Ridiculous dreams, obsessive execution: Peter Horan’s lessons for Southern Utah

ST. GEORGE — Peter Horan, digital media investor and consultant, was the keynote luncheon speaker at the “What’s Up Down South” conference Thursday. Horton addressed a packed ballroom and spoke on the factors that make for a successful technology environment. Horan is the founder of Horan MediaTech Advisors.

A frequent visitor to Southern Utah, Horan spoke about his experience watching Silicon Valley transform from a largely agricultural area to the technology hub of the world.

Peter Horan speaks at the "What's Up Down South" conference in St. George, Utah on Jan. 14, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News
Peter Horan speaks at the “What’s Up Down South” conference in St. George, Utah on Jan. 14, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

Tim Anderson, managing attorney for the law office of Jones-Waldo, introduced Horan to those in attendance.

Horan has been at the forefront of five major technological changes, Anderson said: home video games, cell phones, computers, Windows computing and the Internet.

Horan began his speech by pointing out that the world’s largest taxi company (Uber) owns no taxies, the largest accommodation provider (Airbnb) owns no real estate, the largest phone messaging company (Wechat) owns no phones, the world’s most valuable retailer (Alibaba) has no inventory, the most popular media owner (Facebook) creates no content and the world’s largest movie house (Netflix) owns no movies.

The Santa Clara area (where Silicon Valley is located) was once known as the “Valley of Hearts Delight.” The spot where the Apple headquarters is currently located was once the site of a feed store, Horan said. It takes vision to see something that isn’t there, he said.

The people who make the monumental changes on the North American continent are primarily “exiles, outcasts, dreamers, second sons and chancers,” Horan said.

Bringing high-technology businesses to the area requires having a vision and getting others to share the vision and build excitement around it.

“If you want somebody to move their business to St. George … if you’ve got a vision of what it’ll be like when they get here, but they can’t see that same thing, and so part of the art form is getting them to be as excited as you are … and building that bridge between here and that next phase of growth,” Horan said.

The history of Silicon Valley is populated with misfits, curmudgeons and those “who don’t play well with others,” Horan said. He spoke about such luminaries as Nobel Prize-winning physicist William Shockley; the “Traitorous 8” who left Shockley to form their own semiconductor company; Arthur Rock, who would go on to fund Intel, Apple and Teledyne after initially enduring 41 rejections following his first attempt at funding; Brian Acton, the founder of Whatsapp, who was turned down by Facebook and Twitter but later sold the app for $18 billion; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

All of these men, Horan said, had visions that others thought ludicrous or impossible.

“They don’t have a lot of polished edges,” Horan said of the outliers who drove the technological revolution. “They may not care about your roses, they may not want to sing in the church choir, but it’s the folks who have that sort of drive to succeed that create something new, they’re actually the ones who do great things.”

In this April 29, 2015, file photo, a Dell laptop computer running Windows 10 is on display at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco. Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system debuts Wednesday, July 29, 2015, as the longtime leader in PC software struggles to carve out a new role in a world where people increasingly rely on smartphones, tablets and information stored online. Location not given, April 29, 2015 | AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File; photo extended and left and right ends for sizing; St. George News
In this April 29, 2015, file photo, a Dell laptop computer running Windows 10 is on display at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco, April 29, 2015 | AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, St. George News

Steve Jobs was the perfect example of someone who embodied those principles. Most of his products were dismissed as unnecessary or destined to fail. But Jobs stuck to his visions, Horan said. The iPod was actually the 30th MP3 player to hit the market, but ultimately was the most successful.

During a short question-and-answer session, Horan was asked what kind of mindset the local leaders in business and government needed to adopt to attract technology companies to the area.

“It’s finding the first business that’ll be the anchor,” Horan said.

A perfect example comes from down the road in Las Vegas, he said. Normally Las Vegas is not associated with being a hub of technology, but Tony Hsieh founded Zappos — the online clothing and footwear retail giant — in Las Vegas and has used the positive publicity to lure new businesses to the city.

“Now he’s revitalizing downtown Las Vegas,” Horan said. “And Vegas is a tough sell.”

Another participant asked Horan what advice he gives to CEOs of companies to bolster their courage in the difficult business environment.

If you’re going to be a CEO, you’ve got to be able to make the hard choices, ruthlessly oversimplify and sleep at night,” Horan said. “Because if you’re going to agonize and you can’t sleep when you have a stomach ache, you really don’t have business being a CEO. Guys that do this well … you make a decision, you live it out. It might be right, it might be wrong but you just keep going.”

After the speech, Horan said that he saw parallels between the growth of Silicon Valley and changes he has witnessed in the Washington County area.

“I had a chance to live through most of the change in Silicon Valley where it went from being an agricultural area to the center of technology. I see much of that same potential here in Utah, the ability to attract, spark entrepreneurial people and build very successful businesses,” Horan said.

For Southern Utah to experience some of the technological growth and success other cities such as Seattle (Microsoft), Austin (Dell) and Salt Lake City (Novell, Word Perfect) have achieved, it is important to have an initial “anchor” that draws in other businesses and creates a virtual circle of growth, wealth creation, re-investment and spinning off startups, Horan said.

“For St. George and Southern Utah, the challenge is going to be getting that first company or two to move here, move a headquarters here, bring engineers, product, people, executives in and start the cycle,” Horan said.

“That’s how you prime the pump,” Horan said. “You get that first one or two successful companies and just really grow that and use that as a foundation.”

Washington City Mayor Ken Nielson came away impressed by Horan’s speech.

“I thought it was an outstanding talk,” Nielson said, “He brought up points that I personally never thought about. When we are looking to attract business from other areas to come into our area, we always think … we’ve got Zion, all the red rock, we’ve got all these golf courses. In reality, we need to re-think how we approach … and people that actually want to bring a business in, we need to make that attractive to them for the reason that they can become profitable.”

It isn’t enough that prospective businesspeople can go for a pleasant bike ride, Nielson said, although that is a bonus.

“I’m going to refocus and rethink how Washington City is going to go out marketing to businesses,” Nielson said.

While Southern Utah has great potential to become a technology hot-spot, it still has work to do, Nielson said.

“I don’t think it’s just going to come to us,” Nielson said. “I think we, like any other metropolitan area that’s seeking to have that type of opportunity in our area, we got to go get it. We’ve got make us an attractive area to have them come and relocate. I think we need to go get it.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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