Silicon Valley start-ups take perks to new level

OpenDNS employees take Yoga lessons on their company rooftop.
Source: OpenDNS
OpenDNS employees take Yoga lessons on their company rooftop.

Most people consider themselves lucky if they can land a job with above average pay, a 401(k) and a healthy number of paid vacation days. But in Silicon Valley, that's just where the benefits begin.

Start-ups based in San Francisco Bay area are offering novel perks—massages, body analytics, subsidized rents, trips to Tahoe and even helicopter rides—in hopes they will beat competitors to top talent.

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"At big tech firms, you can get your dry cleaning on campus, nails done, breakfast, lunch, dinner, just things that make it easier to work longer," said Carolyn Betts, CEO of ,San Francisco-based Betts Recruiting, which specializes in hiring for tech start-ups.

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"With start-ups, it's the same thing. They are trying to do whatever they can to mimic these larger companies so that they can compete for the same talent."

Making it personal

While Google, Apple, Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants may offer employees huge salaries and their own set of fancy perks, start-ups are taking a more personal approach.

For example, the video monitoring hardware and software company Dropcam offers each employee (plus guest) a free helicopter ride—piloted by the company CEO Greg Duffy—to the destination of their choice.

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Weebly, a website creation tool, gives each employee a monthly credit of $50 to Exec, which provides an on-demand errand service. And OpenDNS, an enterprise network security company, takes all of its employees—as well as their families—on a paid trip to Tahoe each year where they stay at the Ritz Carlton.

While the trip to Tahoe allows employees a chance to relax and get to know each other, other perks offered back at the office are meant to make workers' lives more simple, said David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of OpenDNS.

"The goal with anything perks-wise is about making life easier," Ulevitch said. "Work is stressful, you literally spend the majority of your life at work, so we want to create things that make their lives easier."

Some of these benefits include a laundry service, free catered lunches throughout the week, and rooftop yoga twice a week.

Healthy perks

Health and well-being benefits are a common theme among start-up perks, but the companies aren't just giving away gym memberships.

For example, Weebly offers each employee access to two free annual WellnessFX draws, which provides a personalized assessment of a user's blood chemistry and then breaks down the health data in easy-to-understand charts.

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The company also pays for massages and yoga classes every other week.

But one of the key ways Weebly and many other start-ups are trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle is by giving employees flexible work schedules and unlimited vacation days.

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"We're not treating everyone like children. We give our employees more flexibility, and people regulate themselves and regulate their work," said David Rusenko, Weebly's CEO. "People definitely rise to the occasion."

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As long as employees are getting their work done, they can come and go as they please from the office, he said. The company's vacation policy is similar.

"We offer flexible vacation. We ask that employees keep it reasonable, but tell them to take as much vacation as they need," Rusenko said.

Such liberal leave policies are about more than making sure employees have sufficient time off; they also help promote a healthy work-life balance, said Greg Schott, CEO of MuleSoft, a software and consulting company.

"Some start-ups have that 24 hour, work every single night schedule. Ours tends to be that our employees can work from home or in evening if they have something to do like go to a parent-teacher conference," Schott said.

All you can eat (and drink)

OpenDNS office lounge features a fully stocked bar.
Source: OpenDNS
OpenDNS office lounge features a fully stocked bar.

The bottom line is that even with flexible work schedules, start-up employees will still end up spending tons of time at the office. But while they're there, they will eat like kings.

Providing employees with free food, as well as alcohol, is probably the most popular perk among start-ups in the Valley. Sure, small start-ups don't have a Google-size cafeteria, but thanks to local catering businesses, the firms are able to provide free meals for their employees.

Thumbtack, a company that operates an online marketplace where people can book local services, has an in-house chef who makes breakfast, lunch and dinner for employees. The company also has a dinner every Wednesday where employees are encouraged to bring their friends and family.

OpenDNS offers free lunch three days a week, which includes a different food truck at its office every Wednesday. Pinterest brings in food from restaurants everyday for lunch and dinner and Weebly has two meals a day catered for its employees.

Along with food, though, many start-ups also keep their offices stocked with alcoholic beverages. OpenDNS, for example, brought in a vintage bar that it keeps full of booze.

The cost

MuleSoft flies in all of its international employees to a West Coast retreat each year.
Source: Mulesoft
MuleSoft flies in all of its international employees to a West Coast retreat each year.

While all the free food, booze and trips have no financial impact on the employees, the perks certainly impact the company that is footing the bill. However, it's a small price to pay to maintain a company culture that attracts talent, start-up execs said.

"Competition for talent is probably about as intense as it has ever been, including during the bubble," Schott said. "It's a really hot hiring climate. People are in high demand. You have to have something superior in order to recruit people."

In other words, you have to spend money to make money, a notion that investors in these start-ups support.

Investors backing MuleSoft, including Lightspeed Ventures and SAP Ventures, favor the perks because they realize how competitive the hiring landscape is in the Valley.

"It is a relatively inexpensive component to the company. It's not cheap, but in the scheme of things investors know this is something that company has to have," Schott said.

Rusenko, whose backers include Sequoia Capital and Baseline Ventures, said the topic of perks doesn't really ever come up in discussion with Weebly's backers. Everything that the company offers is not out of the realm of reason, he said.

"It's not a massive cost, but we wouldn't be doing this if we were trying to penny pinch," Rusenko said. "We think each one of our perks has a very measurable return."

By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.