In today’s episode, we have another incredible story that takes us from Idaho, to the great State of Utah. I am excited to welcome Rilee Butters, who is the co-founder and CEO of Dónde the travel as a benefit company that is taking PTO to the next level.
Here’s a closer look at the episode:
Rilee Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rbuttars/?hl=en
Dónde LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/d%C3%B3nde/
Dónde Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/go_donde/
What I also built is a benefit that gives people a break. And I think I've been in situations where I've pushed my body and my mental state so hard that I have broken and I think that was an instance where my body was just like I'm done. And so I really truly believe that you have to take care of yourself and you have to have balance.
This is Found in the Rockies, a podcast about the startup ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain region, featuring the founders, funders, and contributors, and most importantly, the stories of what they're building. I'm Les Craig from Next Frontier Capital. And on today's episode, we have another incredible story that takes us from Idaho, to the great State of Utah. I am excited to welcome Rilee Butters, who is the co founder and CEO of Dónde the travel as a benefit company that is taking PTO to the next level. And I can't introduce Rilee or Dónde without also first plugging the tagline, which is “Better time off means better time on” How’d I do Rilee?
That was perfect. I'm so glad you said that.
I love it. Well, we're super excited to have you welcome. Welcome to Found in the Rockies. It's a it's really a fun story to share. Because we met we met in Silicon Slopes we met in the Rockies.
Yes, we did. And we both live in the Rockies.
We both live in the Rockies, so yeah, this this fit is fitting. To start off though, for the episode I'd love for you to kind of tell. Tell our listeners just a little bit about your story who you are where you came from where you grew up the the the origin of Rilee.
Oh, man. Okay, that's great. So I grew up in the Rockies, very much like you know, slab like right there in the middle. And I grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho. So small town, conservative excetera. And I did not like anything about it. It's cold, it's windy. I don't know, it's like,
Wait a minute, you didn't like…I love you know, my favorite part of Idaho Falls is the fall it's like it's beautiful. The way the river like goes sideways. And then the falls are just like, super unique. You like that about it?
Like, you know, it's definitely manufactured. It's not a real falls, it was created. So that's just funny. All right. But that is fair, I would say the the fondest memories that I have that are strictly related to Idaho is the river, like my friends in high school, we would find, you know, the rope swings, or we would find bridges and jump off them. And that is truly or we would find canals, we would swim in canals. And that is truly, you know, small town. Kind of Idaho, I think you know, thing to do. So that definitely was really great. And I live in Utah now. And they just don't have the water that that Idaho or where I lived. Like we had lots of lakes, lots of rivers available to us, you know, any turn you can find water, but that's not how it is in Salt Lake. So I definitely miss that. But for the most part, just really, I don't know, I like five years old and was like, I don't belong here. I hate it. I always have this story. You know, I thought I don't tell most people this, you can cut this out if you want. But I always
Well that means we’re definitely, we're definitely keeping it now.
No, you know, it's just I got into it. So I had this story I truly believed as a child that, like my parents weren't my parents, and that my real parents would come for me someday, that like somehow they just dropped me off in the middle of this like God forsaken land. And I just didn't belong there. And someday I would be saved. And there's various versions of that. But yeah, I just felt displaced my whole life. I still feel that way. So I think that that's an important aspect of my background. Because I have always been in the state of how do I get out? How do I find a way to “home” or a way to belonging or whatever, whatever the goal is, I've just always just felt displaced and not grounded, not rooted. whatever word you want to use. It
sounds like the origin story. It sounds like the origin story of a startup founder who would start a travel company.
Yes, exactly. Yeah, no, that's true, because that is in my bio, actually, on our website. I talked about that where my first time abroad was in India. And it was happenstance. It just happened to be in the right place right time and was able to go to India for free. So someone paid my way, and I found myself in India as a 19 year old who had never traveled really anyone, anywhere outside of the Rockies at that point, and it was amazing. I had intense culture shock, we stayed in our hotel for, I want to say three or four days before the program started and ate Doritos and Diet Coke. We were so scared to walk outside of our hotel room. It was like, I remember walking out that airplane, I was just like, I'm not in Kansas anymore. You know, it was it was so it was a moment that shook me. But I'll always remember it like and I feel at that moment was just like, the world is for me, the world is my home and I have to travel. So that's yeah, that's like that's kind of where it started. And so that's yeah, that's one of the reasons why I started Dónde. So, yeah.
