Utah Stories

Billion Dollar Utah Tech Entrepreneurs Share Secrets

Some of Utah’s most successful tech CEOs share their insights into operating and growing a business. Ryan Little, Todd Pederson, Josh James,



This is part two of a two part story. Read part one about Gary Herbert speaking about Utah’s booming economy here.

The Grand Ballroom at the Grand America in Salt Lake City — Rarely does the Governor of Utah Gary Herbert find himself upstaged, but this was a clear example of that tonight. A panel of CEOs are introduced by the director of Silicon Slopes Jordan Burke, who represent the fastest growing sector of Utah’s economy. These are the tech entrepreneurs each of them owning a billion dollar companies. The audience was 95% male, most dressed in blue sport jackets, with slick hair and fine shoes. The audience is playing the part of the wannabe billionaires, but the real billionaires no longer feel the need to play the part. This aura seems very siliconvalleyesque. I’m witnessing the top dogs of the “Silicon Slopes“. A fairly newly coined term that seems to be catching on.

The two most casually dressed in the entire ballroom, are the two men who own the two most valuable tech companies in Utah.  Qualtrics CEO Ryan Little and Vivint CEO, Todd Pedersen, were both donned broad caps, jeans, and pull overs. Seeing them in any other setting one might have believed them retired skateboarders, or wannabe hip hop artists— it turns out they are owners of two of the fastest growing tech companies in Utah.

The CEO of Domo, Josh James, who was also the former CEO of Omniture, which he sold to Adobe, has disheveled curly hair tucked behind his ears like a California surfer. Only the CEO of Inside Sales, Dave Elkington,  fit the part with his nice slacks and sport jacket.

Vivint, owned by the most punk and dope and outspoken of them all is more likely in the realm of a $10 billion company. Todd Pedersen, tanned and a bit puffy in the eyes, just returned from the Cayman islands on a trip with his family. Pedersen understates his own talent, he describes his rise to success coming from “knocking on doors.” First selling pest control, then alarm systems. He then believed he could set up better alarm systems so he started Vivant. He said along the way nobody would listen to him or invest in his company.

“I want to bury those guys.” Pedersen said to everyone who had rejected him for financing of his company. Pederson has designed a shirt that he gives away, with the faces of  all the investors who thought he was crazy for believing his company Vivint could take on companies such as Honeywell and ADP for home security. “It’s all of the guys who said ‘no’ to me that motivate me every day when I wake up in the morning,” Pederson said. He added that he likes “no” that has been his greatest motivator. “I’m actually shocked when I hear a yes, I’m much more motivated by rejection.”

Nurturing Talent Vs. Recruiting Talent to Come to Utah

When the question arises concerning recruiting talent to Utah, CEO Ryan Little said, “The first thing I always do is drive them to Park City. I tell them they can live here. We will bring beer on the bus. We now have a busload of people commuting to Orem everyday from Park City.”

The CEO of Domo concurs that he has no moral objection to alcohol consumption, but the Utah liquor laws, “really make us look stupid. I’m talking to you Governor.”

But what all the men went on to say was that while recruiting talent to come to Utah is one big aspect of their growth and success, another large part concerns nurturing and growing talent. Little found that when he challenges his engineers to tackle some of the most difficult problems they rarely skirt the challenge. “Our engineers, we have found, are every bit as smart as the guys in silicon valley.” James added that if he were doing business in silicon valley he would be constantly looking over his shoulder for the guys trying to take away his talent. In Utah great talent typically wants to stay where they are and make a significant contribution. “It’s not all about the paycheck and valuation for our employees.”



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