-Martin Kidston reporting for the Missoula Current
MISSOULA – The Missoula-based tech startup Submittable quietly made Montana history last week when it landed $10 million in Series B funding to grow the company to the next level.
The funding is believed to be the largest investment in a Montana-based enterprise software company since RightNow Technologies, which eventually sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion.
“Especially in places like Montana, there’s only been a handful of Series B investments, and I don’t think any others besides RightNow and us have ever gotten there for enterprise software,” said Submittable CEO and co-founder Michael Fitzgerald. “It’s very exciting because it’s an investment in Montana.”
The investment will enable Submittable to create an additional 150 high-paying jobs in Missoula. It completed seven new hires this month.
With a push into artificial intelligence and other pressing initiatives, Fitzgerald knows that some positions may be hard to fill under the backdrop of Montana’s economy. Yet he sees the challenge as a sign of progress and a boon to the local economy.
“Our North Star from day one has always been a cornerstone employer with career-type jobs in Missoula, Montana,” he said. “We’re creating a team that’s purely focused on AI. We’ll have hardcore Ph.D. people in here. These kinds of jobs didn’t exist before.”
Submittable serves clients in 93 countries and claims millions of users, including companies such as HBO, ESPN, NBC and the Knight Foundation. Using proprietary software, it connects “creators” with opportunities that include admissions, funding, publishing, creative content, auditions and awards.
Fitzgerald called it the Zip Recruiter for opportunities, or “anything that isn’t a job.”
“We’re building out product lines, we’re putting a lot of machine learning into it, and we’re building out a matching algorithm so anybody can find any opportunity,” he said. “We’re going to be the way anybody who creates anything finds that opportunity.”
The company has piqued the interest of investors through its upward trajectory in recent years. Last year, it made Inc. magazine’s list of the nation’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies and has worked to bring experienced executives into the fold to help the company forward.
Two years ago, Submittable raised $5 million in Series A funding from True Ventures. It recently secured $10 million in Series B funding from Next Coast Ventures out of Austin, Texas, with continued support from True Venture and Next Frontier Capital, the latter based in Montana.
“They really get into your underwear drawer, rip the business model apart, rip the company apart,” Fitzgerald said. “It says something that we were able to go through that process and secure this funding and go do it.”
But Fitzgerald admitted that with new opportunity comes challenges, housing and office space included. The company currently employs 90 people, but plans to add 150 more by the end of 2020.
Housing that future workforce is foremost on Fitzgerald’s mind.
“We have 90 employees right now, and 10 percent of them are first-time homebuyers,” he said. “We want to make sure we push that. The City Council has done things that are very unfriendly to first-time homebuyers. The tourist home ordinance essentially is handing landlords the ability to buy them when previously those homes would go on the market. I hope they make different decisions going forward.”
Providing office space to that future workforce in Missoula may run a close second in Submittable’s list of challenges. The company now occupies two floors in the Florence Building and is building an in-house daycare to accommodate young parent employees.
Down the road, however, a larger office may be needed.
“We’re in the process of figuring out our next step,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll either take over another building or build something ourselves. We ultimately want to get to 500 or 600 people, and there aren’t buildings that house 500 to 600 people in town. We either need to build or find a way to piecemeal something together.”
Advanced Technology Group, recently purchased by Cognizant, faced a similar challenge. It’s growing workforce was housed in a number of small downtown buildings. The firm moved across the river into the Old Sawmill District, where it now has plans to build a tech campus.
Where there’s a challenge, Fitzgerald said, there’s also a solution.
“We have to work through it in a thoughtful way, and if Missoula is anything, it’s thoughtful,” he said.