The Greener Grass of Silicon Slopes
This article was published in the Summer 2020 issue
by Travis Tidball, SVP Marketing and Growth, Filevine
“Have you thought about recruiting out of Utah?” a California venture capitalist asked me in my Washington DC office. “You’d be surprised by the talent coming out of that place.”
This investor had no idea that I was from Utah. He didn’t know I started my career in that ‘flyover’ state, landing in a scrappy start-up in an area that was mostly desert marshlands.
Fresh out of college, I was among the first ten employees at DigiCert. By the time I left, the digital security company had just been acquired by one of the largest Private Equity firms in the country and was well on its way to employing thousands. Its Lehi office, among some of the first tech campuses in the area, had become surrounded by enthusiastic new start-ups.
At the risk of sounding like a hipster: I was into Silicon Slopes before it got big.
But by the time I sat down with that investor, I had moved to the nation’s capital. Working for a bleeding-edge tech start-up right in the backyard of Amazon AWS’s East Coast HQ, I was immersed in the world of cloud infrastructure. I was grateful for everything I had learned in Utah, but felt like the energy there had helped me achieve an “escape velocity” to move on to bigger and better things.
Recruit in Utah? Sure. But return there one day? No way.
And yet, throughout my time in Washington D.C. I started noticing something odd. I began to realize that the people in Utah were just as smart, tenacious, and driven as the movers and shakers in the big city. Their ideas were just as interesting and powerful. What was it about my alma mater state that allowed it to stand up against some of the brightest minds in the country?
I wasn’t the only one who noticed. I found others speaking with admiration about those plucky entrepreneurs out in the Beehive State. They taught me to see from a new perspective.
Here’s what leaving Utah taught me about Silicon Slopes:
1. Utah learned to thrive in times of scarcity
The first thing that really strikes others about Utah’s start-up culture is that it grew strong in the absence of significant outside investment. While Silicon Valley was awash in funds, outside money was harder to come by in the ‘Slopes. Venture Capitalists focused on the companies that proved themselves, meaning only the best-run companies could grow to scale. That scarcity acted like a filter. It fostered a unique kind of ‘pioneer spirit.’ In time, the broader venture capitalist community realized there was a hotbed of tech companies here in Utah that were built on strong foundations.
2. Utah has outsized sales and marketing talent
Why is Utah so good at Sales and Marketing? While other places have fragmented through alienation, Utah still holds tightly-connected communities. This helps develop deep social intelligence from an early age. At the same time, many young people gain knowledge of other cultures and languages through religious missions or by studying abroad, which keeps us from becoming too narrow-minded or isolated. This combination leads to top-notch sales reps and digital marketing experts in our state. Wherever you go, you’ll find Utah’s talent has made a name for itself.
3. Utah has an irreverence toward the traditional approach
We love our traditions when it comes to pioneer parades, colorful jello, and branding the mountains with capital letters. But when it comes to tech start-ups, Utah has ignored the playbook.
When I was in DC, I learned that there were set rules with carefully crafted playbooks for nearly every stage of the start-up cycle. Businesses were expected to fill predefined roles and meet specific targets. But Utah, in learning to play by its own rules, has had more freedom. This has given us greater creativity and innovation. Instead of following what others do, Utah’s entrepreneurs are figuring out what success looks like to them, and daring to create their own standards.
These are three of the reasons that I eventually returned to the greener grass of Utah. I’m now SVP of Marketing & Growth for Filevine, a booming tech start-up in the heart of Salt Lake City that creates core technology for legal professionals. Filevine embodies everything I love about Utah’s unique culture. It’s built on a rock-solid foundation, it’s powered by community, and it has made it a point to find its own way on the path to success.
When we can get past our Utah-bred humility, we can admit that we’re revolutionizing the practice of law, making life better for lawyers and clients alike. That’s something I’m unequivocally proud to be a part of.
The Irish novelist George Moore wrote, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” I believe this place holds the key to the future of technology. Back home working hard in Silicon Slopes, I’ve found the future I was searching for.
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*Read the latest issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine, Fall 2020