It has been over 10 years since the four young men who created Summit Series, a super-exclusive ideas and wellness conference, announced that they had bought a fading Utah ski mountain for $40 million to build a utopian community peopled with Silicon Valley’s top tier.
Back in 2013, there was a flurry of breathless national media coverage featuring Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz and the vision they articulated: a bustling, beautifully designed, eco-friendly community for socially-conscious entrepreneurs and celebrities intent upon solving the world’s big problems—with farm-to-table cuisine, the freshest of fresh powder for skiing, and panoramic sunsets.
There was also some well-founded mockery from the media:
- “4 Young Founders Just Bought a $40 Million Mountain to Party On,” Business Insiderreported.
- The Financial Times called it “Davos for Dudes.”
- “Pricks on a Slope” is what ValleyWag blog went with.
As Lila writes: “Today the sparsely populated resort consists of a few dozen new homes and the Skylodge, a yurtlike clubhouse. Some 90% of the promised 500 houses have yet to be built. Many lots remain empty or are in a state of unfinished construction. Water and sewer lines have been laid down, but the plans for next-generation wastewater recycling and greenhouses have been shelved. There are no hotels, restaurants, or shops, let alone a brain lab. The new urbanist village now only exists in the architect’s renderings.”
So, why are we featuring this story of ultimate dereliction? Because unfortunately, the story is a familiar one: A group of young men with an audacious “moonshot” project raised tens of millions of dollars. Then it never got off the ground. In this case, they were stymied by various unglamorous realities: embarrassing legal complications over a $140 million loan agreement with a group of Chinese investors seeking green cards; opposition from the local Mormon community who complain that the newcomers are corrupting their youth; and the myriad challenges of planning and executing a $1 billion infrastructure and real estate project at 9,000 feet.
Add to that the developers’ inexperience and organizational dysfunction, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that the project failed. Can we fault their unwavering ambition? Not necessarily. What is most surprising to a lot of people, in retrospect, is how willing and eager investors were to back a project that never made a whole lot of sense.
But unfortunately, we weren’t all that shocked. We still see it far too often. An investor is provided access to an investment opportunity in a logical, solid, strong returning, real estate project being developed and backed by a team of lifelong veterans with incredible track records, yet they still opt to go with the shiny new object because it sounds sexier. Typically discovering once again that “Not all that glitters is gold.” Or perhaps my favorite, “All hat, no cattle.”
As Lila of Fortune writes, “this partially built-out, mostly stalled ski resort feels almost too on-the-nose as a metaphor—and as a cautionary tale. It’s a 9,000-foot monument to the excessive vanity and pride of Silicon Valley’s big ideas.”
In other words, they often have so much unfounded self-confidence and arrogance surrounding their ideas and abilities that they basically scoff at the idea of others holding them accountable; or God forbid questioning them.
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