FinTech’s Frontier: Bozeman’s Zoot Enterprises Invests in a New Platform, New Markets, and Montana Communities

Zoot Enterprises Headquarters near Bozeman, Mont.

Zoot Enterprises Headquarters near Bozeman, Montana. Images courtesy of Zoot.

By Katy Spence

Zoot Enterprises has come a long way from its early days in Chris Nelson’s basement in 1990. Today, more than 250 people work at the sprawling campus in Bozeman, with more employees in Billings.

Client Delivery Manager Haden Busch has been with Zoot for 11 years. His team currently manages four of Zoot’s top 10 largest clients. Busch has seen Zoot’s and Four Corners’ growth firsthand over the past decade. He remembers when he could look out Zoot’s windows and see nothing but grass- and farmland.

Now, Bozeman’s growth has caught up to Zoot, and new buildings are being erected all around the campus.

“There’s just been extreme growth out here, plus our expansion into the worldwide area,” Busch said. “The valley really lends itself well to bringing in talented folks because there is kind of a hub of it here in Bozeman. We’re continuing to grow not only in personnel size, but also in depth of knowledge.”

One of these talented folks is Vice President of Marketing Eric Hathaway.

Born and raised in Bozeman, Hathaway’s career in financial services took him all over the world. Working for huge companies such as Microsoft and T-Mobile, Hathaway has lived all over the U.S., in the Czech Republic, and in Hong Kong.

Eric Hathaway is the VP of Marketing at Zoot Enterprises.

But Hathaway wanted to raise his two young daughters in the place where he grew up, so he resettled in Bozeman in 2015 and began working for Zoot.

This year, Hathaway won a Gold Stevie Award for “Marketing Executive of the Year,” and his department won a Silver Stevie Award for “Marketing Department of the Year” for achievements including a 265 percent increase in lead generation results, a three-fold increase in social engagement, a 49 percent increase in social followers, and a full visual rebrand.

But Zoot’s been busy with more than just improving their branding. With the addition of a new team in Billings and a new platform for world-wide clientele, Zoot is doubling down on its reputation as a big company dedicated to Big Sky Country.

 

New Platform

Earlier in 2018, Zoot released its innovative and unique new platform, WebRules, to provide faster and more flexible solutions for its clients. WebRules Live and WebRules Builder allow large financial institutions to have more transparent decision-making software and customize their own tools to best suit their needs.

Founder Chris Nelson said WebRules is 20 years in the making, the result of decades of refinement, industry insight and collaboration with their clients.

Ultimately, it kind of works like putting Legos together, Nelson said.

Zoot Founder Chris Nelson speaks in Billings about the company’s expansion. Image via Billings Gazette.

“As you assemble the Legos together, you create whatever platform [the client] wants,” Nelson said. “WebRules is really the culmination of creating an ability for anybody to take predefined objects, drop them on a blank screen, and create a platform from it.”  

Zoot has been onboarding some preliminary clients with the new tool, and Nelson said both the clients and Zoot employees are excited about how the new system is working and the potential for growth within the company’s existing offerings.

“It makes it very easy for us to continue growing with the same amount of resources that we have today, or the ability to really grow a lot faster, and still grow our employee base,” Nelson said.

For now, WebRules is only available for financial services institutions, but Nelson said Zoot is excited to prove the worth and adaptability of the tool to grow into other industries.

“[Financial services] is our experience,” Nelson said. “That’s our expertise. It’s the language we speak. But we’re really excited about proving it in the financial services world, and then taking it out to a lot of other industries– Any industry that has input, gets data and does stuff with that.”

 

New Markets

One way Zoot is investing in Montana is a significant expansion in Billings. Zoot Founder Chris Nelson is originally from Billings, and Zoot has had a data center in the city since 1996.

Last year, Zoot bought the GE Capital building and hired some of the former GE employees whose jobs were terminated at the end of 2017. Zoot plans to start its Billings team at around 25 employees but could hire more if the title and registration division expands.

Hathaway said that Zoot has skirted the auto industry in the past, choosing instead to focus on perfecting their platform for financial institutions. But Zoot’s engine is built to save time and money for any process that can be automated, which could potentially include titling and registration.

“There’s nobody else automating that right now,” Hathaway said. “So we think we can provide a service in that space.”

Transforming the auto title and registration industry is proving to be even slower than working with banks and financial institutions, due to governmental processes and a system that’s been in place for decades. Hathaway said it might be a while before Zoot sees how title and registration will grow the company.

But the expansion to Billings wasn’t just about expanding the business. Hathaway said it’s another way Zoot is committing to its Montana roots.

Purchasing the new building and hiring a Billings workforce is one way Zoot is looking to get involved in the Billings community. They’ve also joined the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

“Chris is from Billings,” Hathaway said. “His desire and our desire, as well, is really to commit to the state. We want to play a part in helping to develop that and try to bring the tech community together.”

Community involvement and employee life

Zoot employees (Zooters) participate in a Dynamite Dads event when local fathers tie-dyed clothing with their kids.

Chrystina Katz, Project Manager, moved to Bozeman to be closer to her daughter. She said Zoot’s attention to employee and community wellness drew her to the company.

“There’s a mindset of improvement here,” Katz said, pointing to Zoot’s learning and development opportunities, wellness programs, pop-up health fairs, and intramural sports teams.

In March, the company opened an on-site daycare to care for employees’ children from infancy to kindergarten-aged.

In addition to caring for its employees, Zoot has always been dedicated to the wider community, from Nelson at the top all the way down to the employees.

“Part of why I’m impressed with the company is because of how much they get involved in the community,” Katz said. “It’s important to be part of a company that does that.”

 

Zoot hosts a weekly Toastmasters Meeting, including a Leadership Institute in January.

Katz described a number of Zoot’s community initiatives, such an employee-led robotics camp for local Girl Scouts and a weekly Toastmasters meeting. In January, Zoot hosted a Toastmasters Leadership Institute for 150 people and supplied a grant to help fund the program.

Hathaway said Zoot is looking to distinguish itself nationally as a thought leader in FinTech. He’s hosting a new podcast, The Finance Frontier, to educate listeners about the latest developments in FinTech.

Zoot is also looking for opportunities to become more involved with the tech community on a statewide scale, partnering with organizations such as Early Stage Montana, Hellgate Venture Network, Prospera Business Network, and the Montana High Tech Business Alliance.

Hathaway sees an opportunity for Zoot to work with Montana development organizations towards common goals, saying “we could be very powerful [working] as one.” He points to investment opportunities coming into the state as area where his team can make an impact. Recently, Zoot employees donated time to help Early Stage Montana undergo a rebrand and launch a new website.

“That’s the attitude we all need to start to take up,” Hathaway said. “How can we all be a part of what we’re all doing?”


About the Author: Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and has an Environmental Journalism Master’s Degree from the University of Montana.

About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an association of 350 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information visit MTHighTech.org.

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