Case Studies WillowTree

WillowTree—High-Impact Tech Work with Roots

WillowTree

 

A Homegrown Tech Company with a Vision

Founded in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2008 by three people building mobile apps, WillowTree, a TELUS International Company, began as a software strategy, design, and development company committed to helping clients realize the potential of rapidly evolving digital products and technology. 

The company has expanded into a full-service digital product consultancy that helps the world’s leading brands – such as FOX Sports, PepsiCo, National Geographic, Regal Cinemas, Hilton, Domino’s, HBO, Wyndham Hotels, and Johnson & Johnson – create digital products that impact millions and improve lives.

WillowTree has grown from three employees to more than 1,000 team members since its founding, leading the company to expand from its  offices in Charlottesville to additional locations in North Carolina, Ohio, Boston, New York, and beyond. Even after its acquisition in 2023 by TELUS International Company, WillowTree never once considered relocating its headquarters to a traditional tech hub.

With collaboration and coworking at the center of its corporate philosophy, WillowTree continues to find success in Charlottesville—a smaller cosmopolitan area with high quality of life, comparably low cost of living, and proximity to world-class learning institutions.

In late 2019, WillowTree began exploring possible corporate headquarters sites that could consolidate its rapidly expanding Virginia team in one location. President Tobias Dengel hoped to keep WillowTree’s headquarters in its home state of Virginia, but it came down to finding the right location that would check all the boxes.

The Virginia Solution

Envisioning the Creative Workforce of the Future

WillowTree’s footprint in Charlottesville is an intentional and strategic choice to locate in smaller and rural areas rather than urban tech centers like Silicon Valley that come with higher operating and living costs. The company’s success is a true testament to small Virginia metros’ ability to attract and retain top-tier IT companies. For its new headquarters and operations site, WillowTree envisioned a work environment in which designers, project managers, researchers, and engineers could collaborate in one space to create products that people love while upholding the company’s core values. This vision for a ‘factory of the future’ required affordable office space that would spark creativity and allow room to grow, as well as exceptional livability to attract high-quality talent.

Central Virginia’s skilled talent pool and robust higher education network make the region the ideal location for WillowTree’s innovative business model. Nearby University of Virginia, Germanna Community College, and Piedmont Community College educate over 36,000 students each year and supply IT companies in the region with a pipeline of tech talent. Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech, both within about two hours of Charlottesville, add another 13,000 students to the mix each year. Charlottesville’s picturesque location along the eastern edge of the panoramic Blue Ridge Mountains, short commutes, and extensive opportunities for outdoor recreation allow companies like WillowTree to attract and retain employees. 

History Meets Innovation: A One-of-a-Kind Site

Nearby Albemarle County’s iconic 10-acre Woolen Mills site on the Rivanna River, in operation from the 1870s to 1962, once housed one of the largest mills in the nation making military uniforms during the Civil War and into the 20th century. On the National Register of Historic Places, the building sat empty for decades and in 2017, owner and developer Brian Roy outlined a vision for a $25 million restoration that would allow the site to be used for commercial and residential purposes, attracting people to live, work, and play.

Woolen Mills presented a unique opportunity for WillowTree to occupy a renovated headquarters facility with history, character, and ample space to grow. Not only would the company be able to customize the site and consolidate its workforce in one nearby location, WillowTree could make its long-term goal of a 21st-century corporate campus with amenities a reality. Woolen Mills offers public transportation to the site, charging stations for electric vehicles, ample bike lanes, access to kayaking on the Rivanna River, and proximity to the area’s robust network of hiking trails.

Home Headquarters

After considering multiple locations in Virginia and North Carolina, WillowTree announced in 2018 a $20.6 million investment to relocate its headquarters to Woolen Mills in Albemarle County, creating 200 new jobs and bringing a shuttered historical asset back into productive use.

It was very important to me to be able to keep WillowTree in Virginia. We are tremendously grateful to the Commonwealth of Virginia and Albemarle County for their financial support, and we hope that this partnership is mutually beneficial and long-lasting. The region’s dynamic workforce and strong quality of life allow us to attract the best employees and support our mission of creating products people love. We intend to add more than 200 members to our team over the next two years, and we are delighted to be able to do it here in Albemarle County.

Tobias Dengel
President, WillowTree

WillowTree occupies nearly 85,000 square feet of space at Woolen Mills, which also includes a mixed-use development designed as a centerpiece for neighbors and out-of-town visitors. In addition to the site’s outdoor recreation accessibility, the company’s advanced technology campus boasts a café, employee wellness center offering yoga classes and napping pods, adjustable photo-sensor lights, health rooms to support returning parents, a three-story library, and a variety of workstations designed to accommodate employees’ varying needs and encourage a team-centric, flexible work environment. The unique headquarters design sets a new standard for employee work experience in the tech industry.

Albemarle County’s contribution to the project included investments in Woolen Mills’ infrastructure, such as a new pedestrian bridge that connects two ends of the nearby Rivanna Trail and complements the site’s access to the river and connectivity to the City of Charlottesville. The County also provided partial funding for shuttle service to run between Charlottesville and Woolen Mills. Construction at the site was completed in April 2020.

WillowTree continues to benefit from Virginia’s robust IT sector, which boasts the highest concentration of tech talent in the nation and a network of higher education institutions that train the workforce for the jobs of the future.