Photo illustration: Nicolas Ortega; Photography: David Walter Banks

How Mormons Built the Next Silicon Valley While No One Was Looking

Welcome to the world of billion-dollar startups, ex-missionary CEOs, and a big diversity problem

Adam Bluestein
Published in
23 min readJan 15, 2020

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EEric Rea is wearing a dark-blue shirt buttoned to the neck, stretchy olive pants, black sneakers, and an Apple watch. With a mountain bike propped against his desk and crystal-blue eyes, the 34-year-old CEO of Lehi, Utah–based startup Podium is both physically fit and disarmingly gracious. He is also a Mormon who, between his freshman and sophomore years of college, went on a two-year mission to Madrid, Spain. Raised in Calgary, Alberta, Rea didn’t speak Spanish when he arrived, but that was the least of his problems. “Trying to get the Spaniards to sign up for Mormonism was a tough sell,” he says. “It turns out Catholicism is pretty strong there. You get a lot of rejection.”

Relentless rejection wasn’t exactly bad training for life as an aspiring entrepreneur. Neither was attending Brigham Young University. While many ambitious high schoolers might fantasize about getting into Stanford en route to crushing it in Silicon Valley, young Mormons all over the country have a different dream: to make it into BYU.

Dead last in party-school rankings, BYU expects students to adhere to a strict honor code that prohibits not just…

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Adam Bluestein
Marker

I write about business, science, and things that people do for fun. Work published in Fast Company, Inc., Men’s Journal, Proto, Marker. Vermonter by choice.