Interview with Joel Dehlin, CEO and founder, Kuali, Inc.
As an undergraduate student, he studied accounting—a curious beginning for an engineer. Joel’s first job out of college was as a coder with Arthur Anderson where he honed the coding skills he would need to move to his next employer, Microsoft.
Decades later, after working on projects like the Microsoft Pocket PC, a massive multiplayer computer game called Allegiance, and Microsoft Surface, co-authoring a book on programming, amassing 21 patents, managing the I.T. organization at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and serving in a variety of C-level roles at companies like O.C. Tanner and Instructure, Dehlin made the biggest jump of his career: starting Kuali.
Founded in 2014, Kuali focuses in on five education technology product categories: financials, research, curriculum and catalog management, build (no-code applications) and ready (business continuity). Kuali’s modular approach allows institutions to extend the life of their current systems without requiring large, “rip-and-replace” suite implementations.
After just five years at the helm, Dehlin has led the growth of Kuali to nearly 100 employees and built a company with a motivating culture that focuses on delighting and satisfying customers.
How did you get started in the industry?
I’ve been programming since I was 10 years old. My dad started me off with a Texas Instruments calculator which had a form of BASIC on it. Then I moved on to a TRS-80, and then an Apple II. Mostly, I just programmed games or hacked other people’s. As a teenager, I started working on VAX and mainframe machines. I didn’t think about programming as a career until I took a programming course in college and realized that I was already decent at it.
What top two recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
While working at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I managed the teams who brought a lot of innovation to the members of the Church. These technological advancements included: Mormon.org, LDS.org, LDS tools mobile app, Gospel Library mobile app, Missionary tablet app, online tithing, internet in buildings worldwide, worldwide Church satellite system and many more.
In four years at Kuali, we built a positive cash-flow Software-as-a-Service business with steadily growing Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR), high customer satisfaction and a company culture where people enjoy working.
What drew you to Utah?
I was raised in a small rice-farming town in Texas, but I ended up at Brigham Young University, and I married a woman from West Valley City.
What do you like most about living in Utah?
I live within an hour-and-a-half of nine of the best ski resorts in the world. I also live near both of my parents, my brother, and dozens of in-laws and extended family members. What more could you ask for in a state?
What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
Utah is very friendly to businesses and entrepreneurs. There are so many great tech companies to partner with right here in the state. As I spent time over the last couple of years raising money, I noticed how many investors from Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York, and other locations, are looking to invest in Utah specifically.
The talent in Utah is incredible. People are smart, thoughtful, hard-working and nice.
What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business, to Utah?
Don’t do it—I don’t want more competition for relatively inexpensive, highly capable, talent. (Just kidding!) Seriously, my advice is to consider Utah carefully. Utah is a great place to start a business for the reasons I listed above.
What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?
We are focused on hiring a diverse workforce, and that can be difficult in Utah. It’s great to have so many talented people to choose from, but it would be nice to have more people from diverse backgrounds.
What is your personal business philosophy?
Create an environment where employees feel a sense of purpose, have an opportunity for mastery and feel empowered. Focus on delighting customers; everything else seems to work itself out.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? I’m not familiar with that term. (Again, just kidding.) I love to play board games, snowboard, coach Ultimate Frisbee, and play instruments. I was in a rock band up until a couple of years ago, but something had to go.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I’m into Ultimate Frisbee. Last year, I coached the Utah state Under 17 boys team, and we took 6th in the country. We hope to take first this year. Also, this year, I joined the Utah Ultimate Disc Association board of directors, and we’re trying hard to reach more kids in Utah. There are over 40 high schools or middle schools that have Ultimate Frisbee teams. We hope to double that in the next few years.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
If you don’t know the answer, well, then I can’t help you.
Is there anything else you would like the reader to know about you?
Meet me on the slopes!