Utah tech leaders discuss the innovation coming out of COVID-19
This month, Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah tech executives. Moderated by Sara Jones, cofounder and COO at the Women Tech Council, they discussed the innovation coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. Here are a few highlights from the event.
How are you staying connected with your teams during the COVID crisis?
Kimberly Wittman | VP of Recruiting | Vivint Smart Home
We had a multi-pronged approach, where we used the Qualtrics “How’s The Weather” survey. We did that twice a week just to check in and they would let us know if it was anything from extra stormy to always sunny and everything in between and why they were feeling that way. It helped give us a pulse on the organization.
We also spent time training our leaders on how to engage with their employees, to identify issues that they’re having and be able to allow them the space to work through those and give them the resources they need. We have a pretty robust EAP, and we’ve been doing a lot of education to show people how great it is, how easy it is to access, and that it’s a free service to them. Last month we had the highest engagement on our EAP that we’ve ever had.
Phil Harris | Partner | Holland & Hart
I work as part of a law firm and we work in patents. We have a fairly narrow band of people, mostly engineers and technical writers that work with us, but one of the things that we’ve seen is some of the differences between generations. And it’s presented some unique challenges and opportunities for our team to unify us in a slightly different way.
Chris Nokes | CTO | Executech
We’ve done things like more one-on-ones and check-ins, but one of the things we started doing is Jackbox Games. A few of our guys had suggested, “Hey, why don’t we do this as a team activity?” People use that as an opportunity just to connect.
Amelia Wilcox | Founder & CEO | Zenovate
Our team has always been a virtual team, so a lot of the tools that people are discovering for the first time, we’re used to that. On our Zenefits platform, we can do virtual group yoga and meditation, and stuff like that. So we do a guided massage class, meditation, and yoga as a company every single week. We do three sessions as a group every week, and then people are able to connect and come together and do something fun. But it wasn’t until the executive team jumped in, and it was almost like we had to give everyone permission to take care of themselves by setting the example and taking care of ourselves first.
How has fundraising changed in these uncertain times? What about hiring?
Jeremy Smith | CTO | Medici Ventures
From a funding landscape, we look back at previous recessionary periods and some of the biggest companies that we recognize came out of those times. Microsoft did during the seventies, then there’s Uber, Airbnb, and Square. So even though we’re most likely facing a very strong recessionary headwind, that is a good time to really think about new models and new business opportunities. Technology is going to play an even more important role as our world evolves. Our transactions will be digitized even more than they already are, with our mobile phones being central to that. The landscape is going to be very interesting going forward.
In the US, we’ve only had eight weeks of impact. Do you think we’re early when it comes to understanding what the real problems are?
Lyle Ball | CEO | Avii
I think it’s shortsighted if we’re only looking at that time period. Many of us in leadership at software companies come from international backgrounds, so I’ve been tracking it and working with my international friends and networks since it started.
I would say one impact that’s very specific to COVID-19 is that it is forcing change management, and many industries and many pockets of the world were resisting change and automation. We sell to accountants, and the accounting world is rife with executives who resist change or change management because they’re risk-averse. They’re very stable and they’re very conscious of not trying new things until they’re very proven. Now they’ve been forced to change and so there’s a large opportunity across the world to say, “what are the best ways to automate and provide security and safety and enable all communities to succeed?”
How are you innovating for the new future?
Cody Broderick | Founder & CEO | inWhatLanguage
In our industry, translation services have typically been provided by sort of a middle man, and then they work with freelancers in a network of people everywhere around the world. What we’re doing is essentially removing ourselves. We’re allowing our customers to connect directly with a supply chain of thousands of highly-qualified people in an environment. It’s kind of cannibalistic, but I think it’s a great approach and partnership, and it’s innovation to allow companies to work directly with the translators, the proofreaders, the subject matter experts, and their project managers to move much faster.
Bassam Salem | CEO | Atlas RX
This move to digital experiences is good for us. But there’s this dichotomy of a realization that we all need to move to digital experiences combined with the fear of uncertainty that’s causing a lot of businesses not to act. So, how do we brave it? How do we break that dichotomy in the entire economy? And many of us are in a wait-and-see mode, and I’m trying now to go to, “this is a new reality” mode.
We actually acquired a new office space, a larger one than we had before, and we’re slowly staggering a return to an office. This is how we’re going to work and when we leave our desks, we’re going to have to put our masks on. We’ve positioned all of the desks far away from each other and when you’re at your desk, you have a bit more latitude. And I’m hopeful that I will be able to report in three or four weeks that that will sort of re-stabilize us as a company and that this is now normal.