I love that you shared that because, you know, it's it's almost in a in a fun way, contrarian to what we hear with a lot of our guests on the show, which is like, I grew up in the Rockies, the Rockies I loved it there. It always called me home, but it was it's like so many guests about going back to the Rockies and being in the Rockies. But I love that the perspective that you provide which is like there's a much bigger world out there to explore Rockies are amazing it's a great place to live but guess what? Like there's there may be no place like Idaho Falls or whatever. But when you when you when you travel outside of these these places, you realize that you're not in Idaho Falls anymore or not in Kansas anymore, as you said.
I love that too. Exactly. Because you know, I definitely appreciate the mountains when I am out, you know by the ocean or something I definitely miss them. I I grew up in them camping, backpacking, going to cabins, like just that was and I definitely find solace there. I love the mountains. I am not a fan of the desert, which the desert for most people does call them home they feel at home there. I do not. There's just lots of reasons. And so I imagined myself in the Moors of England. So that's where I'm trying to get to, you know one of my goals with Dónde is eventually to have an office in Ireland or the UK somewhere. And I find myself where I think I belong. So So yeah, that's like, I grew up there. I always wanted a ticket out. And so I ran track and cross country and I was good at it.
I thought you were going to say “I ran away”. Yeah. No, you ran your okay,
I literally ran. No, but that was like that was my ticket out. You know, I wasn't, I just wasn't a if you will, like a traditional student, I got good grades, but not have great test scores. And I knew that my only ticket to college or out of Idaho Falls was through a track scholarship. And that's what I worked on. I I was a very serious child. And I was either running or I was performing on stage. And back and forth, back and forth. I was in like music lessons since I was seven, piano several types of music teachers, opera belt, musical theater, acting classes, dance classes, etc. I was just like, I gotta get out of here. And so I did. That's how that was my ticket out was not my ACT score by any means. And so I had a scholarship to several universities, and I chose between BYU and ASU. In the end, I chose ASU. But when I got out there and I looked around, I was like, This is not for me. So it was just hot. And the team was just a totally different vibe. And so I went back to safety and the thing that I knew, which was BYU, so that's got me to Utah. So that's where I am still now.
Now we understand that's great. What, what was the what was the experience, like, at BYU? Well, what was the experience? You know, running track, and that whole that whole experience? How was that?
Yeah, so I got there. And at that point, in my, you'd say, my short lived career as a runner, I was not doing well, I was not running to the capacity that I knew that I could up until to that point, I basically had won almost every race that I had run.
Like in your entire life, you'd never lost a single race?
No, that's not true. Yeah, no, but like I was up there. And I mean, sometimes you know, would vie for second third other racers, we would go back and forth and win and other competitors I would see at races, you know, we would go back and forth. But for the most part I was on top of and that's you know why I was able to go to the top school for running. But at that point in time, I something had happened to me. And it was devastating, where it's like, you know, my identity my my way out, all of a sudden it failed. And so I walked in after six weeks of training with the team and realizing that I was so tired. I was tired of running. I was tired of competition. I was just tired. And I was you know, 18 or 19 years old. And I made a big girl decision, I walked into the office of the coach and I said, Um, I'm done. And I gave it my scholarship, I did everything. And, you know, that like defined me because I quit. I think you could say, on one level, I'm a quitter, I gave up something that was so incredible. But I just my body was tired, and my mind was tired. And so I gave myself a break. And you know, that's funny is because what I also built is a benefit that gives people a break. And I think I've been in situations where I've pushed my body in my mental state so hard that I have broken and I think that was an instance where my body was just like, I'm done. And so I really, truly believe that you have to take care of yourself, and you have to have balance. And so yeah, that's kind of where I found myself as a freshman, I had nothing. I didn't know what I was doing. And I found the program in advertising. And that's in a really incredible program at BYU. It's, you, you're guaranteed basically a job at one of the top ad agency firms or agencies in the nation. And so that was an awesome place. I was a creative, I was a writer. And you had to you had to essentially apply for the program. My cohort was 12 people, so six writers, six designers. And yeah, it was it was awesome.
Wow, small group probably super tight.
Yeah, it was really small it was and we had real clients, we went to competitions, the program has evolved since then become even better, bigger and better. But we were one of the first cohorts at that stage. And so just got exposure to like amazing things, trying to brainstorm your way through problems. I love design thinking, I love creative thinking and creative problem solving. And that's what I learned in advertising. So that's, that's what I graduated in. But every summer I still traveled. So I went to, I went to India, Guatemala, Ukraine, and then Jordan. And every time I traveled, it was with a nonprofit doing research of some kind. And so that's where I kept alive, my desire to get out and to see the world. And so by the time it came to graduation, I was like, No, I want to, I don't want to do advertising, I want to go and, quote, save the world. And so I went into the Master's in Sociology at BYU. Because once again, my test scores were not great. So it was just the best kind of program that I could get into. And I knew the professor's we had a great relationships, great research ideas. So it was just an awesome kind of opportunity. And we created a consulting firm with me, and so my colleagues and my professors, so we just had a really great gig, we would travel, work on research projects with governments and nonprofits. And that was my experience. And that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my career was to help improve the work of people working on poverty alleviation. And then my first job was, yeah, so I always go straight into that, but that was my school. So I was in school for eight years at BYU very long time, because I did one program had to do prereqs did a long master's program. So I did a qualitative thesis, which is a terrible idea. Never do that. So I just was in school for a really long time. So, you know, most entrepreneurs, they don't go to school or their school is, you know,
They quit school.
