Last December, Y Media Labs cofounder and CTO Sumit Mehra gathered with the company’s 80-ish United States-based employees in Hawaii for their annual all-hands meeting.
It was there Mehra made the announcement: The very same “grand mansion” where they were standing, all 5,000 square feet of it, would be free for them and their families to use for as long as they worked for Y Media Labs. Everybody gets access to the Hawaiian residence for a week, in order of how long they’ve been at the company, no matter their job title. No strings attached.
To cut right to the chase, here’s a drone flyover of the house:
Zillow lists the value of the home at around $2.48 million; Mehra tells Business Insider that comparable mansions in the area go for $10,000 a week on Airbnb. The main house has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms; the “Ohana” guest house has another two of each. All in all, it sleeps ten. You can bring your whole family, or go solo.
Mehra tells Business Insider that the mansion was intended as a “thank you” to his employees, as suggested by his wife during their own recent Hawaiian vacation. It took a few months to line the place up — Mehra says that he tried to buy it outright, but the owner wouldn’t sell. Now, he says, they’re spending “six figures” a year to rent it indefinitely.
Mehra says that it’s also a reflection of his “gratitude” to employees for the success of the company. Y Media Labs, which helps design and market custom apps for the likes of Apple and American Express, grew from a bootstrapped startup with no outside funding, to a company with around 280 employees — 80 or so in Silicon Valley, and another 200-plus in India. In May 2015, Y Media Labs was bought by advertising company MDC Partners.
“We wanted a way to thank our employees, in a non-traditional way,” says Mehra.
When Mehra first announced the free mansion offer, it actually slammed Y Media’s administrative staff: He says for the first week or so, they were buried under questions, trying to either book a trip, or else just trying to figure out if there was some kind of catch, or if it was really only for senior management.
But nope, Mehra says. In the spirit of fairness, and to reward the most loyal employees, employees get to book a week at a time, with priority given to those there longest. That means a junior salesperson gets to pick their week ahead of a senior VP of engineering, assuming they joined early enough.
As a cofounder of Y Media Labs, that suits Mehra just fine: “That actually allows me to get first dibs anyway,” he jokes.
He says that they opened the house to employees starting in January, and there hasn’t been a single week where it’s been unoccupied, with employees rotating in and out on the regular. Some employees have actually tried to go back, but they have to wait until everybody else gets their turn.
Two final, important notes: Mehra says he’s a big believer in paying employees what they’re worth, and this is more of a company-wide investment in keeping employees happy than it is a replacement for raises, bonuses, or a competitive salary.
Second, the employees in India also have access to the house. But in recognition of the fact that it’s harder for them to get there than their California-based counterparts, Mehra is working on finding and offering them specific perks, too.
“The house is open to everyone,” says Mehra.