ClassPass was born in NYC. But they chose to grow their active lifestyle brand in Montana.
ClassPass was founded in 2013 as a revolutionary app that lets users find a great workout class wherever they are. After four years of building a brand centered on supporting an active lifestyle, it became clear having a headquarters among the high rises and traffic of Manhattan wasn’t a good fit. In 2017, they spent 9 months conducting an intensive nationwide search to find a new headquarters that matched their mission and values.
Quality of life and access to outdoor recreation took Missoula, Montana the top of a list of 900 other cities they considered.
Missoula had all of the potential, and none of the pretension, of major urban tech hubs.
In the quest for a new headquarters location, ClassPass was strategically looking for a place that’s not ‘overbaked’ “ - meaning they wanted to get away from a culture homogenized by the presence of global tech conglomerates that have been flowing out of Silicon Valley and consuming talent and neighborhoods in other cities.
In Missoula they experienced a healthy eco-system of locally founded tech companies that welcomed collaboration and intentional growth, instead of a walled-off culture of competition. Governor Bullock took a personal interest in their search for a Montana location early on, and went out of his way to make helpful introductions across the state. University of Montana President Seth Bodnar and Provost John Harber offered partnerships with the university so their students could be valuable additions to the ClassPass team. And local tech leaders like Michael FitzGerald, Founder of Submittable, stepped up to welcome them to town and offer opportunities for collaboration.
In other words, Montanans proved themselves to be the kind of neighbors you’d actually want nearby.
Brian Mitchell has helped recruit top-level talent in the world’s most competitive startup scenes. He's seen 3 major factors at play in helping ClassPass scale successfully to a team of 200 in Missoula.
1. The right place attracts the best people.
Missoula has also become a hub for computer engineering talent because of people intentionally choosing quality of life for themselves and their families. The local arts scene, schools, access to outdoor recreation, and community connections - that all adds up for people who could be anywhere. Brian and his team are using that attraction factor to their advantage in building a world-class team: “We fly talent in and roll out the red carpet and show them how they can be at Snowball in 20 minutes or Discovery in an hour. It’s a fantastic selling point to be able to offer as part of the interview process.”
2. Theres a difference between offering a ping-pong table and real work-life balance.
Brian summed it up perfectly when asked what separates Missoula from the high-tension urban markets he’s worked in: “You have tech companies around the country putting in ping-pong tables and pool tables to keep people happy and help them wind down during or after work. We don’t have to do that because people here can actually go outside and walk along the river or up Mount Sentinel.”
3. Company culture grows authentically when people have time to connect.
It’s hard to feel connected to the people you work with (and for) when you’re bolting to the door at the end of the day to avoid traffic. In SFO and NYC, Brian recalls getting up at 6am to get in the office by 9am, often not getting home before 8 or 9pm: “the last thing you want to do in a city is hang out with co-workers or grab a bite to eat because you have a slog of a commute ahead of you.”
In Missoula, most of the ClassPass team has a commute of a few minutes - giving them the time to grab a local brew after work and build trust and camaraderie throughout the organization.
All these factors may seem inconsequential on their own, but the end result is huge for ClassPass and other businesses growing global operations from Montana:
“From a building a company perspective, we have everything in Missoula that makes it easier to keep people motivated, engaged, and happy. When that’s taken care of we can focus on the more complex aspects of team building and company growth.”