By Blake McClary, Product Manager, Instructure.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
Silicon Slopes Today
Today, it can almost be taken for granted that Utah is successful and countless business opportunities abound. With a handful of unicorns and dozens of highly successful ventures, it can feel like this is how it’s always been — at least for those of us who haven’t been around too long. But that’s not the case. I’d like to look at where we’ve been and what I think the future holds for Silicon Slopes.
Where We’ve Been
WordPerfect has absolutely laid the foundation for where we are today. The word processing giant helped build the talent pool our state needed and put Utah tech on the map. The sale of WordPerfect to Novell created wealth and opportunities for entrepreneurs to continue building great companies. That sale also allowed the Ashton family to build Thanksgiving Point, where many of the state’s tech companies reside today.
One of the next great chapters in Utah tech is that of Omniture. Josh James was able to build on the foundation that Alan Ashton laid and bring more acclaim and capital to the state than ever before. Not only did he successfully take Omniture public, he then sold to Adobe for $1.8 billion, and with that wealth and notoriety became one of the biggest evangelists this state has ever had. Without his work, Silicon Slopes would not be what it is today — the very namesake is his doing.
Where We’re Going — Fourth Generation
Each tech wave has built on the previous and then strengthened. What do you think will happen when product managers at Instructure, engineers at Pluralsight, and sales people at Domo get together? There is an incredible pool of talented people who know how to build and scale companies and find product-market fit. As they come together to work on ideas of their own, they carry with them a wealth of experience having already scaled billion dollar companies. And because of the easy access to capital in our state, the starting of new companies is going to be exponential. Welcome to the fourth generation of Utah tech.
Think of some of the up-and-comers, companies like Podium, Canopy, Lucid, MX, Bamboo HR and Homie. These are the next round of potential unicorns in the state. They will continue to propel us forward by employing thousands and raising hundreds of millions of dollars. Hopefully in the next 10 years a few of these will have gone public, again creating even more wealth and opportunity.
Companies from the Bay Area and elsewhere will choose to set up shop in Utah. Adobe, Snap, Mavenlink, Salesforce, Oracle, and Microsoft have already made that choice. Even though HQ2 didn’t work out for the state, there will be others — the Utah brand is spreading too widely for this not to happen. The positive impacts of events like Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, Qualtrics X4, and Domopalooza draw people from all over the world to Salt Lake City. You don’t think these people will start to notice how amazing this place is? I sat in the audience today while Ryan Smith unabashedly pitched Utah to all of his customers and gave them all ski passes to Park City. We need more of this type of evangelism!
On top of all the momentum I’ve discussed, we have GOED actively going out in the world and pitching the Utah brand. If we are willing to be partners with these organizations and be evangelists ourselves, the acceleration will be even greater. You’ll see so many articles in national publications about Silicon Slopes that it will no longer be a novelty when people #takenote. Imagine what we, the innovators of our state, could collectively do to enhance our brand with a 2030 Olympic games. Silicon Slopes needs to pull all of it’s collective weight to make that happen.
In 10 years, the fruit of our efforts to infuse K-12 education with STEM will start to bear. The Pluralsight One initiative is of the upmost importance for us long-term. If we want this wave to continue to surge we need a talent pool to sustain the kind of growth that is inevitable. We all need to step up in creative ways like BrainStorm did by adopting a school. Silicon Slopes needs to be the leader in rallying us together to participate in these activities. The public-private partnership with the IT Pathways program is a great example of how we should all work together to try and fix the talent pipeline problem. In order to support our current and future growth we need to be intentional now.
In order to to set ourselves up for success in the future there are a few things we need to be aware of now, and actively try to fix before the problems become exacerbated. First, diversity. We will not be able to draw the companies we want from outside the state if we have a homogeneous workforce. There’s so much that can be said about this one topic, but in short, being tenacious about hiring women and people of color is one thing that will help us successfully scale Silicon Slopes. Another is infrastructure. Anyone reading this story knows how much of a mess it is to get around Lehi during lunch time or how bad traffic on I-15 is during rush hour, both ways. We need to work with our legislative body to fund the right projects that will take care of out future infrastructure needs. My personal belief is that Silicon Slopes can and should work much more closely with UTA to find the right routes for their employees and incentivize utilizing public transportation. I applaud companies like Lucid and Pluralsight who have decided to office next to Frontrunner stations. My last thought is that much of where we are today stems from an attitude of us having something to prove. The entrepreneurs of Utah have always been hungry, humble and willing to pay it forward. Let’s continue to invest in each other and this community. If you are in a position of leadership or domain expertise, continue to be helpful to those a few years behind you. The more we are willing to help lift the whole, the more successful we will collectively be in the future.