Yeah, you know, I don't know. So, yeah, just I was in school till I was, I guess, 26-27. So long time. And yeah, my career has actually been quite short. I, after I graduated, I got a job and film, in the creative space was really fun. I was a producer, and a wardrobe specialist and ran those productions. It was awesome.
That was at fiftyfilms, is that right?
Yeah, fiftyfilms. So long story how I got that job. But it was, it was great. Then Pluralsight was our client. So they recruited me over there, I worked in the marketing team for about a year and a half had a baby. And then I got recruited to an ad agency, and took that job and worked there until Dónde. So I really only had three companies that I worked for before Dónde.
Wow. And what what, you know, I mean, some some entrepreneurs, you know, start companies having never worked for any company, you had at least the experience of working for three. How do you when you look back at those experiences, how did that form you not only as a CEO and founder, but also like, how did that how did those those experiences kind of channel you towards this opportunity that you eventually, you know, decided to, to go all in on?
Yeah, so I would probably say so the film company, I think it was just grit, like, you know, the director who I had a great relationship with but it's still, it's still film. And they he comes to me and says, I want you to do X, Y and Z and I need you to do it for free. I need to figure out how How to like fit budget, right. And so you're just you're given all of these tasks or say, this problem to solve, and you realize you're like, I gotta get this done. I gotta be amazing at it, and I gotta do it for your teeth. And so that just gave me grit, I would say, you know, working late at night, when you're on set all day, it is, it is difficult you are it is a marathon. And it's so fun. But it's it's just really difficult work environment. And so that that taught me that I learned how to edit, I learned how to story edit, I learned how to do makeup, and wardrobe, and all these things, even though I was like the producer. And so you just learn a ton of stuff. You're just it's just like smashed into 18 months. I just learned I could I could have had a career in that, but, and then at Pluralsight, what that introduced me to was tech, like, I was not in engineering, I was not on the product side. But I had exposure to it, you know, Aaron, CEO of Pluralsight would get up and he would talk about the business and the North Star and all these terms that are important as a leader, but also as a tech company as a product company. And so I learned from the best, I just, I would see the product team, I would see the CXO Nate Walkingshaw, I think he's incredible. I would see these incredible people on a day to day basis. And I would mirror what they did, or I would learn quick. So even though I was over in the field marketing, space running events, I got to interact with incredible people and hear about building a tech company. So that was my exposure to tech. And I think that was like when I was like, I want to do something to tackle we'll get there. So
It's quite an enabler. Right? For scaling ideas and scaling, scaling solutions.
Yeah, yes. You know, learned about just how you run a product team, what does that look like the interactions between all the different departments, etc. And then when I was in the ad agency that that taught me, I was a project manager. And that I think, is an incredible skill set to have. Because basically, you're you're given parameters, and you get shit done within those parameters. And you solve all these problems, you work between teams, you collaborate you, you understand deadlines, and then you make sure you fit within those deadlines. You you interact with a lot of different personalities. So you've got engineers, designers, creatives, clients, customers, just a ton of different personalities. And you're the one that stitches it all together. And so I that was such a huge learning thing for me, it was just like, wow, I can execute, and I can make other people execute, and we can get out an amazing product or end result. So that was that was awesome. And then then Dónde. So that's what I learned. I just think, yeah,
I love the way you articulated that, because it's like what you described the grit, the experience of grit, and storytelling, and tech as an enabler and how to run tech teams. And then and then being a manager of people and a manager resources, like, that's a PhD in startup founder, like what you what you learned from those resources like that is that's everything like that as a as a founder, that's what you need. So I love it.
Thank you. I do think so like, even though it was quick, it was like, I don't even know, seven years or so. Let's see. But anyway, like seven years or so
A quick, seven years.
Yeah, I could, like maybe six. I don't know, I can't do the math anymore. But it just felt it felt short. You know, from starting, like my first job. I was a producers, that one doesn't count. But you know, my my title at Pluralsight was specialist which is very entry level. And I always knew, I always joke now, even with the Pluralsight people that are just not great as an employee, because I was always going to my like, boss and be like, Okay, what if we did this? And they were like, slow down. We're not doing that. That's a terrible idea. But I was just like, I was moving faster than my job entailed. And so I got myself into trouble. You know, I was just like, so excited.
