The CEO of billion-dollar startup Qualtrics promised to pay an employee $100,000 for playing an Aerosmith song

Qualtrics Ryan SmithBusiness Insider/Julie BortQualtrics Ryan Smith

Tech conferences these days almost always include a private concert from some big name musician.

Qualtrics, the Provo, Utah, survey startup valued at a billion dollars, held a private concert by Steven Tyler, frontman of Aerosmith, for the 2,000 people attending its show this week.

During the concert something funny happened. A flustered Ryan Smith, the CEO of the company, stood on stage and promised to pay one of his employees $100,000 for successfully playing one of Steven Tyler’s songs on a guitar that Tyler had given to Smith.

It all came about because of charity.

Qualtrics has now grown big enough to start donating some huge sums to charitable causes, including a million dollar donation to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which CEO Ryan Smith and his brother (and COO) Jared Smith credit with saving their dad’s life. (Qualtrics has also launched the Five for the Fight, a challenge asking everyone to donate $5 to cancer research.)

While privately held Qualtrics doesn’t reveal its revenues, Jared Smith did tell attendees that Qualtrics, which offers survey and research cloud computing software, is now a “multi-billion company.”

So Qualtrics also donated an unknown sum to Tyler’s new foundation, Janie’s Fund, to combat child abuse.  (This is another Qualtrics cause. At the conference, two speakers discussed how they are using Qualtrics survey research software to combat child abuse, including Dr. Dyann Daley at Cook Children’s Hospital and the University of Oregon’s Dr. Jennifer Freyd.)

 Tyler was so grateful for the donation that he presented Smith with one of his guitars onstage.

Smith doesn’t play the guitar, he said. (He’s a golf fanatic.) But he said that he would bring the guitar to the office and let his guitar-playing employees enjoy it.

Tyler said he would come to the office for a jam session (the office apparently has a music room) and somehow there was a mention of a contest for the employee that played one of Tyler’s songs the best.

Tyler asked what the prize would be.

Smith was stumped, hemmed for a mintue and when Tyler pressed him, and having given away a lot of money in the past couple of days, he blurted out. “$100,000.”

The audience gasped. Tyler repeated the commitment, saying “Hear that? The employee that wins will get cha-ching.” (He dropped an f-bomb or two, in there, too.)

I was sitting among Qualtrics executives while Smith was on stage, and they all looked shocked and shook their heads. None of them thought it was a good idea to give an employee $100,000 just for playing a song. Some said that it wouldn’t happen. Others said that Smith made a promise, so it’s going to happen.

And one fast-thinking exec on the marketing team had already figured out an out for Smith. He turned to me and said, “We’ll find a way to modify that. We could always give the employee one of those $100,000 candy bars.

We predict that guitar-playing Qualtrics employees will be eating some candy bars when Tyler comes to jam.

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