Matching talent with short-term projects, and giving geoscientists the tools they need to successfully complete the projects is the perfect solution for quickly changing times. It’s also a perfect solution when the pool of highly specialized technical experts is dispersed throughout the world. To solve those twin problems and to bring together projects and people, Petrocubic developed an easy-to-use platform, Petrocubic (http://www.petrocubic.com). Welcome to an interview with Vitaly Meyer, founder of Petrocubic. Petrocubic is growing quickly and will be featured in AAPG’s U-Pitch program at ACE, May 19 - 22. https://ace.aapg.org/2019/networking-and-events/u-pitch and at URTeC, July 22-24.
What is your name and your background?
My name is Vitaly Meyer. I was born in Russia and was a child during the beginning of Perestroika, the economic and political reform under the former Soviet Union. I grew up in the 1990s, during the transition to a capitalistic economy. My earliest pursuit in education was applied math, without any connection to oil and gas. This was a time when no one expected to find a career based on formal schooling; the idea was to simply get a good education for the sake of it. Hard science disciplines were still regarded as the high-quality education.
During my university years I began working as an IT contractor and software developer. Yet, this work was quite boring for me, since it mostly involved developing databases when enterprises started to migrate from paper or legacy software to modern systems. The internet had just been introduced throughout Russia at this time and was used primarily for emails. That's why when an opportunity to pursue a petroleum engineering degree appeared on the horizon, I took it without hesitation. My oil and gas journey had started.
I’ve spent the last 12 years in Houston working for large independents. My math and especially IT skills were extremely valuable to me working in oil and gas as a petroleum and reservoir engineer throughout my career. Without those skills, it would have been very difficult to start PetroCubic, develop our product, and manage development work.
How did you get started in innovation?
The first seed was planted around 2013 or 2014, when the oil and gas industry was experiencing a boom and the talk of the time was about crew change. I was busy with work and had ideas, but didn’t act on them. Then came the downturn.
First, the European company I was working for decided to close some of its businesses here in the U.S., so I was laid off. It was still 2014, and I found a job at another company with ease. That didn’t last long, though, and the company I joined started laying people off the next year. I had worked only about four months and was laid off again – two times in half a year! I tried to find another job in 2015 but did not succeed. Companies which had been actively recruiting just several months ago started to lay people off in big numbers.
This gave me the first ingredient I needed: free time. I learned more about cloud computing and realized that barrier to entry was lowered significantly. There was no need to buy expensive servers. We bounced some of the ideas around with a friend of mine and future co-founder.
One of the first things I started to explore was the types of technology available to support some of our ideas of remote access. I was very excited to discover how much progress had been made in this area. Our goal then was to develop innovative tools and processes that could be applied to the needs of oil and gas businesses. That’s where I benefited from my prior programming knowledge, merging it with my oil and gas domain expertise.
We founded the company at the very end of 2015. In the next year, I started to do consulting projects for several clients, and even though a consultancy platform was always on my mind, these projects helped me to better understand consultant-client interactions. Working as a consultant not only provided me with an income; it also allowed me to build some connections and better understand the needs of this business. We spent 2016 developing our products and launched our consultancy website in 2017. WorkSpaces for remote software access came a year later. It required not only developing work, but also finding the first pool of software partners willing to work with us.
What is your product?
We have two independent but complimentary products. One is a consulting platform where E&P companies can find oil and gas consultants for a specific project online. The second is WorkSpaces, which allows consultants to use professional oil and gas software on-demand, paying only for the actual usage.
We always set out to achieve two primary goals: 1) allow consultants to work remotely (living in their favorite place instead of going to office every day), and 2) remove the entry barrier for independent consultants so they can rent software even with per-hour rates (it is usually cost prohibitive for individuals to buy software licenses for short-term projects).
What does it do?
The consultancy platform bears a similar premise to that of a matching or dating website. Oil and gas experts (geologists, engineers, geophysicists, etc.) register there and develop profiles with very structured information. It allows for a quick and easy search of consultants by specific skills or basin experience. There is no need to go over stacks of CVs to find the consultants suited to your projects. On the other side, companies can also post projects on the platform when they need expertise. If a project is public, any registered consultant can apply. We do not cherry pick; we just allow the matching to take place organically. Consultants can bid with their own rates, and the project owner can select the best candidates based on both skillsets and cost. Private projects are not visible, so project owners have to invite the consultants they’d like to apply to their projects.
