Successful Montana entrepreneur pushes to increase number of Montana success stories
The founder of a Montana success story said Wednesday that creating and building his business - which he sold in 2012 for $1.8 billion - took hard work and overcoming obstacles, but it can happen again.
Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies of Bozeman, said he is working to help Montanans keep business - and workers - in the state and create more successful companies.
"The theory is we can do this again ... ," Gianforte said during his keynote speech at the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Reaserch's 39th Annual Economic Outlook Seminar in Havre. "I am dedicating my life to Montana to change the wage scale."
Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies in 1997 in a spare bedroom of his Bozeman residence. By the time he sold it to Oracle in 2012, it employed 1,100 people worldwide - mostly in Bozeman and mostly graduates of the Montana University System - who earned an average $86,000 a year.
Gianforte said he wants that to happen again and again and has started several programs to help with that.
His focus is on technology and technology manufacturing, which he said can be done anywhere - modern technology removes the barrier of geography. Any Montana community can have a success story like his, he said.
One of the biggest obstacles, he said, is finding Montanans able to do the job. Gianforte said for every position his company offered, he would have to turn away 99 of 100 applicants. They were underqualified, he said.
He recruited alumni of MUS from around the world to come work for his company - part of which required paying high wages. When he started the business and payed what he called "Montana wages," he could not attract and keep workers, Gianforte said.
Because he marketed his products and services worldwide, RightNow Technologies' income allowed him to pay the higher wages, Gianforte said.
One of Gianforte's efforts is to increase the number of students graduating with degrees in computer science. He said of all the students graduating from the Montana University System last year, only 40 acquired degrees in computer science.
He said businesses in the state right now could absorb 400 computer science graduates.
"We can do better. Now we have a target to shoot for," Gianforte said.
One of his efforts is codemontana.org - a free online course in computer coding, available to any Montana public, private or homeschool student. Gianforte said he already has seen success, with about 1,100 Montana students using the curriculum as of a week ago, a goal to see 5,000 using it by 2015 and students already telling him they have decided to major in computer science.
The Gianfortes also helped fund the first delivery of a course, "The Joy and Beauty of Computing," developed by Montana State University, to Bozeman High School. The website http://bettermontanajobs.com/ says they hope it will be made available statewide.
Another effort is in educational choice. Gianforte helped bring to Montana the Alliance for Choice in Education scholarship program, a need-based program to provide scholarships to private schools, including St. Jude Thaddeus School in Havre. The foundation created by Gianforte and his wife, Susan, contributed $4.6 million in ACE's startup in Montana.
He also provides help for people wanting to start or expand businesses, with microloans, seminars and personal advise intended to help people create and succeed in their own business.
His loan program, available online at http://www.bootstrapmontana.com/, is provided in conjunction with the Montana State University Business School.
Online: Greg Gianforte's Better Montana Jobs website: http://bettermontanajobs.com/