Tech Companies Roll The Dice On Vegas

More tech start-ups are now considering the City of Lights as a destination to grow and prosper. i i

More tech start-ups are now considering the City of Lights as a destination to grow and prosper. aimintang/iStock Photo hide caption

itoggle caption aimintang/iStock Photo
More tech start-ups are now considering the City of Lights as a destination to grow and prosper.

More tech start-ups are now considering the City of Lights as a destination to grow and prosper.

aimintang/iStock Photo

There's a line in Elvis Presley's famous song, Viva Las Vegas: "All you need's a strong heart and a nerve of steel."

That may be true if you're there on vacation, burning money in casinos, and making your way back to the hotel on the strip in the wee hours of the morning. But if you're on the flipside — a resident of Las Vegas and its metropolitan area — chances are you'll need more.

Unemployment in Nevada is well above 13 percent — higher than the national average, which just dipped to 9 percent. The housing market is in shambles, as Sin City has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. But there are signs of hope.

There's a burgeoning tech revolution of sorts in Las Vegas, influenced by the start-up culture of Silicon Valley. And Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, appears to be playing a substantial role in starting it all.

Back in 2004, the online shoe and apparel store made the move from San Francisco to Henderson, a city located in the Vegas metro area. Hsieh has been working on a Downtown Project — an effort to revitalize Vegas with new stores to generate revenue and create jobs. Zappos plans to move its headquarters to Vegas' old city hall in 2013, which will house 1,000 workers. A new city hall will be built a few blocks away. He explains the vision in the video below.

So of all the places for a tech company to move, why Vegas? I recently spoke with Leo Rocco, the CEO of Pago, a mobile payment app and platform that lets customers order local goods and services from a smartphone. Rocco's company has also made the Silicon Valley-to-Vegas move, which he noted was a tough one. Yet it was crucial in figuring out the future of his product:

"Where do we go to prove out whether or not mobile payments is a viable option? Do we work with the small vendors in San Francisco or parts of Silicon Valley? Or are do we bat big and go to Las Vegas, where we have over 30 million people visit every year?"

Choosing the latter has paid off. Pago cut a deal with the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas and has since expanded to help many casinos and other companies, including Starbucks, speed-up the order and payment process. While cutting a few extra minutes from the time it takes to get a drink at a bar may not seem like a big deal, Rocco said local companies tell him it makes a difference.

"The feedback is, "Wow, I can make a lot more money. I can now sell seats faster. I can now communicate with my guests in real time. I can improve customer service. I can gain feedback in real time."

When I asked him about the future of the Vegas tech boom, Rocco said he's confident that the scene will thrive, especially with more college students in the area considering tech careers.

"There's a growing number of people at UNLV that are looking to go ahead and into tech. And we're seeing a lot less people finish out their degrees in hospitality, and now they're getting into tech, because they're able to go ahead and take their expertise in hospitality and apply it to technology for that particular area of business."

As Elvis sang, "Lady Luck, please let the dice stay hot / let me shout a seven with evry shot."

Vegas is looking for that lucky roll — and Rocco and others hope the tech industry will stay hot.

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