From Silicon Valley To Silicon Slopes

Confessions about making Salt Lake City our new home

Confessions about making Salt Lake City our new home

In June 2014, my family underwent a very radical decision process, and concluded that we were not meeting our family values and virtues, or living to our fullest potential. One of the biggest contributors to this problem was our current location and surroundings – as we lived in Silicon Valley.

The commitment to move was a huge feat, because my husband was born and raised in Santa Clara County, and had to trust me that moving to a new location outside of the Bay area would indeed be opportunistic – as I’ve experienced this every time I moved to a new location over a dozen times in my life.

We took a year to research potential cities, and we watched 2 of our very close and deeply respected family friends leave the Bay due to similar reasons. Based on what we wanted our life to be, we selected to move to Salt Lake City also known as “Silicon Slopes.” We bought a home in a thriving and eclectic neighborhood within Salt Lake called , got our kids enrolled into the local school, and started to re-establish ourselves, focusing on the lifestyle that reinforces things we deemed important and what we want to teach our kids.

Silicon Valley has many amazing qualities. It attracts some of the best and brightest human beings on the planet that we were lucky to befriend. But it’s merciless in other regards, which we had to address, or it would consume us. Our friends applauded our honesty and our family supported our virtue driven pursuit of happiness. Over the Father’s day weekend, we packed up a u-haul carrying our hopes and dreams and drove 765 miles to Salt Lake, which would become our new home.

The Decision Aftermath

I’ve been asked how has decision process has affected me, and that’s an easy answer – I’m a doer, and my family is too. Our value driven commitment and execution proves that, hands down.

The other question that’s asked is how does living in Salt Lake City affect me – as a mom, as an entrepreneur, and as a strategic business consultant. Honestly, my answers are being formed as each day passes. However, the moment we made this change – it’s done a lot for me personally.

Moving out of Silicon Valley has opened my awareness aperture, inspired more creativity, and honed my awareness of a work-life balance that was almost unattainable while I lived in the Bay Area. As a 40 year old, it is very liberating to break down my purpose as a human being, get to the basics and re-build it with precision and intention to provide the best life possible for my children, husband, and myself.

Disconnecting from Silicon Valley

My big fear was that when I moved away from Silicon Valley, I would loose my industry cache, my value in the tech marketing and innovations, and the connection to my surroundings that inspire my disruptive business approach. Would I be isolated and deprived of the essence that attracts those amazing people to Silicon Valley? It was a risk, which I ultimately accepted while humming along at 53 miles per hour along I-80 east in that jam-packed U-haul. After a month of moving in and re-engaging my professional network, I noticed that because high tech is booming right now, there is this natural “pull” that drew me back into Silicon Valley companies, who had no problem with me contributing while not being in their office, every day.

The Disconnect was clear to me that when in the Valley, there’s an inescapable full-time employment pressure. If you’re a hot-shot executive, you can command extraordinary salaries and RSUs, but the tradeoff is that you have to work hard and long hours in . That pressure contributed to my family commitment and life-balance problem.

The moment we picked up and committed to leaving – that full-time employment pressure evaporated. Because the talent demand is high right now within the tech industry, there’s a need for strategic consultants – accommodating different working relationships and remote contributions. Viola, I move to SugarHouse and by concentrating on my consulting company, my business grew 3 fold in 6 months.

Silicon Slope Talent

Once the new business demand settled in, I needed to figure out how to back-fill it. Instead of using my Silicon Valley based rolodex to hire folks, I looked around my new SugarHouse community. Boom – there’s amazing talent that’s right here, who want to work and learn about the ways of Silicon Valley. After quickly finding 4 local contractors who would execute marketing plans, I’ve created a great face-to-face team and an actual Hen House headquarters here in Salt Lake.

The super talented Kristen in Hen House HQ

Where I’ve been surprisingly pleased is the high quality and availability of great talent here in Salt Lake.

My daughter watching the 3D printer make a ring at Zaniac.

First, Salt Lake people have a thriving technology background that’s been engrained in them since they were kids. Technology awareness is rampant in the schools; with curriculum encouraging innovation and problem solving (my daughter is taking a 3D printing class at , and uses several software programs to design a keychain… oh and she’s 8.) and is strongly supported by the parents’ education expectations and efforts.

