HS Dropout Turned Billionaire After Selling Company for $12B
EP 77 of The Logan Bartlett Show: Untold stories from tech's inner circle
This week I had a conversation with Ryan Smith, the owner of the Utah Jazz and Co-Founder of Qualtrics (recently acquired for $12B).
In our conversation, Ryan reveals how and why he bought his hometown NBA team. He shares his unconventional path to founding Qualtrics, including how he dropped out of high school, ended up in South Korea with nothing, and later started the company with his dad and brother.
✉️ Episode Memo
Some of Ryan’s best takes:
Owning an NBA team is a lot like founding a tech company except…
1. In tech, you’re hoping to win some market share and multiple companies can be successful. For example, Salesforce is still considered a category winner with less than 50% market share. Yet, only one out of 30 NBA teams is happy at the end of the national championships.
2. Fans get a lot more passionate about games than enterprise software features. The brand loyalty in sports is in a league of its own. This cuts both ways but is generally a good thing.
3. Making monumental organizational changes as a startup evolves is highly stressful. In sports, these changes are made in the public eye, which adds an extra layer of insurmountable emotion, especially when passionate fans or frustrated fans have loud opinions.
On productivity & working from home
Most people feel more productive at home as individuals but that doesn’t necessarily lead to an overall productivity boost as a team. Knowledge shared through osmosis is missing when working from home, but this element gets left out when measuring productivity.
In addition, everyone needs to feel like an individual contributor, even managers. Nobody can happily operate as a “high-paid router.” As a leader, find where your individual contributions can make the biggest impact. Magic happens when the team is winning, AND each person feels like they’re winning individually.
Stop hopping around and go all-in:
There’s a lot of advice on the Internet about switching jobs every couple years to negotiate higher salaries or learn new skills. However, powerful advances occur when you stay in one place for longer. If someone is willing to pull you up into a promising trajectory, commit.
Ryan’s greatest achievements have started from going all in and “burning the boats” or backup plans. The theme remained true throughout his life, from when he was jobless and alone in Korea to when he turned down a huge media deal to sign streaming rights for the Utah Jazz.
⭐ Highlight: The simplest way to feel more productive
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