ryan smith, qualtrics
The reality is that if you’re not part of mainstream Mormon culture, it’s easy to feel like an outsider here. It’s ‘Demand Shock’ That’s Killing Our Economy. Take a look. On paper, Patrick Byrne should have been the last person to end up here. He’s on the board of Rakuten, Japan’s version of Amazon, nearly 20 years after doing his Mormon mission in Japan, where he first learned to speak Japanese. He went to BYU for undergrad, got an MBA from Harvard, and worked in consulting and hospitality before being drawn back to Utah in 2005 to join Park City–based Skullcandy. Raised in Calgary, Alberta, Rea didn’t speak Spanish when he arrived, but that was the least of his problems. And it was front and center in my head every day.”, James’ sale of Omniture to Adobe for $1.8 billion in 2009 was the catalyst for Utah’s current tech boom. (One of those companies, Ancestry.com, is the rare large Utah business headed by a woman — Margo Georgiadis, the non-Mormon ex-CEO of Mattel. Other gadgets include smart home automation for the entire property, a slew of security cameras, and a covered backyard loggia for moments of shady respite. “To the Mormon population, the culture around church is like the back of their hand,” he says. His father, Scott Smith… Ryan Smith co-founded Qualtrics in 2002 with the goal of making sophisticated research simple. Variety and the Flying V logos are trademarks of Variety Media, LLC. “There are a lot of great consumer product companies [here] that are around $100 million in revenue,” Andrus says. A decade later, Mormons Bastian and Ashton invented WordPerfect, the first modern word processing program, and Ray Noorda — who held prestigious positions in the LDS church — started Novell, which made one of the first personal computer networking systems. Many BYU grads are engaged by the time they leave school, and if they’re not, they are working on it. Update: An earlier version of this piece misstated the percentage of Utah’s population that is white. “At the last company party this summer, five different people showed me their kids and told me they wouldn’t have this child if it wasn’t for Domo,” he says. (The Mormon health guide, called the Word of Wisdom, forbids alcohol, but there’s a cultural obsession with sweets. While the affable, spiky-haired, jeans-clad Ryan Smith has long been CEO and the corporate face of Qualtrics, Jared is more reserved, rarely giving interviews and preferring to stay behind the scenes. An identical building next door is currently under construction to accommodate the company’s growing workforce, which is expected to double in size. “If you act like it doesn’t exist, you’re not going to facilitate conversations. (In the past couple years, young unmarrieds have embraced the Mormon dating app Mutual as a more palatable alternative to the meat-market scene at the “single wards,” church-sanctioned meetups for unmarried young people.) In 2017, when Salt Lake’s “godfathers” — Domo’s James, Qualtrics’ Smith, Pluralsight’s Skonnard, and Inside Sales’ Elkington — launched the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, their attempt at a South by Southwest trade show meets thought leader fest, there was a subtext to the event’s mission: “Getting people out to Utah helps remove the stigma,” Skonnard says. “They see here what they had a while back — good, sound, fundamental business building,” he says. Troubled by the high incidence of suicides and depression among LGBTQ youth in Utah, James this time confronted commuters with a simple but challenging message: “Domo ❤️ LGBTQ+ (and everyone else too! Last year, one of the highest-profile non-Mormon business figures in Utah had practically the entire country watching him. Most of these founders have gone through what amounts to perhaps the most strenuous sales “boot camp” in the world: a two-year mission spreading Mormonism abroad. As much as Silicon Slopes startups might aim to look and feel like those in Silicon Valley — open-plan offices filled with scooters, hoverboards, and sneakered millennials wearing the corporate merch and playing pickleball between servings of “Mexican Day” quesadillas — they can also tend to feel like Disney versions of a “tech startup.” At Podium, instead of knocking back Friday beers with co-workers, you might blow off steam around the company soft-serve ice cream machine. “We’ve texted a few times. Johnson spent nearly two decades working with Byrne, who was long prone to conspiracy theories, rants, and crusades. Eric Rea is wearing a dark-blue shirt buttoned to the neck, stretchy olive pants, black sneakers, and an Apple watch. Now one of the richest men in Utah, James is also a former child actor who had parts in the inspirational TV series Touched by an Angel. An attached bathroom sports a chandelier, soaking tub, a soaring skylight and steam showers. