Spotlight: John Richards, Godfather of Utah’s Startup Scene

  • By Nicole Conser
  • Published 1/19/2016

Utah’s Wasatch Front corridor — or “Silicon Slopes” as locals call it — is home to 86 of the fastest-growing companies in America. In fact, Entrepreneur magazine recently ranked Utah as the #4 state for starting a business and #1 for entrepreneurs. Why all this growth? According to the magazine, “Utah entrepreneurs love to pay it forward.”

One of those entrepreneurs is John Richards, who also happens to be an Able Backer for his son’s company, DevMountain. As soon as we realized the impact John has had on aspiring entrepreneurs and Utah’s entire startup ecosystem, we knew we had to share his story.

John + his son, Tyler (Able borrower + co-founder of DevMountain)

After getting a Chemistry degree from Brigham Young University in 1985, John returned to his hometown of Seattle to begin his business career at a small company named NTD Publishing, Inc. Moving from an entry level position to CEO and largest shareholder, John honed his managerial skills by wearing every hat imaginable in the company. He engineered several acquisitions and led the company to rapid growth, eventually selling it. He then co-founded Yellow Pages on the Internet, LLC, and led the company to an IPO at a multi-billion-dollar valuation, to be acquired by InfoSpace, Inc.

After these first stints in the world of entrepreneurship, John went on to mentor, advise and found dozens of companies and startups — eventually slowing down with his family in Provo, Utah to accept a teaching role at BYU. He spent over a decade teaching entrepreneurship, and helped bring BYU’s Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology to global prominence.

Today, John remains active as an entrepreneur and angel investor. He recently co-founded Startup Ignition, an entrepreneurship bootcamp, and BoomStartup, a mentorship-driven startup accelerator patterned after Y-Combinator and TechStars.

John at a Camp 4 meeting in Provo.

John was named Utah Mentor of the Year in 2010; Greatest Contribution to Entrepreneurs by UVEF in 2010; Teacher of the Year by the BYU Business Management Department in 2010; and was nominated for Utah Angel Investor of the Year for 2008-2010.

In 2013, his son Tyler co-founded DevMountain and asked him to be on the advisory board.

It really takes a different type of entrepreneur to manage and operate a multi-million dollar company. My father — and our whole advisory board — have been invaluable in helping us make that transition. —Tyler Richards

Q: How do you stay connected with — and continue to build — your network?

A: I stay involved by mentoring and helping entrepreneurs whenever possible. Eventually I got tired of going to one-on-one breakfasts and lunches and repeating the same advice over and over. There’s a common set of problems out there, which is why I started Startup Ignition.

Q: What books do you wish you’d read when you were first starting out?

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is nervous about asking a family member to help Back their company?

A: It really depends on the knowledge level of the family member. The entrepreneur needs to do a thorough job of educating the Backer to help them understand their business. With Able, friends and family can take comfort in the fact that other entities and people are validating the viability of the business. The collaborative nature of Able’s loan model helps a Backer say, “If Able and two other people are willing to lend this company money, that mitigates the risk of the deal.”

Q: Besides being a Backer, how involved are you with your son’s company, DevMountain?

A: I enjoy sharing my war stories and going the extra mile in giving them advice. After my son Tyler graduated, I invited him to hang around the BoomStartup program, to see if anything sparked from being around other entrepreneurs at the co-working space. That’s where he met Cahlan, who wound up co-founding DevMountain with him. Cahlan and their third co-founder, Colt, asked me to be on DevMountain’s advisory board.

Q: What was your experience like with Able?

A: I tend to like social validation and collaboration in lending and investing, and that’s why Able’s loan model was intriguing to me. Their modern software made the whole application process quick and easy, and the team bent over backwards for DevMountain to get funds when they needed them. It also didn’t hurt that the CEO at Slingshot raved about their Able loan at our board meeting. Like them, I was impressed by how nice, practical and accommodating everyone was throughout the Backer process. Right now, Able is an A+ for me.

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