This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
The largest structures in the world — the Empire State Building, the Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House — all begin with a cornerstone. After these buildings were completed and marked the skyline of each city, it was easy to forget how it all began — with a solid stone that varies in size but not support, altered to meet the specific demands of each structure. A foundational piece that enables an entire experience, causing tourists and passerbys to look at some of humankind’s most intricate creations and feel they are a part of something special.
Nearly 30 years ago, Chad Fraughton and Todd Mortensen were working as engineers at WordPerfect. They were part of a team that was tasked with multiple duties, the most notable falling into two categories: creating emerging technologies like voice recognition software; and serving as an internal events/communications group that created event driven experiences.
“We were a collective group that were writers, producers, directors, showmen, technology people,” said Fraughton. “Todd and I were both engineers by trade but always looked at return on investment, what events could do for a company, and the metrics behind successful events.”
After WordPerfect merged with Novell, Fraughton and his team pitched a business proposal for their department — they were laid off on a Friday, but re-hired on Tuesday to begin work with a subsidiary of Anheuser Busch, responsible for beer commercials and experiences within theme parks like Busch Gardens.
After one year another opportunity arose, tying back into technology. A former VP at WordPerfect approached Fraughton about creating flight simulator technology, a project agreed to by both parties. Now with a relatively decent stream of revenue coming in, Fraughton and Mortensen decided it was time to start their own company. They mocked up a logo and settled on a brand: Cornerstone Technologies.
“We started Cornerstone and were being encouraged to move back to St. Louis,” said Fraughton. “My business partner and I had our roots here and had started small families — I was 23, he was 33, and we didn’t want to move. So we were sitting one day in a basement at one of the WordPerfect buildings and we decided, let’s take our business proposal to Carine Clark.”
If this were a comic book, Carine Clark — a Utah tech OG who has served as an executive at Novell, Altiris, Symantec, Allegiance, MaritzCX, and Banyan — would be the heroine of this particular story arc. As Fraughton tells it, her support was a turning point in the creation of Cornerstone that enabled everything to come. Clark listened to their pitch and enthusiastically agreed they were onto something.
“When we presented, her answer was simple: ‘This absolutely makes sense, I would love for you guys to help us out,’” said Fraughton. “That was the endorsement we needed. Under her direction, Novell became our first client and that was the catalyst that helped launch us into the high-tech sector.”
Drawing on their unique experience of technology creation and event production, Cornerstone was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the dot-com boom. With support from Clark and Novell, the late 1990s represented a rapid growth period for Cornerstone. They gained notoriety for putting on incredible live event experiences and other tech companies (like 3Com and iOmega) began clamoring for their services. Fraughton, an engineer by trade, was going on sales calls where companies were basically pitching him on why they needed Cornerstone. What had began as a tiny, two person outfit was now growing into something more.
Fast forward to present day. Cornerstone Technologies has become a massive organization that owns multiple software companies and has become an industry leading event production provider. As part of this all-encompassing event production, Cornerstone handles logistics and everything that goes into the audio/visual experience of an event: lighting, video, sound, and multimedia content design.
“We tout ourselves as a hybrid, we’re not a true production company, nor are we a true agency — we dabble in both,” said Fraughton. “We can articulate storylines, we can roll out strategic campaigns, but we can also deliver on the core competencies that an audio and visual production company does. We’re very unique in that space.”
Cornerstone has built their empire from within Utah, including an enormous, brand-new warehouse in American Fork. Fraughton estimates that Cornerstone operates in the top 3% of hybrid companies, servicing clients both foreign and domestic.
“It takes a lot of vision to run a company that does lighting, sound, video, staging, rigging, scenic, content, media, writing, and scripting,” said Fraughton. “And then breaking that down further into design groups, meaning we have people that are focused on production design, event design, digital and content media design, and print design. For us, we’re a true one-stop shop.”
Using this formula, Cornerstone has partnered with some of the world’s most recognizable companies: Wendy’s, Adobe, Monster Energy, LinkedIn, eBay. And last year, they began working with Silicon Slopes as the exclusive event provider of Silicon Slopes Tech Summit.
The Foundation Of Silicon Slopes Tech Summit
If you were one of the 14,000 attendees at Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2018, you’ve seen Cornerstone’s handywork. It encompassed everything: a giant main stage filtered through shimmers of sound and light; gigantic video screens that projected speakers and videos in stunning clarity; a sponsor hall filled with clean-cut, state-of-the-art booths, including a brand-new Cornerstone arrangement that can best be described as a hanging video cube; and a backstage area to accommodate a lineup of speakers that included Mitt Romney, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Facebook VP of Global Communications Caryn Marooney, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and Code.org President Alice Steinglass.
“When you’re dealing with big groups like at Tech Summit, it’s all about making sure the message is heard, felt, and is submersive,” said Fraughton. “Everybody on this team strives to create magic. It can be from the general sessions to the breakouts, from the lunchroom to the hallway, from the opening of the doors at registration to signage. That’s the mark of a good event — it truly engages the mind.”
It’s hard to fathom the amount of detail that goes into a major event until you’ve seen it happen. I’ve sat in Cornerstone’s conference room, drank their wine, and watched them meticulously plan every tiny portion of Tech Summit. To create a layered experience — one that resonates with people and engages on multiple levels — detail is key. This sounds simple until you factor in the amount of detail required to provide audio, visual, lighting, and cutting-edge technology for 14,000 people. Hint: it’s a ton.
“This is something that’s in our DNA — when you plug into Cornerstone you may only see four or five faces, but you’re plugging into an army of people that deal with details,” said Fraughton. “Our roots are in tech. Part of this is giving back to the industry that helped us live out our dreams and more specifically, my dreams. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it is to go to Tech Summit and see people I haven’t seen in years. It’s like a family experience to sit backstage with Carine Clark or Liz Tanner or Dave Moon or Ty Allen. All these people that form the Silicon Slopes family are all the people who have made us what we are today….Some of it is so personal, it’s hard to articulate.”
Born from 20+ years of tech/event experience, Cornerstone values itself as a service-oriented company that can reach anywhere in the world. They are stationed in Utah with the logistics and transportation resources needed to provide world-class event production. Fraughton credits Utah with being instrumental in helping Cornerstone grow, exposing them to a long list of tech companies that would eventually become clients. And now Cornerstone is motivated to give back in the form of Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, acting as the foundational piece that enables an entire experience, causing all involved to feel they are a part of something special.
“We see our involvement as not just being a part of Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, but being part of a historical moment that pays homage to a state that can embrace and grow tech,” said Fraughton. “I see it as a page in our history book, where I’m able to tell my grandkids that we were instrumental in starting a ripple effect that has carried on and grown much bigger than Clint (Betts) or anyone ever suspected.”