High Alpha XO Summit Recap

By Eric Tobias, Partner

I’m on the plane home from Deer Valley where we hosted XO Summit — our first High Alpha CEO offsite. It was a fabulous few days of learning, networking, and inspiration.

We were so fortunate to be joined by an incredible group of guest speakers, and I wanted to write down a quick recap of observations made throughout the week:

The Tech Scene in Utah Is Thriving

On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to visit Silicon Slopes and hear from its Executive Director, Clint Betts. Silicon Slopes is both a movement as well as a physical space to promote and foster the technology scene throughout Utah. There are so many unicorn tech companies (Domo, Pluralsight, Adobe, Vivint, etc.) based in Utah, paired with a thriving startup scene. This “cocktail” of later stage companies and early-stage companies working together to promote and enhance the overall community makes the Utah ecosystem unique.

Most People Don’t Dream Big Enough

Josh James (Founder of Omniture and Domo) shared with our group that most CEO’s don’t dream big enough, and shared the importance of having people in your network and people on your board that can help you build a company that can achieve its full potential.

He also applied thinking big to marketing. He shared a story of the early days of Omniture and how they gave away a car at a trade show to create a splash. In order to win the car, the audience needed to win a game of “rock, paper, scissors.” And instead of asking everyone to say 1–2–3 as they pounded their fist, the audience said “Om-ni-ture”. A great example of being creative to gain a competitive advantage.

A Leader’s Job Is to Help Their Team Achieve Their Goals

Brad Rencher (EVP of Adobe Marketing Cloud) spoke about the opportunity we have as leaders to help our teams achieve their personal and professional goals. Brad illustrated this by suggesting a leader should ask every one of their direct reports — “If you were to end your career today, what box is unchecked?” And then ask how you, as the leader, can help that person check that box.

How to Define Culture in the Early Days of a Startup

Aaron Skonnard (Co-Founder and CEO of Pluralsight) also talked about the importance of culture and how it effects everything in a business. When thinking about when to define culture, Aaron shared a visual exercise for startups. He suggested writing everyone on the leadership team’s name on the board. Then, for each person, attach a set of characteristics that you associate with that person. Do this for everyone on the team. Then erase the names of the people so you are left with the characteristics. Those are the elements of your culture. An easy, but powerful exercise for early leadership teams.

Lifelong Learning

Don Brown (Founder of Software Artistry, Interactive Intelligence, and LifeOmic) shared his insights into the future of healthcare in the digital age. Don was so inspiring! Don is the most successful tech entrepreneur in Indiana history, and it’s clear to see why he’s been so successful. While Don was the CEO of Interactive Intelligence, which he sold to Genesys in 2016 for $1.4B, he was also earning a Masters in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins to complement his 3 previous degrees in business and medicine. Don’s passion for solving big problems and continually learning new things is inredibly contagious.

Focus, Focus, Focus

JR Hildebrand (Professional IndyCar race driver) shared what it’s like to drive 230 mph around a race track, putting your body into 4.5 G’s around each turn, and the physical and mental preparation it takes to make this happen. JR shared how the qualifying runs for the Indianapolis 500 are both the scariest part of being an IndyCar driver and the most rewarding part — his favorite part. That all of the preparation comes down to 2 minutes of intense focus and commitment. And despite the risks, the joy of the focus pushes you to do things you never before thought possible. Lots of similarities to the start-up world.

Preparation Removes Fear

Alex Honnold (Professional free-solo rock climber) capped off our day by sharing his incredible and inspirational story of free-solo climbing El Capitan in Yosemite last year. If you haven’t heard of Alex, check out his profile on 60 Minutes from a few years back. Alex is an incredible human being, and there were so many nuggets here. The thing that stuck with me is how Alex spent years visualizing, researching, rehearsing, and planning this incredible climb. And in all of this preparation over months and months, Alex was able to move from fear to confidence. An incredible lesson for all of us.

It was a fabulous few days of learning and inspiration. We feel so fortunate at High Alpha to have people of this caliber interested and passionate in what we are building that they would take time to come speak to us. I know all of our CEO’s will take nuggets from the week and apply them to their businesses going forward. Exciting!