Paid Vacation? That's Not Cool. You Know What's Cool? Paid, PAID Vacation.

Ideas invade my brain constantly.

Some are good. Some are mediocre. Some are downright awful.

As a kid, I used to wake my parents up in the middle of the night to tell them about my ideas. Over time, I’ve learned that the ideas that keep coming back are the ones that I should pay attention to.

The past few years I’ve had this totally insane idea that just wouldn’t go away. It kept gnawing at me.

Last week, I finally decided to do something about it.

At our all-hands we announced the idea: something I like to call Paid, Paid Vacation. You can view the presentation in its entirety here.

In essence, not only do we provide employees minimum 15 days paid vacation plus the standard Federal holidays, but WE ALSO PAY FOR VACATIONS!

Here’s how it works: once per year, we give each employee $7500 to go on vacation.

There are a few rules:

  1. You have to go on vacation, or you don’t get the money.
  2. You must disconnect.
  3. You can’t work while on vacation.

That’s it – pretty simple. In putting together our new “vacation policy” we came up with some guiding principles:

Guiding Principle #1: It’s Really Important to Disconnect.

In today’s world of Email, iPhones, Androids, Twitter, Facebook and devices on our person 24×7, we’re always connected. It’s not healthy.

Brad Feld gave a great TEDxBoulder Presentation titled The Quarterly Week Off the Grid that will explain this phenomenon far better than I can. Go watch the video now. This post will be waiting on you when you get back.

Coincidentally, I recently got engaged and was tasked with planning the honeymoon.

As long as I can remember, I have always vowed that my honeymoon will have these two characteristics:

  1. It will be in Bora Bora
  2. I am going to go completely off the grid for two weeks.

Me Completely #Failing at Going Off the Grid

As I started thinking about the upcoming two weeks off the grid, I started to mildly panic. I was worried that I’d break down. I was worried that my new bride would find me in the hotel business center cranking through emails like some crazed addict.

I’ve tried to go off the grid for extended periods of time before, but have failed frequently.

In FullContact HQ, there’s even a framed photo of my ability to fail:

I ended up emailing Brad Feld to get his advice. During that exchange, I asked Brad what he thought about my idea for “Paid, Paid Vacation.”

Brad’s Response:

“I love the Paid Paid Vacation concept and totally agree with it. A lot of people won’t spend the money because they don’t have it or think they’ll be happier if they save it. But they miss the value of disconnecting.

Brad nailed it. It’s super important for people to disconnect. It’s so important at FullContact that we will actively incentivize this behavior.

We don’t want employees reading email. We don’t want them calling or checking in – we might even disable their work email accounts, but we’ll see 😉

We just want our people to disconnect and have a great vacation.

UPDATE: About Brad: I was 100% convinced he was the right Board Member for FullContact prior to his response. But this answer sent my certainty into the 200%+ territory. As a result, Brad & Foundry Group led our Series B round and joined our Board!

Guiding Principle #2: We’ll Be A Better Company if Employees Disconnect.

I love FullContact. I love the people. I love the problem space we’re in. I love our customers. I love inventing solutions.

However, if unchecked, love can also have a smothering effect.

Just as parents can smother their children when they leave the nest for the first time, founders, managers and employees can do the same:

What happens if a key customer calls?
I’m the only who knows this! What happens if my people need me?
Did you think about X? What about Y?

Perhaps it is a sense of ownership or desire to feel needed, but in many company cultures (especially startups), there is often a misguided hero syndrome that encourages an “I’m the only one who can do this” mentality.

That’s not heroic. That’s a single point of failure. It’s not good for the employee or the company.

But here’s the thing: If people know they will be disconnecting and going off the grid for an extended period of time, they might actually keep that in mind as they help build the company. For example:

  • They might empower direct reports to make more decisions.
  • They might be less likely to create a special script that isn’t checked into GitHub and only lives on their machine.
  • They might document their code a bit better.
  • They might contribute to the Company Wiki and share knowledge.

Get the picture? At the end of the day, the company will improve.

As an added bonus, everyone will be happier and more relaxed knowing that they aren’t the last line of defense.

Guiding Principle #3: Everyone at FullContact Deserves a Nice Vacation.

We believe that everyone at FullContact deserves a nice vacation.

But the question is: what’s the definition of “nice”?

For me, it’s about being on the water at an exotic location.

For Travis, it’s about going to Las Vegas for a few long weekends of March Madness.

For Kyle and Robbie, it’s going to Bonnaroo or Burning Man and getting naked.

For others, it might be hanging on the couch, eating Taco Bell and watching bad cable all week.

Different strokes for different folks. Some people are single. Some people have families. People decompress in different ways.

Regardless, we felt that everyone should have the opportunity to take a nice vacation without constantly worrying about how much money they’re spending while on vacation.

As a result, we settled on $7,500 (before taxes). The reasoning? $7,500 is enough for a family of four to take a nice vacation to Mexico for a week. Plus, they can go on some awesome adventures with our friends at FlexTrip or SideTour.

Is $7,500 too much? Too little? We don’t know. It’s a giant experiment. We’ll find out.

How did everyone at FullContact react to this announcement? Well, let’s put it this way: nobody complained and a company photo album was started for all the vacation pics!

Needless to say, we’re all pretty excited. We can’t wait to hear about everyone’s awesome adventures!

And yes, we’re hiring.

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