Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Last week as I sat in the audience at Women Tech Council's Women Tech Awards, I felt so grateful to be there. You see, on Saturday, October 5th as I was making my way to The Gateway to watch Kanye West's Sunday Service event, by scooter no less, I had a bad accident. Taking the back route from my place, I was trying to avoid a car and hit a dip in the road and a pretty thick sidewalk ledge. I went face first towards the concrete and my chin hit hard. I broke my jaw in three places, with a chin laceration and a broken tooth.
So there I was in the Grand Ballroom at the Grand America Hotel, sitting, looking around and seeing familiar faces, I was overjoyed to be there. However, someone much more important than me was not there...
When they were announcing the Entrepreneurial Excellence award, which was going to Erin Valenti, we all looked around and there was no Erin to be found.
Most people thought Erin couldn't make it, I thought very differently. I never knew Erin that well, I met her a couple of times, but from what everyone always told me about her, her absence at the Women Tech Awards was beyond strange.
Later that day, that's when the first bit of information popped up that something was wrong.
Her husband, Harrison Weinstein, put a post up on Facebook that Erin was missing since Monday, October 7th. MISSING!
"I write this post with a lot of pain and fear, but can really use your help. My wife, Erin Valenti has been missing since Monday night. She was last seen in Palo Alto Monday afternoon wearing torn jeans and a white T-shirt. She was driving from Palo Alto to San Jose, but never returned her rental car or made it on to her flight home to Utah. Her phone has been off since Monday night. If you have seen or heard from her please let me know. She was last driving a gray Nissan Murano with CA plates: 8LUD641. Any information to her whereabouts is much appreciated and can be directed to me, her family, or the San Jose police department."
That is when everything changed. Our entire community jumped into action and started sharing Harrison's post. As more information came out, people continued to share the details.
For three days and nights, people continued sharing every bit of information and Erin's family went to San Jose to look for her. Finally, our local news stations were alerted to what was happening, as well as the local news stations where she went missing.
Then things changed again. On Saturday, October 12th news slowly leaked that Erin's body was found in her rental car.
And the whole Salt Lake Valley gasped for air...
One of our own was gone, just like that. None of us wanted it to be true, none of us.
You see, Erin was a force of nature. As a woman, tech CEO, business owner, friend, daughter, wife, and community colleague to all of us. She touched so many lives. She will be missed immensely.
Due to the tragic nature of this story, we at The W Collective wanted to make sure that Erin would be remembered as the positive, dynamic, force of nature she was. We have put together this tribute for her by many of the people that knew her well. Read on to learn more about Erin and what made her such a special person.
Erin Valenti had more than 15 years of cross-functional leadership expertise building and investing in disruptive technology companies. She is the Founder & CEO of Tinker, a product development agency and venture studio.
At Tinker, Erin managed a global team of 120 employees across their Salt Lake City and Lahore, Pakistan offices. Tinker has built over 700 products including mobile apps, SaaS applications, tech enabled marketplaces and consumer websites. She has worked for brands including Facebook, Skullcandy, LiveNation, Pearson, MetroPCS, and several emerging startups. Most recently, she was focused on developing software and product development training programs, rapidly scaling revenue and launching a web content series on innovation and creativity.
Prior to forming Tinker, she was the Head of Product Development for Overstock.com, where she oversaw a team of 250 engineers. She helped form Overstock’s internal corporate venture capital group, now Medici Ventures, by leading the first 5 investments in blockchain companies.
Earlier in her career, Erin was the founder and CEO of Skycrane, a work-for-hire marketplace, and Springboard Accelerator portfolio company. She worked as a venture capital investor at Summit Partners, a $20 billion fund. While there, Erin led direct investments in the communication and fintech sectors, she managed a team of associates and assisted with an IPO and two M&A transactions.
Erin was passionate about helping underdog entrepreneurs and was always thinking about what the next moonshot idea would be. She founded SLC Tech Startups, a professional networking group in Utah, where she actively organized events that provided the opportunity to learn, create and connect.
Erin earned a B.S. in Business Administration, summa cum laude, from Georgetown University where she majored in Finance and International Business. In Erin's free time, she enjoyed climbing rocks, descending canyons or chasing powder.
Tributes to Erin from our community
Erin was a force of positive energy that attracted the creative type and those who are profound. It’s likely because she was very open-minded and consistently positive about everything. I never saw her upset even during challenging moments. I bonded with Erin immediately because both of us moved from the Bay Area to Salt Lake, and we both worked to establish our companies within the Silicon Slopes community. I was fond of Erin because our corporate intentions were similar. We both wanted to propel companies by improving their shortcomings. Although our companies worked to incubate technology from different angles, we both had the same strategic intent and desirable outcome, which was to make our clients in a more stable and scalable situation.
Our community has taken the biggest loss without Erin, because of her as a very influential female technology CEO, there is now a gashing hole. Her education and sharp business sense, her sense of adventure and immersive quality really presented how strong women CEOs can be - especially in third world countries - and those positives shined so brightly upon Utah. Erin got out in public, and often in remote places, and made change happen for the good. This contribution will certainly be missed, and this quality of being a stand-up CEO is something that I will pay attention to, so I can keep Erin’s prerogative going.
Erin had an incredible energy and passion for her life’s work. I wish I could have gotten to know her better and had more time — we all do. She was one that you wanted to be around for her unique individuality, her ability to speak up powerfully, her brilliant mind, and for just being a positive influence who could easily make anyone smile. I will miss her smile, her brilliance, and her quirkiness, and regret we could not have had more time.
Erin was like a big sister to me. I looked up to and admired her for not only what she's accomplished, but her sense of confidence, willpower, and kindness. I was new to Utah and had a lot of self doubt in my journey, my career, my life. Erin encouraged and inspired me to be unapologetic and bold. While everyone else around me was telling me to "slow down" or "take a break", Erin reminded me to run hard and fast after my ambitions. Erin was more than a tech CEO, female entrepreneur, and leader. She was my friend, my role model, and my mentor. Her charisma brought life to a lackluster room, and today the room is a bit dimmer without her.
I didn’t know Erin very well but we’ve been a part of the same tech and entrepreneurship communities for the past few years. What I do know is that Erin was really passionate about causes that she believed in and she was someone who other women (including myself) in our community looked up to. That saying, “If you can see it, you can be it.” really comes into play here because knowing Erin and the success that she had built as a tech entrepreneur, gave each of us hope that that level of success could be possible.
Erin’s last text to me a week ago, “I’m figuring out what my superpowers are, Like.... the things that I do that very few people in the world can do like me. I can see things in the future like they are real, and like I now have the power to make the vision a reality. Which is nuts cuz that’s been Tinker's tagline this entire time.” Erin was far from perfect and that was my favorite part about her. She was 100% her all the time, everyday. She had a battery that was always fully charged. I have never met another male or female with as many crazy ideas and creative energy as Erin.
She was a gatherer and social butterfly. Her brain was sharper than most that walk the earth. Few were as successful and accomplished as Erin. She managed 100s of people with Tinker and built real products people use. She laughed and smiled constantly. She was often irreverent and it was her best quality. Love you Erin! We will celebrate your life each year by floating the Provo river in your name.