In Wake of IPO, Workiva CTO Reveals Secrets of His Company’s Success

“It’s a secret that Montana is this good.” – Jeff Trom, CTO and Co-founder, Workiva

When Workiva (WK) had its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in December 2014, Jeff Trom had been there before. The Chief Technology Officer and six members of Workiva’s founding management team took a previous company, Engineering Animation, public in the 1990s.

But the second time around, the IPO was easier and less costly thanks to Workiva’s proprietary Wdesk platform, which automated the process of filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

“It was fun to use our software for what it was designed for,” Trom said, acknowledging the irony in the team’s unique situation.

Founded in 2008, Workiva is a software-as-a-service company that helps enterprise clients manage large quantities of data more efficiently. Workiva counts more than 65 percent of the Fortune 500 as customers, including Wal-Mart, United Airlines, and Ford.

Headquartered in Ames, Iowa, Workiva has around 1,000 full-time employees spread across 15 locations, from New York City to Los Altos, Calif.

The company opened a Bozeman, Mont. office in 2012 and expanded to Missoula in April 2014. Workiva’s second-largest development office is in Bozeman with about 70 employees.

CTO Jeff Trom leads Workiva’s entire development team from his home base in Bozeman. Trom is also a founding board member of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance.

Solving a Pain Point for the Fortune 500

Workiva got its start when a former colleague approached Trom and other former business partners about finding a solution to the pain involved in filing with the SEC. There are around 270 types of filings with the SEC, and business documents can be enormous, ranging upwards of 20,000 pages.

The challenge, according to Trom, is to keep data throughout these documents consistent. “If you change a number and it’s referenced 50 times, you must make sure the number is reflected in all locations accurately, whether in text, a table, graph, or chart.”

In addition, “data is more intelligent than just numbers,” Trom said. “We file numbers that have meaning behind them, not just a value – for example, dollars vs. euros, rounding, or whether it’s related to the purchase of a factory.”

The software also helps companies deal with collaboration and permissioning, setting limits, for instance, on who can read, edit, or own sections of a document.

This combination of features allows for tremendous efficiencies and peace of mind.

“[Managing and filing these documents] is very stressful,” Trom said. “We take the stress out of the system. People send our teams flowers and candy because we’ve made the process so much easier.”

Formerly known as WebFilings, Workiva re-branded itself in 2014 and has expanded beyond SEC filings into other data-intensive functions like Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and risk management.

The Impact of Workiva’s IPO

According to Trom, Workiva’s IPO had significance beyond proving the value of the solutions he and his team spent years developing.

“First, the people who invested have validated that we’re a well-run company with a vision for where we want to go,” he said. “Before you can go public you have to show you’re on a good path financially.”

Second, the IPO is good for Workiva employees. “Every employee has stock,” Trom said. “Every employee owns a piece of the company – they are building value. It’s important to us that every employee is vested in the company, has a reason they want the company to succeed both financially and [technologically].”

Workiva’s IPO is also a boost for Montana – a state with just a handful of publicly traded companies.

Internally, Trom has faced the challenges – twice – of leading teams through periods of rapid growth and the transition of going public. “The biggest challenge is to make sure the company culture doesn’t change when you go public,” Trom said. “We spend a lot of energy maintaining the company culture across all offices and people. It’s not one thing, but a bunch of things or people’s perceptions.”

Trom recounts one instance at his former company when Pop Tarts were removed from the break room after the IPO and “everyone revolted.”

“[Employees] were worried,” Trom said. “In reality, [Pop Tarts] went away because no one was eating them and they’re not very healthy. But people associated them with culture.”

According to Trom, it’s essential “to make sure you communicate with everybody. If there is a change, you let people know what the reason is.”

The Montana Advantage

Workiva is in Montana because Jeff Trom always loved it here. He vacationed in Montana for 20+ years, enjoyed the outdoors, and always wanted to move to the state. After Engineering Animation sold, Trom was consulting and realized he could live anywhere.

While their kids were young, he and his wife, Lydia, packed up and moved to Bozeman without knowing anyone there. Trom said they made the right decision, and they have “absolutely loved it.”

When Workiva launched in Iowa, Trom decided to establish an office in Montana so he could travel less and because he knew he could find talent in the state. Workiva’s recruiting strategy has been to hire good people wherever they find them, whether in Ames, Bozeman, Boulder, Scottsdale, Canada, or London.

Trom will continue growing his Montana development team. His biggest challenge is finding enough talent. “We have high quality people here,” Trom said, “but fewer people so there’s less of a pool to choose from. The universities don’t graduate that many each year, though the people who do come out are high caliber.”

“We need to grow people internally in Montana,” Trom said, “but will likely need to recruit from outside Montana as well.” Trom is optimistic about his prospects. “Winter or summer, anybody who enjoys the outdoors will love it in Montana.”

According to Trom, things are different than they were even five years ago as Montana becomes a center of excellence for software development, particularly in Bozeman and Missoula.

“It’s a secret that Montana is this good,” Trom said.

Jeff Trom, CTO of Workiva, at the MT High Tech Business Alliance networking reception in Missoula, November 2015.

Jeff Trom, CTO of Workiva, at the MT High Tech Business Alliance networking reception in Missoula, November 2015.

by Christina Henderson, Executive Director

Photo Caption for Top Image: Members of Workiva’s development team collaborate at the company’s Bozeman, Mont. office. Founded in 2008 in Ames, Iowa, Workiva had its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in December 2014. Workiva has around 1,000 full-time employees, including more than 75 in Montana.

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