Vast’s John Price Talks About the Evolution of Austin’s Technology Industry on Ideas to Invoices

John Price, CEO of Vast, courtesy photo.

John Price went to the University of Texas in the early 1980s before there was a tech scene in Austin.

He left for a job at Shell and ended up in Silicon Valley. But he always wanted to return. Price spoke about the evolution of Austin’s technology industry with Silicon Hills News for its Ideas to Invoices podcast last week.

He remembers thinking “I want to get back here someday and be in a software company on the river.”

And in 1990, he joined Joe Liemandt, CEO and Co-Founder of Trilogy, a business software company, in relocating the company to Austin. There wasn’t a tech scene here at that time.

“There was almost nothing in software,” he said. “It was mostly semiconductor and hardware.”

By 1994, Liemandt and Price had grown the company’s revenues but they weren’t able to recruit talent to Austin. Liemandt thought the problem might drive the company out of business. He made Price, who was the vice president of marketing at the time shift focus and become the vice president of recruiting. Price traveled around the country working to recruit the best and brightest young engineers graduating from the top tech schools. They started Trilogy University, which brought 1,000 new graduates into Austin.

Today, the alumni network from Trilogy occupy top positions in some of Austin’s most innovative companies like WP Engine, Square Root, BazaarVoice, Capital Factory and Vast.

“We had a bunch of amazing people, “ Price said.

Price doesn’t see Austin evolving into the next Silicon Valley.

“I’m the contrarian to all that noise,” Price said. “I don’t believe Austin’s goal should be to be the next Silicon Valley.”

Austin should be building more bridges to San Francisco, but not try to be the next Silicon Valley, Price said. Austin never can be San Francisco on the basis of the sheer investment capital alone.

Austin’s secret sauce is its music scene combined with the creative tech industry and media.

“Austin has more to offer than just a booming tech scene,” Price said.

Look at the growth of South by Southwest to understand Austin’s global appeal, Price said. It is an organic movement that appeals to a creative audience, he said. SXSW defines Austin, he said.

“We are the tech, media, music and film city,” he said…”No one does it all better than Austin and that’s why we are all here.”

Today, Price leads Vast, which makes search and analytics tools for homes and autos. He brought the company, founded in 2005 in Silicon Valley, to Austin in 2011. Vast is a technology platform that uses artificial intelligence, algorithms, big data and analytics to match buyers and sellers in the automotive and real estate markets. Its two main products are CarStory and HomeStory.

Vast now is the key tenant in LZR, the former La Zona Rosa music venue in downtown Austin. Vast is a creating an inviting place for its employees to come to work, Price said. It’s also running an events business which will include live music performances, he said. Its first private venue client, Apple, rented out the facility for SXSW and brought in the Chainsmokers, Lana Del Rey and other bands and artists.

Also, March Capital Partners, a venture capital firm based in California, recently opened an office in the same building, according to the Austin American Statesman. March Capital Partners is also an investor in Vast.

Price also sees the entire workforce changing and employees are becoming more like free agents that need to take ownership of their careers. Employees should be paid above market and they should be given opportunities to do amazing things at their company, Price said. Tech companies need to work closely with UT to give students opportunities. At Vast, UT interns are creating a pop-up car lot this summer powered by Vast software, Price said.

Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT, and Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory and instructor at Longhorn Startup, are doing outreach efforts to the local tech community, Price said. But there needs to be more collaboration, he said.

With Austin Ventures gone, Austin funding is broken, Price said. Austin needs more California venture capital firms opening offices here, Price said. March Capital is doing that and others need to follow, Price said.

It’s a bit of a chicken and an egg problem, Price said. There aren’t enough great companies here to attract capital, he said.

“Money follows great companies,” he said.

Austin has not had a lot of great companies that were started here, Price said. Dell is one, he said. But Austin needs more, he said.

For more, listen to the full Ideas to Invoices Podcast.

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