Story and photos by SKYLAR YENCHIK
The development of tech start-ups within Utah over the last decade has accelerated both innovation and the creation of high-paying technical jobs. The growth of the tech sector has been so impressive that the area, which houses a long stretch of companies ranging between Salt Lake City, and Provo, Utah, has been dubbed Silicon Slopes, with the epicenter being located in Lehi.
The term “Silicon Slopes” was coined by Josh James of DOMO, who also founded a widely successful company called Omniture that was acquired by Adobe Systems in 2009 for $1.8 billion. James created this term as a reference to the original Silicon Valley located in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is legendary for its creation of some of the first high-tech companies dating back to the 1970s.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have reached a point of stagnation in which they are no longer growing, largely due to a halt in economic expansion. E-commerce, however, has exploded and continues to build and innovate due to an influx of business as citizens have turned to online shopping.
Route App Inc., the foremost e-commerce company in Utah, more than doubled in size in 2020. Starting with only eight employees upon opening in 2018, Route now has upward of 350 employees, and the mobile application is number 35 on the list of most downloaded apps in the App Store.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses to close their doors to the public, Route is helping customers stay connected and maintain a positive shopping experience. As the name suggests, Route allows users to accurately track all of their packages in a single application, as well as provides its customers shipping insurance to ensure the safe delivery of packages. Route not only enables single users to track their packages, but provides a format for businesses to provide streamlined tracking for customers with this platform.
Steph Black, head of talent and culture at Route, said in a Zoom interview that she was one of the first 50 employees at the company. Route has now outgrown several office spaces as the company continues to expand, currently occupying a very large office space at Innovation Pointe in Lehi.
Route plans to create more than 3,000 high-paying technical jobs in Utah in the next 10 years. This expansion will greatly stimulate the local economy, and is also an exciting opportunity for local graduating university students.
This rapid expansion and success is in large part due to the unique customer experience that Route aims for, and there are no other competing e-commerce companies in Silicon Slopes. The other part, Black explained, is Route’s value of unique, creative, and innovative employees. “Culture at Route is incredibly organic,” Black said. “We focus on hiring the right people.”
Black also stated, “E-commerce has been on a steady growth path for 10-plus years. What happened during the pandemic kind of catapulted e-commerce forward at least an additional five to eight years. Demand for individuals to purchase what they need online, and also for businesses to transform their offerings to this growing space. A lot of businesses had to pivot very quickly in order to offer and meet their e-commerce demands.”
Route is revolutionizing and changing how consumers view e-commerce. Route has recently released a unique feature, the Discover page, on the app. This feature allows brands to directly communicate with consumers using targeted advertising.
University of Utah alumnus Nick Lloyd is one of five software engineering managers at Route. He said about the development of the Discovery feature, “Our latest large scale initiative was around a feature set that we call ‘Discover,’ allowing people to see new things in the app from different merchants.”
After exploring the Discover product, a Route customer will find that Discover is helping unearth interesting brands some may not ordinarily purchase from. There is very engaging content to showcase the brands, and customers can even shop directly within the app.
Over time, Lloyd said in a Zoom interview, the aim of the Discover product is to analyze the purchasing behaviors of customers and connect them with unique and relevant brands, both local and international. Both the shopping and purchasing will remain in Route’s app, essentially creating a new e-commerce marketplace.
It is this kind of innovation from this local e-commerce company that has led to Route’s rapid growth and exciting expansion.
Lloyd said Route has created many student internships since expanding, and has interacted with the University of Utah to get students involved in the company. Though Lloyd was hired on directly as an engineer, he has participated in recruiting events targeted toward U students, specifically in the engineering field. Route is also very active in reaching out to students at the U through the Handshake portal.
Lloyd personally reflects on his University of Utah experience as having been full of passionate people like himself when he was in the Computer Science program. “One of the things I really felt like I got from the University of Utah was a strong sense of community,” Lloyd said. At Route, he feels that there is the same kind of important community.
Since the U puts such huge emphasis on innovation and helping to build creative minds, employment at Route is a great opportunity to capitalize and build on that innovation and creativity.
“It’s really interesting to be a part of e-commerce in a time like this,” Black said. “So many companies closed their doors unfortunately during these times, and e-commerce has only opened theirs wider.”