Both Walker Milhoan and Rich Roth have a firsthand understanding of how much Montana’s ranchers stand to gain in terms of increased efficiency and profitability by automating the data analysis surrounding budgeting and forecasts. They also have the entrepreneurial vision to create a cutting-edge platform with that functionality - software that could completely revolutionize business operations in ranching; “built by ranchers, for ranchers.”
As their website explains, “Ranchlogs software is an interactive, web-based, livestock inventory and range management tool, designed for creating custom ranch maps, tracking key performance indicators, and performing analysis within any ranching operation.” The software’s origins come from a business plan Walker developed for a large ranch in Hilger, Montana as his thesis for the Ranch Management Program at Texas Christian University (TCU) in 2010. Walker wasn’t very experienced with Excel spreadsheets when he first started the Ranch Management Plan , and he found the data entry and analysis process to be somewhat overwhelming:
“It’s really beneficial for ranchers to have budgeting and forecasting spreadsheets that model a cow/calf operation versus a stocking operation, or a combination of the two, but the more I got into it for my project, the more I realized how time consuming it is. I knew from the time I spent working ranches most of my life that ranchers just don’t have that much time to be sitting in front of a computer.”
In 2012, Walker moved up to the small community of Saint Regis, Montana to be with his wife, Whitney. Soon after arriving he connected with Cameron Lawrence, a professor in the Management Information Systems (MIS) Program in the University of Montana’s Business School. As Walker recalls:
“I basically asked him how I could turn my idea into a program. He said he didn’t exactly know…but encouraged me to enter the MIS program, and that really helped me streamline my plans for this software a lot better.”
Walker gained a lot of valuable information and skills in the MIS program, but computer science proved not to be his strong point. Fortunately, he met fellow rancher and entrepreneur Rich Roth soon thereafter through their mutual association with the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
The meeting was serendipitous for both Walker and Rich. While Walker had a great big picture vision for how the software would help ranchers be more productive and profitable, Rich had the foundation for a similar software tool built by a family member who had graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Rich spoke to his family, and they agreed to let the entrepreneurial duo take the existing technology to the next level.
Since that time Walker and Rich have worked with advisors at Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana to refine their business plan and model. That collaboration has proven to be incredibly helpful; in October RanchLogs was one of only 20 ventures to participate in the national Blackstone LaunchPad Demo Day in New York City. They have also been approached by government officials and agribusiness leaders who are excited to integrate RanchLogs into their ranching operations. As Walker notes, the buzz isn’t something they are actively trying to generate - it’s simply a result of numbers that speak for themselves:
“Our calculations, based on actual field tests at existing ranches, have proven that a ranch similar in size and scope to the IX can save about $50,000 per year with this software as it is…and our goal is to improve on its functionality significantly in the next year or so.”
RanchLogs is currently available as a minimum viable product that allows ranchers to automate livestock inventory and range management strategies. Walker and Rich are actively seeking a programmer who can help them develop their goal product: software that can track all input/costs and tax info to generate a Standardized Performance Analysis that compares a ranch to regional competitors and comes up with an overall performance score.
For Walker and Rich, the biggest reward for developing this software platform is the potential it has to help preserve the ranching industry and the way of life they both love so much. When asked about his future goals for developing the technology and bringing it to a global market, Walker looks forward to an exit strategy that gets him back to the ranch:
“Ultimately, ranching is what I love to do, and Montana is where I want to be…and I want that for my family and all the other ranching families who want to keep this legacy going.”