The Journey of a Leader’s Sabbatical with Sam Eitzen at SnapBar

The stress of being a CEO of a growing company is comprised of pressure-filled moments. When it builds up, the answer is not to quit. You might consider the leader’s sabbatical. Taking intentional time away from the business and disconnecting from the day-to-day will give you perspective. Today’s guest is Sam Eitzen, CEO, and Co-Founder at Snapbar. Inc Magazine ranked his company #473 on the 2019 Inc 5000 list. SnapBar has evolved over the years and now creates unique experiences for event attendees using technology in unique ways. Sam walks us through the pressures he was experiencing before he realized he needed a leader’s sabbatical. The signs may not have been clear, but eventually, he needed to look at his priorities differently. The leader’s sabbatical may be something that you need in the future.

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Sam Eitzen: The Transcript

About: Sam Eitzen is a husband and a father, he plans impromptu dance parties with his kids, and he love his work because he enjoys what he does and wants to create companies that serve people, not use them. He’s an entrepreneur. A college dropout. he started more companies that have failed than have succeeded. For the past 8 years, He had the privilege of leading Snapbar, an Inc. 500 company, where he is currently co-founder & CEO. What started as a humble photo booth service in Seattle has grown into a tech company with global reach in the world of events and marketing experiences. He builds and uses photo and video technology to create experiences that help planners, marketers, and teams create better engagement and connections with their audiences. Along with his team at SnapBar, He had the privilege of working at events like CES, Coachella, and SXSW with clients including Google, Nike, Disney, Louis Vuitton, MasterCard, and many others.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Sam Eitzen: Interestingly enough. I think I’m pretty sure I read this on sabbatical. Is it that it comes from the word Sabbath, which of course is a, , like a religious word or I see, goodness. I prob probably stems from even Judaism maybe, but it’s the idea of rest, right? So it’d be a Sabbath day being a rest day. So I’m pretty sure that that’s the etymology of sabbatical comes from this. So to me, it was an escape. It was rest from the intensity, the busy-ness of life, but especially work, , as a startup founder, probably similar to many startup founders and business people, it’s easy to let it become all-encompassing where even on a day off, are you really on a day off or are you really letting your mind rest.

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: What do you do when you feel the pressure of work? The stress, maybe even anxiety? Well, you might be feeling burnout, but it might be something a little bit more serious. Today we look at one leader who had to really analyze what was going on in his life and he couldn’t figure out what it was for a little bit, but he finally found something that worked. We talked about the leader’s sabbatical. What does it mean for you to actually unplug disconnect and really create space for you to just get out in nature? Maybe it’s with your thoughts. Maybe it’s just being away from the rush and the pressure and the decisions that you have to make the leader sabbatical is not something that you should just rush into, but you may need it more than you think.

Maybe this is something you might want to put on your horizon for next quarter. Maybe it’s next year. But I believe that if you can actually take this, it actually can benefit your business in a huge way because you can rally your people to say, we care about your trust and our trust. And we maybe add this to the mix of benefits that you offer over time. As you figure out it does add benefit by you doing it first, leading by example, in this case, today’s guests. Sam Eitzen and he is with the Snapbar and we talk about some of the pivots he went through COVID, but also the real heart of this conversation is around his sabbatical. And what does that look like? What caused it, what did he do inside the sabbatical that made him actually feel the benefits of it? What did he remove from his phone? You might be surprised by this, but also what happened afterward? What would the real core benefits of having this time away? The sabbatical could be something you need. He mentioned anxiety and a lot of the clients, I work with feel a sense of anxiety and I can help them through this to help them find the calmness that they need to lead their company to the next level.

Now I’m not trying to pitch you my services here, but if I can help you in any way, I can help you get more clear about who you are, how you spend yours. What’s most valuable for your company to move forward. Then I would love to serve you. Just check out my resources genehammett.com. And if you want to have a conversation with me, just go to start your journey and we can find time to talk that works for you. I’d love to support you and even challenge you to help you grow and create this strategy for success. And help you overcome the anxiety or burnout that you’re facing. Now here’s the interview with Sam,

Sam, how are you?

