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Basis Set Ventures invests in early-stage technology companies that fundamentally transform the way people work. We believe artificial intelligence delivers core value by improving productivity for all parts of the economy; from factories to offices.

Our fund is dedicated primarily to Seed and Series A startups.

Meet the team

Portfolio

Snappr

Snappr makes professional photographs accessible to every business and consumer, managing the entire shooting and post-processing experience for customers around the world.

snappr.com

Workstream

Workstream's hiring platform uses automation, AI, and mobile workflows to provide a simpler, faster way to hire, on-board and maintain hourly workers.

workstream.us

Rasa

Rasa empowers product teams to build conversational AI in-house, with industry-leading open source libraries and accessible enterprise tooling.

rasa.com

Path Robotics

Path Robotics is producing autonomous welding robots based on proprietary artificial intelligence and computer vision algorithms.

path-robotics.com

FarmWise

FarmWise produces autonomous weeding robots that provide growers with a cost-efficient, scalable alternative to herbicides.

farmwise.io

Ike

Ike is building cutting edge automation technology to help improve the trucking industry.

ike.com

DataGrail

DataGrail is a privacy management platform that helps companies become compliant with privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA quickly.

datagrail.io
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Latest

Tido Carriero has had an amazing journey leading engineering and product at some of the most iconic companies. He started off on the engineering team at Facebook during the late stage start-up days, becoming a manager in just a few years, then he led product engineering at Dropbox, and most recently he was the VP of Engineering and the Chief Product Development Officer at Segment. From this vantage point, he’s had visibility and a driving role on growth and product development for products that have reached literally billions of users.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Tido: 1) helped grow Segment’s world class engineering team by starting with building the company and engineering brand, 2) leveraged Segment’s strength in open source and content to filter the list of candidates to find the best people, 3) experimented with multiple approaches to finding product-market fit for their newer products, 4) laid the groundwork for the enterprise business.

  • How Segment built a world class engineering team with distributed systems expertise to navigate early customer growth
  • Building brand recognition and an engineering brand for the company so every new engineering hire wasn’t a “fight for our lives” to hire.
  • Leveraging their strength in open source and content to find the right engineers, and moving away from tracking numbers to focusing on hiring efficiency
  • The multiple approaches Segment utilized to find product-market fit for their two new products, and what worked and didn’t
  • How Segment approached building the Enterprise business by leveraging the product and professional services to help legacy industries with digital transformation  

While most industries have had enough to manage with Covid-19, the oil and gas sector has had to manage the pandemic, along with a fierce price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and broader existential questions about its identity in the face of the energy transition.

In this conversation between Iain Cooper, a nearly 30 year veteran of multinational oil field services company Schlumbrager and current CEO of drone gas emissions inspection startup SeekOps, and BSV investor John Mannes, we discuss how each facet of the oil & gas industry has been impacted by Covid-19 and unpack the impact of these macro shocks on technology adoption.

Iain Cooper:

The oil industry got hit with the double whammy of COVID and the depressed oil price.


John Mannes:

I'm John Mannes, an investor at Basis Set Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund investing in founders, transforming the way people work across all parts of the economy from factories to offices. This is episode seven of Future Proof. Today we're talking with Iain Cooper, fresh off a nearly 30 year run with multi-national oil field services company, Schlumberger, where Iain ran Research, Product and, ultimately, Corporate Venture. Iain has taken up a new role as CEO of SeekOps, a drone startup providing end-to-end gas emissions inspections.


John Mannes:

The oil industry has no comp for the amount of change it's had to withstand in the last year. For most of the economy, COVID slashing demand and forcing work from home upon office workers was enough to cope with, but oil has had these normal side effects mixed with a cocktail of other woes. From a high speed collision between Saudi Arabia and Russia that resulted in the drastic oversupply of oil and subsequent market crash to the broader energy transition that has the entire oil and gas ecosystem of producers and service providers grappling with their role in a post oil economy, the net result is an industry that continues to be hungry for technology to facilitate a smooth energy transition and keep operational efficiency moving in the right direction. Welcome, Iain, let's start off with a bit of background.