I cannot imagine. I Rilee, I gotta, I just gotta say this. I cannot imagine you in an entry level of anything.
Oh, it was so bad.
I see. I see this. Yeah, you would be like, Yeah,
I annoyed all of them to the very end. I mean, we have great relationships, but it was I was just like, Guys, I'm gonna do so many things. And everyone's like, no.
No Rilee, you need to go start a company is what you have to do. So, what was the spark? I mean, you're, you know, you've got a young family at this point. You've got a solid steady job and what was the spark that just set Dónde loose?
It's funny, I tell the same story. So I you know, I, I don't mean it to get boring at any point. But it really came down to I did love my job in advertising. I was really happy there. And the people were great. I loved the owners and managers, etc. But one day, my husband was just like, hey, you wanted to go and change the world? You’re in advertising. It feels like you went back, you went backwards. And I was like, that's true. And so he's like, What do you want to do? Yeah. And that was good. It's kind of you know, he's my co-founder too. So we have that type of relationship. And it was just like, yeah, I wanted to do something internationally, I wanted to do something bigger. And so that just got me thinking. And we decided, one of the things that started the content conversation was that the way that I was able to travel, I don't feel like I've ever been a tourist. It's that's not true. Of course, I've been like on a cruise or something, right. But for the most most part, my experiences abroad or even domestically, have been very immersive. They've been working with people researching them, you're working, you're not touring, if you will. So I was like, man, that was such an incredible experience. My husband on the other end, he spent his 20s Working at Home Depot trying to make his way through college. I instead traveled every summer. So I have, you know, massive amounts of student debt, but I at least got great experience. So yeah, you know, it's a
No debt - no experience. Good experience, debt.
Yeah, exactly. So that actually was a part of the conversation is that I went into debt to have experiences. He did not, but he did not have experiences. And so we said, Okay, what happens when you're in your 30s, and you're working full time, or you're in your 40s, and your 50s. And you don't have these research opportunities, or study abroads that take you into a culture, and you learn language, and you learn, adaptation, and how to get from here and there when you don't know the language like, all of that is really critical skills that you don't learn just at home working at Home Depot, right when you're in college. So we said, how do we give people that experience? So we started a company called ensemble, this was 2017 2018. And we wanted to just create itineraries that focused on immersion, where, where have I been? And where can I recreate those experiences for others on a 10 day excursion, versus a three month stay in a foreign country? So that's what we wanted to do. We asked a lot of people, we went on Scout trips, we did some research, people were excited, and then no one signed up. And we were like, Oh, well, yeah. So we asked, we asked people we walked around, or not walked around, but we, you know, sent emails, asked people, Hey, this is what we offer. Why wouldn't you participate? We should really asked that before we built the website. But you know, you learn. And, exactly. So people said the same thing, we noticed this theme among the responses was that this looks really cool. I want to go out and see the world. But I can't afford it. And I can't get time off when they're even their 30s. And they're in their 40s. Right. People don't, most people I would say there are there are exceptions to this rule. But most people don't have a savings account set aside for travel, or they're working through building, you know, have family and all this stuff that come along with that. And they're working there, they don't have the time off that they need to go on a 10 day vacation.
And I would assume to like a 10 day vacation to do that. It's not like, oh, that's in the monthly buffer, you do have to save, especially if it's going over an ocean. And I mean, it's like that's not a rounding error or a buffer monthly budget, you must save otherwise it does not happen. Even if you want to.
Yes. Right. And so you want to exactly and I think that goes a part of that. It's like, okay, so why don't people have this set aside? Well, I didn't have it set aside, I'm the typical millennial who has student debt. And saving was hard because I was putting money to, to bills and all that. But then also, we know that people will buy things when they want them, because they want that experience. They want to hold the thing. They don't want to save for some future event. Right? So that's just like, that's like psychology. And so we said, how do we solve that problem, then? How do we get people to save to reduce the costs around meaningful experiences? And how do we get them time off? So that in that process, we realized that the common denominator was the company, it was the company who holds your purse strings, the company that controls your time. And, and so that's where Dónde was born.
I love it. It's great. Born from a true pain point. A real solution. Now what what's fascinating though, is, as I've learned a little bit about just paid time off in general is like, if it there's a there's a it seems like a mental block where people think I don't have the time. But isn't there like some crazy stats out there about how much paid time off is unused every year? It’s insane numbers, right?
Yeah, right now. It's, oh, my gosh, I haven't read this number in a very long time. I want to say 800 million days. Yes.
