I was living in San Francisco during the tech boom and it was a total blast. Whether or not you were into technology or cared at all about start-ups or the internet, you could just feel the energy. There was electricity in the air and everyone could feel it. That’s how Seattle seems to be now, too, with all the start ups and tech companies and the energy that’s swirling around in the air.
The Salt Lake area (Wasatch Front) has a ton of potential, and Utah actually was an early adopter state with regards to the internet, with more people per capita online in 2002 than any stat in the nation, so what’s the deal?
Here is my Top Ten list of reasons why the Salt Lake area isn’t more tech:
1. Salt Lake is cheap. And by cheap I mean people will go out of their way to save every penny they can. People sell their own homes, people sell their own cars, yard sales are everywhere (and every day people are going to them), and there are possibly more fast food places in the area than the rest of the universe combined. People are so focused on saving money they miss out on the big opportunities. Stepping over a quarter to pick up a dime…
2. Too many people doing the same things. Being innovative is not the only quality a business needs. There are a lot of things that can contribute to a company having that critical early success, and one of those things is being first to market. In this area noone can be first to market because everyone here is doing every thing.
3. People are doing pieces of things. Instead of putting together a solid business plan, raising capital, recruiting a top notch staff and implementing a well thought out plan, many businesses here are really just a couple guys thinking they have a cool idea so they register a business name and website and open for business. No focus or direction really, just a cool idea.
4. The city doesn’t encourage a start up environment. We have weird liquor laws, even stranger bar/club laws, and a spread-out and sparse nightlife. The culture is not a young, hip, fast-moving tech culture. It’s a family fun, get home early for the kid’s soccer game, work three night’s a week for the church kind of culture. That’s not a bad thing- just one way the area is different.
5. Utah is the youngest state in the nation. You might be thinking, “Younger people are more tech savvy and bring that into the workplace”. You would be right, but also wrong. Young people in general are much more tech savvy and do bring that into the workplace with them, but our youth is in children, and many of the brightest move out of state to chase their tech careers.
6. Too many tract homes. Cookie-cutter homes are everywhere in Utah. Even many of the custom homes aren’t custo, they’re “semi custom”. So people live in these boxes that are the exact same as everyone else’s boxes and that just doesn’t encourage creativity. You can’t think outside the box if you spend your entire life in one.
7. Not enough people. There’s something about being in a highly-populated area that makes people thrive. Maybe it’s a competitivness that develops or a wanting to get ahead, or maybe it’s that with more people come more ideas and it’s just the law of averages and the more people the more chance some will make it. Maybe being stuck in hours of traffic just gives people time to be creative and the road rage gives them the energy to keep thinking.
8. No NFL Football. I don’t really know how this could effect things either way, but Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and Boston all have NFL teams and they seem to be the most techy (that is a real word) cities in the country and I need some filler.
9. Not enough tourist attractions. Most of the VC money is not here and since most of that money goes to regional, if not local, start-ups, we don’t see a lot of it. And because there aren’t enough people flying in to Salt Lake to check out the dinosaur exhibits, we have a harder time meeting these people.
10. Not enough coffee drinkers. The LDS religion frowns on drinking coffee, and much of the population is mormon so there aren’t enough Starbucks- and we all know that that’s where the tech deals are made. Probably has something to do with people who in the tech industry get their brains so wired up on cafeine that they can think of outrageous ideas and then have the energy to actually make those ideas work.
Salt Lake and it’s surrounding areas are beautiful and there are a ton of outdoor activites, incuding the best skiing in the country. Low crime, friendly people, big mountains… but not nearly enough people blogging or conspiring to become the next Google.