From pickleball courts to soft-serve frozen treats, Utah’s up-and-coming tech firms load up on employee perks

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Podium's new Lehi headquarters, Wednesday Aug. 15, 2018. Podium helps small businesses manage their web presence.

Lehi • Playing tour guide at his company’s just-opened new headquarters, Podium CEO Eric Rea shows off the spacious conference room, the custom-built boardroom table, the pickleball court just outside and the soft-serve Dole Whip dispenser by the reception desk.

“We don’t want [people] to walk in feeling they’re coming into any old tech building. We want to feel different from any other tech company,” Rea said Wednesday, just minutes after he, company officials and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert performed the ritual ribbon-cutting to the five-story edifice along Interstate 15.

Podium, which makes software products to help small businesses maintain their online presence, has 340 employees working in the new Lehi offices — and it aims to hire 400 more by 2020.

Rea and co-founder Dennis Steele bragged about Podium’s rapid growth, touting the just-released Inc. 5000, a list by Inc. magazine of the 5,000 fastest-growing small companies in the country. Podium ranked 13th overall on the list, the highest charting for any Utah company.

“Four years ago, we were in a spare bedroom in my apartment,” Rea told reporters. “Two years ago, we were upstairs from a bike shop.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Eric Rea, co-founder and CEO, in the bike shop at Podium's new Lehi headquarters, Wednesday Aug. 15, 2018. Podium helps small businesses manage their web presence.

There’s a replica of sorts of that bike shop on the new building’s fifth floor, a reminder of the space above Provo’s old Canyon Bicycles, where he and Steele were getting Podium off the ground. It also, Rea said, embodies the company motto, “Always above the bike shop.”

The decor around the office has some eccentric turns, often based on street art. For example, there’s a massive second-floor mural by Swedish artist Johanna Burai that depicts “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza and “Game of Thrones’” Jon Snow on a tandem bike.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A mural by artist Johanna Burai in Podium's new Lehi headquarters features George Costanza from Seinfeld and Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, Wednesday Aug. 15, 2018. Podium helps small businesses manage their web presence.

Rea said the aesthetic was inspired by the streetwear brands his young employees favor. The sneakers-and-jeans vibe of the employees at the ribbon-cutting was a contrast to Herbert, dressed in his customary business suit. “One of us didn’t get the memo on the dress code,” Herbert joked.

Providing offbeat perks for employees is often a way new companies can compete for talent, said Brad Williams, director of the entrepreneur program at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business.

“With the unemployment rate at 3.9 percent, there’s a battle for talent, especially engineering talent,” Williams said.

Some early-stage companies, Williams said, may use office perks as compensation for lower salaries, or other long-term benefits like health insurance or a 401(k). “It’s a better way to spend money on a one-time splurge,” he said.

Other perks, like free lunches in the cafeteria, can be “another incentive to stay in the office and continue working,” Williams said. Podium does breakfast in the cafeteria on Mondays and has “smoothie Thursdays,” Rea said, but it doesn’t go overboard on free food to stay fiscally responsible.

Some perks are used to show employees, customers and even the competition “that these companies walk the talk,” Williams said. He cited a company he once worked for, the headphone-maker Skullcandy, which has a skateboard halfpipe in its Park City office. “It proves that we do what we say we do,” he said.

PluralSight, an online education company based in Farmington, has a Tesla that employees can borrow, Williams said. The Lehi offices of software giant Adobe, up the road from Podium, has a gym and a yoga studio, among other amenities. Another Lehi company, the silicone fashion accessory-maker Enso, appeals to employees’ better natures by plowing some of its profits into charitable causes.

The Podium building includes spaces designed to bring the engineers and the salespeople and the customer service people together. “We didn’t want the floors to be symbolic of separation,” he said.

Rea said he wanted to follow the model of Pixar Animation Studios, whose Emeryville, Calif., building had the cafeteria, mailroom and even the restrooms in the center of the building, so employees from different departments would run into one another.

“We really just want to create community,” Rea said. “It’s easy to get siloed. … We want [people] to be intermingling and communicating constantly.”