½ mile away from my home is the , offering a thriving business and engineering programs, and is home to one of the biggest BioMed research parks in the country – employing 50,000 people within the Wasatch foothills campus. I coincidentally met a digital marketing company CEO who also teaches marketing at the “U” (local slang for the University folk), and his company () has established an internship practice so students can get real exposure to digital marketing careers. This environment is encouraging kids to become technologists at every age, and provides many opportunities for academic technology learning to become their career path.

Second, “Utes” (also slang for the locals) are eager to cross-pollinate with outsiders, especially when they may glean new approaches and insights that originate from Silicon Valley. I have been super pleased with the courtesy, commitment, and curiosity each of my local contractors has shown during these projects. People from Utah are very polite, and are naturally interested in education and perpetual learning, especially around technology. I’ve partnered with some great people and their ramp-up time has been faster than what I expected. It’s been a saving grace with the increased business for my consultancy practice.

Third, everyone HERE appreciates the work-life balance. Perhaps it’s enforced with the phrase “Silicon Slopes” alluding to the dozen world-class ski resorts that are less than 45 minutes away from our SugarHouse home, everyone in technology out here appreciates what a “Blue Bird” is, and that sometimes adjusting work hours for some slope time is perfectly acceptable. I never heard encouragement when living in the Valley to enjoy the surroundings and weather patterns, it was always 100% about work.

Last Wednesday, I picked up my season pass at , and made a few turns to get my ski-legs back. On the way home, I stopped by , to check out the new Volkl Kenja skis. The gent who was helping me named “Bubba” asked what did I do. I failed at brushing him off because my answer “software” was enough to peek his interest, and he peppered me with questions until I confessed my real corporate identity. Reason why he kept on asking me these things is because he too is a tech head, but born and raised in Salt Lake, graduate from the “U”. He worked with enterprise software, but focused on POS, and experienced the rapid advancement when the cloud swept his sector. We chatted about B2B innovation, what’s coming down the pipe, and of course the technology that’s compressed in those brilliant skis. After catching up about the ideal skis for my new local resort, we talked about the stashes and hikes, and how to swing a schedule to ski, work, and still pick up the kids from school.

I feel like my transplanted self is rooting just fine, as I never held a conversation like that in Silicon Valley.

If you are contemplating to change your environment, and are concerned that you will not thrive outside of Silicon Valley – my experience says otherwise. Silicon Valley will always be there. Relocating to other cities that are home to innovative people and technology is totally doable. And as for Silicon Slopes, it’s given my professional and personal growth a tremendous uplift.

For Real? Estate – Part 1: The “No Es Bueno” San Francisco Land Grab

It all started wwhitebagith a plastic bag last winter.

“I think you’ll REALLY like this place over the others we’ve looked at — it’s right in your price range and they’re even willing to wait 3 months for you to start the lease until your other lease is up!”

My commercial broker, Amy, was her usual perky, peppy self as she maneuvered her late model BWW X5 slowly the narrow alleyway that passed for a street near San Francisco’s courthouse / jail complex on .

As we slowly drifted past a motley assortment of buildings in the street, I kept sinking down further into my seat and even contemplated refusing to get out of the car when it stopped at our destination.

The back alley buildings themselves held the businesses one would expect in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the local pokey – bail bondsmen after bail bondsmen, followed by shingle after shingle advertising criminal defense attorneys (“Available 24/7!”). And let’s not forget the tasty side of other sketchy-looking services that cater to the patrons of the court system and jail. Bail_bonds

Amy squeezed her large SUV into a small, cracked driveway next to a pale pink rock-facade 1960s era apartment building; we slid out gingerly onto the broken pavement, looking furtively from side to side for I don’t know what.

Across the driveway, a lean, blonde, very-tanned man greeted us energetically – Charlie, the broker from the “other side”, i.e. the guy who represented the landlord in a commercial rental transaction.

As Charlie thrust a lean, tanned hand toward us, Amy stage-whispered to my partner and me, “It was so nice of him to come out to show this. Most brokers are already done for the week. But he and I go way back and so it’s a favor.”

It was only 10 am. On a Friday.

So it made sense that he would be done for the day….if his clients were vampires.

