Justin Bigart grew up in Missoula, Montana, and studied finance and computer science at the University of Montana (UM). When he graduated from UM in 2000, he took a job working for a high profile tech firm in San Francisco and made the move to California. As he recalls, “it took about a month of being there to realize I wanted to be back in Montana.”
By 2002, he and his wife had made the move back to Montana, choosing to put down new roots in Bozeman.
When the couple were opening Sage Spa Living locations across Montana in 2002, they developed comprehensive employee training videos that were shipped to the various locations. When they did follow-up visits they found the DVDs being used to prop up wobbly tables, or collecting dust on a desk. A glance at front desk browser history showed that employees were spending most of their free online time on Facebook or YouTube. It became clear to Justin that online learning management systems (LMS) had to be more like social media in order to engage employees in training and continued education. So, he went to work developing the software program that would ultimately be the original Wisetail LMS product from his home office in Bozeman, Montana.
Six months after developing the original Wisetail LMS, Justin showed his program to another Bozeman-area tech firm founder - Andrew Field, CEO of PrintingForLess. Andrew was impressed. So impressed, in fact, that PrintingForLess became Justin’s first customer. That contract launched Wisetail as a company (and has now been in place as the firm’s training program for over six years).
Wisetail was officially incorporated in 2008. At that time, the company consisted of Justin and two other team members managing every aspect of the business from software development to sales. Today, Wisetail has 19 team members, 18 of which are headquartered in their new office building in downtown Bozeman. The majority of that growth has taken place in the past two years.
Perhaps more impressive than the company’s rapid growth over the past two years is the fact that they’ve accomplished it all without a single dollar of external capital investment. That, and the fact that they regularly compete against billion dollar tech firms in the highly competitive global LMS market - and win.
Justin believes Montana has played a key role in the company’s success - particularly in defining the company culture of service and relationships that clearly separates them from their competition. Consider this powerful “Invested in Our Home philosophy taken from their website:
“We love Montana. We love the mountains, the snow, the rivers, and the hard-working Montana work ethic. Beyond loving our home, we respect it’s powerful rejuvenating quality. We work hard and escape to to the far reaches of our states to replenish our reserves. Actually, we feel like our location is a competitive advantage against our software brethren in hectic places like Silicon Valley. Finally, we’re invested in our home– our philanthropic efforts are centered around building strong Montana communities and we want grow our company here to bring more jobs and success to Bozeman. Because as Wisetail wins, Montana wins.”
Justin takes that guiding philosophy to heart, and continually looks for ways for the Wisetail team to play together and grow together. He’s also making significant investments in Montana through the Wisetail Works program, including a recent donation of Wisetail LMS software to the fledgling Montana Code School. As the company grows, Justin is looking for new ways to engage with Montana State University students, and will continue looking to add new team members drawn from the Montana talent pool.
For Justin, these investments in community and local talent reflect not only his love for the place he’s proud to call home, but his honest belief that place matters when you’re growing a successful business. And, as places go, Montana offers the best of everything.
“I’m 100% a proponent of developing your business in Montana. We have everything we need here from a business perspective…Our goal is to redefine what it means to work with an enterprise software company by creating great relationships with our customers. Redefining that interaction ties directly into the happy, healthy people we have here in Montana.”