The Dónde Journey: From Initial Frustration to a $3.3 Million Round of Seed Funding

It all started with a failed project for what should have been a slam dunk success:

  • Offering people a way to book travel experiences far off the beaten track.

Except there was one problem: No one signed-up for the inaugural trip. UGH!

Given her Master's degree in Sociology, Rilee Buttars decided to investigate why there had been a disconnect, and the answer was relatively simple: Just because employees had Vacation Time/PTO hours available did not mean they would (or could) use them.

It was this insight that led to the formation of Salt Lake City-based Dónde in January 2020, just weeks before the Covid-19 virus unleashed havoc across the known universe, something that neither Buttars or her three co-founders could have known back then.

But their premise was spot-on, worldwide pandemic or not:

Vacations-as-a-Service or VaaS (my lingo, not Dónde's).

In simplest terms, Dónde has now built a platform to help companies "... fund travel savings accounts and grant access to a travel marketplace for employees to book epic vacations."

{AUTHOR'S NOTE:  The word dónde means "where" in Spanish, which makes the company name pretty clever in my book.}

Since going live with the service in March 2021 (with a primary focus on the Utah market), Dónde has landed 31 firms as clients, including such notable companies as Traeger, Lendio, and Lucidpress, just to name a few.

Hence, when Silicon Slopes was given the opportunity by Buttars, now Dónde's CEO, to break the story of the company's $3.3 million round of seed funding, of course we said Yes.

This funding round was led by Utah-based Kickstart Fund and joined by Next Frontier Capital, Jeremy Andrus (CEO/Chairman of Traeger and a prolific investor), Aaron Skonnard (CEO and Co-Founder of Pluralsight), and others.

The $3.3 million is on top of an additional $1.5 million raised from angel investors by late 2020.

The Disconnect Between Available PTO and the Need + Ability to Take Time-Off

According to the Dónde news release announcing the funding, Buttars discovered in her investigation that employees "... were chronically unable to travel because they couldn’t afford it and (as a result, they) couldn’t take paid time off (PTO) — a pervasive issue in the U.S."

Independent, third-party research validated her findings.

Cases in point:

  • Job site Monster discovered that 95% of employees that participated in its study were considering quitting their jobs, with nearly a third saying this was driven by burnout.

Additionally, a 2020 survey by the U.S. Travel Association discovered that

  • 93% of employees felt they desperately need a vacation, while
  • 63% said it was important to use their time off for travel as opposed to a staycation.

When it ran the numbers, USTA found that "workers who use all of their vacation time have a 6.5% higher chance of receiving a promotion or raise compared to those who leave 11 or more days of PTO on the table."

As Buttars explained,

“The hustle culture to stay plugged in and continually push harder without rest and vacation is taking a toll. We all need a break, and better time off could mean better time on. The key for Dónde is to address the tortured work culture where PTO is considered unusable."

How Dónde Works

To provide Vacations-as-a-Service, Dónde actually falls into the FinTech realm as users must

  1. Create an account within the Dónde app, including a Dónde wallet;
  2. Set a Savings Goal (for an upcoming vacation);
  3. Connect their Dónde wallet to a personal bank account; and
  4. Start setting aside money to their Dónde wallet.

As of today, monies cannot be deposited automatically from one's paycheck, but need to be added manually. (Payroll deductions is a future feature addition.)

And employers have the ability to provide matching funds and/or one-time contributions/bonuses.

According to the Dónde website, users can book experiences through such travel companies as Acanela, Globus, Viator, and Virtuoso, as well as boutique vendors like Trove or Fort Desolation.

Employees can also ask the Dónde agent to book items from curators like Airbnb, RV Share, and VRBO that are not yet available directly on the Dónde platform.

Total travel options to-date for Dónde users include access to

  • 50+ cruise lines,
  • 400+ airlines,
  • 38,000+ rental car locations, and
  • 700,000+ hotel properties.

Does it work?

Jeremy Andrus of Traeger thinks so:

“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.”

And as noted above, he also invested in Dónde too.

Atomic Financial CEO, Jordan Wright, has a slightly different spin on Dónde:

“I use Dónde in every one of my recruitment calls. It shows them that we’re serious about time off, so they can show up and do the best work of their lives.”

Perhaps the best proof that Dónde works is found in the photo below, an image that shows CEO Buttars on vacation with several of her colleagues.

Dónde team vacation in Arizona (December 2021). LtoR Dave D’Angelo, Josh Cameron, Rilee Buttars, Tommy Currit, Jessie Wachter, Mike Harris, Liz Jackson (spouse of an employee), and Shan Miller. Photo provided by Dónde 8 March 2022.

Dónde plans to use the newly raised funds to grow its platform and expand its marketing and sales efforts.

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