OREM — Steve Sonnenberg approached Amazon with an idea: an employee recognition program built around the online retail giant. Amazon wasn’t interested; Sonnenberg built it anyway.
Years later, Sonnenberg's company, Awardco, is one of the fastest-growing companies in Utah.
Each year, MountainWest Capital Network announces the Utah100 — a ranking of the 100 companies in the Beehive State with the largest percentage of revenue increase in the last five years. On Tuesday, Awardco was announced as the company in the top spot.
"I was shocked, because there are so many great companies here in Utah, and to be listed No. 1 just meant a lot," Sonnenberg said.
The Orem company is changing how businesses recognize their employees. Sonnenberg grew up with a father in the employee recognition space and watched his dad make plaques, trophies, rings (his dad did all six of the Chicago Bulls' championship rings — yes, even the two that were won against the Utah Jazz). He was interested in helping carry on that legacy but also thought a new generation would prefer something a little different than a trophy.
It was a simple idea: integrate and partner with Amazon to give employees who had earned recognition a chance to choose their reward.
Awardco mapped it all out and rebuilt Amazon into a point system on Awardco. They were then able to give managers points which could be redeemed on Amazon to provide awards for employees. The problem was, Amazon wasn’t so sure about the idea and initially didn't approve of integration. That meant Awardco was serving as a middle man of sorts. When employees would redeem points, Awardco would have to go manually order the items from Amazon. That made it hard to keep up and really prevented the company from really growing on a large scale.
But Awardco funneled enough business toward Amazon that the online company took notice. By the end of 2015, Awardco had integrated with Amazon Business.
"We can actually take a company and attach their business to the Amazon Business account," Sonnenberg said. "And then we were able to automate the ordering process through Amazon Business."
And it’s not just in the United States — Awardco is integrated with Amazon warehouses in the U.K., Spain, France, Italy, Japan, India, Canada, and pretty much everywhere there's Amazon.
Considering that, it may not be a huge surprise that Sonnenberg's company has seen larger growth than any other business in Utah in that time.
“All it is, is it's a naive entrepreneur that wanted more choices for employees, and it was partnering with Amazon to provide that choice. And through a lot of hard work and luck, we're able to establish that partnership with Amazon to finally bring that Amazon-like experience to employees,” Sonnenberg said.
But Awardco has been mainly in the background — this is the first time they appeared on any Utah100 list (MountainWest Capital Network also puts out a top revenue increase and emerging elite lists). And Sonnenberg thinks he knows why: Awardco didn’t go the venture capital route, and that meant no big announcement about raising X millions of dollars.
"I didn't focus on raising money, I focused on making money," he said. "And so we kind of were behind the scenes for a long time."
So behind the scenes, Sonnenberg, three years after starting the company, was working at Qualtrics just to get by. That, though, ended up leading to more than just a way to make ends meet — it provided an important connection with one of Utah’s most successful entrepreneurs.
In January, Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith privately invested in Awardco. And he wasn’t alone — Todd Pedersen, founder of Vivint Inc., and Alex Dunn, the former president of Vivint Smart Home, have also invested and all serve as advisors for Sonnenberg and Awardco. Not a bad group to be in your corner.
And that’s why the growth likely isn’t over for Awardco.
Ryan Dent, the chair of the Utah 100, got a smile on his face when he was asked about the process of selecting the lists. Sure, it’s somewhat daunting — examining hundreds of applications, verifying information, and ranking companies — but he couldn’t contain his excitement for it.
"This is a recognition; this is a celebration of these companies," Dent said. "This year, particularly, just feels like we need something like this to celebrate right. So, to be able to do this right now, in the middle of everything else going on around us, and show that Utah's doing well and the companies here are resilient and, and have a great platform to stand on — it's pretty amazing. So this year more than most, I think is a really fun year to be able to celebrate and do this."
It’s a little poetic than that the company that earned the No. 1 spot that is all about recognition.
The top 10 in the 2020 Utah100:
- Thread Wallets
- Inside Real Estate
- Blue Raven Solar
- Walker Edison
- Circus Trix
Top 10 revenue
- Layton Construction
- Acima Credit
- Zions Bancorporation
- Extra Space Storage, Inc.
- Young Automotive Group
- Vivint Smart Home
- Merit Medical
- Vivint Solar
- ZAGG Brands
- Aptive Environmental
- Dynamic Blending Specialists
- Enso Rings
- Friendly Plumber Heating & Air
- HandsFree Labs, Inc.
- InPivota, Corp.
- JOJO's Chocolate
- K9 Sport Sack, LLC
- Lumē Deodorant, LLC
- Manly Bands, LLC
- Motion Auto
- Rocky Mountain Industrial Construction Services, LLC
- Vutility, Inc.
- ZYIA Active