The Lure Of A Tech Startup

This week, Joe Staples, one of Utah’s most experienced marketing leaders, joins a high-growth startup —* Motivosity*, a provider of employee engagement software. After lengthy runs with successful, well-established tech companies, we caught up with Joe to get his take on what the lure of a start-up is all about.

Silicon Slopes: You’ve been a part of some great growth stories, both inside and outside of Utah. You’ve been the CMO/EVP of marketing for two publicly traded companies. You grew one to north of $300 million in revenue. Now you’re headed to a startup. That’s a big change.

Joe Staples: It is a big change.

SS: Before we get to your decision to join Motivosity, tell me how you decided to go to a startup. What was the attraction?

JS: As I started kicking the idea around of joining a startup, one of the first things I did was to talk it through with people whose opinion I value. I talked to Josh Coates from Instrucutre, Mark Ludwig from Sorenson Capital, Austin Miller from IsoTalent, Ryan Sanders from Mercato, Bill Conroy, and several others. They helped me think things through. But a tipping point was a conversation I had with my good friend Davis Smith, founder and CEO of Cotopaxi. He has a quote he heard and had committed to memory that he shared with me. It is, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.” That was pretty powerful for me and something that really pushed me toward a narrow list of startups.

SS: Was that desire, as the quote reads, not fulfilled by the things you’d done with the other companies you were a part of?

JS: I don’t think so. I’d certainly helped grown businesses, but I’d never really been a part of taking a nascent idea and a small handful of people and building from there. Analogous to building a house, I’d been a part of adding on… adding a sunroom, putting in a pool, remodeling the kitchen, but I’d never shown up with a set of blueprints and maybe some footings or a foundation and built from that point.

SS: There are a lot of startups all across the Silicon Slopes, how did you decide on Motivosity?

JS: First, I knew I needed to find a company that was post-product, a company that already had a product developed and launched.

SS: Why was that important?

JS: It’s that point and beyond when I can add value to the business. Before that, I wouldn’t be much help.

SS: What else were you looking for in your ideal startup?

JS: With Motivosity, I believed in the product. I’d used it as a customer for three years. I saw the impact it has on building positive employee engagement and a culture where great work is recognized and rewarded. Another big factor for me was making sure I’d be joining a management team that I thought could succeed. Scott Johnson, the founder of Motivosity, was also the founder of Workfront. He knows how to build a business. Brad Jensen, my sales counterpart at Motivosity, flat out knows how to hire and run a great sales team. If I didn’t have confidence in the management team, I never would have joined.

SS: Do you think startups are for everyone?

JS: I don’t. I have friends who think I’m nuts. Clearly, there is stability that comes with a larger, more established business, but at the same time those businesses can also lack some of the thrill and excitement that startups provide. A lot depends on where you’re at in your career, what you’re looking for, and how willing you are to take risks.

SS: So, you start at Motivosity this week, did you take any time off between gigs?

JS: I took a planned three-month sabbatical.

SS: Wow, how was that?

JS: It was great. It’s not easy to pull off, but if you can make it work, I highly recommend it.

SS: Did you do anything exciting?

JS: We did a bunch of traveling. Did some family stuff. Cleaned out the garage. It was great.

SS: Did you learn anything during the time?

JS: I learned that I have absolutely zero desire to be retired!

SS: Well, we’re expecting big things from Motivosity and look forward to seeing your progress.

JS: Having lived and worked in Seattle and run marketing for a very successful company in Indianapolis, I have to say, there is no better place to build a business than the Silicon Slopes of Utah. We have the talent base, VC funding sources, easy travel access, university resources, lifestyle and cost of living factors all working in our favor. It’s so much fun to see this place continue to succeed.

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