Bet On Your Employees, Not Your Product
Bet On Your Employees, Not Your Product

Clayton Danks wearing wooly chaps.

Bet on Cowboys, Not Horses? The philosophy originates from a legend etched into the heart and soul of Wyoming.  It is exemplified by the greatest bronco ride that ever was.  The day in 1909 when a cowboy named Clayton Danks climbed on a wild bronco named Steamboat…  what an afternoon it must have been.  It featured nothing less than the best cowboy trying to ride the baddest dang mustang in all of Wyoming.  Days before the famous ride took place, the word spread like wildfire on the telegraph wires across ranches from Montana to Colorado.  Cowboys from all over the West rode miles of dusty trails to witness the ride.

It represented the classic match, the best against the best:  Nothing less than the designation of world champion bronco rider was at stake. It matched the cowboy that had never been throwed with the hoss that had never been rode. It all took place in 1909 at Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Granddaddy of all rodeos.  Even today, the nation’s top cowpunchers consider the Cheyenne Rodeo as the World Series of rodeos.  If you can ride in Cheyenne, you can ride anywhere.

As reported in the journals of the day, “Danks sat firmly in his saddle before the chute handlers released Steamboat from his blindfold.  As usual, the outlaw took a good look around before commencing proceedings, then up went his back into an arch like an angry cat, his tail went behind his hind legs and he began giving Danks the ride of the century.  Steamboat hurtled from the chute with a wicked twist characteristic of the worst horses.”

Danks knew he had mounted a runaway locomotive; there was nothing to do but hang on.  Later, he told the Cheyenne Frontier Times, “I had my head snapped back until I thought it was going to come off, and I felt as if my lungs were going to burst when I had ridden that horse for a few jumps.  He was bucking pretty hard, too hard to grab the horn; he tore me loose from there…  he went around and around.  He throwed me over here and over there and this way and that and a many a time I thought, ‘Well, here I go.’”

Danks must have sensed the significance of the ride.  To the awe of all in attendance, he took off his hat and fanned Steamboat.  It was the touch that sealed the legend forever.   When it was over and the dust cleared, Steamboat was moving’… and Danks still sat firmly in the saddle.  In the air and falling dust, old Steamboat was “a heavin.’”  Then the cowboys started to cheer and offer the ultimate tribute of tossin’ their hats into the dirt at the hoofs of Steamboat.  They all knew they had witnessed something they would never see again:  a clash of the Titans, two Greek heroes in a fight to the deathwyoming-license-plate.

Over 100 years later, people still talk about that historic day and people like me can’t stop writing about it.  All Wyoming school kids learn about the ride before they learn about George Washington and the cherry tree and Honest Abe’s log cabin. Steamboat and Danks are embossed on every license plate and official state document, including marriage licenses and the 2007 Wyoming State Quarter.  Clayton Danks on Steamboat symbolizes the determination, independence and soul of Wyoming. They represent the best against the best: the cowboy who couldn’t be throwed on the horse that couldn’t be rode.

That’s how it is in business.

  • A good salesperson can sell an average product.  A poor salesman cannot sell a good product.  Remember, nothing sells itself.  Bet on salespeople, not products!
  • A good engineer makes a project work.  A poor engineer dooms a great project to delays, malfunctions, and ultimate failure.  Bet on engineers, not projects!
  • A positive store salesclerk sells to a marginally interested customer, while a negative clerk seldom sells to a positive shopper.  Bet on the clerks, not the customers!
  • In a call center, all the technology available cannot compensate for an operator who has no idea of what’s going on.  Bet on the operator, not the technology.

Venture capitalists have known this lesson for years.  Sure, they would rather have an A+  product with an A+ management team.  But, if they have to choose between an A product with a B management team or a B product with an A management team, they will choose the latter every time.  People make the difference, not products and designs.

2007-p-wyoming-state-quarterClayton Danks and Steamboat represent Wyoming. Their unconquerable spirit also represents what we believe at Snowfly:  People make the difference.  No matter how good our software is or how much it improves the lives of our thousands of users, if we don’t add the critical human element, it won’t work.  Yet, if we’ve got the right people with the right attitude, that can never be duplicated.  With the right people, we meet challenges and overcome obstacles that intimidate and eliminate our imitators.  Our people make the difference.  We can ride the wildest horses.

By Dr. Brooks Mitchell – Snowfly Founder – Originally Published February 19, 2015