Although Ryan Carson graduated from Colorado State University with a computer science degree, he knew the degree wasn’t necessary for employment. “I was lucky to have my parents fund my education, but they probably spent a lot of money they just didn’t need to,” he admits. With that thought in mind, Carson set out to develop a more efficient model for education that he’d later call Treehouse.
The platform started as a simple video featuring one designer and one developer teaching a lesson. Yet, as one video turned into two, Carson says they gave themselves three months to break even. Treehouse broke even one month later, and has since surpassed 12,000 students, generating about $3.2 million a year in revenue.
Treehouse allows students to browse a library of over 500 training videos covering web design, web development and iOS development. Unlike platforms like Codecademy or Udacity, Treehouse users do need to pay anywhere from $9 to $49 for content. Yet, as Carson says, “We think people want to pay for education. People associate paying with quality.”
When the question, “Will employers ever take online learning seriously?” is brought up, Carson says Treehouse already has a built-in solution. “The reason people think university degrees are worthwhile is because they mean something to employers,” Carson says. Treehouse has an agreement with big name brands, including Facebook and Simple, however, which guarantees Treehouse developers get looked at during any application process.
Treehouse also relies on their team of 15 full-time teachers, who were all pulled straight from the industry they’re providing lessons in. For students who want to learn Python and head to Codecademy, Carson says, “they’ll need to take a bunch of different lessons from people who have submitted their content.”
Treehouse’s methodology is project-based, though. Say you want to build a simple website, Treehouse will tell you: “Smells Like Bakin’ is a cupcake company in need of a website. This project will walk us through the basics of HTML and CSS from the very beginning.” At the very end of the project, you could actually launch what you developed. Video is also much easier to learn from than text.
Carson says they’ll soon start trying to build a stronger community by allowing students to teach each other. The company will also change the Treehouse interface to look more like a map, so users can view the learning experience as a map they can conquer, according to Carson.
“I think you could go from knowing nothing about web development to being able to get a job as a junior web developer probably in about six months for around $300,” Carson says.
Let’s just say, $300 is certainly cheaper than going to school for your computer science degree.