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Steve Sonnenberg, Awardco Founder and CEO: “Awardco helps organizations consolidate their programs, add incredible flexibility and customization to all their rewards and recognition programs, and offers the largest reward network in the world. We’re changing the way companies appreciate their employees.”

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In the highly competitive world we live in, employees worldwide are struggling with low morale, disconnection, and burnout now more than ever. But to deal with this, there is a clear solution: recognition. In the new normal, the number one ask of employees is recognition. The majority of employees wish they would recieve more recognition for their work, and by meeting this demand, a business can convert its employees into key contributors. If any organization fails to recognize the efforts of its employees, it will certainly miss out on a big boost to its bottom line in terms of engagement, productivity, and retention. When employees are satisfied in the workplace, it will increase their morale and affect every minute of their day at work.

Globally there are various companies that help businesses with employee recognition and rewards, but Awardco stands out from the rest. Awardco makes it easy to make employees happy through powerful capabilities and a focus on the human value behind every action. Awardco has partnered with Amazon Business to bring millions of reward choices, lower vendor fees, and dollar-for-dollar recognition spend to your organization. More choice, more capability, and less spending—all in one simple platform.

In conversation with Steve Sonnenberg, Founder and CEO of Awardco

As a journalist, I find Awardco quite striking. From the emotional branding standpoint, it has that appeal. How did you come up with the brand name? And please brief us about the history so far. 

In the original iteration of Awardco, we were focusing on a sort of annual membership model where people would buy-in and then get employee recognition awards (specifically service awards) at a discounted rate. Costco was the inspiration for the idea. I love Costco and wondered if that model could be applied to organizations looking for a more streamlined approach to employee rewards. With that in mind, we came up with the name Awardco. That was all during the beginning, and we were still trying to find our footing. It was even before our official partnership with Amazon Business, which came a little later. After the initial idea of a membership model didn’t pan out, I thought about how we could truly revolutionize employee recognition and rewards (as I often do). I had the wild idea that maybe we could just integrate with Amazon and let employees choose their own rewards directly through our own platform—rewards that were streamed right from Amazon. Nobody had ever done that, and it would open up the world of employee recognition to millions of items instead of a few from a static catalog. And if we could do that, maybe we could do away with the huge markups that traditional employee rewards are often plagued by, too. With that in mind, we went to work. It wasn’t easy, but we eventually got Amazon’s attention because of the success we were having. They invited us to a meeting where we presented our model and our vision for the future of total rewards in the workplace. They saw the opportunity and were excited, and that’s when we really took off. We’ve been doubling in growth every year since, and it’s been quite a ride.

Q. Can you tell us about your partnership with Amazon? And how does it benefit employees?

Our partnership with Amazon Business means we have integrated with them to offer millions of items for redemption through our platform. This not only gives us the largest reward network on the planet, but it also gives us the most robust rewards and recognition network globally. Many of our international clients have employees around the globe, and when they use Awardco, they can all get the same value out of their rewards and have the same experience with shipping, etc., whether they’re in Dublin or Dubai. Another thing to note is that we are the only official recognition partner with Amazon Business. When they innovate and grow, we grow, and vice versa. This benefits employee in many ways. The ease of access to millions of rewards, the convenience of international shipping with zero customs costs, and the equity of rewards across the board are huge. Too often, an employee in the U.S. might get something great, but their international counterpart isn’t as lucky. With Awardco, we do away with that disparity.

Q. What plans for transformation are you pursuing to remain relevant now and in the future?

Along with “Recognize the Good,” one of our values is “Be Even Better.” We live by that as we innovate and look to the future of our industry. We believe strongly that employee rewards and recognition are our bread and butter, but it isn’t the only thing out there where we can have an impact. We’re exploring other avenues where we help organizations reward and recognize their employees, their customers, and even their prospective customers in powerful ways. We’re driving behavior and building culture in every organization. More to come on this, but we already have some exciting partnerships in the works.

Q. What is your final message to The Silicon Review readers and to your current and future customers and partners?

I strongly believe that the landscape of work is changing. We’ve already seen that in the last two years with the pandemic. Remote work, flexible schedules, and other things we haven’t even touched on will drastically change the way we do work in the future. One thing won’t change though: the fact that we need each other to accomplish anything in this world. Awardco exists to recognize the people around us and reward the value they bring, and by making that our focus, we ourselves can weather any storm and help organizations around the world adapt to the changing workscape in powerful, impactful ways. 

Q. Is there anything else you want us to highlight that we might have missed?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also highlight that we’ve been lucky enough to bootstrap our entire organization since inception to now. We’ve been careful with our decisions, worked hard to be fiscally responsible, and just last year partnered with General Catalyst to take on our first round of funding. That Series A round became the largest HR SaaS round of funding in history, and we were evaluated very highly by our investors. To me, this shows that our vision and our trajectory aren’t just a flash in the pan. Others see it too, and we have partnered with some amazing investors to bring Awardco to more people around the world. It’s something I’m humbled by and extremely excited about.

Meet the leader behind the success of Awardco

Awardco’s Founder and CEO, Steve Sonnenberg, learned a great deal watching his father’s career in employee recognition with companies like McDonald’s—but something was missing. In 2011, Steve began working on plans to use new, innovative technology to solve the pitfalls of traditional employee recognition programs: burdensome processes, exorbitant markups, and limited redemption options. Awardco was born shortly after, and Steve’s vision has resonated deeply within an industry in desperate need of change. Awardco is the fastest-growing rewards and recognition platform in the world as ranked by Inc. Magazine for the last 3 consecutive years, and more clients than ever are experiencing a better way to recognize.

“The Awardco Team will take good care of you. We give our customers the Awardco treatment whether they’re big or small, local or across the world.”