Iain Cooper:

So Iain Cooper. Scottish spelling of Iain, so born in Inverness, Scotland a long time ago. Joined Schlumberger about 30 years ago, straight out of doing a PhD in meteorology, of all things. I still keep a keen interest in the weather. Spent time in Schlumberger developing and managing technology development, R&D in a variety of business segments, cross drilling, fracturing, cementing. Then about 12 years ago, I founded a VC group within Schlumberger and we wanted to be a unique kind of corporate VC, where we really partnered with the companies we invested in to adopt or accelerate those companies into the oil field.


John Mannes:

Awesome. And we're just so lucky to have you, the wealth of experience. Every time we sit down and have a conversation, I learn something. So listeners will learn a lot from this, for sure. So maybe just to start off, why don't we give listeners a little bit of a rundown on what's been happening in oil and gas in the last six months? And I know it's a lot between COVID and geopolitics and oil prices.


Iain Cooper:

The oil industry got hit with the double whammy of COVID and the depressed oil price. Some would even question that we ever came out of the last downturn. And certainly companies like BP publicly saying, "It's not lower for longer. It's lower forever," certainly, I think make everyone rethink how they look at technology development, technology deployment in those industries.


Iain Cooper:

The main thing I've seen, and particularly from the operators and certainly now from the service sector as well, has been to focus on the energy transition and how they participate in the de-carbonization of their industry. But also to transition into the renewable space, into the hydrogen economy, into lithium production, which was something Schlumberger did just before I left with a public investment into a small company in technology. That's been the main trend, is seeing how they participate in what to them is a very new area and to me, the dichotomy between the service sector and the operators who have very different approaches in how they address the transition.


John Mannes:

The first lens to view oil and gas, of course, is the traditional upstream, midstream, downstream framework. Are you seeing that technology investment in de-carbonization in all three of those spaces as a main priority? Or are you seeing any differences in one space or another?


Iain Cooper:

The main focus I've seen has certainly been around the upstream side. That's primarily where I've operated, of course, as well. Certainly we're starting to see it come into the midstream side. I would say downstream certainly has always had a focus on emissions, perhaps less so the upstream space. But I would say the focus on the upstream side in terms of investment over the last few years has really been on lowering cost of service delivery, lowering cost of equipment, removing personnel from hazardous environments and from the well side in general, and then looking at consistency of delivery, service quality.


Iain Cooper:

So obviously there's been a big focus on digital transformation to support those kinds of activities. And I would say that's really been the key area across the whole of the oil and gas domain, upstream, midstream, downstream, has been the digital transformation, which has perhaps been a little slower and taken a little longer than some other industry verticals.


John Mannes:

And then the other lens that I think a lot of people think about the oil and gas industry from is oil field services versus the traditional majors. And so if you're comparing a Halliburton or Schlumberger in terms of how they think about technology with an Exxon or a Shell or a BP, how would you explain that dichotomy and where you're seeing each of those entities focus?


Iain Cooper:

That's a very good question and it's always been one that has baffled me a little. And again, in the 29 years I was there is, how can they work together on technology development, the operator and the service company better? Because certainly it's a competitive market in terms of pricing for the services. I think it was unique that the service sector really was a follower when it came to venture investment. So certainly you had the bellwether investment groups like Chevron and this year at Conoco. And now, of course, BP. And, of course, BP Ventures actually started with energy transition technologies, moved into downstream, upstream oil and gas and then reverted back into renewable energy. And the service sector has only really just participated in that energy transition sector.


Iain Cooper:

What's been interesting as well has been the number of co-investments I think the service sector has now done with the operators because obviously the early adopters, early customers are some of the portfolio companies there. So for something that perhaps shouldn't work well together, it's surprising that they have. And I think it's really due to a lot of the personnel that have been in the VC base between the operators and the service sector. I think there's been an openness, frankly, perhaps that you see more so than the operational side.


John Mannes:

All right, interesting. So one thing we hear a lot, at least on the traditional institutional venture side, is that getting adoption through an oil field services company can actually make more sense as a startup than trying to go after one of the majors. Do you think that still holds true?


Iain Cooper:

As with all here, I think it depends. It depends on the exact stage that the technology's at. Sometimes it's better to have a broad interest across multiple operators just because the environments can be significantly different. Certainly the operators don't necessarily want the service companies involved too early, particularly if a service company is an exit for that portfolio company. So you may see an operator Series A funded portfolio company resist a Series A investment from a service company just because they really want to explore a much broader domain with that portfolio company. And then perhaps when it looks like one of the service companies is really probably a more suited exit for them, to then bring them in at a later stage at B or C.