That's a lot of experiences that are not being used.
Yes. Because it was almost at 1 billion. I think in one of our decks, we wrote 1 billion. So but I think the stats are right roughly around 800. Now, that was before COVID. So that, you know, might have changed, adjusted the data, but it's roughly at that point. We're kind of back in the 2019 stats now, so, so yeah, so that's so many days left on the table. And there's culture, cultural issues, where people don't feel like they have the ability or the permission to take time off. And they have too much work to do. So there's a lot of factors that go into that. But we said, Okay, how do we go and solve that? Well, it starts from the top right, you have insights, that’s when we came up with the benefit, what others like a benefit that a company can offer, that essentially grants people the permission, because you give them PTO, but that doesn't mean they're going to take it, you give them money for a vacation, they're going to take it. So we tried to solve the permission, we call it empowered PTO, sometimes. And so instead of it's just like unlimited PTO, or mandatory PTO, this is empowered, we're going to enable you to take time off, and to have an incredible experience. Because what I what I think is so funny is that we have this benefit called PTO, it's the second most requested benefit. So when a job candidates looking for what company they're going to sign, they're going to look at your PTO policy, your insurance policy, etc. It's the second most requested, however, it's often a broken promise, because a company might say, Hey, you should come work for us because you get 15 days, 20 days off, 25 days off. The thing is, is that when you get into that company, you're not taking 25 days off. On average, right? There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part
Or worst of all this, isn't this also true, worst of all, is sometimes there's early stage companies unlimited time off, which we all know means nobody ever takes vacation.
Yeah, at Dónde we say we are the anecdote to unlimited time off, because it just it doesn't work. It doesn't work. There's no article that you can read, where it says that it's an effective policy or benefit. So we said, Let's go fix PTO. PTO is an important benefit, and it has so much power, because in our culture, right? It's all about work, work work, productivity, productivity performance. But do we realize that all of those three things are, are tied to rest, and the ability to take a break, the ability to give our minds and our bodies time away from the stress and the intensity of working a job. And that's why PTO was given. And that's why we have it so that you can get away from your day to day and to get out and do something different. And so we said, let's just make PTO. Let's like, let's actually make that a real thing for people and a real ROI driver for the company.
Yeah, you mean, as opposed to like, when I take PTO and go visit my in-laws at Christmas? I get more stressed out by all the parties I have to go to and like I'm still trying to do work. Yeah, like, that's broken.
Yeah. And it's so funny, because
That’s what so many people do, right? I mean, that’s like how people use PTO - to like visit…
Well, I would, I would say yeah, that's most of my PTO as well. But one of the things from Dónde, we don't define what good travel looks like, we define what good PTO looks like, good PTO is disconnected. It is far away from home. And it doesn't cause debt. That has been researched. If you need if you're going to have good PTO that drives ROI, it needs to hit those three criteria. So we enable that we help make so you don't go into debt that you can feel stress free, that you feel safe, and then it's disconnected. But what do you want to do outside of those three criteria, that's up to you if you want every vacation to be with your family. And let's just make sure you don't go into debt to fly all your kids to your grandparents house. So that while you're there, you're like, Oh, crap, well, now I'm in debt. Or let's make sure that while you're there, you're not like my boss wishes that I was actually in the office and they're mad at me now. Right? So like, yeah, you can you get to choose what that experience looks like. But because you know, everyone travels, trips, vacations very differently. Some people go to beaches, some people go to family reunions, some people go to Nepal, and Dónde, we just facilitate any of that. But we do we do say like, let's just make sure it hits the three criteria: disconnected, away from home, and debt free.
Yeah. And and for our listeners that are probably starting to, you know, figure out what the platform is, why don't, can you give us a little kind of preview to like the intersection of HR FinTech and travel kind of all balled up into one.
Yeah, Dónde is travel as a benefit. So we sell into an HR department and the company will bring on down day as a benefit tied with that will be some sort of reward. So the company is going to contribute money in the form of a match where it could be a signing bonus, a tenure bonus, a rewards and recognition bonus however they want, but they're just going to give you cash and it's going to go in to your Dónde wallet. So every user or employee gets, a Dónde wallet, the company put money puts money into that, and the employee can put money into it. So both entities are saving over time, then in the app, you can manage your account. So you can set budgets, you can add more money, you can see all your transactions. And then you can use your funds in our marketplace to book flights, cars, hotels, cruises, experiences, or you can also access our travel designers. So you can go and reach out and say, hey, I want to go on my honeymoon, but I don't know where to go, I want something relaxing, help me plan it. Or you could say, Hey, I, my flight got canceled. I don't understand what they're saying, could you help me? So we do a lot of facilitation of planning and support, and try to just be, you know, make travel. Good. And so we try to help offset some of the stress that goes along with that as best we can. So that is what Dónde is.
