When you think about Black Mountain Software, a few things may come to mind: The actual “Black Mountain” which is located just above Colorado Gulch near Helena, Montana; the small cities and towns that make up the community of BMS customers; or perhaps you think of the customized software solutions that fit the landscape of your job so well. Each one of these associations plays a part in the BMS story, where location, community, and technology converge to provide “bigger city” solutions for small municipalities.
The story of BMS, as told by BMS President Wayne Carriere, goes something like this:
Wayne knows small towns. In fact, contrary to popular belief, you can grow up in a small town even in California. That’s where Wayne’s story begins, in a small town in Northern California with a population topping out at 13.
Sometime around 1970, while living in Santa Barbara, California, Wayne and his wife began frequenting Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They fell in love with its beautiful landscape and recreational opportunities. Each time, on the trip home from Wyoming, Wayne would joke with his wife, “We are doing this the wrong way. We should be living in the Rockies and vacationing in California.”
Over time, that gave him an idea. The business Wayne worked for at the time had a one-man office in Helena, Montana, and Wayne made a deal with his boss: If he combined his efforts with the Helena office and won the bid on a large contract, he could move to Helena to work on the project. And so it was.
Wayne and his wife moved to Helena in 1980 and he continued to work on projects out of that office. In late 1987, after hearing about a Montana town that needed some software work, Wayne wrote a utility billing program and began marketing it around the State. Intrigued by the idea of offering “big company software solutions” to small cities and towns, Wayne pitched the idea to his company.
“We should be doing this even more!,” Wayne tried to persuade. But they weren’t excited about it. What they did do was offer to let Wayne buy his programming work for a single dollar, encouraging him by saying, “if you really believe in this idea, take the software and start a company.” That is exactly what he did at the end of 1988.
Hoping to express the series of decisions that led him down this career path, Wayne searched for a name that would express solidarity in function, strength of a company, and the desire to live and play in the beauty of Montana. Looking at the mountain just above the gulch where his home was located, the name seemed obvious: Black Mountain.
Around this same time, Jack Liebschutz, a successful software consultant in Illinois, was also beginning to question whether there was a way to secure a better quality of life in a smaller city (preferably Polson, where his ex-wife had gone to high school). Jack identified a similar software dilemma as Wayne, and thought the opportunity existed for accounting software specifically created to meet the needs of small local governments.
Jack and family moved to Polson in 1990 and formed a company to provide software to small cities and towns. Wayne and Jack found out about each other’s companies around 1992 through a mutual acquaintance. They decided to combine operations to advance their business efforts. Together, Wayne and Jack–with software skills, an entrepreneurial nature, and a dream of a better life in Montana—teamed to form Black Mountain Software, Inc.
Today, BMS employs a total of 34 people between the Polson and Helena offices. The success of BMS, Jack believes, is attributed to their solid customer service and dedication to providing the best solutions for their client base. Wayne says that “Until our Company came along, it didn’t seem like small cities and towns had the same access to advanced features and support like the bigger cities”, and that “People in larger cities seemed to take this stuff for granted – but people in small cities and towns really needed and appreciated it.”
Location, community, and technology converged to make BMS what it is today. But we couldn’t finish this story without talking about the real driving force behind the creation of BMS: the story of two men, their love for the outdoors, and a decision to move to Montana. Jack concludes that, “Moving here was one of the best decisions I ever made, for my family and for our company. People treat each other well. It’s as simple as that.” Wayne says that, “[More than thirty years later,] I’m happy to be considered almost a Montana ‘native’ by some.”