John Mannes:

There were a bunch of themes you brought up in that overall background there, partly the energy transition piece, part of thinking about remote work and what's happening in the oil industry right now, post COVID. I want to tackle a couple of these items. You mentioned that you had left Schlumberger after nearly 30 years there are now at a company, SeekOps, that's sitting in the middle of this one boom in interest on the regulatory side and how do we capture and measure a lot of these methane emissions, but then also very timely with what's happening with COVID with respect to remote work and trying to figure out how to collect some of these measurements at distance. So can you give folks just a little bit of background on that and where you really see the opportunity there, particularly post COVID?


Iain Cooper:

I was always very impressed with the accuracy of their technology. The fact that they were agnostic to the platform they deployed the technology on, I think it was obviously a little fortuitous that they're already focused on remote working with their drone deployed services. But there's always been a consciousness around removing people from dangerous environments as well. You were starting to see more and more remote operations, autonomous operations. And, in fact, the next stage beyond simple drone deployment, it's completely autonomous deployment. That's certainly something that I think attracted me to this space.


Iain Cooper:

And then obviously the push towards environmental sustainability governance from some of the larger companies really taking note that can't fix leaks without really measuring their intensity. Even when I was at Schlumberger, obviously that was a measurement company from its formation. It was natural to look at something that would really quantify leaks, not just detect them, because I think it's important to know exactly what it is you're looking at in terms of emission rates, not just from an environmental and sustainability reporting perspective, but really what is the solution to fix it and ultimately avoid leaks in the future.


Iain Cooper:

To me, there's a cascade of scales around emissions. Schlumberger was an investor in GHGSat, which looks at very large scale leaks, that can cover a huge amount of space, obviously from space. They just launched their second satellite successfully as well. And then that can be complimented by the smallest scale measurements all the way down to the handheld sensors that are used today. Ultimately, an operator doesn't want to have all of these providers separately. They're going to want to have some sort of integrated service. And that puts the camera back on the integrated service companies as being the ultimate aggregator of these kinds of technologies.


John Mannes:

How do you think about the lens with which investors view these types of companies? And you wore that hat for a number of years on the venture side. Sitting in Silicon Valley right now, from the perspective of an institutional VC, we all know the history, right? Like Kleiner Perkins with their Green Growth Fund notoriously put Uber into their Green Growth Fund, but just sitting here and trying to think about how to even categorize these sorts of companies. You yourself mentioned that they're in part around operational efficiency and service efficiency. You have these new regulations. You need to capture this information. This is the cheapest, most accurate, most efficient way to do that.


John Mannes:

On the other hand, there's also this amazing clean energy value proposition. How are all these folks actually looking at these companies? When you talk to the senior leadership in some of these oil field services companies or traditional majors, do they really think of a company like SeekOps as a clean tech company or a company that would be fitting of a green growth title? Or is it truly a lot more around operational efficiency?


Iain Cooper:

That's a very good question. And I think a lot of the operator VCs were burnt by [Clean Tech 1.0 00:00:10:09]. Are we in [Clean Tech 2.0 00:10:09] still? I think we're probably beyond that. And I like to think of it more broadly as the energy transition. Where does a company like SeekOps or GHGSat fit? I think if we're helping reduce emissions or the de-carbonization of the oil and gas business, to me, that's a clean technology. But, of course, it's also about operational efficiency. So I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I think you can have both.


Iain Cooper:

And, of course, we're not the only ones in that space as well. I think what's interesting as well in this space is the number of beta aggregators, like the [Kairos 00:10:50] folks, who are looking at really doing some smart analytics on the huge volumes of data that people like ourselves and GHGSat will be producing. And I think there's room for everybody in this space, but it's going to take someone to actually pull it together to get a complete holistic solution. That is ultimately going to be a clean technology solution because it's going to lead to de-carbonization.


John Mannes:

Do you think the operational efficiency piece is a prerequisite? Do you think SeekOps is successful, if there was theoretically no angle for operational efficiency?


Iain Cooper:

I think you have to have an element of that because that's what the operators are looking for and certainly one of the specifications they give you. We've got to drive cost out of the system. Cost is part of that operational efficiency and personnel reduction is another one. And technology like SeekOps certainly ticks both of those boxes, but I think you have to have both to really give a full solution.


