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Startup culture evident at Lincoln software company

Nebraska may not be the first place you’d look to find a software company with recycled basketball bleachers and an in-house Starbucks self-serve espresso machine.

But Mortech has all of this and more.

The Lincoln-based company started in 1987 and compiles mortgage information for lenders and enables lenders to get in contact with individuals seeking loans. The company’s success attracted the attention of Zillow, a website designed to provide mortgage information to consumers.

In 2012, Zillow acquired Mortech, allowing Zillow greater access to mortgage information and giving Mortech the opportunity to make use of Zillow’s infrastructure.

But that wasn’t all that changed.

Don Kracl, founder of Mortech and current vice president of Zillow Mortgage Tools, recalled an early visit from the CEO of Zillow, who asked, “Are you going to be keeping your office?”

To which Kracl replied, “I guess not.”

Prior to the merger, private offices and cubicles were dominant. But in the newly refurbished office space, there are no such boundaries. Even the conference rooms where presentations and sales take place have large windows instead of walls so everyone can see who is inside.

“The thing about an office is that you can shut the door,” Kracl said. “This has been great for communication.”

Zillow strives to treat all of its offices similarly, which means a relaxed dress code and flexible work hours.

“It’s definitely a youth movement,” Kracl said. “We older folks often come kicking and screaming into this age.”

It is evident from the atmosphere of the office, however, that no one is kicking and screaming.

“Zillow takes pride in creating one of the most transparent and creative work cultures around,” said Katie Sheridan, marketing communications manager for Mortech. “Our Lincoln office really offers that start-up vibe with all the perks of an established company.”

At one corner of the open and brightly lit room is a mini-kitchen, complete with fresh fruit and the Starbucks coffee machine.

By the wall are basketball bleachers, recycled from an old gym in Bellevue, where Zillow employees watch special webcasts, called Z-Speakers, and quarterly company updates, known as Zillow-Talks.

The floor is recycled from a high school gym in Norfolk, and lends an air of activity to the space.

At the opposite corner of the office are workspace treadmills, where employees can walk while doing their work.

“Our CEO is a bit of a fitness buff,” said Kracl, pointing out his Fitbit, a bracelet that monitors his daily exercise. “Everybody gets one.”

Employees can opt-in to using a shared app that monitors their activity, allowing for friendly competition within offices, and even between Zillow’s offices worldwide.

Updated office space wasn’t the only new development at Mortech after the acquisition.

Even though Kracl leads a division of a larger company, Kracl still views himself as an entrepreneur.

“We’re really just a small piece of Zillow,” he said. “This change gives us a little more freedom.”

In the past, Mortech didn’t have system administrators, database managers, or help desk agents to take care of any technology malfunctions or questions. Instead, the small business had to rely on external help desks in order to solve their technology problems.

“It’s specialization that’s difficult for a small business to afford. Now, instead of being reactionary we can be proactive,” said Kracl, going on to explain that the company is now capable of buying new equipment as needed, rather than having to wait until something breaks down before replacing it.

Beyond the technological infrastructure, Zillow has made it easier for Mortech to do business in general by lifting some of the pressures that go with being a small company, such as access to legal aid.

Zillow’s expertise with patents and software licensing has made it much easier for Mortech employees to navigate and innovate in ways they hadn’t been able to in the past. Collaboration is key at Zillow, which has many specialized offices worldwide that are each able to contribute to one another.

“Each office has a team of people who are very specialized in what they do,” Sheridan said. “There is an incredible amount of knowledge and personnel resources available for collaboration to occur between each office.”

These changes, though seemingly small if taken individually, together have given Mortech ample opportunity for growth. Even though the market for Mortech’s service’s are in a period of contraction, the company hopes to fill 10 new positions in the upcoming months.

“Our customer volume is predicated on the economic environment,” Kracl said. “It’s cyclical. At this point, we’re building ourselves up so we’ll be ready for the new wave of business.”