Bay Area companies are moving to Utah (here’s why)
When I ask Andrew Collins, CEO and cofounder of Silicon Valley-based Bungalow, if he ever imagined opening a second office in Utah, he says that it was never part of his original plan.
Founded in 2017, Bungalow provides a Airbnb-esque approach to finding an apartment and roommate. Initially designed to solve a very Bay Area problem, the platform has since scaled to include 850 homeowners and 3,500 residents as current users―and when they did, they opened a second office in downtown Salt Lake City.
“We were drawn to [Utah] based on quality of talent and proximity to SF,” Collins says. “We did significant research when determining where we wanted to open our next HQ and found that Utah was a perfect fit. Culturally, there is amazing talent across the greater Salt Lake and Silicon Slopes regions, while it is also extremely accessible from all over the US. We’ve been thrilled by the team so far and are excited to continue to expand our footprint here.”
Like Bungalow, a multitude of Bay Area startups are now laying claim to the Silicon Slopes. Collins notes that this has to do with the fact that Utah has “a great talent base with strong universities, a very driven and friendly culture, [an] accessible location, beautiful [landscapes], and a cost of living that is significantly less than cities such as SF.”
Utah is a hub of marketing and sales talent
Austin Miller, CEO of IsoTalent says he knows several companies who are splitting their time between California and Utah. He thinks that while the Bay Area’s tenure in tech has created a concentration of talented engineers, Utah has an abundance of quality salespeople. “[Silicon Valley] has a really strong balance to the areas we’re limited in,” Miller says. “Utah has this uniqueness that brings a really strong sales and marketing perspective.”
Jordan Staples agrees. As head of direct sales for Paystand, he tells me Utah has “the type of talent that it takes to sell,market, implement and support.” These skills are highly sought after by rapidly growing startups, and Utah is understood to be a reliable source for that talent. “While talent and diversity are important, acumen is also important,” adds Mark Fisher, Paystand’s VP of marketing. “As a fintech, we want to tap into that community.”
The state’s predominant religion could have something to do with that. An estimated one-third of Utah’s workforce spent two years of their youth as door-to-door salesmen―and they go on to join a vast community of like-minded individuals once they return home. It’s no wonder we’ve developed something of a knack for sales and a penchant for marketing.
“One of the things that makes [Silicon Valley] so powerful is the strength of its network of talent and capital,” says Collins. “Given an increasing number of highly successful companies launching, growing, and succeeding in Utah, I believe many of these same network effects will only strengthen here over time as well.”
Utah adds diversity of thought to Silicon Valley companies
Degreed, an ed-tech company focused on providing employees with unparalleled skill development, took a different approach to establishing office locations. Jonathan Munk, the company’s head of corporate development strategy, says the company was founded by two individuals: one who was based in the Bay Area (but who had roots in Utah) and the other who lived in the Salt Lake Valley.
Early on, the company decided to co-locate their headquarters with product, engineering, and brand teams in Utah; and finance, sales operations, and all the other functions based in northern California. Though Munk admits there are advantages to the cost-effective nature of Utah talent and the geographical needs of their business, what he most appreciates about the two locations is diversity of thought.
“We fundamentally believe that the brand you create and the products you create and how well you speak to the market is directly affected by the people that you bring inside the building,” Munk says. Individuals that come from a variety of backgrounds allow Degreed to more effectively comprehend and incorporate diverse perspectives―and therefore, more effectively understand a wider range of consumers.
“If you have a lack of diversity in that candidate pool or a lack of backgrounds and interests, then you are limiting who you are going to be able to speak to,” Munk says. “You are limiting who you’re going to build your products for. You are limiting how well you can tell your story to those audiences.”
By having locations in Silicon Valley and in the Salt Lake Valley, Degreed is able to pull from both of its office cultures in a way that works to its advantage. These multiple perspectives inform one another and are subsequently translated into a unique user experience for Degreed’s customers. “Core to our own mission is we are only as good as the diversity of opinions and expertise and backgrounds that are represented within the company,” Munk says.