Sam Eitzen: I’m good. Thanks, Gene, for having me.

Gene Hammett: Welcome back to the show. We had you on a long time ago to talk about Snapbar and we’re going to talk a little bit about that today, but there’s really something interesting that you’ve just went through that we’re going to talk about it. A lot of leaders are curious about what that is and how it works. But before we get there, let’s talk about the Snapbar. Give us a, I know you’ve pivoted through this whole change. So who are you now?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah, so Snapbar is now primarily a tech company building software products that do a lot of the same stuff that we were doing still related very much to like photos and selfies, but in the world of virtual events, Most people know has been kind of all-encompassing for the past year. In the meantime, though. Yeah. During March and April was the last year 2020, our business took a massive hit and we lost about every stream of income and source of revenue we had in the span of about three. Huge flood of cancellations, which almost sunk the ship. , but we were able to kind of bridge a gap where we had zero revenue coming in with a desperate pivot to something called to keep your city smiling or keep your city smiling.com, which is a gift box company. I actually, of all things completely unrelated to what we’re back doing again now, but related enough to what our clients needed at the time to make sense. And it did really well for just under a year is when we kind of ran that.

Gene Hammett: Well, I can appreciate the pivot. I think a lot of people here, , had to pivot in some way, but you’ve made some very drastic ships, one completely away from the business that you were in something different and then revitalizing or re-imagining the entire Snapbar business. So now you have a software. What’s the core of that. The functionality of that software.

Sam Eitzen: So we’re building out a platform and the core of it is that using a technology called web RTC, which is essentially like being able to use the browser for a lot of fun stuff. We can take selfies through a browser and manipulate a camera that records video and takes photos through a browser versus through an app so that if you’re running a big event. All you need to do is have someone scan a QR code or click on a link that takes them to this like immersive micro-site where they can take a selfie, branded, add stickers, do all these things, share it directly to social without ever having to download an app, which, you know, you’ve probably been to events before where they’re of course incentivizing everyone to take a photo post to social media, use the hashtag, please, so that we can find it right. And this aggregates all of that for ours. Who are B2B, in a way that pulls it into a gallery, they can look at the analytics, they can share those things in, and the people that way

Gene Hammett: I’ve had clients that were, do some really interesting stuff through web RTC. So, yeah, you described here is something that I could see the gap that was not there before that is now and as we go back to that, this would still be probably something I guess they could use. And, and especially most events will be hybrid moving forward.

Sam Eitzen: Exactly. And, you know, it took me a couple of minutes more than that. I wish it took me a couple of minutes to realize that what we were building would absolutely apply in like in person, just as well as it could online, in fact, in certain situations more so, so we work with a lot of sports teams at big stadiums, for example. And how annoying is it realistically to have to go through? Find at some level where the photobooth has set up, stand in the line, wait in a line, finally, get to a screen that a hundred other people have touched to touch the screen. You don’t use it all. And that was our business. I mean, we were doing this so we would, of course, make money doing that. Now we can put a QR code on a massive screen and have 50,000 people in a stadium. Access the website take selfies, customize them for the brand. That’s hired us, say the Seattle Sounders to have a local example of where we are, and it’s a better product. Like that’s a better solution than the in-person photo booth. So we’re still exploring how, like, how to make that known to people. But it’s really exciting. And that’s one of the reasons we just let it kind of completely change the Snapbar trajectory

Gene Hammett: I love it. And yeah, I’d love to continue to talk to you about it. But we came here to talk about something completely different. So I think a lot of people may not understand what this word sabbatical is. Yeah. What is your definition of a second?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah, so, I mean, interestingly enough, I think I’m pretty sure I read this on sabbatical. Is it that it comes from the word Sabbath, which of course is a, , like a religious word or I, goodness, I probably stem from even Judaism, maybe, but it’s the idea of rest, right? So the Sabbath day is a rest day. So I’m pretty sure that that’s the etymology that sabbatical comes from this. So to me, it was an escape. It was rest from the intensity, the busy-ness of life, but especially, work, as a startup founder, probably similar to many startup founders and business people, it’s easy to let it become all-encompassing where even on a day off, are you really on a day off or are you really letting your mind rest?

