Greg Gianforte – Founder of RightNow Technologies

[quote style=”boxed”]Focus earlier on growing our own leaders internally.[/quote]

Greg Gianforte and his wife Susan have called Bozeman home since 1995. He is a serial software entrepreneur and active mentor of Montana entrepreneurs.

Mr. Gianforte founded RightNow, in Bozeman in 1997. The company grew to more than 1,100 employees worldwide and more than $225 million in annual revenue. RightNow was the largest commercial employer in Bozeman and the only publically traded technology company headquartered in Montana. He took RightNow public in 2004. In 2011, he sold RightNow to Oracle for over $1.8 billion.

RightNow was his fifth software startup.

Mr. Gianforte is involved in a number of philanthropic endeavors, through the Gianforte Family Foundation which he and his wife founded, including Bootstrap Montana, a micro-loan program designed to assist rural entrepreneurs with zero-interest loans in Montana and the expansion of ACE Scholarships into Montana which provide $2,000 per year scholarships to low and moderate income families in Montana to send their kids to private schools of their choice.

Mr. Gianforte serves on a number of non-profit boards including being Chairman of Petra Academy in Bozeman, the Milton Friedman Foundation, the Association of Classical Christian Schools and the ACE Scholarships Board in Denver.

Mr. Gianforte earned his B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering and M.S. degree in Computer Science from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1983.

Where did the idea for RightNow come from?

Three primary factors:

First, disruption creates opportunity for innovation. The desire to grow a large software business required reinventing a business process that was being disrupted. The Internet was empowering consumers and disrupting the power balance between consumer companies and their customers.

Secondly, traditional software was going to be disrupted by Cloud delivery because Cloud eliminated 80% of enterprise software ownership costs and delivered value five times faster.

Thirdly, I was a software guy.

So the original Business plan was “Internet Software for Customer Experience delivered in the Cloud”.

What is your business model?

We sold directly to large consumer businesses a subscription to our software service. Our customers were organizations like Travelocity, Nike, Nikon, Motorola, Electronic Arts and about 2,000 others. We saved them a lot of money and they paid us a portion of those savings in the form of subscription fees. A typically transaction was about $350K and a typical customer placed 6 – 8 such transaction with us every three years. Our largest customers spent tens of millions of dollars with us.

What does your typical day look like?

Prior to selling the business to Oracle, I spent my time visiting customers, deal with Wall Street and working to preserve our culture. I averaged about 200 individual customer visits each year. It was a great leaning experience. We were publically traded, so I had to deal with Wall Street analysts, but my most important work was in leading strategic planning and preserving our culture. Every new employee anywhere in the world was flown to Bozeman for on-boarding – we called it boot camp. I spent a couple of hours with each monthly class talking about h type of culture we wanted and then I had each new employee class to my home for dinner. It was personal.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Hiring well, helping them see the noble purpose in their work, giving them clear direction and then getting out of the way.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The increasingly universal recognition that we need to do a better job educating our young people.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Calling a customer when we had not fulfilled a commitment. The lesson learned was that a prompt, honest apology delivered along with a concrete plan to make it right goes a long way to getting thtrolly back on the track.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Focus earlier on growing our own leaders internally.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Spend time with your customers.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Thinking big. We ran planning sessions to develop our operating plans. After we hashed out our plans we always asked ourselves why our goals were not twice as big as we had just decided for the following period. Often we had reasons, but when they examined in the clear light day, we could find ways to remove some of those obstacles. In the early days this examination allowed us to double revenue and the number of employees every 90 days for 2 ½ years with no external capital.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Learning how to hire well. Early on the “experts” told me to hire experience, but I learned that culture is more important. Someone with experience but no cultural fit will break glass until they get fired or quit. Once we started hiring for cultural fit and raw talent, rather than direct experience, we had a much higher performing organization.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Ideas are the easy part, execution is the hard part. I would suggest you select a target set of customers and go spend a bunch of time with them. The idea will come. Then don’t go build it; find a way to go ask for orders and find out is people will purchase your idea for a price that allows you to make money. When I started RightNow I made 400 phone calls that first month, but knew exactly what people wanted. Then I built the first feature and was selling 60 days later.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I love to hunt and fish. I was always jealous of my dentist, who took Fridays off. Now I hunt or fish or climb a mountain at least one day per week.

Also, I never worked weekends and was always home for dinner by 6PM is I was not traveling in business. You don’t have to sacrifice your family or life to have a successful business.

What are your three favorite online tools, software or resources and what do you love about them?

Email – the best productivity tool ever for allowing you to pursue many conversations simultaneously.

Google maps – I love knowing where I am and my environs.

My paper daytimer – I know it is not an online tool, but I tried to switch and nothing reboots as fast at my daytimer. It also give me 30% more time each day and insures I get my most important tasks completed..

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

That’s hard. I read three to four books a month and learn from each of them. Some of the most influential ones were

Tipping Point – teaches about how marketing is done today using influencers.

Bottom Up Marketing – Start with a tactic and build a strategy around it.

Sun Tzu – competitive strategy.

Good to Great – best practices for business leaders. Awesome. I find myself referring to and using the content of this one more than any other.

List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?

Winston Churchill said “Successful people go from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm” – that is the heart of entrepreneurship. His book on management styles was very helpful as well. Undaunted and courageous would best describe him.

Milton Friedman said “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” His understanding of free market dynamics has huge implications today. Read “Free to Choose” and then “Freedom and Capitalism”

I have to list Jim Collins again. The incredibly insightful statistical and qualitative research he did over 10 years in Good to Great has profoundly changed my approach to leadership.

What did you have for breakfast today?

I bowl of cereal with fresh raspberries and 1% milk.


Greg Gianforte on LinkedIn: