According to IBISWorld, a leading business intelligence firm, the total revenues for oil and gas drilling in 2014 came to $5 trillion. The oil and gas exploration and production industry (E&P), makes up 6.5% of the global economy.
While many entrepreneurs may be intimidated to enter a sector with a such big impact on the economy (petroleum is used to make 6,000+ consumer products), the industry still runs similarly to that of many startup operations.
Whether an entrepreneur is creating their empire for cash or to be king, there is always a trail of breadcrumbs on how they accomplished their goals. I was recently introduced to Shiva Rajagopalan who, like many entrepreneurs, saw a market working inefficiently and sought to fix it.
But this market was not just any market. With an estimated GDP of over $107 trillion, Rajagopalan was an entrepreneur with mega growth potential. A former Chevron data architect battling the inefficiencies of energy industry software, he founded Seven Lakes Technologies in 2009.
Rajagopalan shared the lessons he learned on his entrepreneurial journey in one of the country’s most volatile markets:
What was your path to creating Seven Lakes Technologies?
My career started as a data architect in the real estate industry where I led projects to consolidate various sets of disparate data to make business processes efficient. I then joined Chevron, where I noticed large-scale inefficiencies in data, business processes and analytics across all facets of the industry.
I founded Seven Lakes Technologies in 2009 to help oil and gas companies better manage, visualize and make informed decisions with their data. What started as a one-client operation now has more than 40 independent and mid-major oil companies.
The oil and gas industry has insurmountable funds, so how do you convince clients to budget? How can entrepreneurs in other industries mimic this model?
A common antidote for increasing profits is the corporate compulsion of cost-cutting, and this is a misplacement of resources. The point is to focus on problems that have a big enough market to solve. My goal has always been to build right the first time, and replicate successfully to multiple customers.
Additionally, a company should not be expected to customize something that speaks the language of their industry on top of a generic platform to generate value. At Seven Lakes we dramatically cut time to value for our customers by building solutions that solve industry specific business challenges. I think a lot of entrepreneurs aim for a generic product and underplay the time to value for customers to make this platform speak their language.
These days it’s common to vet team members according to how they fit culturally within the company. How do you feel Seven Lakes Technologies did this correctly?
Make each member count. Startups place a large focus on resilient team members from the fruition of their company, but they also need to focus on utility players who can be thrown to pitch a PR article just as easily as put together a financial value brief for enterprise level sale. These players then continue to grow with the company and are groomed to function in specific roles as the team grows.
How would you say your customer service vision differs from other entrepreneurs?
I continuously obsess about solving each customer’s immediate business challenges, and that’s not just the first time we meet with them. I have always made it a point to pay incredibly close attention to the way my customers work. Whenever we onboard a new client, it’s protocol to ask them what they need to drive faster/better value for their business, but the key is to constantly be asking how you can help them as they evolve and grow.
Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be satisfied with just creating a better way of doing business for their clients; they should also be focusing on the right way. This often means forecasting what clients need, and not just listening to what they want.
What was one of the most difficult lessons you learned on your journey to success?
Startups are built on vision and it’s imperative to keep it steady and a bit nimble. Markets shift rapidly (in our case, the oil price can go drastically south), and moving flexibly to shift execution pace became important to make Seven Lakes successful in the long haul. For each company it is different, but for us it means keeping a tight eye on products and solutions that sell for that market time period, making payment terms flexible for customers and holding tight the company spend to ratchet up as soon as market shifts.
As a digital world, technology is ingrained in every industry and future generations expect information in real-time. How do you see your company bringing next gen tech into a century-old industry?
With new manufacturing methods US shale oil went from zero to $70B annually in less than a decade. This is the most prominent disruption to the entire energy landscape in 30 years, and it’s made America a world-player in the industry.
None of that would be possible without the US oil industry’s technology adoption. However, with any technology, this industry’s success will now be judged on their effectiveness to deliver the goods at decreasing costs.
At Seven Lakes we are excited to be in a position to radically change how the industry optimizes operations and unlocks more oil at lower costs. With $600B in infrastructure investments and nearly 2,000 million well-feet drilled have produced hundreds of petabytes of relevant data. With our technology, organizations can equip their people to squeeze value out of every asset with big data analytics, and based on their insights activate business workflows on the same platform. Our vision is for everyone from corporate to the oil field to trust their data, view the same information and take shared action.