The property itself was one of the oddest office buildings I’d seen in San Francisco. Badly weathered aluminum siding covered on the upper part of the building above a layer of pastel faux-rocks. A large external cement staircase in the front led up to each of the 6 units, 2 per floor.  They all looked like apartments rather than offices, each featuring a very homey front door with a knocker and a large picture window next to it.

Charlie bounded up the stairs in front of us, casually announcing over his shoulder that all the other tenants were defense attorneys.

Naturally.

And then I saw it.  The bag.

As I lifted up my foot to take my first step onto the staircase, I noticed the small, white, lumpy bag on the ground at the base, with a neatly tied bow — it was a bag that looked grossly familiar to anyone who has ever owned a dog.

I froze, my stomach lurching ever so slightly, and quickly side-eyed my partner, seeking some reassurance that that bag was not what my stomach and nostrils were perceiving.

Without missing a step, he whispered as he passed me and stepped onto the staircase, “Yes, that is exactly what you think it is.”

Our tour of the apartment / office turned out to be just as disheartening as our trip up the staircase. Charlie pleasantly pointed out the features: 3 beige separate (bed)rooms, beige in-suite bathroom, beige kitchen, beige wall to wall carpet, beige linen closets, fire escape access in the back down to the garbage cans….yes, garbage cans. In the back, where garbage goes.

At this point, there was no shaking the apartment-complex feel to it, although when asked, both Charlie and Amy swore it had always been a commercial property. They both gamely attempted to sell the highlights of the space’s 3 bedroom floor plan — more privacy because of the separate rooms, all new kitchen appliances, a shower in the bathroom, large closets for coats….by the end, I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to work there or make a happy home.

But even if the doggie welcome bag hadn’t been there, the office space was simply not at all what we could move our tech product design firm into. As I’d emphasized to Amy many times, our must-have requirements, after price range and square footage, included an office with natural light, and parking, both for me and my staff and for our Silicon Valley clients, many of whom had to drive into San Francisco for business meetings. (But not typically criminal court dates.)

Needless to say, we said our goodbyes to Amy and her services later that day. While I certainly didn’t hold her responsible for the doo-doo bag, I did let her know that we had higher hopes for her meeting our office requirements. But given the commercial real estate market, perhaps I was overly harsh on her on even that front. After all, Amy was only able to show us inventory that was available. And the inventory pickens were indeed slim.

While it was to be the last, tDIAKADI_Fitness_Performance_Life_-_Google_Mapshis wasn’t our first disappointing office visit to San Francisco commercial space within our size and price range. The other visits, while not as notably colorful as the Bail Bondsmen Backalley, all seemed wrought with similarly fatal flaws — one building was a converted warehouse that had a single tiny bathroom per floor of 8 offices.

And then there was the Peruvian startup attempting to run an illegal  out of their offices. Although we were initially excited about their bright, IKEA-decorated sublet, the dreamy deal started falling apart when we started asking several tough, probing questions such as, “Has your landlord actually given you permission to sublet the space?” These were met with a lot of blank stares, and a few “Es bueno, es all bueno, no problem, no worries. Deal?”, which we met with a corresponding, “Nooooo, no es bueno. Noooooo deal.”

I could go on about ore dire properties we viewed, but it just takes me back to the sadder place to recount the weird, cavelike, or just downright depressing office spaces for rent.

Basically, though, I was starting to believe that we’d be better off pitching a tent in the SoMA Streat Food lot next to the food trucks and turning that into an office space with tasty snacks nearby.

Wondering what happened next? Check out more about my roller-coaster experiences in the San Francisco land grab in Part 2: Why can’t I just work in my car??

 

For Real? Estate – Part 2: Why can’t I just work in my car?

(To recap just how this all started with a plastic bag of poo, please see Part 1: The “No Es Bueno” San Francisco Land Grab )

The crazy commercial and residential land grab in San Francisco is not new news to anyone who lives in the Bay Area. It was just my personal first brush with how insane it’s all gotten in the run up of the past 6 years since we first took a commercial lease. Ah, those were the salad days of early 2008, where SF 

For those of you (well, okay, maybe it’s just me) who find the price-per-square-foot number a little inscrutable — it’s basically the annualized cost per square foot for a rental. So an office space of 10,000 square feet at $30 / square foot will cost your firm a nifty $300,000 to rent for the year.

