When employees at software firm Mass Relevance do something that impresses a colleague, they get more than praise.
Using a program created by Austin startup YouEarnedIt, workers reward each other with digital points, which can be saved up and cashed in for prizes like iPhones and iPads, gift cards and dinner at Uchi.
“It’s a really neat way to show your co-workers that you value them,” said Erin Jacobs, a senior designer who over the past 18 months has redeemed points for items including Amazon and Zappos gift cards. “The coolest thing is that it’s peer-to-peer rather than from management. I can recognize one of our sales guys for landing a great project or an engineer for doing a great job on a system upgrade.”
That kind of response from a growing list of customers is putting YouEarnedIt on the fast-track for growth. The company recently recruited Austin software veteran Steve Semelsberger as CEO and it is hiring in sales, development and product management, with plans to grow from seven to 20 employees this year.
“We’re part of a major cultural shift around kindness in the workplace and the recognition of your people,” said Semelsberger, who has held management roles at Austin startups iChat, Motive and Pluck and was most recently a senior executive at Demand Media.
“I just spent time in New York visiting media services, tech firms and brands and universally there’s excitement around really doing a better job of making people feel great in the workplace,” he said.
The idea for YouEarnedIt was hatched in 2011 at digital agency Rockfish Interactive, which is based in Northwest Arkansas. Rockfish CEO Kenny Tomlin wanted to create a program to reward his employees because “we’re in a highly recruited industry, it’s a lot of hours, people really have to go above and beyond, and obviously it’s very important to retain good people.”
After getting interest from clients about the program, Rockfish spun out YouEarnedIt in 2012. Last fall, the company moved from Arkansas to Austin, drawn by its start-up friendly environment, as well as its talent pool and prospective customers.
YouEarnedIt’s Web and mobile service works like this: Employees receive a certain number of points they can give to their peers, along with kudos, when they want to thank or recognize work. Points can then be redeemed from an online catalog with items chosen by the company.
Customers pay a subscription fee of $5 per employee per month, plus the cost of the prizes, which for some companies range from $25 gift cards to $800 Louis Vuitton shoes, Apple TVs and vacations. YouEarnedIt currently has 40 customers, including Austin-based online coupon company RetailMeNot and e-commerce software maker Marketvine.
“Many customers, when they first see our service, already have multiple systems of recognition in place, from tenure awards to monthly employee awards,” said Autumn Manning, YouEarnedIt executive vice president and general manager. “The lack of focus creates an environment where employees sometimes don’t take the recognition seriously or the impact isn’t felt like employer hope. We help them consolidate it all into one much more effective system.”
Mass Relevance, which aggregates social media content for clients including MTV Networks and CNN, began using YouEarnedIt “because we don’t want it to be just management that is recognizing folks,” said CEO Sam Decker. “I saw this as a great program where you put it in place and it just takes off, and it has. Over 70 percent of our employees are actively using it and it’s used every day.”
For now, YouEarnedIt, which has offices downtown at Ninth and San Jacinto streets, is being funded by founders, but the plan is to eventually raise outside capital, said Tomlin, who remains with the company as chairman.
The move to Austin, he said, was key in preparing the company for its next stage of growth, Tomlin said.
“In Austin they really get it,” he said. “Just the culture of Austin, the way people are wired and how they approach work. It’s the perfect fit for us and we’re excited it’s where we’re building the company.”