It’s like a 401k for travel only it’s so much more fun than a 401k. I mean, without the tax benefit, but still…
Yeah, it doesn't have a tax benefit. But you know, because we can't change the government. But I think it's, it's fun to compare Dónde with a 401k. Because I am a believer in 401k. It is an amazing benefit. But I think from an for argument's sake, if we want to debate something, let's talk about the value of 401k to an organization versus something like Dónde. And I would like to challenge companies, if they say, Oh, we're gonna bring on 401k. I want to say, I love where you're going with this. Yeah. Like, do you think that if you bring on a 401k benefit, that your employees will feel less burned out? That they will feel actually satisfied with their day to day jobs? Will they come in a little bit more productive? Or they feel a little bit more engaged? Will they feel like the culture matches their values as a as a person? Do you feel like they will be able to have greater loyalty and retention, right? And, and the argument is no, because the 401k benefit, they're not going to see it until they're 65. And they're not going to be at your company?
Well, maybe if they open the statement at the end, you know, every month, oh, wow, I've got 1,013 Or maybe just a little dopamine hit, but not Yeah, nothing.
It's a dopamine hit, though. But a lot of things are dopamine hit going and buying a jacket at Gap, something is a dopamine hit, but really what's lasting? And everyone's like, Oh, well, you know, of course, you're gonna say travel. Well, Google says travel, if you ask the benefits of travel, there are numerous benefits. So when I talk to companies, I say, we're just going to funnel the benefits of travel into your organization, we're going to infuse those benefits into your employees so that when they show up to work, they are better. And I don't know any other benefit that can promise that, like, I don't, and that's where I'm just like, ok, come on people. But you know, we're, we're opening up a market and it's hard. So
well, I got one for you, too, on the culture side. Because you know, when I think about just the workplace, and, you know, I, you know, we have a small kind of office, but there's a co-working space next to us. And I interact with some people over there, too. It's like, when I'm meeting people, or just getting to know them or starting to build trust with them. Travel is one of those things. That's like one of the easiest ways to expose some vulnerability. And even on a micro level, like, Oh, what'd you do last weekend? And oh, we went to this thing, or I took the kids to this place, or oh, I just got back from Mexico. Oh, where'd you go? Would you see? It's such a classic way to to expose a little bit of vulnerability, but start to build trust and build relationships? I mean, I would think it's a gateway to like, just in general, better trust and better culture. Like
Yes, yes, totally. Because, like you said, it creates that vulnerability. And we also talked about it being a way to reduce hierarchy with an organization, right, of course, the CEO is the CEO. But if you're at the watercooler, or if you're on a zoom call, and they're asking about like, hey, where did you go on your trip? And it's like, I went to Mexico and the CEO pipes up and it's like, I went to Mexico too. Now you've created this ability for them to talk and to connect on something that is shared, versus you know, having that like weird cultural, like, who am I and why should I be talking to them? So we do think there's a significant community and cultural aspect to Dónde what travel can do for conversation and what it can do for just overall performance. And, and so yeah, I could name out a lot of the benefits that I think Dónde can offer to an organization. But yeah, so that's how we built it, you know, I want to be the best benefit in all the benefits.
Right? Yeah. Well, what was the first year like I mean, what was what was the, you know, kind of the product launch first customers like fundraising, like tell us about the journey so far?
Yeah, so we lost Launched January 2020, we were super excited. Everything was gonna go well, we I know it's funny as silicon slopes. So the big Yeah, the the big tech conference silicon slopes was in January of that year. And so we went there and we were like, Hey, guys, we're this new startup, we're so cool. I walked around the halls, like on cloud nine, and then March rolled in. And so we we shut up, we essentially decided, hey, this is not the time, obviously. And we're just going to figure out how to solve the major problems in the tech side of our business. And so because you know, when you start a startup, often, you're just doing man behind the curtain type stuff. It's all very manual. But we had a year to go and build out an incredible MVP product. And that's what we did. So we solved all the problems in the FinTech space, we solved a lot of problems in the travel space. And we brought together an app that was much more complicated and robust than we originally intended. And we went to market in March of 2021, right when the vaccine came out, and people started booking immediately, people were talking about Mexico, and sure, they weren't cruising, but they were at least going places. So we launched right in that, where there's a lot of positivity around the return of travel, and, and you know, people all pent up wanting to go somewhere. And we said, Great, we can help you get there. So that was our message. It was it was, you know, really difficult to work through 2020 as it was for every business. So we're not special. But I do think, you know, it was an interesting time to say we're building a benefit on around travel when you can't travel so
Well, and by the way, I think, you know, one thing that I've, I've my eyes have really been open to is it. You mentioned it briefly, but the tremendous complexity, technical complexity of what you you are doing, it is not for the faint of heart. Tommy, Tommy has done some amazing work your CTO on figuring figuring this all out. And frankly, it's probably one of the biggest I would say probably one of the biggest modes you have, right? I mean, just the technical modes to build something like this are significant.