How little I realized what a bargain those olden days were.

I learned quickly, for when our office lease was about 6 months away from expiring, we started conversation with our current building management team about the potential cost of renewing. I nearly fainted in my chair when I was told that current market for our building and spaces like it was running between 

Just based on the sheer 80-100% increase in rent alone, it was becoming clear for our bottom line that we’d need to look around for a new office space.At this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’ve only helped create this quasi-dire office space situation by limiting my search area to the side of San Francisco that is absolutely the most competitive for commercial space currently, thanks to the tech boom. It’s the  combined with a few nearby streets in the Mission district.

While I’ve never been one to be driven by tech trendiness in making business decisions, there are truthfully some solid reasons why  (and it’s not because of the SF Giants home ballpark).

The major commuter train transportation hub, otherwise known as Caltrain, comes to rest in the heart of SoMA, which enables numerous non-SF dwellers to commute from as far as San Jose 45 miles away as it travels up through the Silicon Valley and Peninsula corridor. It’s also close-ish to the BART stations lining Market Street as well.  And it features a number of funky, trendy smaller office spaces in unique buildings with lots of light and architectural features, the kind of space that suits both unconventional start ups and also my firm, a design firm with Silicon Valley clients.

In short, for my business, SoMA was and still is best area of San Francisco for an office space.

And yet, despite having run my business successfully in San Francisco for over 9 years, it seems that we, too, were now being priced out of the market (or forced to downgrade significantly).

While I’ll refrain from making any poor-me comparisons to the, I have to admit that I can feel a few twinges of the frustration of having been based in a place as both a resident and a business owner (the latter activity which created jobs), of paying local taxes, and of generally contributing to the local economy by patronizing other local small businesses.

After contributing productively as such for 9 years, I suddenly found my ability to rent a suitable office in my home city becoming more and more difficult, priced out by small startups whose biggest contribution to the world so far, besides creating a mobile app that let’s them rent the air around their apartment, is that they believe they’re “disrupting disruption” and that they are proudly developing a corporate culture based on “awesome snacks.” (I am not making any of this up, although I may have combined a few startups.)

This whole experience has a distinct quality of what I imagine it would feel like to wake up one morning and find out every apartment in your building was rented at ridiculously high rents to spendthrift 13-year olds; these youngsters were given a wad of cash and no adult supervision. Sure, they might do *alright* for a while, until they spend all their cash on shiny new MacBooks and In-and-Out Burger and Twizzlers and can no longer afford the rent, at which point they flee and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. And your rent’s 45% higher than before and not going down.

But lest you worry – I’m far less likely to protest my commercial situation by , or by ; however, I haven’t ruled out asking those companies to let us sublet for a while…after all, they both have SOOOOO much more room, and we don’t need much space at all and will keep very quiet, I promise.

GoogleBusAnd more importantly, did we find a new space? More on that in another post, but I promise you, this story DOES have a happy ending…stay tuned for this to all be wrapped up neatly with a sparkly bow in Part 3: I do have a Real Estate Fairy Godmother After All…

NO Is The New YES

Living in Silicon Valley, we are ALL over committed. Whether it be our jobs, volunteer efforts, sports, kid activities, or our lively circle of friends, we are always on the go. But when you’ve been in this rat race for over twenty years, you start to wonder if these commitments are based on priorities or just trying to keep up. Should you cut back and simplify your life?

If you Google, “Simplify life,” you will find a myriad of and . There are even to simplify your life. You can get advice from many sources but when it comes down to it, you need to look at your priorities and starting saying NO.

I bet when most of you were just babes, learning to talk, your favorite word was NO.

NO, I don’t like Brussels sprouts.

NO, I don’t want to take a bath.

NO, I don’t want to go to school.

NO, I don’t want to clean my room.

Somewhere along our journey through life, we stopped using the word NO. And I’m not talking about those situations where “No” is appropriate. I’m talking about being a a fixer, and a constant .

If I want to do something, I don’t want to hear, “NO, you can’t.” I want to hear, “YES, you can.”