Gene Hammett: Well, let’s talk about that before you decided to do a sabbatical, what was it like in your world?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah, so it reached a negative tipping point in December of 2020. So last year, of course for everyone was intense than wild. And for me in December it resulted in what, at the time I thought it was actually a heart attack. I woke up in the middle of the night. My heart was pounding, could go to sleep, became very nervous and scared, and there was no pain. So I didn’t go to the emergency room. Thankfully I am fine and it was not a medical emergency, but it scared me at [4:00] AM enough to kind of jolt me into action. And that was the first of many series of what I’ve come to attribute or learn or like heart palpitations is pretty severe heart palpitations brought on by anxiety. I had no clue at the time. I genuinely thought it was just in a medical situation. And as a result of that medical situation that I thought I was in, I went on a diet, I started exercising more. I was trying to get better sleep and do all of these things. Like keep my heart healthy, cut out salt, you know, and, , went to the cardiologist and gone to the doctors and actually learned that it was anxiety flaring up. And I just didn’t think it would ever flare-up that way.

Gene Hammett: Now you’re, you’re pretty young. I don’t know what you’re afraid to.

Sam Eitzen: I’m 33

Gene Hammett: So I’m 50 and I, I have to take these things pretty seriously, even though I don’t have any issues right now. Yeah. I think I would have had to go through a doctor.

Sam Eitzen: Yeah. Yeah. You know, it, there’s some of these hard things. Family. I like, I’ve known enough people that have dealt with these things, even at a young age to where it was definitely not something I was taking lightly. The problem for me, the reason I just did not attribute it to anxiety was I didn’t think it could result in that type of like a bodily response. I don’t feel stressed most of the time, like mentally, I don’t feel like an anxious stressed-out person. But it’s obviously going somewhere again, this is, this is not just me saying this. This is what I have been taught over the past few months by doctors and naturopaths. And, yeah, I was clearly not paying attention to how and where it was going in that sense. And so that was really the first time in January after dealing with that and some insomnia related to it and just being even, you know, the hard part about any of that kind of stuff is you’re already kind of anxious and maybe stressed out and then this happens and it adds to everything that you were before. So I, again, the negative to the point, as I said earlier, was that, wow, I should, I need to do something. I need to escape the routine. Once I was able to pinpoint it to like actually anxiety and just burn out. So that’s how that idea started.

Gene Hammett: So I’ve always known what a sabbatical is. I’ve kind of maybe dreamed about taking one Sunday, completely unplugging and being away from business and ideas and thinking more creative, and all that stuff. Resting on a beach somewhere. Was that something you thought about before this, or did it come about as a solution to what you were going through?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah, it was, , just this that I hadn’t thought about it. The idea came from my brother who is my Co-founder. And one of the key reasons I was able to do it is actually because six weeks is a long time for any small business, even as big business. Right. , to sure. You know, and, and kind of say bye to all your responsibilities. But my brother had taken a five-week vacation to Southeast Asia and he, it was a really long one. It was not a sabbatical. It was actually vacation, a few years ago just because once you, when you’re all the way out there, why, why fly back in two weeks was his logic, right? Like I’m going to try to go for it and visit as many countries as I can. It ended up kind of being. Sabbatical he had poor reception was not using his laptop, much was traveling around on beaches, you know, of course, had a lot of stuff going on. So it wasn’t a complete retreat, but not connected to work. And for him, it actually did wonders and he wasn’t even in a period of intense stress, but it was just really great for him, , in the aftermath to look at, wow, look what this disconnected.

So when he, so when he said to me, maybe you should do what I did. I have three kids. I wasn’t going to take a five-week vacation to Southeast Asia, but that immediately came to conjured up like, oh, a sabbatical. I used to work for REI and REI as part of their culture program actually have sabbaticals at, I think the 10-year mark, the 15-year mark, and the 20-year mark. And they started about a month then go to a month and a half. And then you have two months paid the longer you stay at REI firm. It actually does not matter at what level of the company you are. So this is just a time-based thing. So actually I first heard about it then. And because this was not going to be a six-week vacation to the team, I pitched it as a sabbatical because the idea was I really am going to do more than I have done before in disconnecting.

