Twenty years ago, Greg Gianforte decided to base his new company in what was then the country's most unlikely destination for a software entrepreneur: Bozeman, Montana. In 2012, Oracle bought that business, RightNow, for $1.8 billion. Gianforte could have moved anywhere. But he didn't. "I love being able to backpack the Bridger Mountains and then eat downtown at a place like Dave's Sushi," he says. "It just gets in your blood."
The RightNow sale proved to be a watershed moment for this 151-year-old town. Gianforte's employees began hatching start-ups of their own. Out-of-towners took notice and migrated to Bozeman themselves — which helped validate the town's newfound status as a tech center. "It's easy to get people to move here from Silicon Valley," says Joe Wakuski, founder of TEXbase, a Bozeman company that streamlines data management for apparel firms. Wakuski's own life also is a powerful recruiting tool: He lives on a spread 13 miles outside of town along the Gallatin River. "In the summer I bike to work and go fly-fishing and kayaking with my son," he says. "In winter we go skiing — either at Big Sky or in the backcountry a mile from my house."
All mountain towns are picturesque, but few compare to Bozeman: Yellowstone lies 90 minutes south, Big Sky is an hour north, and three blue-ribbon fly-fishing rivers — the Gallatin, the Madison, and the Yellowstone — are a short drive away. "When it's warm, there's daylight from 5:30 in the morning to past 10 at night," says Rob Irizarry, another RightNow alum who stayed put. "You can play in the morning and work late, or work early and play in the afternoon. It's Bozeman's idea of flextime." In fact, says Molly Ambrogi-Yanson, who migrated from Salt Lake City to work at a local ad agency, "some companies even have powder- and fishing-day clauses written into their employment contracts. It's understood that this is why you're here."
Bozeman's housing stock is split in two: You either live inside the "donut" in a $250,000 starter ranch home; or you live outside of it, spending less but relying on a well and septic system. Whatever your neighborhood or day job, everyone mingles downtown. "The cowboys, the ski bums, the yoga moms — we all go to the same coffee shops and restaurants," says Ambrogi-Yanson. And no matter where you live, says Irizarry, the commute is a breeze: "Rush hour means that instead of taking five minutes to get to work it takes six."