Understand that I love to be part of a community and to help people. And I take on most anything thrown at me. I love new tasks. Even if I’ve never done it before, I just dig in, learn what needs to be done, and do it. I have become a YES person.

YES, I will work late tonight to finish that project.

YES, I will organize the neighborhood party.

YES, I will introduce you to that person.

YES, I will volunteer in my child’s classroom.

I say YES to most anything as I love connecting people and feeling part of a something bigger. And it makes me feel good to say YES and complete a task. I’m the busy person people call to complete a task because everyone knows I get shit done…and shit done well.

But then I realized, “WTF am I doing, trying to please everybody else?”

That’s when it hit me. I have a problem…with saying, NO.

Over the summer, I took some time to think about my life. I’m fortunate to have found a loving husband who still puts up with my shit even after twenty years. I’ve got kids who are young but on the edge of being self-sufficient. I volunteer a fair share of my free time to amazing organizations. My knees are aging so I have to rethink my exercise routine. I have many friends and family getting divorced. My day job is all consuming that my passions are now shelved off to the wee hours of the night. My parents and in-laws are aging way too fast. My entire family ecosystem sometimes feels like playing hot potato with a cactus. And health issues are constantly coming up all around me. Throw in a couple tragic and natural deaths and you start to question your role in this adventure I call life. What is my purpose on this earth? I see many people going through the motions of life but not focusing on what is important to them. Life is way to short. Don’t you want to make a difference on the path you take? I know I do. That is why I came up with a list of five top priorities:

#1 family #2 health #3 passions #4 friends #5 day job

Don’t get me wrong, I will always help a friend in need. No questions asked. And some of these priorities do overlap. But with everything life throws my way, I need to take a step back, look at my priorities and start saying NO. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of your life. And it doesn’t mean I don’t want to help. It just means that I’ve got a lot of shit going on and I have to make hard choices.

So next time you see me and ask for the world, understand the YES inside of me would love to help, but the new NO might take over and politely turn you down.

And that’s alright. It’s okay to say NO if it means YES to focusing on my priorities in life.

Hired! In San Francisco

When people find out that I’m a native San Fransican – it’s typically met with – “Really?!” San Francisco is full of newcomers, transients, and passers-by. It’s part of what makes the city so wonderful and unique. I’m often asked by people who have recently moved here, or are about to move here, how to go about tapping into the thriving job market.

There are a few basics that are necessary:

A killer profile

There are plenty of online resources with and on how to highlight your best qualities. Stick with concrete accomplishments, a few strong recommendations, and as many connections as possible.

 

Personal website

Most people who have worked in San Francisco, particularly in tech, have an online presence of one sort or another. Making a simple website using , , or (for the more sophisticated users) is a great way to tell recruiters that you exist and are serious about being in technology. Doesn’t need to be complicated, just include your resume, a few hobbies, and any portfolio of projects. It’s a great way to express yourself and differentiate yourself from the crowd. If you’re applying for a technical role, be sure to include you github account; for designers, a portfolio is a must.

Network

The best way to get a job is through an introduction from someone you know. Period. Bar none. Network, network, network. LinkedIn is a great tool for this. Find a job or company you’re interested in, and then search to see how you might be connected to someone who works there, or who formerly worked there. The valley is a small place – you’ll quickly be connected to many companies. Ask to be introduced, go get coffee, or a drink with folks you know.

Start looking specifically

Job boards

Venture Capital Firms

Read the news

If you are new to the area, and new to the industry – welcome! There is a plethora of information to read about the technology world. , , and all report on the goings on, mergers, investments, and new companies. You won’t want to look uninformed in an interview when someone asks you what you think about that latest and greatest happenings.

Show up in person

It’s possible to start applying to jobs before you arrive, but most companies will want to meet you in person – more than once.

Here is a common interview process one might go through:

  1. Skype / Phone interview with recruiter
  2. Phone interview with hiring manager
  3. In person interview with hiring manager and a few other folks
  4. Meet the whole team

Common practices for technical roles

  1. Technical interview (architecture / thought / whiteboard exercise)
  2. Coding test (actually writing code, solving problems)

Common practices for design roles

  1. Design workshop (lead creative workshop on sample project)
  2. Design project (take – home creative project)

Culture fit

It’s easy to think that applying for a job is about the best skill set – wrong! Culture is a very serious part of the technology community here – each company has it’s own vibe, practices, and unique culture. Pay attention to the subjective things you learn about the company through the interview process to learn if you’re going to fit in well. The company will certainly be evaluating you on culture fit as well. Basics such as being friendly to recruiters, office management, administrators, are key – as well as more traditional etiquette such as thank you emails, punctuality, and preparedness.