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University. After several years of profitability, Overstock’s retail business, hurt by Wayfair, was way down in 2018; in early 2019, the company laid off nearly 250 employees. Unsurprisingly, most of these companies are also headed by a young, white, Mormon guy. Skiers now have to compete with VCs for space on flights into Salt Lake City, where they can scout for a very particular retro brand of founder, combining the ambition of 2020 with the values of the 1950s — competitively groomed and vice-free, with tunnel vision on their business, their family, and the church. Twenty-year founder and CEO leaves with no notice. All this activity helped convince another Mormon BYU grad — Pluralsight’s Aaron Skonnard — and his non-Mormon co-founders to base themselves here in 2011. When a brand-new Orange County mansion recently sold for $35 million in an all-cash deal, it became one of the priciest area home sales on record. The state’s modern tech history can be traced to 1965, when David Evans, a Mormon, was recruited to start the computer science program at the University of Utah. After the acquisition, the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development offered Adobe $40 million in tax breaks over 20 years to encourage the San Jose, California–based company to expand in Utah, rather than take jobs out of state. Ryan Smith intends to be Qualtrics’ largest individual shareholder. (Today, its revenue exceeds $1 billion, and the company is also in the DNA game, competing with 23andMe.). It was at BYU that Rea met Dennis Steele, a Mormon from the Bay Area who did his missionary service in Argentina. (He also claimed to have secretly assisted FBI investigations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which the FBI denies.) Today, these four Mormon CEOs — who occasionally meet up at Utah Jazz basketball games or for a weekend at James’ cabin in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — are the reigning godfathers of the Salt Lake Valley, mentoring and funding the area’s next crop of founders. (Here, Pioneer Day, on July 24, is bigger than the Fourth of July.) Last year, after raising $400 million in venture capital funding, the devoutly Mormon family sold Qualtrics to German tech mammoth SAP for a whopping $8 billion in cash. As CEO, he has grown the company from a basement startup to one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world. One of the said exceptions is Ryan Smith, the CEO and co-founder of the unicorn firm Qualtrics. Improving access to childcare is a priority for Utah’s fast-growing tech companies, which could mean that the region ends up having some of the more progressive childcare benefits in the country. Andrus is an investor in Rags, a onesie maker started by Rachel Nilsson, a Mormon former stay-at-home mom; Owlet, a “smart sock” baby monitor company that has raised more than $57 million and was founded by five BYU grads who are now dads; and Cotopaxi, a Salt Lake City–based outdoor brand founded in 2014 by Davis Smith, who grew up in Latin America, where his father supervised construction projects for the Mormon church. Even a Mormon like Skonnard can recognize that. The term ‘unicorn’ is a moniker attached to companies that have a valuation of one billion dollars or more. Podium is just one of at least a dozen fast-growing, early stage companies clustered in an area called Point of the Mountain, halfway between Salt Lake City and the BYU campus in Provo, that has become the epicenter of the “Silicon Slopes” tech boom. © Copyright 2020 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media, LLC. The buyer’s identity is carefully shielded behind a generically-named LLC mask, but as was first uncovered by the L.A. Times, the new owner is none other than tech bazillionaire and longtime Newport aficionado Jared Smith. He is also a Mormon who, between his freshman and sophomore years of college, went on a two-year mission to Madrid, Spain. It recently clarified that being gay wasn’t a sin as long as you didn’t engage in physical intimacy, and it recognized gay marriage — with the same caveat. And Mormonism isn’t just a religion — it’s a way of life. Utah’s big families — the state has the nation’s largest average household size — and embracing of traditional gender roles are major factors keeping women out of the traditional workforce. “As these companies grow and people leave, they’ll start new businesses, and you’ll start to see the same kind of local growth effect that happened with tech.”, As for Mormons’ enterprising nature, many of the founders here point to Utah’s “pioneer spirit” as a key influence on its business culture. In a conference room in early October, Johnson — with a tight gray brush cut, blue blazer, slacks, and a white oxford shirt with monogrammed cuffs and open at the collar—has the too-calm air of a spacecraft captain who doesn’t want to tell the crew that the warp drive is shot and they’re hurtling toward a black hole. Utah is 78% white, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who self-describe as Mormon or LDS, make up 62% of Utah’s 3.2 million population. (It was also a Very Big Deal when, in 2017, the school started serving Coke on campus, citing an official church clarification of the Mormon caffeine “rule”: Okay in soda; not okay in coffee or tea.) (Salt Lake County is the only place in the state where non-Mormons just barely outnumber LDS, and it’s only 75% white, making it slightly more diverse than Denver.) Located near the tip of Newport Beach’s densely-populated Balboa Peninsula, the massive Robert Sinclair-designed structure is one of the largest structures fronting Newport Harbor and includes its own boat dock. In 2016, they banded together to launch a boosterish nonprofit, which they dubbed Silicon Slopes — a reference to the slopes of the jagged Wasatch Range that dominates the landscape around Salt Lake City — to support in-state entrepreneurs and seduce outsiders. A decade later — last August — Byrne, literally frothing at the mouth on national TV at one point, confessed to a lengthy affair with convicted Russian agent Maria Butina. Ryan Smith is the CEO and co-founder of Qualtrics, a software-as-a-service company specializing in cloud data collection.
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