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May 29

The Intermountain West (Part II)

Posted by: Mark Solon        

A little while back, I wrote Part I, a tongue-in-cheek post on this region. People often ask me what I mean when I tell them that our firm’s investment focus is the area known as the “Intermountain West”. It was explained to me when I moved here 10 years ago that it is defined as the area from the Rockies on the east to the Cascades & the Sierra’s in the West.  All in all, a pretty remarkable piece of real estate. After spending the first 35 years of my life in New York, Chicago, San Francisco & Boston, it’s been tremendously gratifying to live and work in a part of the world where you can get lost in the great outdoors at the drop of a hat. Most of the places where we have portfolio companies allow you to get out of cell phone coverage in a hurry and I think that is completely overlooked when it comes to the productivity and culture of our company’s employees.

Look, I’m not here to bash Route 128 or 101. There’s a degree of intellectual capital and experience in those places that’s hard to replicate. However, there’s certainly something to be said for the quality of life that folks enjoy in our region and how that translates to the contributions they make at work. For instance, I spend a good deal of time trying to get to know the employees at our companies.  I’m not talking about lunch in the breakroom after a board meeting. I’ve skied, hiked, rafted, fly-fished, mountain & road biked and camped with folks that we’ve funded.  Over a decade of working and playing with the tech workers in our region, I’ve learned that employees here seem to love their jobs more than their peers in the bigger cities that I’ve lived. I’m not talking about “a little bit more” either. I’m talking about people who are happier, healthier and have better dispositions by a long shot. One of the areas where I see a real difference in this region is employee attrition. Folks don’t walk across the street to the next high tech company for a 10% raise. While it sounds glib, I believe people feel a greater sense of loyalty to their start-ups here.

Camping with Balihoo CEO Pete Gombert

Camping with Balihoo CEO Pete Gombert

Why? My theory is that people who live in this region do a better job of recharging their batteries than most other places and that translates into employees who bring a better attitude to work each day. For starters, the average commute of most of the employees in our portfolio companies is 5-15 minutes and many ride their bikes to work. The time not spent behind the windshield in traffic (battery draining) is often spent outdoors (battery charging). Taking this one step further, I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of these folks don’t just “get outside” a little more. It’s in their DNA. They live to hit the mountains and rivers and trails. Out here, cars aren’t status symbols, gear is. If you look at most garages around here, the car goes outside because there’s no room for it with all stuff. Bikes (mountain, road & cruisers), skis (alpine, nordic & now skate skis), kayaks, boats, fishing & camping gear, etc. At the end of the day, I think all of this makes a significant contribution to a start-up’s culture and energy.


15 Responses to “The Intermountain West (Part II)”

  1. avatar Phil says:

    Great post, Mark! I used to think my dream job would be to be in the Air Force and get paid to fly jets, but for me, that doesn't hold a candle to living in Idaho and working with exciting entrepreneurs and great partners!

  2. avatar Jess Flynn says:

    Well said Mark! Can't agree with you more. 10 years ago I couldn't imagine I'd be where I am doing what I do - I was bound for a big city! But now that I'm here I wouldn't be starting up and running a business anywhere else. Our employees charge their batteries daily and our work - and our clients - are better for it.

  3. avatar Jason D Barr says:

    Absolutley captures my feelings 100% about living in Idaho. I've not moved a couple of times for jobs that would have paid better simply because I love the lifestyle here. Well said!

  4. avatar slcaruso says:

    I completely agree….and my garage is a great example. No car, but lots of bikes and camping gear!

    • avatar Mark Solon says:

      No kidding, our garage is starting to look like the front yard of Sanford & Son as we add more gear each year. My truck has been relegated to the curb…

  5. avatar Jeff says:

    Great post. You make me miss home. I can't wait to move back someday and help build companies in Boise.

  6. avatar Jim Holland says:

    Great post Mark. After living "east of the Mississippi” for 20+ years, including D.C. and Boston, the "change in latitude" as Jimmy Buffett sings is a perfect connection. There are remarkably talented people in the region and lots of growth on the horizon. Let's keep Boise one of the best kept secrets. Now, where’s my camping gear?

  7. avatar Matt says:

    Solon you are talking word. Now if you would just stop pretending to be a Yankee fan i would believe you were fully liberated.

  8. avatar beanman says:


    I agree with you — the quality of life issue has a direct bearing on the person who is also an employee. Two points…

    One, I think it's not so much about gear-in-the-garage and the outdoorsiness we have out here; I think it's more that the social contract overrides the market contract naturally, as opposed to the other way 'round. Perhaps this isn't as wide spread as I think, but we certainly try to maintain the notion that everyone is a person first, an employee second. And, if you take that approach, then you prioritize the things that make you feel alive, or good, or whatever it is that spins up your tach. I'm probably a lousy excuse for a Utahn because I'm not an avid skier or hiker, but I do really enjoy watching my chickens peck around the yard and taking a motorcycle ride through a canyon. Others in our organization would rather spend the day reading fiction. So I think the battery-charging notion is right on, even though I'd argue that it's not so much how that happens but that the battery-charging is valued.

    Second, and I know I'm fighting a losing battle on this front, but I get my fur rubbed the wrong direction everytime I hear "human resources." Instant dehumanization. Blech. Every year or so I go on an all-hands rant over email about how language influences our thinking, so the continual use of 'resources' as 'people' eventually changes your mental representation of a person's value.

    Later, man.

    • avatar Mark Solon says:


      Your first point is spot on. I love your notion that here in the region, "everyone is a person first, and an employee second".

      Mea Culpa for thinking that everyone recharges their batteries the same way, of course they don't. This is why I love blogging, it's a cheap way to keep learning!

  9. […] I can already feel my friends and colleagues in places like Salt Lake City, Bozeman, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Denver, and of course Boise sticking pins in voodoo dolls with my likeness. Now I didn’t say that any of these towns aren’t vibrant and growing entrepreneurial communities. As most of you know, I think the Intermountain West is the best region in the country to start a company and I’ve blogged about this before. […]

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