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Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 12/19/2012

Getting a return on employee rewards

Travel start-up chief executive Travis Katz was looking for a way to reward his 25 employees for their work.

Katz runs Gogobot, a travel recommendation site based in Menlo Park,
Travel recommendation site Gogobot provides $400 of credit to its employees, encouraging them to travel. (PHIL NIJHUIS - EPA)
Calif. Gogobot’s success depends on amassing reviews from its 2.5 million users — its revenue is tied to the bookings it generates for various businesses such as hotels or restaurants. Gogobot users sign in using Facebook or Twitter and can plan, recommend, review and post travel pictures to other users.

To incentivize his employees, Katz didn’t just want to give them cash. He hoped to simultaneously reward them, refine his product, and instill in his employees confidence in the Gogobot brand.

He decided to offer them each $400 of credit, which they could spend for travel, food or accommodations — as long as they write reviews for Gogobot.

“It’s not just about having fun,” Katz said. “We actually want everyone at the company to be traveling — using the product, building and experiencing it as the users would experience it.”

This could help the Gogobot team better work out kinks in the product, he explained.

Having a hands-on team is important to Katz. When hiring team members, he heavily weighs candidates with a demonstrated passion for travel because they’re more likely than non-travelers to work on the product in their free time, he said.

“We’ve had employees we ended up parting ways with who were very talented technically but weren’t people that cared about travel,” he said.

In Katz’ experience, it’s more difficult to find a team genuinely interested in the start-up’s mission instead of just searching for a job, he said. Financial incentives — like stock options — might reward someone who is only interested in having a job, but “emotional incentives” like a general office culture encouraging travel leads employees to believe in the business’ overall mission, he said.

The perk has only been available for about 60 days, and so far only a couple employees have used it — but Katz expects more will use it over the next few months.

For any start-up, spending money on employee rewards isn’t an easy decision, Katz said, but they considered the non-financial rewards they may get return — a team enthusiastic about travel, more reviews, and regular product testers. “You’re cognizant of every single thing you’re spending on,” he said, explaining that he spent weeks calculating whether they’d be able to afford such a perk if the team were to grow significantly.

He didn’t come to a conclusion, saying simply, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

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