If the electronic devices in Travis Cook’s childhood home were alive, they would have lived in perpetual fear of him. As a sharp-minded young boy, he was constantly pulling apart alarm clocks, radios, TVs, VCRs—even a BB gun—to examine their pieces.
“I wanted to know how things worked,” says Cook, a 1994 information systems graduate from the BYU Marriott School of Business. Sometimes, as in the case of the BB gun, these endeavors meant certain death for the device involved. After Cook took the gun apart, reassembling it proved too complicated, and the miscellaneous pieces were put away in a box, only to be thrown out later. Instead of scolding their son for dismantling devices, Cook’s parents invested in an Atari 800XL computer, laying the foundation for his future career in technology.
“I spent years on that computer figuring things out,” Cook recalls. “I learned how to program in BASIC and how to hack all my computer games." When it came time for Cook to head to college at BYU, choosing a major was a breeze. “I wanted something in business because it would provide a real-world skill set, but I also wanted to do tech. Information systems was the only tech program in the business school.”
Cook flew through his coding and business classes at BYU Marriott. Instead of taking a well-earned break after graduating, he attended his commencement and convocation on a Friday and started an MBA program at the University of Utah the next Tuesday.
When he graduated with his MBA two years later, Cook took a position as a manager of app development at Nu Skin. It was there that his inquisitive nature led him to notice a pattern. “After hiring outside companies to do development work for Nu Skin, I could see how inefficient the process was. The developers weren’t always giving us good code, and they weren’t always productive,” he recalls. “I thought I could do the process better.”
With that conviction in mind, Cook set out to start his own business: SolutionStream. He and his cofounder, Jason Thelin, wanted to create a company that would help other businesses meet their online needs through creating customized software. The business quickly began to thrive, and over the next 25 years, Cook and his team developed projects with FranklinCovey, Western Governors University, Extra Space Storage, Young Living Essential Oils, and many other companies.
In 2021, Cook sold his portion of SolutionStream. An avid golfer, mountain biker, skier, runner, and kiteboarder, he was ready to take some time off to enjoy his hobbies and spend time with family. However, much like right after his graduation, time off wasn’t in the cards.
When a friend called Cook to see if he would consider coming on as the president of his new company, Nerd United, Cook caught the vision of the business and gave a ready “yes.”
Life hasn’t slowed down a bit since then. As president of Nerd United, Cook has partnered with a friend, Tom Karren, to oversee the operations at a company that seeks to find real-life applications for blockchain technology. In a period of five months, he’s hired more than 150 developers to build the company’s online infrastructure.
“I love the challenge this job provides,” Cook explains. “I’ve been interested in blockchain technology for years now. It’s fun to finally be on the frontier’s edge, figuring things out. It goes all the way back to taking my alarm clock apart and seeing if I can put it back together.”
Although his career journey appears to have been effortlessly successful, Cook is quick to add a dash of reality. “Sometimes when I tell my story, it’s easy to feed the message that everyone’s excited about, which is that everything went great,” he says. “The reality is that there were hard times. I could spend an hour on all the fun and success, and another hour on all the hard times; those times are where I learned the best lessons. They are a necessary part of growth.”
For a boy who spent his early years breaking electronic household devices to see if he could rebuild them, the message fits nicely. Breaking things down and experiencing failure are often the first steps to creating something even better.
Writer: Zelle Harris