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Utah Business

Donde, a Utah tech startup wants to change the way employees (and employers) think about paid time off, here's how.

Your employees need to get away—and this Utah tech startup wants you to help them

Think about the last time you took paid time off. Maybe you spent it hiking Machu Picchu or frolicking on Tahitian shores. If so, well done. But if you’re like the rest of us, you spent that precious PTO running to annual check-ups at the dentist, optometrist, and family doctor, binging some Netflix, and deciding which of your sweaters brings you joy before tossing the others in the donation bin. 

Dónde wants to change that. As the company says, “Better time off means better time on.” To make that possible, the Utah startup is helping companies rethink their approach to PTO—encouraging employers to elevate PTO’s status in the benefits line-up and empower employees to use that time away for travel. 

“Our goal is to make PTO effective, and we do that via travel. We help employees take a break, so when they come back, they can do the best work of their lives,” says Rilee Buttars, Dónde co-founder and CEO. “PTO is the second-most desired benefit just behind healthcare, yet most of the time it’s not driving any ROI to the company.”

Like a 401(k), but for travel

Buttars explains that Dónde helps companies optimize PTO by 1) establishing a company-matched travel savings program, 2) making saving for travel easier for employees, and 3) easing the stress of travel planning by providing the opportunity to book vacations through the Dónde marketplace or work directly with travel designers.

Here’s how it works: Employees download the Dónde app, which helps them set travel goals, monitor progress toward those goals in real-time, set recurring deposits into their travel savings accounts (referred to as Dónde wallets), and track company contributions to their Dónde wallets.

When it’s time to plan a getaway, employees schedule everything—travel packages, flights, lodging, transportation—via the Dónde platform. If they’re hankering to venture beyond the existing options, employees can access Dónde travel agents to create custom itineraries. Finally, they book the travel with the money in their Dónde wallets (including company-matched funds) right in the app.

As for the employers, Dónde handles all the back-end administration and reporting. HR administrators can manage and reward employees with one-time bonuses, see all transaction history, customize the company page and messaging, and see stats on contributions and days of PTO taken. Additional reporting features are in the works. 

Since a one-size program doesn’t necessarily fit all, the Dónde team also works with each company to establish their approach to PTO travel contributions. “The employer can set this up however they choose,” Buttars says. “It could be, ‘You’ve been here five years, here’s a $4,000 PTO travel bonus,’ or, ‘You’ve stayed late, here’s $20,’ or, ‘You’re employee of the month, here’s $50.’”

All aboard

Companies like Pura, Homie, Lucid, and others are recognizing the recruiting and retention benefits and jumping on Dónde’s PTO travel wagon. 

Traeger Grills—which has 300 employees at its Salt Lake City headquarters and 800 worldwide—matches 100 percent of employee travel savings (up to $50 per month). “We take time away from work seriously at Traeger, and Dónde has played a meaningful role in helping our employees address the barriers that often stand in the way of an awesome vacation,” says Jeremy Andrus, CEO of Traeger Grills. 

“By investing into employee ‘vacation-spending-accounts’ and giving them access to resources to support them as they explore, plan, and book travel, we can see a difference in the energy on our team as it relates to paid time off,” Andrus says. “Through Dónde, PTO becomes something that’s talked about and celebrated. When that happens, it makes a big difference in our ability to attract, retain, and recharge our amazing talent.”

With 200 employees based at its offices in Lehi, JobNimbus recently added Dónde to its comprehensive PTO program. “We have a system called herotime, where we have a minimum amount of PTO of three days off per quarter, and that can go up to unlimited time,” says Jared Olsen, VP of people experience at JobNimbus. “We also have life balance days, where we ask everyone to take one day off per quarter for mental wellness. We also have paid-time-away with Dónde, where we provide every employee $500 and they can use their travel marketplace and designers to book awesome travel experiences.

“In December, we were in Cabo with the whole J-Force team and introduced the benefits we would be rolling out for 2022. This included health insurance and a 401(k) match that we were introducing for the first time,” Olsen continues. “When we announced that Dónde was going to be part of our paid-time-away policy, we got a standing ovation. Everyone was so excited about having an extra $500 toward their travel budget. That was one way we really saw a big difference.”

Clearing the way for getaways

Removing the hurdles to meaningful getaways is central to Dónde’s mission—a mission that evolved after an initial setback. 

Butters actually launched a precursor company to Dónde in 2019 called Ensemble. “We created itineraries in unique locations around the world focused on immersion,” she says. “But when we put the trips on the website, no one signed up.”

Conducting research to understand consumer hesitancy, Buttars says they found the same answers: “I want to go but can’t afford it,” and “I can’t get time off.” She realized it wasn’t about the desire to travel. “They were wanting to experience incredible vacations and people, but it was the barriers that stood in their way.” 

With the help of co-founders Tommy Currit and Tom Compagno, Buttars pivoted to develop Dónde as a combination travel planning/employee benefits/fintech platform. 

It’s important to encourage employees to enjoy their time away without any guilt or worry about their standing in the company, Buttars points out. She also reassures employers that through Dónde, their PTO travel contributions can only be used for rejuvenating adventures—not miscellaneous expenses like new sprinklers for the yard. 

“We give companies the opportunity to invest in their employees’ time off,” Buttars says. “Once the company’s money is in there, it’s dedicated for travel. The employee can always withdraw their personal investment, but they cannot receive the company’s investment for anything other than travel. That’s not what it’s for. It’s not a bonus; it’s a PTO-specific bonus.” 

Dónde’s early growth is promising, as evidenced in client reviews and investor interest. After receiving pre-seed funding of $1.5 million at the beginning of 2021, Dónde just raised a $3.3 million seed round lead by Kickstart Fund and joined by Next Frontier Capital, Jeremy Andrus, Aaron Skonnard, and others.

As the company grows, Buttars’ goal is to help more businesses realize the ROI of PTO and enrich their employees’ lives. The genesis for Donde came when she paused to consider what had changed her life the most—immersive travel. Now, she and her team are looking forward to changing others’ lives as well.