Jessica Billingsley wanted to hire talented female employees, so she made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
5 min read
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It sounds counter-intuitive. Maybe even a little European.
How can a cannabis startup succeed with a full-time staff that only works 30 hours a week?
But that’s exactly what Jessica Billingsley did. The co-founder and CEO of MJ Freeway built her software company into a publicly-traded company that is already generating revenue of $10 million a year.
Her success begs another question: Why aren’t more cannabis startups doing this?
Here Billingsley talks about the genesis of her strategy and the reasons she thinks it works so well.
What initially inspired you to offer a 30-hour work week?
It truly originated out of necessity. My preferred engineer, who I wanted to hire to create MJ Freeway, was putting together contract work instead of working fulltime so she could spend more time with her family and young children. As an engineer, sales and constantly fighting for new contracts wasn’t her preferred way to spend time, and she really wanted to work for only one employer. I offered her a classic win/win –she could work only for us and only for 30 hours a week. She then referred a few other incredibly talented female engineers who were in similar situations. I was able to retain incredible talent for a startup because I met their unique needs. And, they were willing to risk working for me in a new venture, because the worst case scenario for them was going back to cobbling together contract work.
For a while now, the national conversation has centered around how to attract women to tech, and we’ve made strong strides in that arena. However, our community fails miserably in keeping our talented women in the game. There’s a 56 percent drop-out rate of women at the mid-point of their career, with more than half of those abandoning their training altogether. From my perspective, the cause of that drop was very evident — the 10 or 20-year mark is when our focus shifts from the office to the home. Women don’t want to walk away from what they love to do, but the normative structure doesn’t allow for flexibility. So, I decided to create a work model that enables the retention of smart, talented women to apply their skills in a way that also supports their personal priorities and needs.
How do you ensure that 30-hour work week employees are productive?
We have a strong culture of accountability measured to metrics in every position at MJ Freeway, so in positions which lend well to the 30-hour week, we simply adjust the metrics. If a fulltime team member’s metric is to write 20 items of code or produce 20 content pieces, a 30-hour employee’s metric will be set at 15. Communication and clear expectations are also crucial in any employee/employer relationship.
Would you attribute a lot of your early success to this strategy, of the 30 hour week?
The 30-hour week was certainly a key factor in our early days. As a startup in an industry which still carried a tremendous stigma at the time, I was able to secure talent I would not have otherwise been able to attract. I discovered this option through necessity, and since then, I’ve become passionate about spreading the message and encouraging other companies to offer a 30-hour work week. Many people wrestle with how to engage when their family or other personal commitments also need attention. How do we as a culture bridge that gap — keeping 56 percent of trained and talented females engaged in still solving business problems while also meeting their priorities at home? You create a space that offers flexibility and security. It’s a true win/win.
Are there any significant ‘cons’ to hiring 30-hour work week employees?
I think anytime you have great talent producing superior work products there’s a natural inclination to want more from them. Balancing that impulse can be hard sometimes, but I see that more as a testimony to their talent than a true con.
Why don’t you think more companies offer this as an option/amenity?
Speculation doesn’t help change the environment or create opportunities. And other companies certainly offer programs that aren’t at MJ Freeway. However, I know I was looking at the situation with a creative need-based approach, coupled with my own personal experiences, which supported the generation of a unique solution. That being said I will challenge my fellow leaders to consider the impact a metrics-driven, flexible arrangement could have on your team’s retention, as well as engagement.