Yes, I hope so. I believe so. And I hope that that to me the truth, you know, because it is and we get a lot of questions around, you know, why travel? And why doesn’t this already exist? And I think it's that I think it's because we believe that travel has the most power. But it also is one of the most complicated and archaic industries. So from, you know, a product and technical standpoint, it was no small feat to try to offer something that could meet expectation. Now, that's not to say that our app is perfect, because it is not like we just like any startup, you know, it's difficult, but I do think we've overcome some significant roadblocks and hurdles to be able to offer this type of benefit. And you know, because we're in the FinTech space, too. And when I talk in FinTech circles, it is very difficult to build something in FinTech without a lot of cash. And we received a lot of no’s, even though we had a great idea, we had the ability to build it, we received No’s just because it was like you don't have enough money. And it was like, Okay, well, then I guess we'll go get money. So the nature of Dónde created, you know, something very technical, and I think really impressive from an experience standpoint. But it's also been difficult to understand what that means, you know, what that means to us as a, as a founding team, and as a overall team. So,
So you mentioned some money, you raised some money, right? How did that go? What was that experience like for you as a, as a founder,
So I raised $200,000, from friends and family in 2020, just so that I could quit my job. Because having a kid and a mortgage, it was like, I can't do this, I can't do two, two full time things. So I took $200,000 to be able to quit and then when COVID rolled in, it just gave us some security to to keep going. And then we raised a pre-seed nine months later, that was 1.5 million from some notable angels in Salt Lake City. And, and one kind of VC family office. And then we raised a seed nine months later. And that was 3.3 million from not only the then, you know, Next Frontier, Kickstarter, and then a couple other notable angels. So we've raised three times and it's been hard every time but learned a lot. So
Yeah, for sure. Well, and also, you know, some other I think, is just really amazing. Just just, you know, maybe not known by folks, but you you brought another beautiful child into the world like right, right after the fundraise, right? I mean, so,
Yeah, so I raised you know, pregnant and did not tell anyone that until one meeting, I thought it was obvious. They said it wasn't. So I probably told them too soon. But yeah, I didn't tell everyone until I think it was December. So right in the middle of the raise, right, you know, we had term sheets, and we were working through some of the logistics. And then we closed the round. I want to say March 18. And I had a baby April 1. So it was a lot.
Any advice? I think it's an incredible I mean, I think it's incredible story, Rilee, in any advice you would give to women out there mothers expecting mothers that are starting companies building companies? advice, or any, any anything you would say to them?
It’s so, that's such a good question. And I think about this all the time. And I would, oh, I don't even know if I've been able to articulate everything I would say I would say that it's hard. And while it is hard for everybody, for you know, no matter what, what you look like, or you know, whatever you're doing in your life, I do think it's a different ballgame for women and from somebody that studied sociology, and the idea of gender was a really important thing. I'm, you know, a feminist, and I want women to be seen as just as capable, capable and just as powerful and important as men, I realized that we are different. And I realized that really, acutely when I was raising, and I was pregnant, I was like, oh my goodness, like, actually, this is different. Even though I am just as capable as my colleagues, this is different, they are not doing the same thing that I'm doing. And I think realizing that is a good thing. At first, I was very resistant, but I think it's a good thing to say it is different for me, but that's okay. It is okay, that you are pregnant, that it's that physically, this is more difficult, you're gonna feel nauseous, or you're gonna feel tired, all those things, that is okay. Because at the end of the day, you still show up, you still do the things. And I think being vocal about it is important saying that this is how I feel, or this is why I feel the way that I do or, Hey, this is difficult need to break. Be vocal and speak up and stand up for yourself. Because in order for women to be able to be in these spaces, we have to acknowledge that we're different, but also show that we can do it. And that's often like a paradox, right. But I think that was important thing with the raise, it was just like I did it. It was hard. And it broke me in a lot of ways. But I did it. And so I want to say you can do it too. And let me know if you have questions. You know, like, I'm here to help anyone, but it was really hard.
