Updated: Sep 28
Veetahl Eilat-Raichel, Co-Founder and CEO of Sorbet, discusses the story behind Sorbet, launching a new business during a pandemic, and the importance of taking time off.
Veetahl, in 140 characters or less, what’s Sorbet all about?
Sorbet is a personalized Micro-Vacation planner that helps encourage and incentivize time off to improve wellness, productivity, and performance.
You launched Sorbet in the midst of a pandemic (brave!). What made you realize that launching an employee wellness platform like Sorbet was critical in a time of a global pandemic? We started this company just a few months before COVID-19, in what seems like another life. At the time, we were working on another solution in the wellness and productivity space, but when the pandemic started and everything froze, we were really lucky to have a group of amazing CHRO’s and other amazing HR leaders at companies we were already in touch with, who kept engaging with us and sharing their challenges and concerns. Over the course of several months, something really amazing happened. In every single conversation across sectors, verticals and coasts – everyone was talking about Time Off.
It turned out that since COVID-19, no one was taking any time off. This included both employees and the leaders themselves and it was clear to them that with working from home, sheltering in place, kids not at school, and tremendous uncertainty all around, this was becoming a huge wellness issue with potentially severe consequences in the short and long term. There were deep fundamental issues that were in question, like: what does a day off mean when you work from home? When does a day start? When does it end? What's the point of taking a vacation when you can’t travel anywhere? And what would it look like if I take time off when no one can see what I’m doing all day? These questions and many more made it clear to us that this was not simply a small payroll issue, but a dramatic shift in behavior which requires a disruptive approach to Paid Time Off, which hasn’t been disrupted in decades.
What’s the story behind the name, Sorbet?
As we were researching the space and interviewing employees, we started to develop this initial hypothesis around “Micro-Vacations”. We felt that they were amazing hacks to recreate all the positive effects of long vacations (they are even more effective, actually!), while at the same time more suited to our new normal. When I shared these initial thoughts with a CFO of a large company, he said something that was truly a lightbulb moment for me. He said, “I think what people need most right now is a mental Sorbet.” And with that, everything truly fell into place for us.
As you know, Sorbet is that palate cleanser you have in between the main dishes. It is cool, refreshing and sweet, but not overly indulgent, so you don’t feel guilty after having a taste. It’s just what you need to get that fresh boost to keep you going. And, if you think about it, that perfectly captures the spirit of our product.
In your opinion, why should employers encourage their employees to take time off? Research overwhelmingly shows that taking breaks is essential for your well-being. When we built our solution, we consulted with psychologists and behavioral scientists who all confirmed that there is an actual chemical reaction that occurs in your brain while you’re on vacation which stimulates the reward centers of our brain and releases dopamine – “feel good” neurotransmitters, which lead to reduced stress levels and higher satisfaction along with improved learning capabilities, better memory and concentration. So basically, if employers want their employees at peak wellness and performance, all they have to do is make sure they take frequent breaks from work.
Data from recent surveys and reports indicate that employees are taking less time off now than they ever have. Why should employees and employers take note especially now? I think we can all agree that 2020 has been rough. With everything going on, stress levels are at an all time high and we’re all feeling burned out. But unfortunately, if there's anything we learned in the past few months, it’s that oftentimes, the reasons for this stress are beyond our control.
While high stress levels have been linked to anything from Type 2 diabetes to high cholesterol, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and depression, interestingly enough, stress, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily problematic. Think about it like training a muscle. If you only plan your workout without adequate rest, you won’t give your muscles the chance to repair and heal. That's when injuries happen. Instead, every athlete knows that the recovery time is just as important as the workout itself. Sorbet mimics that approach to allow you to recover, recharge and heal, so even when stress levels are high, you can still operate at peak performance.
In your recent conversations with HR and People Operations teams, how are they approaching the issue of unused Paid Time Off this year?
I have been incredibly inspired and impressed by the people leadership in companies I’ve been in touch with recently. If you think about it, this crisis was first and foremostly a people crisis and HR professionals have been, and still are, on the frontlines. In my opinion, one thing that’s clear is that certain things are changing and some will never be the same. This forces all of us to reexamine very basic things and embrace change and innovation. With time off, many companies are trying to juggle their genuine concern for their employees’ well-being with the very natural focus on business success including performance, meeting deadlines, and hitting goals, especially during these uncertain and challenging times. That’s why we’re passionate about the benefits of incorporating "micro- breaks" which are incredibly effective at increasing wellness while not hurting (and actually improving) performance over time. This way, employees have a chance to recharge and recover, without compromising their work.
As Co-Founder and CEO of Sorbet, how are you encouraging Sorbet employees to take time off?
Taking time off is part of our team's goals and personal targets. Everyone must take at least small breaks, or scoops as we call them, even during major crunches, which as an early-stage startup is basically all the time :).
As a mother, wife, and Co-Founder, how do you ensure you carve out time for yourself to take time off?
One can always get better. The trick that’s been working for me is using the one hour+ time in the morning that I would have normally spent commuting to the office on my morning rituals. I make sure I resist the temptation to open my laptop and dive right into work. So, in the morning, I’m usually good at using this time to read a paper, meditate, or simply take a walk before I get started with work.
Let’s offer some words from the wise to other entrepreneurs looking to launch a business right now. What are some challenges you are facing launching a start-up and how do you work around them? How has COVID-19 made an impact on your launch and what can other Founders do to prepare for this new normal? I’m not sure I’m in any position to give advice. Starting a business in the middle of a pandemic is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I applaud my fellow entrepreneurs for their grit, resilience and determination. The one thing that worked really well for me was surrounding myself with incredible, equally passionate people who act like founders even when they're not. I draw lots of strength from my team and I feel lucky that they decided to join me on this crazy ride. COVID-19 forced us to be even more agile, lean, and scrappy. No one knows what the new normal will look like and preparing means knowing how to embrace change.
Do you have business mantras? How have they changed since COVID-19? My mantra has always been to truly listen to the customer. It’s the worst and most corny cliché but it’s always, always true. When we started out, we were working on something entirely different. Then when COVID-19 started, it was clear that we needed to go back to the drawing board and to me that’s the most exciting and fun part. If you truly listen and not assume that you know the answers, you’ll get incredible insights, and for us, Sorbet truly built itself from hours of listening to people teams, CFOs, managers and employees who were all incredibly frustrated by the way PTO is currently constructed. It became very clear that there’s a huge opportunity to create real impact in people’s lives, help legitimize time off, encourage recovery, and improve wellness and productivity, in a state of a pandemic (and well beyond).
What’s next for Sorbet post-Beta launch?
We’re very lucky to have a steady pipeline of companies eager to partner with us. Each one of our Beta users has made a huge impact on our product by giving us priceless feedback and insights to constantly improve our solution. Our next step is rolling out our full platform which includes financial optimization for employers and employees alike. This new feature enables employees to liquidate accrued days and turn them into wellness boosters through our platform, while allowing CFOs maximum flexibility to manage and optimize their liabilities. Other than that, we will continue to partner with the most amazing companies on our mission to bring PTO back to its original purpose - to empower employees to spend meaningful time off to destress, recharge, avoid burnout, and improve performance.