Attire

Whatever you do – don’t show up in a suit! My first day at my first job I didn’t know what to wear. My manager had told me casual, my parents encouraged me to “step it up.” I ended up wearing a pencil skirt and a balzer. At the end of the day – bless her heart – my manager (a wonderful Executive who was the Chief of Staff at Verisign internationally for many years) took me aside and kindly mentioned that tomorrow, I should feel free to wear jeans.

Not dressing the part demonstrates that you don’t understand the world very well. Dark jeans and a button down with well groomed accessories is good measure for most start-ups. Just be prepared that whomever the interview is with probably will be dressed more casual.

Notable exception:

– Enterprise sales executives: dress the part!

 

Get the basics right and you’ll have a job in no time. Much easier than finding an apartment!

 Find me on LinkedIn.

Addicted to Multitasking

My name is Ursula and I am multitasking addict.

Living in Silicon Valley, working moms take multitasking to the extreme. We are always on, leaning in, reclining or shrugging it off. Our worlds revolve around the hamster wheel of innovation and progress. Always pushing us forward into the unknown void of a supposedly better future. And if you can’t multitask, you’re going to fall off that wheel or loose a limb or two. So, is multitasking endemic to our environment or part of our DNA?

For me, it’s a little bit of both. Even before the digital age, I was always someone who had to be doing 5 things at once. Maybe that is why I am ambidextrous and today can watch multiple TV shows while checking work emails, , and creating this blog.  But I’m also a multitasking addict because of the choices I have made in being a mother, my career and wanting to spend more time with my family. And I think I am not alone.  How many of you working moms have found yourself in this situation:

7 AM. I have a headset in my ears, phone by my side and laptop on the kitchen counter. I log into the connect session for my second call of the morning. As I wait for coworkers to join the call, I feed our dog, Maverick, and then begin prepping breakfast and lunch. Oh yes, I forgot to mention my husband is in Europe on a business trip—he also works in high tech. As the call begins, I look at the agenda then head upstairs to wake the kids as I listen to the first speaker.

My kids are 8 and 10 years old, so fortunately, they are used to this routine. And I rarely get any grief from them especially when Maverick is with me, ready to give them a juicy kiss. I wake them up, give them a quick hug and point to the morning “To Do” check list posted outside the bathroom door: Go to the bathroom, brush teeth, brush hair, get dressed, make beds. They have until 7:30 AM to make it downstairs. I continue to listen to the first speaker and can actually visualize the Powerpoint slide he is referencing. As I walk back into the kitchen, I check my  and schedule a couple tweets.

Once in the kitchen, I position my laptop behind the food prep workspace. I can see the presentation and actually engage in conversation about the topic while I spread mustard on a piece of wheat bread. As I reach in the refrigerator for the turkey meat, I receive a text from my husband, “How are you?” I type my response, “Great. How are you? On a call, let’s talk in 30.” As I hit the send button, I hear my name mentioned on the call. I make a comment about the topic. And then if on queue, my son runs into the kitchen followed by my barking dog. I hastily hit the mute button on my phone as a co-worker makes a crack about my living in the “Wild Kingdom.” I continue with the call, pack sandwiches into lunch bags and then start in on making breakfast. I cut up some fruit and scramble some eggs. The call ends. I yell out, “breakfast,” and the kids come running in. I take the headset off and sit down at the kitchen table. We discuss our plans for the day as we eat.

This might seem extreme but this doesn’t happen all the time. And I do set aside time every day to disconnect from my electronics. If I meet people face-to-face, I engage in a conversation without checking my phone ten times. Family dinners are mandatory and a time to reconnect. And unless I have an important project, I don’t check work email on the weekends. Yes, at times it is exhausting to be a multitasking addict, but without it, I wouldn’t be able to find that precious quality time with my family. And to be honest, that’s just how most of us moms roll, living and working in Silicon Valley.