Using the Silicon Slopes Entrepreneurial Spirit to Battle Behemoths
Unless you live in Utah, “Silicon Slopes” isn’t a term you would have recognized until recently, despite it being around for over a decade. Today, however, Silicon Slopes is drawing major attention from all over the world. Here we operate differently than other technology hubs like Silicon Valley, home to behemoths like Google, Twitter and Facebook. We have our own identity and set of rules.
Instead of concentrating on seed-stage capital, Silicon Slopes companies tend to be more mature, looking at smart growth and taking later-stage capital. Just look at companies like Domo, Qualtrics and Pluralsight. All three are now valued at more than $1 billion. It’s also strategically positioned between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, making it a great location with an expansive talent pool for recruiting. The region and its leaders are starting to gain notoriety from every corner of the technology industry, earning the No. 1 ranking from both Forbes and Inc. on their lists of the best states for business.
There’s a lot to be learned from Silicon Slopes’ success. Here are three things I’ve learned from living, working and building a business in this thriving community.
Culture is King
Don’t just focus on culture, obsess about it. As a founder, you rapidly outgrow your ability to significantly impact the business on a day-to-day basis. Your culture shifts from individual performers to a team. This shift forces you to look for ideas from every part of the company, from call agents to developers. You can’t look at it as a top down approach. Create a company culture where everyone feels the need to work hard and innovate, and one that creates opportunities at all levels. It sounds cliché but it’s true—make it feel like a family.
Silicon Slopes fosters a collaborative, family-oriented environment. Trickle that down into your own company. At TravelPass Group, we offer flexible work hours, and unlimited vacation so employees can spend more time with their actual families. Keep a constant pulse of your team by conducting quarterly surveys with employees so they can voice what the company is doing well, what it isn’t, and what it should start doing. Companies are only as good as their employees. Never forget that.
Continue Being Curious
One person I admire is Theo Epstein, and not just for ending the Boston Red Sox 85-year World Series drought and the Chicago Cubs 107-year drought. In an ESPN article on Epstein, the writer wrote about how he learned a valuable mantra: “Show up, do the work, be curious. Never cheat the process or rationalize laziness.” That’s exactly what we preach at TravelPass Group. Show up and be curious, and test what you’re seeing every day. We have millions of customers, so the data is always telling us something. Our job is to glean actionable insight from that data.
Why do we see the results we’re seeing, and what are the results telling us? We must always ask ourselves that question. One thing Silicon Slopes has taught me is to always be passionate about being curious. We hold a regular meeting called “Data and Donuts” where the entire company is invited. Our business analytics team presents different trends they’re seeing with the data, and anyone can ask questions, throw out theories and suggest new strategies.
Company culture and being curious go hand in hand with a fundamental belief—transparency. Not having complete transparency with my employees was a lesson I learned the hard way early on in my career. In the past I was likely to withhold information and share it almost exclusively at the executive level. But now at TravelPass Group, I share it everywhere. Whether it’s company surveys on culture or our aforementioned “Data and Donuts” meeting, I make sure transparency is a fundamental pillar.
Being transparent starts with communication. Use different ways of communicating with employees, and don’t confine it to just one channel. If your company uses Slack, push the conversation into a public group instead of private messages so more people have access to the information. If you share everything everywhere, you might find solutions to problems from unlikely places. The concept that only a single “all-star” employee will have a direct impact no longer holds true. Don’t leave anyone in the dark.
To battle behemoths—such as the technology Goliaths in Silicon Valley—you need a company of Davids. That starts with fostering a passionate company culture, embedding constant curiosity and being transparent. Everyone in the company makes a difference. This is the entrepreneurial spirit that Silicon Slopes has fostered. We’re nimble and scrappy, and you have to compete and constantly innovate. People are proud to stay in Utah and that pride goes into the company and the culture. Silicon Slopes is an area I’ve learned a lot from, and one I’m excited to continue to call home. It’s an area positioned to be on the developing edge of technology for a long time to come.
Ryan McCoy is the co-founder and CEO of TravelPass Group, driving the vision and strategy with a focus on operations, financial positions and partnerships. He is also co-founder of the marketing and technology incubator Partner Fusion, with a portfolio of companies that includes Ticket Counter, PageLaunch and Brixio. McCoy began his career as an analyst at a regional venture capital firm, Red Rock Capital. He then served as campaign manager for now U.S. Senator Mike Lee. He led Lee’s underdog campaign that went against an 18-year incumbent senator. He subsequently served a two-year stint as the legislative director to Senator Lee.