A San Francisco startup pays its employees to go to Burning Man. Their pictures show what it's like to live in the art-filled desert festival on the company's dime.

Courtesy of 15Five15Five pays its employees to go to Burning Man for the first time.
  • 15Five, a performance management software company based in San Francisco, paid for two of its employees to go to Burning Man this year.
  • The startup’s cofounder said the festival teaches people about creativity, an important business skill.
  • The employees shared pictures of their experience with Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Burning Man gives attendees a chance to escape their typical 9-to-5 gigs for a cashless, art-filled, dusty desert experience.

For some employees, however, showing up at Burning Man is just a part of the job.

The nine-day festival occurred this past August, and welcomed more than 70,000 people to Black Rock City, Nevada.


Read more:
Everything you’ve been wanting to know about Burning Man, the wild 9-day arts event in the Nevada desert frequented by celebs and tech moguls

Two attendees had their tickets paid for by their company, 15Five, a performance management software group in San Francisco. The startup recently launched a program that lets employees who’d never been to Burning Man attend for the first time… and on the company’s dime.

Shane Metcalf, cofounder and chief culture officer of 15Five, created the program because the festival had been life changing for him, and he wanted to offer the same experience to his work colleagues.

“My job as chief culture officer is to think about how to build high-preforming teams that are thriving,” Metcalf told Business Insider. “I thought there’s no greater experience I’d rather gift to our people than a ticket to Burning Man.”

Here’s what it looks like to have your company pay you to go to Burning Man:


15Five paid two of its employees, account executives Lior Givol and Seth Eisenberg, to go experience Burning Man for the first time.

Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Metcalf said six employees total attended the festival, but the company only paid for the first-time goers. He estimates the tickets cost $US450 each.

While employees hung out together at the festival, Metcalf said the company did not view paying for Burning Man tickets as a “team building” exercise. Rather, he wanted the festival to have a personal impact on each attendees so that they would come back more focused and driven.

Many companies, including 15Five, pay for employee personal development workshops, and Metcalf views Burning Man as the “greatest possibility for creating transformation in somebody’s life.”


While the company will buy the Burning Man ticket, employees still need to use their own vacation days to take a week off to attend the festival. The company also isn’t liable for any damages that may happen on the trip.

Courtesy of 15Five
Emily Diaz (pictured), director of transformational services at 15Five, also went to Burning Man.
Aside from the ticket, attendees need to pay for transportation to the festival, fees for driving on the ground or bringing an RV, clothes, food, tents, and more.

Metcalf says Burning Man’s reliance on a cashless system and its focus on building art installations teaches attendees creativity, which he adds is a skill imperative to any good business.

Courtesy of 15Five

“We need people thinking creatively to solve a really big problem,” he said. “I am absolutely sure that Burning Man increases creativity.”

In this photo, a 15Five employee and his wife sit at one of the giant structures scattered around the grounds.


Here, Metcalf and his wife Alia are seen atop a sculpture called the Mystic Flyer, which Metcalf helped build along with other 15Five employees.

Courtesy of 15Five

Due to the festival’s proximity to the Bay Area, many tech workers attend the festival — but Metcalf (pictured) said they are still a minority.

Courtesy of 15Five

Tech celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have even made appearances at Black Rock City.

Rich tech moguls sometimes have their own luxurious experiences, sometime arriving at Burning Man via private plane and staying in air-conditioned tents.

While Metcalf says Silicon Valley types does frequent Burning Man, the idea that the festival is comprised only of techies is a “misconception.”

“People from all over the world come to Burning Man, from every possible walk of life,” he said. “Sometimes people will be protective because there’s misperceptions about Burning Man. And yet people who have been to Burning Man understand the power to create.”


The company’s senior marketing manager David Mizne (pictured left) was also on the trip. He met his wife at Burning Man in 2011, and the two now have a young daughter.

Courtesy of 15Five

Mizne climbed atop a giant sculpture called Lord Snort, crafted by Sonoma artist Bryan Tedrick.

Courtesy of 15Five

Source: Sonoma News


Mizne went on another sculpture that spun him around.

15Five

Toward the end of the trip, the two employees who used the program attended the annual Temple Burn to mourn lost loved ones.

Courtesy of 15Five

Burning Man typically closes with the annual burning of a Temple, a giant wooden structure that sits in the middle of the festival site.

Attendees sometimes choose to fill the temple with mementos of people they lost in their life. Thousands of festival attendees gather around the burning structure as a way to let go of the past.


Jenna Dockery, customer success manager at 15Five, also attended the event.

Courtesy of 15Five

The company only paid for two employees to go to Burning Man because the program was created this year. However, Metcalf says he expects a lot more people to sign up in the future.

“What’s cool is that now it’s sparked this whole kind of conversation internally,” he said. “We have people in our North Carolina office who are intrigued and are considering going next year; we have people in our Europe teams that are intrigued.”

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