This morning, Forbes tackled the rise of cloud computing and Utah tech: “How Utah’s ‘Silicon Slopes’ Became Cloud’s New Capital.” It’s a lengthy piece that mainly follows the exploits of Josh James (Domo), Aaron Skonnard (Pluralsight), and Ryan Smith (Qualtrics), and ties their experiences into a broader statement on the rise of Utah’s star. At one point, “Silicon Slopes is now for real” is literally said.
Anyway, read it. It’s interesting and also features a random cameo from Silicon Slopes’ own Clint Betts, who somehow weaseled his way into the header image. Good work, Clint. Let’s move on to some of the takeaways.
Then again, the topic at hand is how to attract more diversity to Utah — around Provo, Mormons make up 97% of the population — America’s eighth-whitest state and the third worst when it comes to gender pay disparity. “I’m sick of words and statements on this,” Smith says as the others nod. “Let’s settle on three or four things we agree on that we can actually do at our companies.”
Smith tells the others how Qualtrics ripped up its maternity-leave policy and started over with female employees in charge of it. Skonnard proposes that local tech companies release joint diversity reports. James wants to impose mandatory interviews for diversity hires in certain roles, in a startup version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule.
These are my favorite two paragraphs in the article and I also think every company should hang Smith’s words on a giant plaque over their entrance: “I’m sick of words and statements on this. Let’s settle on three or four things we agree on that we can actually do at our companies.”
Yes, too much talk has already happened, alongside minimal change. To see three of Utah’s entrepreneurial heavyweights taking the diversity problem to heart, brainstorm ideas, and start enacting change is a step in the right direction. Utah companies, join the fray.
At 2:15 a.m., the group releases their scribe, Clint Betts, and Skonnard departs for the hour drive north to Farmington, where Pluralsight is based. Smith and James linger to speak privately until after 6 o’clock. “I don’t think our own employees know how much we talk,” Skonnard says. “They’ll interview for jobs and think we won’t tell each other.”
Wow, okay. I used to think Clint was cool, then I read this and found out he’s a scribe basically held against his will to take notes for entrepreneurs. My image of him is forever altered, poor scribe-boy.
Collaboration helps. You won’t find turf wars or ego-driven battles among Utah cloud companies. In June, Domo sent a delegation to Health Catalyst for four hours, and that’s quite typical. Each niche within the same field is respected by the others. While James is rare in sitting on InsideSales’ board of directors, the whole group maintain endless text threads and even vacation together. “I’m a businessman, but we trust each other,” says Skonnard at Pluralsight. “There’s a shared vision for Utah that unifies us.”
Moral of the paragraph: keep working together, folks.
Like the companies themselves, the pitch often comes down to lower costs: a flat 5% state tax and a cost of living in Provo that’s 30% less than Seattle’s and 41% less than Boston’s — and half that of the Bay Area, despite the fact that salaries are only 27% smaller, on average.
Stats like this always pop up when discussing Utah, but the discrepancy between here and the Bay Area never ceases to amaze. Cost of living in Utah is 50% less, salaries 27% smaller. Seems like a no brainer, imho.
When Utah’s cloud companies eventually go public or get acquired, each founder says he’ll be cheering his peers on, even if that means breaking up the Utah guys’ collaboration. For better or worse, the adversity they faced is a thing of the past. Between Silicon Valley venture firms hunting in Utah and ascendant local shops like Sorenson Capital, which just launched its first venture capital fund, access to cash is much easier now, and talent will continue to trickle in, regardless of outcome. A recent barbecue for local tech workers in Lehi, halfway between Provo and Salt Lake City, drew 5,000 people. The challenge will be to retain Utah’s magic at scale.
Hey, a shoutout to the Silicon Slopes Summer Bash! Not only did it draw 5,000 people, it gave the world this gem:
Classic photo, just a local scribe taking a break for meat cutting duties. Is Clint secretly living in medieval times? Is this what Forbes is trying to tell us? Does he spend weekends dressed up in full-plate armor, riding a mighty stallion? Does he wake to a breakfast of meat and mead? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING HERE?