So I deleted apps off my phone off didn’t open my laptop. They had to call me if there was an emergency. And that is actually not even how I take a vacation, even on vacation. , sometimes open up my email. I’m seeing stuff pop up on slack and then just takes you right back to work. I’m sure you’ve had that experience. You know, it’s, it’s tough to dismiss.

Commentary: Let’s look at this idea. Sabbatical versus a vacation. Many of you take vacations where you will get away from the office. You don’t have to go in at all. You get to go someplace that you want to go with your family, or maybe with your loved one, and you are able to disconnect and unplug. Now you may rationalize yourself that you can actually get a little bit of work done. You can actually check-in, maybe get an hour here, an hour there, very focused, be in and out, and it won’t have an impact to you, but here’s the thing you’re really defeating the purpose of really getting away. Because you’re not truly away if you’re checking in on a regular basis. So my encouragement to you is you may not be ready for a sabbatical yet, have a vacation that is completely disconnected as much as you can, as much as you can muster. Now, you may be looking at a sabbatical. It is quite different. It isn’t very intentional about being disconnected and being away from work and away from the decisions and the pressure. And so what you have to decide, what’s right for you, but I wanted to make sure we have this little bit of conversation and urging you to actually unplug as often as you can to recharge and be ready for your team, they need the best leader. You can be not the leader that’s leftover after you’re exhausted from all the work that you’re doing back to Sam.

Gene Hammett: You know, I think a lot of leaders rationalize about vacations and saying, I’ll just do a couple of hours in the morning. That’ll be my thing. No one will know because I’ll get up before anyone anyway. And I think they’re missing the point that it actually should be time for you to recharge and rest line, maybe even disconnect completely. Yeah. My wife has helped me with this quite a bit. , when you think about. How did you, how did you actually, you know, get up to the point where you can take the sabbatical? I know you can’t, it probably doesn’t do very good to work really hard, intensely right up before it.

Sam Eitzen: Exactly. , like I said, having a co-founder and having him be my brother is hugely beneficial. And I realized if I didn’t have that, it would just inherently. Even more challenging than it already was to get everything, all the ducks in a row. But beyond that, , I made sure to pick a date in the future. , that was, , right after our first quarter. So I started in April and we had just finished our OKR sessions, like our whole OKR framework for the first quarter. I was involved in setting everything up for the second quarter and then basically took the first month and a half of Q2 off. , so I had wrapped up. We, I delegated my email inbox via the apps that we use to both my co-founder and my COO so that all of the email communication coming in there was not something I had to be responsible for. I deleted the app off my phone, gave my phone number to everyone that needed it. And beyond that, I mean, as my job, as a CEO, I don’t, I’m not involved in intricate details of getting every day that Snapbar is moving forward. So of course I have that luxury in my position to not be so wrapped up in some of that technical work, but I did make sure that all of my big projects were taken care of and finish.

Gene Hammett: And did you do anything during the sabbatical that, that we could learn from around, you know, truly unplugging was, was it a retreat? Was it meditative?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah. Yeah. , both actually. So part of it was vacation. I have three kids, we went to Southern Utah for 12. Drove around in the desert and visited national parks. I got outside a ton of molds. That was actually a big reason that we went on this road trip. We’re not really a road trip family. , although we loved it and that will probably become one. , but spending time outside was actually something that might natural path told me I needed to do more of for than just general anxiety in front of a screen in front of the news or reading what other startups are doing. There’s this competitive drive in me. That’s like. It’s not on edge. That’s a little severe, but like wanting to do more. And I think actually she mentioned it. It was the first time I’d heard it. And I’ve since seen a couple of articles about this trend called forest baths. I don’t know if you’re familiar. It’s this Japanese principle and it basically, it’s just like getting out into the. What letting nature wash over you. And I don’t think I approached it just like that, but I got outside more. I exercised a bunch, which I know for me has just helped a ton in my mood and a general feeling of wellbeing. I took actually within my sabbatical, a completely solo retreat for three and a half to four days where I was around nobody that I knew in a different. By myself. And all I did was a hike, read bike. That’s it hadn’t done that ever. I don’t think since I was single honestly, or if, since I’ve gone on work trips from that perspective, , those are probably like the three. Oh. And then, I mean, the obvious rich, which is just like making sure that I was actually disconnected because I am just like all those other entrepreneurs and business people who say, yeah, perfect.

