A Life’s Work

Extraordinary success is only achieved through extraordinary hard work and sacrifice, but what happens when life intervenes?

This publisher’s letter appeared in the summer issue of Silicon Slopes magazine.

Let’s face it — ever since we published and distributed the first-ever issue of *Silicon Slopes *magazine to much fanfare and rave reviews, you’ve been going to bed late and waking up every morning in a cold sweat anxiously counting down the days until the arrival of this quarter’s publication.

I thought the parade to honor the launch was flattering, but when Gov. Herbert made a statewide declaration that 2017 would be officially recognized as “The Year of Silicon Slopes” due to the significant, positive impact this magazine has already had on Utah’s economy and Jared Kushner’s ability to successfully negotiate peace in the Middle East, I think I speak for our whole team when I presidentially declare how humbled and honored I personally am to be recognized in such a dignified and big league way.

One critic wrote, “Only a guy like Clint Betts would launch a print magazine in 2017. I mean, isn’t he supposed to be running a tech organization? Doesn’t he know print is dead and technology isn’t just the future — it’s the present!” Another critic, who also happens to be my mother, went so far as to say, “Honestly, I still have no idea what you do for a living. When are you going to grow up and get a real job? You have a family to support.”

They said the exact same thing — word for word — to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk when they first launched their magazines. And, quite frankly, I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren that I was mentioned in the same publisher’s letter as those esteemed gentlemen. It’s something I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

While we’re on the subject of living a long and cherished life, I think it’s only appropriate for a man who was just mentioned in the same breathe as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk to weigh-in on a fiery debate that lit up “tech Twitter” a short while back regarding the level of hard work and sacrifice needed in order to achieve extraordinary success as an entrepreneur. It was a debate the likes of which the tech world hasn’t seen since whatever’s currently trending on Hacker News.

Here’s the gist of the debate: One side believes it shouldn’t be necessary for a person to put in an insane amount of hard work and go to extreme levels of personal sacrifice to the detriment of all other aspects of one’s life in order to achieve extraordinary success. The other side believes extraordinary success is only possible if one is willing to do those things.

I know, dear reader, that you look to me to answer life’s most difficult questions. And I promise I won’t let you down here. But like an old man who hasn’t seen a visitor on his doorstep in months, I’m going to ask that you politely take this haggard Werther’s Original that’s been in my pocket since World War II and politely indulge me as I tell you a story that’s far too personal given our relationship and the amount of time we’ve known each other.

Two days before Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2017 this past January, I received a call from my 5-months pregnant wife. The noise she made as soon as I answered was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was a blood-chilling scream followed by a wailing sound that continues to haunt me to this day.

“They can’t find a heartbeat! I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what to do. They can’t find a heartbeat!”

I was standing right outside the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City after completing the first run-through for an event that would attract more than 5,000 attendees in less than 48 hours. For almost two months, the planning for this event had consumed nearly every waking moment of my life. There were still several crucial things that needed to happen in order to make it a success (something that was far from guaranteed even two days out) and it was going to take a monumental effort by everyone involved to pull it all together.

“I need you to meet me at the clinic. I don’t know what’s happening. They can’t find a heartbeat!”

Minutes before I was trading jokes and listing off everything that still needed to be done with my friend and Silicon Slopes managing editor Chris Rawle. We had a plan and as long as we executed on it we believed there was a chance the Summit would be a big win for Utah’s tech community.

None of that mattered after the call. I told my wife I would be right there and said to Chris that something was wrong and I had to go.

I showed up to the clinic just as they were taking my wife and 5-year-old son who never leaves her side back to get an ultrasound. It didn’t take long to receive the devastating news. The baby had passed away. My wife would need to go to the hospital to be induced into labor to perform a stillbirth.

Heartbroken, we entered the maternity ward knowing we wouldn’t be leaving with a baby and new addition to our family. We stayed in the hospital overnight while my beautiful and courageous wife went through a terrifying and tragic ordeal.

We checked out of Utah Valley Hospital in Provo at 10:00pm and arrived at a hotel in downtown Salt Lake City an hour later. The first-ever Silicon Slopes Tech Summit would kick-off bright and early the following morning.

On the drive up to our hotel, still reeling and all out of tears, I received a phone call from Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith. “Tomorrow’s event isn’t important,” he said. “What’s important is the woman sitting in that car next to you and the rest of your family. Tragedy has a way of bringing into focus what matters most in life. You’ve got this.”

When I arrived at the Salt Palace the following morning it instantly became clear that the inaugural Silicon Slopes Tech Summit was going to be a huge success thanks to the leadership and dedication of Stuart Gold, Julie Kehoe, Josh James, Carine Clark, Aaron Skonnard, Dave Elkington, Ryan Smith, Dave Bateman, Todd Pedersen, Marcus Liassides, Dan Burton, Brad Rencher, Fraser Bullock, Chris Rawle, all of the wonderful folks at Cornerstone, and a seemingly never-ending list of incredible people and organizations. My wife and I will be forever grateful for the outpouring of support and love we received from this unique and compassionate community we call “Silicon Slopes.”

A makeshift memorial ceremony my 5-year-old son organized in the heart of Disneyland one week later.

This tragic experience informs my opinion on the aforementioned debate. I believe it’s true that one can not expect to see an extraordinary amount of success without being willing to put in an extraordinary amount of work and personal sacrifice. It’s also true that success is a relative term and the type of sacrifice we’re talking about comes with very real costs to a person’s health, relationships, and mental well-being. It took the loss of what would have been my fourth child for me to recognize the effect my own hard work and sacrifice was having on my wife and the people who matter most to me in life.

Entrepreneurship is a unique and enticing career path because success is democratized. While it’s still unnecessarily and discriminately harder to get started for some more than others, entrepreneurship is the great equalizer of our time. A person’s background isn’t as relevant as their ability to work harder and sacrifice more than the competition.

However, how hard you’re willing to work and how much you’re willing to sacrifice is often less a test of character than circumstance. At the end of the day, the only question that matters is whether you want all of that hard work to be how you’re remembered by those you love the most. The stakes couldn’t be higher. After all, hard work eventually becomes your life’s work.

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