Sharee English | Chief Security Officer | WECybr
We have a very different perspective at my company. We’ve hired people. We’ve grown 25 percent in the last two months. But our biggest challenge is that we’re all parents and we can’t work a 40-hour workweek. So we’ve cut our workweek, we’re not doing a full 40-hour week.
In addition to that, my daughter’s school is 30 to 35 percent Hispanic or Latino, and that demographic has lesser knowledge of technology in general. And so, one of the things we’ve been doing is offering parent workshops on technology. We had done this in the past, but it was always a person-to-person thing. And now, getting people online is the biggest thing. But once we get them online and help them understand, the technology isn’t as intimidating as they think.
We’re doing workshops for small business owners to teach them simple things. Installing a VPN, changing the WiFi passwords, things that are not complicated or really overly technical. And that’s helping people, parents, and business owners, understand that cybersecurity doesn’t have to be intimidating and it doesn’t have to be something that you’re afraid of.
Are you re-evaluating the concept of what productivity looks like? And how are you measuring impact?
Kimberly Wittman | VP of Recruiting | Vivint Smart Home
In our high-volume areas, we have an influx of applications coming in. But what we recognized over the last few weeks is, as we were hiring people and then Utah started to slowly open back up, we had a very high level of attrition based on people going right back to their previous jobs. So, we’ve really been focused on how we identify candidates. And we’re really hopeful that that will help us gain the right employee base to stay with us for a long period of time.
Jason Taylor | CTO | Podium
At Podium, we’re doing a lot more in terms of writing thoughts, writing comments, and it’s actually pretty interesting to see how someone has to create a more robust or thought-out argument or even just a perspective about a situation when it’s actually written rather than verbal. We actually found that you can sit there for 12 hours and go from one Zoom or one WebEx or one GoToMeeting every single half-hour and at the end of the day, you are far more exhausted than if you had gone into the office. We’re doing what we used to, but through web conferencing and we may need to change that. Some of the largest concerns we have around the emotional health of our teams can be solved largely if we stop forcing ourselves to work the way that we used to, but using some of these technological means.
Aaron Frost | Founder & CEO | HeroDevs
HeroDevs is a shop of expert developers that we consult for enterprises and we’ve actually gotten business growing. Our team’s completely distributed across the globe and our clients resisted that before. Even though they’d bring us in for onesie, twosie projects, they’re resisting. But now they’re like, “Hey, we’re all in because even after this, we’ve decided we’re now going to be a remote company.” They’re now hiring some of the best developers I’ve ever met and they don’t have to be in Utah anymore.
Dan Orenstein | General Counsel | Health Catalyst
The crisis has accelerated trends that existed prior to the crisis. And we’re seeing that in healthcare and technology. One of them is the move to remote monitoring and remote care. And as hospitals begin to recover, we’re using some of our tools to help them track that recovery and understand their volumes, and what’s going on. Part of that is going to be rethinking how they deliver care, and a lot of that is going to be moving towards using telehealth and other technologies.
And the other trend that I’m seeing is grappling with privacy and data sharing. And we’re seeing that as a society as well, with contact tracing and surveillance and other technologies that are being developed to address the COVID-19 crisis. Our laws and regulations, and our feelings about it, have not caught up with that. So we’re going to have a real moment of reckoning with that as a society.
Wendy Steinle | Sr. Director, Head of Adobe Experience League and Marketing Technology & Operation | Adobe
One of the ways that’s really changing for us is big digital events. Almost every tech company now has a massive global customer event. We went digital this year and we made that pivot in about three and a half weeks time. And just to give you an idea of scale, we would have had about 20,000 people live in Las Vegas. By going digital, we had more than 200,000 people join in the various sessions and offerings that we had. So if you compare what we did in March to what we’re going to do with our digital Adobe Max in October, it’s going to be so much more creative.
Years ago there was a big focus on massive online open courses (MOOCs) and these online courses. Do you think we’re going to revive those, or do you think there’s going to be a whole new set of learning content that starts to be created?
Sunny Washington | CEO | Because Learning
We really need to think about how this is going to impact everything. Because MOOCs, their whole thing was, “we’re going to get rid of the universities.” And now we’re in a situation where we don’t even know if students can return to their university in the fall. Does it make sense for them to pay the tuition that they’re paying? There’s still value in a degree from Stanford, but how does Stanford change the way that they extend their learning experiences and maybe not charge the tuitions that they do or be able to still provide that quality of learning?