Boostability attended the event as a bronze sponsor. Here’s the top-level highlights from the general sessions.

General Session | Day 1 | Learn. Connect. Serve.

Ryan Smith, Qualtrics & Josh James, Domo

The first day of the tech summit kicked off with Ryan Smith and Josh James, CEOs of Utah born-and-bred businesses Qualtrics and Domo, respectively. James founded Silicon Slopes in 2004, and he remained committed to three simple ideals: learn, connect, and serve. The entire event was designed to allow members of the tech industry across the state come together and learn something new, while fostering relationships that are necessary for success.

“I will only make time for people in learning mode,” Smith added. He later implored the crowd, “Turn the default mode to ‘on.’ Be in full connection mode—allow yourself to be open. Don’t judge. Open up and connect.”

Jeremy Andrus, Traeger Grills

Jeremy Andrus, CEO of Traeger Grills, was tasked with something next to impossible: cleaning up a toxic culture and revolutionizing a brand that had been around for over thirty years.

“When you build a startup, you know where your bodies are buried,” said Andrus. “But you’ve got to own your mistakes. I got into a culture that felt toxic, but I saw that we needed to deliberately build something that’s meaningful for the people and that connections vision to business.”

It wasn’t an easy process, and it wasn’t one he was necessarily prepared to handle.

“No one is trained to be an entrepreneur. It’s a lot of grit,” he explained. “You have to figure things out.”

But rather than becoming overwhelmed by his mistakes—and he admitted he made a few—he saw them as an opportunity to learn.

“I wanted a company that would allow me to try new things, and do it more methodically the second time,” he said. There’s magic in doing something over and over again, because it’s the process that inevitably leads to a better product.

However, Andrus was also adamant that the product, no matter what it was, could not be the focus. “Building a brand has nothing to do with what you unilaterally convey to your consumers. Rather, how do you engage your consumers to engage with others in a peer-to-peer way to create a community?” The answer to that question, according to Andrus, is where disruption happens.

When asked to impart a few final words of wisdom to the audience, Andrus kept it short and simple: ” There will always be a knockoff product. Be authentic. Build your community.”

Gayle Troberman, iHeart Media

In a world that’s growing more visual by the minute, having the chief marketing officer for a company that focuses on audio production may seem like a bit of misnomer. But Troberman’s remarks were actually fairly groundbreaking.

According to Troberman, attention is the most valuable marketing currency, but there are very few places to get it. “There’s a reason Superbowl ads are worth $5 million,” she said. One of the last remaining attention-focused places is the audio world. Even though our eyes may be tired from the constant stimulation, “Our ears have bandwidth.”

At the core of human interaction, Troberman still believes that “people are craving live, connected human experiences.” By acknowledging that this is a need that fuels the way consumers engage with content, finding ways to offer information naturally in a way that simulates real conversation is the key to success. She credits the rise of automated voice search systems like Siri and Alexa to fulfilling this need.

“We’ve gone from a generation that clicked to a generation that swiped, to a generation that talks. We’re raising the first generation since the 1940s that talks more than any other form of communication,” said Troberman. “Your brain is the fastest production machine in the world,” she continued. Use it and promote your content through audio.


General Session | Day 2 | Innovation Breeds Success

Gail Miller, Larry H. Miller Foundation

As the opener for the second day of the summit, Miller began by recalling Utah’s historical foundations. Mormon pioneers settled in the valley at the end of the 1840s, but the pioneering spirit that lead them to new places is also key in creating new business ventures.

Speaking in reference to Ryan Smith and Josh James, she told the audience, “Believe that their successes are the results of trial and error, of conquering fear, and having the courage to create change.” She explained that true pioneers are dedicated to finding solutions that improve the lives of everyone. But while many may have a good idea, fear stops lots from pursuing it.

“Building a business is not for the faint of heart,” she warned. “I’ve learned that fear is an inhibitor. When fear gets int he way, it can cause us to make poor decisions. It can hold us back. It can lead us to wrongfully judge other people, or even disengage and lose out on the rich experiences we might have otherwise had. We need to take fear head on, and realize it for the obstacle that it is.”

For Miller, the best way to conquer fear is to get to know other people. Without judgement and without prejudice, innovation will carry us to new places.

Steve Case, Revolution

In the tech industry, the idea of “overnight sensations” are commonplace. But Case, who founded AOL in the early days of the internet, reminded the crowd that success rarely ever comes so easily.

“Most people did not believe the internet would ever be a mainstream phenomenon,” he said, a pleasantly ironic twist seeing as the audience in question is reliant on the internet and related innovations for a living. But the narrative since then has made it seem like the internet was born and immediately successful. That couldn’t be further from the truth. “Actually,” Case explained, “it took about a decade for the internet to become an ‘overnight sensation.'”

Immediate success, therefore, cannot be an indicator of whether you’re on the right track. Instead, modern entrepreneurs should instead be asking themselves the following questions:

  • How am I ensuring I’m unleashing the next wave of innovation?
  • How do I make sure markets stay competitive?
  • How can I make sure I’m creating a more inclusive economy?

But he also encouraged the aspirational hopes of attendees by reminding everyone that “America itself was a startup.” He continued, “This fragile country, the idea of America, was about empowering people and taking a a startup nation to the leader of the pack thanks to entrepreneurs.” If it can happen for a group of colonies, it can happen for you, too.

Brian Halligan, HubSpot

Halligan’s opening statement of, “Marketing is essentially broken,” struck a chord, especially since a large portion of the audience was involved in marketing within their own roles. But the reason marketing is broken, at least according to Halligan, is because as a culture we’ve become immune to it.

Instead, he encouraged the crowd to “match the way you market with the ways humans are searching,” rather than telling customers to find you.

And while having a stellar product is still important, it’s no longer enough.

“It used to be your product had to be ten times better than the competition’s,” Halligan said. “Now, your business model has to be different.”

The way to revolutionize your business model? Get the product experience right.

“We need to retire the ‘ye old funnel’ model,” said Halligan. “The funnel gives credit to your marketing and sales departments, but your most important source of new customers—the most important reason people buy your product—is because of your existing customers.”

Word of mouth still moves the quickest. Even though the method’s changed—we use digital connections as well as face-to-face interactions—the success rate is still the same.

“Enable people to buy on their terms,” Halligan urged. “That’s the reality of the modern internet.”


For more coverage of the 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, click here and here.


Madeline is a former content specialist for Boostability.