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When Trevor Ross launched Austin-based Live Soda - a company that makes natural health sodas from kombucha - in 2012, he knew he’d have to work all hours of the night if he wanted to get his beverage into consumers’ hands. While he thought his sodas tasted great, getting people to try it and then replace their usual pop with his drinks would be no easy task.

Creating a successful business, one that could take on the big beverage companies, meant that his employees would have to work long hours too. His staff were regularly asked to put in extra time and work harder than they might if they weren’t employed by a budding startup operation. “When we first started growing the business, we were all working really long days,” says Ross. “I had a guy who was putting in 12 hours a day.” 

Even with all the fun everyone was having, Ross was still afraid of burnout. He also didn’t want to create a company culture that was all work and no play. To show his appreciation, he started buying his staff gift cards and told them to take the afternoon off and go out for dinner. “I gave them cards and said go do something nice for yourself,” he says.

That seemingly small gesture - one he continues making to this day - had a big impact on employee morale. Staff felt appreciated, they were happier to come into work, and it made Live Soda an even better place to work. “You can’t understate the value of good will,” he says. “Employees have options and they can go somewhere else, so it’s important to show your appreciation, which helps retain employees and creates a good company vibe.” 

As much as entrepreneurs want to reward their staff, many can’t afford to spend money on gift cards and other perks, especially if they’re running a cash-strapped startup operation. However, there is a way to show your appreciation without spending a dime: Use your credit card reward points. That’s exactly what Ross, a Chase Ink business credit card holder, did. He would use his points, which he’d accumulate by putting nearly every business expense on his Ink card, to get the gift cards he’d give to employees.

It’s something Jeff Hofmann, general manager of Ink, sees often. Many of his small-business clients use their points for various gift cards, but he’s also seen business owners use their points to give employees non-work-related flights, hotel stays, and car rentals. “Companies are redeeming for cash and other things to improve morale,” he says.

According to Hofmann, a significant amount of redemptions are for personal use, which includes giving back to employees. “A lot of owners give gift cards to staff, especially ones with sales forces, as a small thank you for being a way from their families,” he says. “That goes a long way from a morale and culture perspective, to have people feel valued and feel like they are a key part of the bigger mission. People notice.” 

For Ross, giving gift cards worked so well in those early days that he’s kept it up as his company has grown. Now, with over 40 employees, Live Soda issues many gift cards a year - and all are still purchased with points. “It’s essentially free because we use points,” he says. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”


Learn more about Chase Ink small business credit cards.