Despite the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, an Orem-based business is celebrating its ranking on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America for the second consecutive year.

Originally from a small town near Naperville, Illinois, co-founder and CEO Steve Sonnenberg moved to Utah in 1999 to pursue an education and a career in basketball at Utah Valley State College, now Utah Valley University.

Sonnenberg began developing an idea to rebuild Amazon into a points program, and started growing the concept of Awardco with his cousin in 2011. The budding company approached Amazon with the idea, but the multi-billion dollar retailer turned them down.

“They didn’t want us to,” Sonnenberg said. “But we did it anyways.”

Sonnenberg and his cousin already had access to Amazon’s application programming interface and used that insight to take the company’s product information and rebuild it from the ground up.

When Awardco first got its start, the company would manually submit orders for its clients, but the Orem-based business quickly outgrew this process as orders became bigger and more clients came onboard.

Awardco officially launched in 2015 after Amazon established business accounts that allowed companies to have access to automated purchases.

“That’s what I love about Awardco,” Sonnenberg said. “There’s no playbook. We were actually told we couldn’t do this. I think you have to be a naive entrepreneur sometimes to be successful. Just don’t overthink it.”

After years of “doing it anyway,” he said, Awardco finally got Amazon’s attention, and the online retailer was onboard, lending the company additional resources.

Since its launch in 2015, Awardco has become one of the most recognized employee recognition softwares in the nation. The employee recognition industry has been around for a while, he said, but was in dire need of an upgrade from its old-school technology.

“I saw an opportunity to make it fun again,” Sonnenberg said. “Employees want choice. They want to choose what they want, and if you can give them that Amazon-like experience, it’s more fun for them and they want to get more rewards.”

Using the software, employers can recognize employees for their work by sending points that can be exchanged for items on Amazon.

Sonnenberg and a team of developers worked to create a platform where employees could accrue points from managers and then log into their own rewards platform to purchase items on Amazon.

Employees can then choose their own rewards from Amazon’s catalog of items using the points they have collected with no markups and free shipping.

Employee recognition, Sonnenberg said, has always been an integral part of a positive workplace environment, but it has become increasingly important in the age of the coronavirus.

“Our worlds got turned upside down,” he said. “A lot of people are working from home. People have a little bit more anxiety about if they’re doing a good job.”

With less contact to coworkers and managers, and with less feedback or recognition, employees can quickly become frustrated, overwhelmed or burnt out. Awardco, Sonnenberg said, promotes a company culture of recognition that allows businesses to complete a bulk of their work remotely in a successful way.

The program shares recognitions in a company-wide feed where other employees can see who else is getting noticed. The feed also promotes communication by allowing employees to congratulate each other. This, he said, facilitates motivation and promotes a system that keeps employees engaged.

“People are starting to reward and incentivize and recognize on one platform now,” he said.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Awardco has begun working with more and more companies, especially in Utah County, that are looking to keep track of their recognition and find out where they could be doing better.

In Utah County, companies are taking advantage of what Awardco has to offer to support employees who are working remotely.

At the beginning of the pandemic, GoHealth, a company in Lindon, used Awardco to create a work-at-home program. The program gifted each of its employees 500 points — or $500 — to buy new equipment they would need to successfully complete their jobs at home.

Employees were able to choose from a catalog of items that GoHealth’s administrator curated using products that were available on Amazon.

Even before the pandemic, Awardco was seeing exceptional growth, Sonnenberg said, appearing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America for the second consecutive year and experiencing more than 2,000% growth over the last three years.

That growth, he said, is motivated by Awardco’s innovative approach to employee recognition and the flexibility of the application itself.

“It’s technology catching up with an old-school industry, and us leveraging integrations with a company like Amazon is one of the reasons for our growth,” Sonnenberg said.

Currently, Awardco is supporting employee recognition in over 80 countries and has local offerings in places all over the world.

Like Amazon in America, Awardco uses an online retailer called Lazada — the No. 1 online shopping and selling site in Southeast Asia — for employee recognition in places like the Philippines.

Looking to the future, Sonnenberg is eager to see recognition tools, like Awardco, included inside of more business communication apps. Awardco recently secured a Slack and Microsoft Teams integration that allows managers to recognize and send points to employees within the Slack software.