During his time as a BYU student, Josh James would sit with his friends on a bench not far from Y Mountain and look down at the businesses and new homes in the valley below.
“You’d think, ‘Who owns that house,'” or, “‘Who owns that company,'” James said. “Someone’s got to be on top. Why not us?”
From the start, James said he had no doubts that his web analytics company, Omniture, would be successful. In fact, that confidence led him to drop out of BYU only a few classes shy of graduation.
Now, years later, James is one of the visionaries behind Silicon Slopes, the cluster of technology startups that started in Utah County. The Silicon Slopes nonprofit organization supports tech entrepreneurs statewide.
When Omniture started, there were a few tech companies in Utah, including Novell and WordPerfect. Now Utah’s tech sector is booming.
“When I went out to Silicon Valley to try and raise money for my company, we literally were getting one-sixth the valuation of our competitors who were doing the exact same thing and were the exact same size,” James said.
He chalked this up to Utah being known at the time for having multi-level marketing companies as well as skincare companies, but James saw that Utah had the potential to become a tech powerhouse.
“We had the youngest and most educated population in the country,” James said. “Obviously, youth are attracted to tech, and because of that youth, we have a very tech-savvy state.”
James wanted to create a way for people in Utah to see that the CEOs of big tech corporations were not that different from them.
“Seeing other people do it that are from similar backgrounds and similar situations makes you believe that you can do it too,” James said.
In an attempt to boost the tech sector’s visibility in Utah, he created a group called the Internet Roundtable in 1999. When that didn’t work, he changed tactics.
James invested a couple million dollars into Silicon Slopes and dedicated himself to making it take off.
“I kind of ran it by myself with people from our company for about 10 years,” he said. Eventually, others joined the cause, including other tech CEOs from around the state.
“It’s been really cool because it has allowed us to change the face of the state,” James said.
Other than trying to prove Utah’s force in the tech industry, James’ Silicon Slopes initiative has changed the way businesses work, especially when it comes to diversity.
“It’s so important that we highlight women and minorities that are having success so that everyone sees that success,” James said.
In addition to trying to promote equal representation in positions of leadership, the Silicon Slopes nonprofit also strives to help Utah in other ways. From trying to get computer science classes in every school to improving air quality, James and the Silicon Slopes team is invested in making Utah a great place for people to work.
In his own companies, James values hiring the right people and helping them love their jobs. Domo, James’ current company, takes the data that his previous company, Omniture, was able to provide their clients and puts it in easily accessible formats.
“You’ve got to embrace what makes you different,” James said. “What makes Utah companies different is there are so many families.”
Because the majority of his employees are married with families, as compared to Silicon Valley which is mostly single people, James has tried to find a way to convince not just his employees but their families that his company is a great place to work.
“If the kids are like, ‘My mom works at the coolest place in the world,’ or, ‘My dad works at an awesome place,’ then mom or dad has got a lot of pride in where they are and where they work, and they’re going to stay here,” he said. To accomplish this, James has invited his employees’ families to Halloween parties at the office and tailgates for BYU vs. Utah games.
In addition to hosting parties, James said he wants Domo to help its employees and their families by offering fertility benefits to their employees.
Domo employee Domonique Stephan said she realized she would need to take advantage of the benefit, which helps employees pay for in vitro fertilization or other fertility services, a few months after she was hired.
“It’s been a huge blessing for my family personally because we’ve had to end up using it,” Stephan said. “If we weren’t able to do IVF, we wouldn’t be able to have a family at all.”
Because of Domo’s fertility benefits, Stephan was able to successfully complete a round of in vitro fertilization and is currently in the second trimester of her pregnancy.
James said that hearing from families who have benefitted from a program he approved is one of the best parts of his job.
James might be at the top of Silicon Slopes now, but he hasn’t forgotten how his time at BYU allowed him to see that students like him could start successful companies.
James recounted hearing Jonathan Coons, the CEO and co-founder of 1-800 Contacts, speak at BYU about his experience running a successful company shortly after graduation and thought he could do the same thing with Omniture.
Now, James makes sure to give back to the school whenever he can, including speaking at events held by the Marriott School of Business and giving monetary donations to the Young Ambassadors program, who he performed with as a student.
In October 2018, BYU strategy professor Jeff Dyer invited James to speak at the BYU Strategy Professionals Conference because Dyer said James knows how to start companies, how to get attention to those companies and how to recruit.
“He has some kind of unconventional rules,” Dyer said about James’ business strategy. “I think that’s one of the things that distinguishes Josh James. He’s willing to go against convention and try new things, and that’s not always easy.”