All Businesses Have to Start Somewhere

Friday Dec. 2nd, 2011

You’d be surprised where some of the largest companies in the world started their businesses. Companies including Microsoft and Hewlett Packard bootstrapped and started out of their homes. So have many of the successful companies based in Bozeman. There is nothing wrong with starting in your spare bedroom, garage, or living room. Anyone with an idea, hard work ethic, and passion can start and grow a business. In this article I’ll share brief start up stories about Bozeman companies including Autopilot, Ink Outside the Box, and RightNow Technologies.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to interview local entrepreneurs about their start up stories. The first particular story I’d like to share is from Matt McCune, the owner of Autopilot in Bozeman. Autopilot is a product development, design, and manufacturing company that started in the living room of Matt’s house on south Sourdough Road. At the time, Matt had been working for a company and decided it was time to take the leap and start his own business. He took the few thousand dollars that he’d saved and went to Costco to buy a computer. Next, he purchased CAD software and a desk to set up shop in the living room. Before long, Matt brought on his first employee to help out with the bookwork. Next, he got his first CNC milling machine to operate out of his garage. In a short time Matt had eight employees showing up to his garage everyday at his house on Sourdough. Cars and pickups were parked all over and he was not so sure his neighborhood was pleased with the extra traffic and parked vehicles in the area. Autopilot was soon doing work for very large companies throughout the US and had a billion dollar company fly in to meet with him about intellectual property. Little did the company know, they were flying in to meet about their business at a picnic table on Matt’s porch in south Bozeman. Soon after, Autopilot bit the bullet and moved out of Matt’s home and into a shop in Bozeman. They now help businesses and inventors from all over the country.

No matter how many start up stories I hear, they never get old. Another comes from Justin Lind who owns a large format printing company named Ink Outside the Box. Ink Outside makes all sorts of banners, signs, and cool promotional items. Justin had worked in the printing industry and decided he was ready to start his own printing business. He saw an ad in a printing industry magazine for used printing equipment and decided to get in his truck and buy it. The equipment was located in Canada and he had a long drive ahead of him. On his way through Minnesota he met with a person in the printing industry who said he knew of a friend looking to sell his equipment in Oregon. The equipment in Oregon was a better deal, so Justin drove back across the country and bought the equipment. He started printing out of his one stall garage. Justin remembers trying to impress one of his first clients by having the quickest turnaround time known on earth. He was up printing until 4am that night to get the job done. The customer was very pleased and still does business with Ink Outside today. In about three months Justin moved out of his garage and into a warehouse on the east size of Bozeman. They have since outgrown the warehouse and moved into a larger building and are growing the company with an impressive client base.

Another fun startup story comes from the founder of Bozeman based RightNow Technologies. RightNow Technologies is a software company that helps organizations deliver exceptional customer service over the internet. Greg Gianforte bootstrapped when starting RightNow Technologies by starting out in a spare bedroom of his house. In 1997 Greg saw the effect the Internet was having on businesses and how companies were spending much more time and money to answer emails answering questions from customers. So Greg made 400 calls to different companies and found that the majority of them had the same problems with handling emails. After his research, Greg decided there had to be a more efficient and effective method for handling these emails. He essentially locked himself in the bedroom and wrote code for the next sixty days. The software he wrote would go on to save companies millions of dollars by providing other ways for website visitors to find the answers to their questions. By June of 1997 he had his first paying customer and in March of 1998 Greg had 40 paying customers. The rest is history. Greg built the company with the help of hundreds of Bozemanites and has clients from all over the world. RightNow was recently bought by Oracle for 1.5 billion dollars. Not bad for starting out of a spare bedroom. Greg is a very down to earth and great person who has given back so much to the community. He is also devoted to helping other entrepreneurs. I’d highly recommend reading his book “Bootstrapping Your Business.”

These startup stories go to show that any business can be started with hard work and the bootstrapping method. All three of the individuals mentioned in this article started out of their homes and have built successful and growing companies. We all have to start somewhere, so if you have an idea and a plan go for it. Start something on the side and work on it from home. You never know what might happen unless you give it a shot.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars.” ~ Brian Littrell

For more inspirational startup stories from local companies including RoughStock Distillery, Cash Grain Bids, Uplanders, and Dee-O-Gee pet store visit Pete’s entrepreneurship blog at