run our companies.
The one thing that every human needs to feel fulfilled is working on something that is meaningful. We long to do something that actually has impact for ourselves and for others. Dan Ariely’s study Man’s search for meaning: The case of Legos illustrates this simply and beautifully. The study showed that if people know the meaning behind their toil they are much more likely to be happy doing it.
There are so many companies out there that have real soul. They’re unique, creative, offer a product for an underserved community or just want to have fun with their business idea. When we make everything about revenue growth we lose this meaning. Etsy’s recent changes are a poignant example of this.
Investors aren’t evil and I don’t think it’s always wrong for founders to raise venture capital. But founders need to realize early that investors timelines will not always be the same as theirs and their endgame may look very different than yours.
Thank you to Gillian Carson for collaborating with me on this article.