Users can exchange messages and files on the website. We also provide contracts and invoicing, and collect and make payments. We do not charge any membership fees or project posting fees; we only collect percentage-based fees from consultants when they start to work on the project and invoice their clients.
I like to compare our consultancy platform to the food industry:
- You have restaurants where you expect the highest level of service, but at the same time, it is the most expensive option, and sometimes you need to wait to be served or seated. Traditional recruiting agencies and consulting firms are like restaurants.
- We usually don’t go to restaurants every day. We cook meals at home. It’s often the cheapest option, and sometimes could be the fastest one as well, but you are limited to what you have in the fridge, your abilities to cook, and time you have on-hand. When we use connections to find a consultant, it’s like cooking at home.
- PetroCubic is like a modern, fast, casual restaurant – a place where you have selection, high quality, and you can get what you need quicker and more affordably.
We believe our clients are sophisticated enough to make selections by themselves based on what they really need. We do not want to stand between consultants and their clients. Yes, you need to put in slightly more efforts versus using staffing agency, but with that said, you do not need to spend time explaining what you’re looking for, and there’s less risk of details getting lost or overlooked in communications. This approach is faster, more direct, and the outreach is truly global so you can find very unique skillsets.
WorkSpaces is also a very unique product. We combined a new technology – cloud-based applications – with a new business model of renting software per hour. At its core, petrocubic WorkSpaces is a marketplace of any existing oil and gas software product. We partner with software vendors and incorporate their products into our system. Then, any consultant or company can order those software products through our website. It takes less than 10 minutes to register and place an order for the software. The next day, you receive a link to login to your workstation remotely with the software already installed, configured, and ready to use. At the end of each month, you will pay only for the actual usage of any software you ordered.
Can you give a few examples / case studies?
We’ve had several projects for consultants ranging from geologists to completion engineers. Today (mid-February), we have an open project for a geologist with geomodelling skills. Several applicants applied in just two days after it was posted. We also have several clients using WorkSpaces. Their usage is relatively light, so their cost saving is huge compared to buying perpetual licenses or even monthly rentals. In January, one client saved 90% of the cost – they paid only 10% of what they have for a monthly rental. Another client saved 50% for a different type of software. Moreover, there are additional benefits for those clients: they can access it from their office, home, or any place with internet. It also allows several people to work with the software, which could be difficult otherwise. All data is also centralized, so people working on the same project do not need to send it back and forth.
What are your plans for the future?
We have several areas to focus on:
- We already offered and tested software self-training, based on the concept that anyone could learn any software for free or a nominal fee. Our technology makes it possible and relatively easy to do. We also plan to hold webinars conducted by software vendors with hands-on experience using our infrastructure. It will be available not only for existing clients of software vendors, but for a much broader audience, including those who want to learn it even if they are employees, unemployed or consultants who aren’t planning to buy it in the near future.
- We plan to grow our consultants base, primarily in the U.S. and Canada. Last year, we could not close some of the projects due to a lack of specific skillsets with available consultants.
- We will also bring in more projects for existing consultants. This is the challenging part. It requires significant marketing and overcoming inertia in the industry, because this is an entirely new business model.
- We aim to find more clients for our software partners. They believed in us, so now we have to find them new clients and bring revenue. We’ll still be working with new software partners, especially in segments where we have gaps in products, but the focus is to find clients for our existing broad selection of software products.
Up to this point, we were primarily bootstrapping our company. We owe a big thanks to our angel investor who believed in us and invested in early 2018. Right now, as we’ve gotten all our products out the door and have several long-term clients who helped us to fine-tune our products, we must focus on scaling our business. It requires money. We were very frugal and efficient with product development, but marketing in the oil industry can be expensive, so we will be looking to attract some capital. Our current goal is to be the go-to place to find independent consultants in upstream oil and gas. We also aim for WorkSpaces to be used by a large fraction of independent consultants, as well as many small consulting or E&P companies.