When Neal Williams becomes frustrated by technology’s limitations, he invents new technology. “I’m always excited about new inventions, new developments in technology, and bringing them to market,” he says. “I’ve been in the software space, but I also follow other technologies.” Always thinking about what he might do next, he watches new fields such as robotics and 3D printing and imagines how advances could improve our lives.
Williams’ latest endeavor involves technology for Internet advertisers. It gathers statistics about people who have influence in social media such as blogs or YouTube videos. “Advertising dollars are moving away from television, cable television and radio and more toward the Internet, because that’s where a lot of the young people, and even some my age, are spending time—watching YouTube and checking their Facebook page rather than watching TV shows,” says Williams.
Williams’s company brokers deals to get an advertiser’s product reviewed by someone who has influence on the Internet. “Say an advertiser has a new health and fitness product, and they want to promote it. We’ll find some people who do blogs or have a YouTube channel where they talk about health and fitness products. We’ll get them to review the product. Our technology will identify the people we should work with, and it estimates the amount of exposure an advertiser will get and how many people will be influenced by it.”
Engodo, the company Williams founded to produce this technology, was acquired by a company in Los Angeles last year, but Williams and his team remained in Provo, working in what was originally the Hide & Fur Building across the street from the new UTA Commuter Rail Station. With original brick walls and wood floor, the immaculately renovated space has the feel of an urban loft.
Williams started his first company, Corda, in the late 1990s. At the time, he says, people were taking screen shots of Excel graphs and pasting them onto Web pages. Every month they’d repeat the process. Williams could see the enormous potential in a technology that would display live data. In his basement he started developing that technology and gradually built the enterprise into a company with around 80 employees that produced cutting-edge technology. After Corda was acquired and renamed Domo, Williams agreed to stay on for a few years to help with the transition. “I went into retirement for a while after that,” he says. “But I got bored and wanted to find something else to do, so that’s what I’m doing here.”
Originally from Arizona, Williams earned an associate degree at Eastern Arizona College, then transferred to Brigham Young University to get a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology. In Utah he met Domonique Harper, whom he married, and found a job as a software engineer at WordPerfect. The couple has five kids, three of their own and a niece and nephew they adopted. They love to go camping, and they love to go to the beach. “We’ll rent a beach house in North Carolina and invite my brother and his kids or my sister and her kids, hang out at the beach every day and just enjoy each other’s company,” says Williams. More than anything else, what he and Domonique have tried to instill in their kids is that they be kind, honest, hard-working people.
Domonique earned a degree in landscape architecture from Utah Valley University back when it was Utah Valley Community College, and currently the Williams’s oldest daughter is studying anthropology and criminology at UVU. Williams joined the UVU Foundation Board in 2013 and serves on the relatively new Student Venture Fund committee, which, through funding and mentorship, plans to help UVU student entrepreneurs turn promising ideas into technology startups.
With Silicon Slopes, Utah already has a reputation as a place for technology startups, says Williams. “It would be great if Utah could become even better at job creation and become more of a technology hub,” he says. One of the biggest problems facing technology companies today is finding talent, he says. They’re always struggling to find people who are trained and ready to contribute right out of college. So the more trained graduates UVU can produce, the easier it will be for companies to start up and grow quickly.
Williams says he was an introvert and a workaholic earlier in his career, but over time he has come to appreciate the value of relationships. He now takes the time to develop them. “For some people, that comes naturally,” he says. “But I’ve had to work at being more social, more approachable, trying to make connections with people. Thinking about and serving other people really adds a richness to life.”
Serving on the UVU Foundation Board has given Williams the opportunity to establish relationships with other board members and to work with them on issues that will benefit both students and the local economy. He’d like to see the board identifying the areas that will most improve the University and the community and then help make UVU successful in those areas. The performing and visual arts building is an example. “Once that’s done it will be a great addition for the community as well as the students. Being able to spearhead fundraising for that and help it come to pass is very fulfilling,” says Williams.
What wisdom would Williams pass on to the next generation of entrepreneurs? “Perhaps one of the most important things is persistence,” he says. “Especially in the early months and years of a company, it’s a roller coaster ride. You think you’re going to go bankrupt and lose everything one minute, then the next day you think you’re going to make it big and be able to hire 100 employees. Good things will happen and bad things will happen, and the hard part is staying consistent when things are getting rough, when everyone around you is saying it’s not going to work out and telling you to get out while you still have something left.”