Women in Leadership: Erica Pearson
Co-Founder & CEO Vacation Fund
About Vacation Fund:
Vacation Fund is an employer-matched travel savings program that helps employees put money aside and take meaningful vacations every year. Not only does this help make employees’ dream trips more financially attainable, but it helps employers encourage employees to disconnect and take time off, away from the office.
Q: What gave you the impetus to start Vacation Fund?
Growing up, my father was very frugal and would not spend money on “stuff”. Instead, he took our family on 3 trips a year. We travelled economically, and by the time I turned 22 I had visited over 40 countries. My dad was ahead of the curve on this idea that experiences make people happier than “things”. This idea of living life to the fullest and knowing that we’ve spent our time as best we possibly can as a family meant that we’ve always lived without regrets. My dad also really taught us the value of money, and that money is a tool that should be used for things that matter to you. So initially, I just wanted to help people save for their bucket list trips. But when we started doing user research and interviews for our automated savings tool for people’s travel goals, people told us that they feel guilty asking for time off work, so they don’t really take vacations. Employers also started to ask about offering this to their employees to encourage them to take time off. There just seemed to be good alignment for employers to offer this to employees as a company benefit.
Q: What traction have you had so far?
We’ve been absolutely amazed with the amount of interest there’s been in our Vacation Fund Program. Since launching our new website on December 1st, 2017, we’ve had 40+ inbound inquiries from companies that want to consider offering this benefit to their employees. We’re running a few pilot projects right now, but our waitlist continues to grow.
Q: What do you think is the future of employee benefits?
I think the future of employee benefits will revolve around how to keep people happy, healthy and motivated. I think it will be important for employers to show employees what kind of quality of life they can have at their company. I think things like unlimited vacation days were established with good intentions regarding vacation stigmas and flexibility, but I think there’s still opportunity for improvement. Personally, I like the idea of mandatory vacation days better than unlimited vacation days.
Q: How do you like to start your day?
I wake up any time between 6am and 7am (depending on what time I sent to sleep and whether or not I’m working out that day). I typically work out at the gym in my building 2-3 days a week. I start my day doing oil pulling with coconut oil, and making a to-do list for the day in my notebook. I also spend 5 minutes listening to a motivational video while reviewing my vision board (I am a BIG supporter of vision boards).
Q: What drives you towards success?
Knowing exactly what I want to accomplish in my life allows me to continue to set and accomplish goals. I’m a big believer in vision boards because I think it’s important to know what you want your life to look like in order to be able to take actionable steps every day towards achieving that life. I prioritize my relationships, my physical and mental health, long-term financial freedom, and the growth of my company. I also always want to help others, which is partially why our mission at Vacation Fund is to help people live their lives to the fullest, making time to disconnect and focus on things outside of work.
Q: What are some of the things that frustrate you while accomplishing tasks?
There’s nothing frustrating that comes to mind regarding accomplishing tasks, but I do struggle as a startup founder prioritizing my time. My time and attention is pulled in many directions, and I struggle to determine what my top priorities should be sometimes. At any given time, I should be meeting investors, raising money, applying for grants or accelerators, hiring new people, refining our sales processes, and building relationships with clients.
Q: What do you like/dislike about your industry?
Vacation Fund exists in a space that combines financial technology, travel technology, and employee benefits, all of which are complicated in their own ways and have a number of regulations to work through. I like that we have an opportunity to help people live their lives to the fullest, and that we’re at a time now where going on vacation can actually be considered an important and responsible practice for people’s mental health. I am grateful that by allowing employers to contribute towards their employees’ Vacation Fund, we can have a positive impact on people’s mental wellness and financial wellness.
Q: Your message to women entrepreneurs who are looking to start a new company? – 5 things to keep in mind
For anyone looking to start a new company, I have 5 key pieces of advice:
(i) Find an entrepreneur that inspires you, that has accomplished things similar to that which you’d like to accomplish. Learn everything you can about that person and their journey, and how they got to where they are today. I agree with the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see”, and thankfully now, especially for female entrepreneurs, more and more women are getting exposure for their entrepreneurial journey so they are easier to find, learn from, and get access to.
(ii) Determine your “why”. First, have some sort of vision of what you’d like your life overall to look like, and then set out to solve a problem that you’re truly passionate about (or an expert in). Starting a company takes a lot of time and energy, and it would be too easy to give up if you weren’t working on solving something that you’re passionate about.
(iii) I am a firm believer in the idea of “doing things you care about with people you like”. Being an entrepreneur can feel lonely if you haven’t surrounded yourself with a good support system. Find co-founders or people to work with you or mentor you in your journey. Other people can help keep you motivated, and allow you to talk through your challenges.
(iv) Accept the idea of making mistakes, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you do make them. You have to make so many decisions every day as an entrepreneur, and you’ll never know if you’re making the right ones.
(v) Find mentors that you like and trust. As an entrepreneur, you are bombarded with conflicting advice from experienced, successful people. It will be up to you to know who you want to take advice from, and what advice might not be right for you. Everyone learns and establish biases based on their own experiences. Everyone has an opinion on what direction you should take your company in, how you should finance the company, who you should hire, or how big you should try to make your company, among other things. Knowing why you are doing what you’re doing and creating a continuous dialogue with someone you trust can really help guide your decisions.
Q: What’s your go to meal?
An easy meal that I make at home twice a week with my boyfriend is nachos. We use Beanitos, organic Neal Brothers medium salsa, grass fed beef, and cheddar cheese on top. It’s delicious, quick to make, doesn’t require too many ingredients, and we are always excited to come home and have dinner together on nacho night. 🙂
Q: Recent movie/book you read/watched and what you like about it?
I love the book The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s very well written, and is an entertaining lesson on persevering. I also grew up a competitive athlete, so movies like Invictus really inspire me and resonate with me.
Q: Why is the phrase “Women in Leadership” more important today than ever?
The phrase “Women in Leadership” is important because I think people like to help and support people that they can more easily relate to. There are certain perspectives or challenges that are more easily discussed among women than men. The more women there are in visible leadership positions, the more these women can help to mentor and support other women that aspire to be in those roles.
Q: How do you relax and unwind?
To relax, I like to spend time with my boyfriend at home without work in front of me. He’s an amazing source of support and laughter. I also try to get out of the city when I can, either to my parents’ house or my grandparents’ cottage, where I can spend time prioritizing relationships with people I love.
Beneplan delivers employee benefits at the lowest cost possible, year after year. With one of the lowest total admin fees in the country, and a refund agreement on premiums paid for Canadian group benefits, there are very few carriers in Canada who can beat Beneplan’s low pricing model and profit refund agreements.
In addition to providing low costs, Beneplan provides member benefits at no additional cost.