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The Montana Mogul: RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Jul 31st 2008

Greg is a serial entrepreneur and author of Bootstrapping Your Business. He was awarded the 2003 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His current company, RightNow, was founded in 1998, had an IPO in 2004, and has passed $100 million in revenue.

SM: To start, let’s talk about your background.

GG: I am an engineer. My undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering and my masters degree is in computer science. I attended school at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

SM: Can you give us some background on Brightwork?

GG: Brightwork was a company I co-founded to develop network management applications. It was founded in 1986 in a sun room in New Jersey. We developed tools which were focused on the Novell Network solutions, since they were the dominant player back then. Ultimately we sold the company to McAfee for about $10 million , hence the Montana retirement I was referring to earlier.

SM: The network market was chaotic at that time. How did you break through as a bootstrapped company?

GG: We had a good product for Novell Netware environments. Sales were terrible. We did not have a reputation so nobody would talk to us. We knew we had to leverage somebody else’s credibility to break into the market, we were just not sure how. Since Novell was the dominant player in the market, and our product focused on the Netware environment, we figured if we had their endorsement we could get a solid foothold. Since we did not know how to get their attention we decided to buy a 48-foot long billboard across from their corporate headquarters. Novell was headquartered in Provo, Utah, and billboards there didn’t cost too much. I think it cost $200 a month, including lights.

The billboard had eight-foot high letters which read “Don’t just network, Brightwork”. The very next day we received a phone call from the senior vice president of Communications at Novel asking for our PR department. My partner had answered the phone, so he put his hand over his phone and asked if I wanted to be the PR department. He passed the phone over and I picked it up and said “PR department”.

I then asked what prompted the call and the reply was “a billboard you have in front of our building. We are trying to figure out who you guys are”, to which I replied “Where are you located?” The answer, of course, was “Provo, Utah”. I said “you mean those marketing people put one in Provo, too?” We ended up flying out to meet with Novell and we left with a distribution deal. All of this occurred in just six weeks.

We shipped $100,000 of our product to them, which they put in their warehouses. Two months later they tried to return it; fortunately our contract did not allow them to do so. From that point on we were able to use the fact that Novell was distributing our product as a point of credibility when calling banks and larger corporations around the country. It gave us the start we were hoping for.

This segment is part 1 in the series : The Montana Mogul: RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte
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Sramana,

Excellent work with the interviews! The advise and the learnings from these entrepreneurs are extremely valuable. I appreciate all your effort in this regard.
Keep up the great work!

Thanks,
Naren

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