Thank you for sharing that. I think that's just so beautiful to hear. And it's important. It's important to say so thank you. Thanks. Yeah, and that I actually I disagreed with one thing that you just said, though, you said you felt like you were just as capable as your colleagues, you are way more capable than so many. So that maybe that feeling was you were just as capable. But I like yeah,
Thank you. Thank you for saying that. You know, I was talking to my coach yesterday. And you know, we're contemplating opening up another round of some sort. And he said, How are you feeling about it, and I was like, I don't, I don't want to do it. And it's like a why you know, dilution, or it really comes down to is my confidence I, I just, I don't know, I, I just need, like space and time to build that confidence. And this feels a little bit like whiplash, it's like, oh, now I'm going back out there. And that's the that's like the name of the game, right? And you have to acknowledge that you're gonna have low confidence sometimes, and it's going to be difficult and you're going to feel tired, all these things, that is part of the job. But acknowledging them and working through them is what I've learned right to say out loud, I have low confidence right now, because the last round broke me for various reasons that was the end result. So how do I get that confidence back? Who do I talk to? Or what do I do in my day to day life to reduce chaos so that I can feel like I have the space and time to be strategic and to prepare so that when I go out there I am confident? Like those are the things I have to think about? And so that's just like what I'm working through as a you know, a young CEO is just to figure out how do I show up in the best way possible? And what can I do to make sure that I'm ready so.
Great advice so good to hear and so good for you know, for other founders that listen to the podcast so awesome. What's next like what's coming what's anything exciting to share? What what's what are you getting excited about with regards to Dónde or the future? What’s coming up?
Yeah, yeah, so I am excited about product always product. I am definitely a product girl. And we in the next four months are launching We call the five big rocks. And when those are launched donde will look significantly different. And I'm excited for that I'm excited to go and toxic customers on sales calls or on, you know, in person during our kickoff and implementations. And to be like, this app is incredible, because you can do all of these things. And so I'm excited for the product development. I am also excited to just get some big wins, we are heading into the benefits season, we've got a great pipeline. And I'm hopeful that we'll see those come through. And so I think we're heading into a really rough season. But I'm hopeful that Dónde is able to hit some big milestones and prove that we're gonna stick around for another round. So
Yeah, I'm more than hopeful.
Yeah, me too. You know, one of my one of my advisors said yesterday, you just got a, you gotta be around for or give yourself the ability to fight. And every day that's what I'm doing is just making sure that Dónde is here to fight. Yeah.
Yea, well, you are, you're certainly a fighter. Rilee, I think your story speaks to that. Or a runner maybe is a better analogy. Yeah. Be there to run the race. So So to kind of conclude the episode, I've kind of two questions that, you know, I always like to do kind of like to fun kind of personal questions or non-startup related questions. And yours are very tailored to what you do. So the first one is, if you were to do anything other than Dónde for two weeks, and you can't work, you can't, you know, like, what would you do?
That's a great question. So can I answer travel?
So the second question was gonna be where's your next place you want to go travel to or like, what's a dream destination? So maybe one in the same? Yeah. So
Yeah, so if I, you know, just had two weeks off and like Dónde disappeared, but would come back? Because that's always concern, right? Is it going to be there? Yeah. Yeah. So if it's going to be there, in two weeks, I would go to Ireland with my sister, and my husband and my two kids. And we would rent a cottage, I would do yoga, we would drink tea. We would go to pubs. We read books, we would walk lanes and forests, like I just want to be in greenery with the rain and some tea.
What imagery! That’s quite a trip.
Yeah, we've been talking about it for a long time. And so I think that's coming up here in the next six months or so we're getting out of dodge. So that's what I would do. My next trip is to Ireland. And it's, I'm gonna get a tattoo there. My sister and I are gonna get this like the Celtic knots. And yeah, I guess that’s more Scottish, but yeah.
Incredible. Well, you know, I think the story, the story is incredible Rilee, I just gotta really just thank you for telling it. Because, you know, it's like, like so many stories when you when you look at it all backwards. It's like, makes sense. Like, it's, it does not surprise me that you are the CEO, and co-founder of Dónde based on where you've been and where we are today. So thank you for sharing it. It's so much fun having you on the show. And I think I speak on behalf of all of our listeners. We can't wait to see what's next. And all of us probably hoping that, you know, coming to our employer soon is this benefit? This travel as a benefit.
Yes. You know, definitely three cheers. Yes, please.
Why don't you just to conclude, why don't you tell our audience where they can find more out about you and Dónde online?
Yeah, so our website is goDónde.com. And from there, you can fill out a form and we'll you know, set up a zoom call.
Awesome. Thanks, Rilee.
Okay, thanks, Les.
Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Found in the Rockies. You can find links in the show notes or go to nextfrontiercapital.com to get transcripts, links, and contact information for today's guests. If you like what you heard and want more, please don't forget to rate review and subscribe to get notified as our new episodes drop every two weeks. We'll see you next time.