Fisher agrees. “We want good people with diversity of perspectives that bring good talent to the company,” he says. “Places like the Silicon Slopes where we can find that population [are] super important.”
The Utah lifestyle is a benefit to organizations
“It’s not this vicious dog-eat-dog place,” Staples says of the state. “We’re definitely competitive, and that’s what’s driven so much growth, but [it’s] really a community of collaboration.”
A less-discussed aspect of Utah’s lifestyle is that, unlike the Bay Area, Utah doesn’t have the long commutes, the expensive lifestyle, or the inaccessibility of nature. Instead, we have an ease of life, a family-first mentality, and a love of the great outdoors.
“What we want to do is encourage our employees to be in locations that allow them to get those recharge opportunities,” Fisher says. “If they’re always in front of their computer, if they’re always in traffic, they don’t get time to step back, zoom out, look at problems, and bring new perspectives to [them]. It does play a part and it actually makes a difference in terms of long-term health and sustainability of a company. It’s really key for how we think about building a really healthy organization.”
The notion that disconnection contributes to company viability seems to be deeply understood by Bungalow as well. Torrance’s team works on a bifurcated schedule: half of the team works Sunday to Wednesday and the other half of the team works Wednesday to Saturday. That way, they effectively maximize time while minimizing burnout. “The idea of always being ‘on’ as a company, but finding the balance for our team,” Torrance says, is incredibly important to Bungalow. “Being in Utah allows our team to disconnect.”
“The ability to get out, the ability to have great work-life balance, the ability to work in a beautiful place, that impacts [and] influences employees,” Staples adds. As head of sales, Staples thinks constantly about customer satisfaction. He’s noticed that employees who have the opportunity to connect deeply with the world around them are also able to connect more deeply with customers. As a result, profitability increases.
Evidently, Utah’s communal and lifestyle opportunities are huge factors when it comes to making the decision to expand from the Bay. And, it’s apparent that these factors are incredibly important when it comes to boosting both productivity and sales.
Utah has a low cost-of-business
Scaling is the most crucial element of any entrepreneurial venture. So, how does having more than one headquarters contribute to a company’s ability to effectively scale?
“I do believe that the cost-of-living equation and the value to the business of having a large-scale team based here in Utah is critical to us solving our long term profitability, and thus, our ultimate success,” Torrance says. “I don’t believe we would be able to grow or scale as effectively if we were based solely in California.”
Similarly, Fisher tells me that, when facing “the absolute glut of technology firms and the outsized competition for talent” in California, Paystand had no choice but to implement a novel strategy. “We still had to find the best people, but we had to be a little bit more diverse in our perspective,” he says.
Paystand sought out talent from Guadalajara at an early stage of growth in an attempt to find new talent, solutions, and points of view. “We started small in the Mexico expansion and now it has several different departments representing Paystand,” Staples says. “We want to do the same thing in Utah―starting with sales and business development.”
Paystand expects its expansion into Utah to mirror its previous success and add even more: as the ninth fastest-growing, privately held company in Silicon Valley, Paystand may outgrow its new Utah office in just a few weeks.
When I ask Fisher if he has any advice for companies looking to come to the Silicon Slopes, he replies with a fervent suggestion: entrepreneurs should take a step back and fully evaluate their expansion strategies both on a business and a cultural level. “Utah is a phenomenal opportunity for the right reasons,” he says. “You have to understand how to make cultures work between offices. So, understand why you’re doing it and what the key drivers are. And if you do, then you can make the right decision. For us, Utah was a no brainer.”
“If you don’t know about Utah, if you don’t know about the Utah tech scene, take a deep look,” Staples says. “Take a look at that spirit of entrepreneurship and what has taken place. There [are] incredible things happening. And if you don’t know about the tech scene, come experience it.”
Utah’s track record for its incredible community, talent, and drive―combined with its many recent examples of startup growth and acquisition―is becoming more well known. We may start to see a lot more Silicon Valley-based startups with a satellite location in Utah, and as a result, companies that play both sides of the game may inevitably win it all.