I’ll get up in the morning, answer my email for a date for an hour or two for anyone’s up. And it’ll be like, I’m still on vacation. And the. It’s not that way that your mind is engaged, it’s bringing things to mind. , so that was something that was just really strict with myself about, and for the first time in about a decade, I was able to maintain that strictness. I actually had to tune in for some tax stuff, personal taxes were due and didn’t pick the best window. , but that was, that was it. And it wasn’t complicated.

Gene Hammett: So we got a good picture of what was going on before we got a good picture of what was going on during, so now let’s look at, after. The real benefit behind this, did you fall right back into the anxiety or are you able to manage it completely differently now?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah, I mean, happy to say that I have not had any of those heart palpitations in months now, so that was huge. And of course, as related to that, I haven’t had insomnia. And again, the insomnia is literally caused by the fact that the heart palpitations were so strong that when I lay down, I can’t sleep. So it wasn’t anything worse. It was just that feeling. , I have been told by a few members of my team that I seem calmer, being gone for a month and a half removed me from enough of the day-to-day that I have not picked up some of the things I would do regularly. So I’m in charge of fewer meetings now, simply because I haven’t needed to take them back on in terms of my responsibility. And I just had overtime because no reason, , I’m still exercising very regularly and bought a treadmill so that I could not have any excuse. I live in the Seattle area. It raining a lot. I could easily come up with an excuse that it’s too cold and wet to do anything. That was a big step. It’s not giving me.

Uses to not focused on my health. , I mean, honestly, that’s about it. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff happening at Snapbar or busy we’re growing, but from an anxiety perspective, no, it’s, it’s been really, really good and healthy. And I think the high of this sabbatical has worn off by this point I’ve been back for about a month. And so it’s the first week I was still walking on air. Just, it felt very easy and I don’t know. And, and now there are enough situations happen at work and problems we had to deal with had like grounded me again, but they’ve not resulted in the same reaction. And I feel like my approach to them is a little bit calmer.

Commentary: Now, I wouldn’t share a little story with you about going from anxiety to calm. I was working with a client one time, had a few hundred bucks. And he knew that his 20 years of leadership would not take him to the next place he wanted. In fact, he was feeling a lot of pressure and you might even say it’s anxiety. That’s the word he used. But the pressure that he was feeling was because the leadership that he had been using was very authoritarian. It was very much. Let me tell you what to do next. And that caused a lot of pressure. He was getting way too many emails and we had a few conversations to unlock what was really going on. Now, the best thing I can tell you that we did was helping him get really sober to the fact that he was suffering from this anxiety. And it wasn’t the best way to lead his team. In fact, he knew that if he was calm, he could actually lead them through any. I share this with you because I help people through the dark deep stuff. And if you want to be a better leader, I can help you to just let me know how I can serve you. Now back to Sam.

Gene Hammett: What would you say to someone else that considering that they’re, they’re either having anxiety or burnout? Because I don’t know if there’s a, there’s gotta be an overlap between the burnout and anxiety, but I just felt burnt out many times before. My wife is like, you’ve got to slow down.

Sam Eitzen: Yep. Yep. It’s a that’s a great point, Gene. I’m not exactly sure what the overlap is for me. It was for sure a combination. I was burned out last year was intense. And I imagine there, unfortunately, so many business people and startup founders that are burned out right now. Right? I mean, how could you not be from all of the stuff that happened last year? That constant changes about meant for business, but my encouragement would be if you cannot take six weeks away, which I realize is that like a lot harder to plan for try to be super deliberate with 3 to 4 days. Because even within my sabbatical at the time that I took away from my family from even like screens from even the same, like house and city that I lived in was really helpful.

Surprisingly helpful. I only did that solar treat on the recommendation of a friend who said like, if you don’t, I will book you a house to go do it. Like they had done this kind of thing before you have to take is Sam. And so I did, and I found it amazing to just like, basically not talk to anyone for three or four days. And just spend a lot of time in my head, right? Like again, ride my bike a ton, get out in nature. And that’s accomplishable for most people. I think three to five, three to four days, a little extended weekend. I booked at the tiny Airbnb. Like it doesn’t have to be super expensive, so I would encourage anybody to try it, and yeah. And then to try to discuss. So let people call your phone, like get the apps off of it. Don’t check email again, just for those four days completely disconnected. I think that that would be like an amazing first step. And if I think that’s the other easy piece is like, once you sense that man, this may be helpful, then maybe you’ll start shooting for longer and longer periods of time over time. Of course. , I don’t hope to need a sabbatical again anytime soon, but I love it so much that I absolutely will probably take another really long one in five years or so maybe sooner. I mean, honestly, I don’t know. , but it was really nice.

Gene Hammett: I wanna ask you a final one question. before we wrap up. It really is this six weeks sounds like an incredible amount of time to be away then a lot of leaders will be like, there’s just no way, but are you doing anything different on your weekends now so that you kind of can get back to that? Maybe it’s disconnecting like hardcore one day or during that weekend. What does that look like for you?

Sam Eitzen: Yeah. Well, one of the changes that have not changed from sabbatical was the apps on my phone and a big tip that I would share with anybody is, okay. There are obviously some apps that you have to have a background on your phone. I left some completely deleted the ones that I had to have back by using, , screen time on iPhone. And I’m sure there’s an Android equivalent. You can like basically block the app, like completely render it unusable after a certain period of time. I use this for my kids who have iPads. Right. You can like to control their use. So I’m babysitting my, my app usage in one sense. And for anything that I check, just like by happenstance, like I just leave it off of my home screen. It’s still on my iPhone. That’s a new feature, but I don’t have to see it. So they have to like search for it and a big piece of like burnout. And, but the anxiety piece is just that we live in a culture of constant on this, right? Like notification, think about this. Let me get your attention and cutting that out biggest shift and change that I’ve seen, , between previous weekends and weekends now, and even evenings, right? Where, when I’m at home, I am at home and I’m not checking stocks or crypto or work or slack or any of these things that are just so easy to like steal my attention away from yeah, rest kids, family, working out that kind of stuff.

Gene Hammett: I love all of this. , I have felt, you know, burnt out before and I’ve had to really disconnect and really recharge. And I put rules around weekends. I put rules around my evenings that allow me to do this on a regular basis, but I got a couple of weeks coming up. That’s going to put me out in nature, some kind of excited. You’ve shared this with me and thanks for being here and sharing your journey.

Sam Eitzen: Absolutely, pleasure.

Gene Hammett: Well, let me wrap up here. I know Sam is, is listening to me, but what I take away from this is really the fact that we can get burned out. We can have anxiety, things that are, you know, we can’t explain some of the times I get pressure, I get a little bit of heartburn and it doesn’t happen very much, but I know in that heartburn comes in, I’m probably not doing the right things. And it’s not just about what I eat. It’s about the pressure and stress I’m under. Really pay attention to what’s going on for you. And what Sam has talked about is, you know, being able to structure the sabbatical. Yes, he has his co-founder brother, but you can have people on your team too, that really can cover you to get away from six weeks. And if you don’t, then that’s really kind of a sign that you probably don’t have the leadership team and really think that you really need. And you need to get back and really focus on some of those things so that you don’t have so much stress. And if you have any questions about what to do there, make sure to reach out to me, [email protected] I help leaders, founders, and CEOs of them truly disconnect in the business recharged but really be the best leaders that can just go to genehammett.com.

When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank as always lead with courage. Will see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

 

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