John Mannes:

Let's talk a little bit more about the operations specifically within the oil and gas sector post COVID. One of the industries in the United States and globally where you have just so many remote workers and folks that are working in the field, it's virtually impossible to think about remote work in an industry like oil and gas in the same way that you do in technology, where for most of us we've been working from our living rooms and bedrooms for the last few months. What are you seeing as far as operational changes in the sector as a result of COVID? And how many of them do you think are likely to stick around?


Iain Cooper:

Oil and gas certainly has always been an industry that focused, number one, on health and safety. I think all of the health protocols put in place, particularly for offshore workers, workers that are going to be in close proximity to rigs, were not abnormal for that environment. So I think in terms of the standards within the industry, have always been above and beyond reproach. I haven't seen anything different to say otherwise in a post COVID environment.


Iain Cooper:

As we're going through the digital transformation as well, that's certainly something that will continue to accelerate post COVID. Learning from the huge volumes of data that we continue to acquire in this business and how to operate more efficiently, more remotely and piggybacking off some of the increases in telemetry rates and data security will lead to [inaudible 00:12:53] offshore and operational environment. So I don't see that changing much either in the post COVID world. There'll certainly be a little more nervousness to go into the industry. And we've seen that. I've got kids of college age that certainly would think twice about the energy industry in its current shape or form. I think partly that's an education issue as well, frankly, because I still think it's one of the most exciting industries to go into.


John Mannes:

No, that makes sense. And oil and gas is always interesting to me too, just because of the size and scale of the infrastructure projects themselves. These aren't things, as you know, that are decided and rotating like six to 12 month budget decisions. These are two, three, four, five, 10, even sometimes longer decisions that are made as to where drilling is going to occur, where infrastructure investment is going to happen, how that is going to work from a labor standpoint. And something like COVID, I would have to imagine, is a blip on the radar when it comes to the overall timeline for a project or a well.


Iain Cooper:

It's not just ourselves there. I think it's the extraction industries in general. I've talked to a couple of the major mining companies and they're certainly seeing and looking to technology to transform their business as well. And again, primarily digital, but also looking at leveraging things like oil and gas technologies so that they can be more efficient.


Iain Cooper:

And there always used to be this disparity between price points between oil and gas and mining, but obviously as oil and gas is focused on lowering cost of service delivery or in cost of CapEx, looking at the mining sector, they're having to go deeper, have more complex environments in which they're working for their resource. You're starting to see alignments there that perhaps you wouldn't necessarily have seen before. So I think there's another opportunity there for broader technology investments that span broader extraction industries.


John Mannes:

You mentioned labor, in particular, a second ago. And you talked about education as being a bit of a barrier in the sense that folks aren't as interested in oil and gas at this time in history. We've all watched the rise of RigUp, particularly on the labor marketplace side. And I think of all of the companies to come out of the oil and gas sector in the last couple of years, that's probably one of the most prominent, at least out here in the Valley. What are you seeing about that value proposition, again, particularly in a post COVID world and one world oil prices are where they are? Are you still seeing those labor markets as tight as they were a year or two ago?


Iain Cooper:

If we got patent formed, it would have been created. It was almost a necessity, I think, to have something like that marketplace created, particularly given with a loss of experience out of the industry, particularly out of the operators and service companies over the last five or six years. I think the ability to really drill down into the specific personnel for what is still fairly skilled jobs, it's going to be interesting to me being on the outside now to see how the service sector evolves, because obviously the service sector had always focused on technology and the skilled services that they provide with their specifically owned personnel. You may see more and more third-party technology delivery platforms moving forward.


John Mannes:

Well, that was what I was getting at here with this, is that we've seen the rise of full-stack businesses, companies that are trying to provide some sort of end-to-end value add service enabled by technology, which in any sense... I was sitting here last night, thinking through some of these questions and trying to draw the exact distinction between what it means to be a third-party services provider in oil and gas versus a technology company. At a certain point, they become the same thing. So when you think about the future of this world, do you expect to see more RigUps? Do you expect to see more folks that are tech enabled and providing services in the oil and gas industry at reasonable margins that are able to just start eating some of these processes away entirely?


Iain Cooper:

You're absolutely right. I see it not just beyond oil and gas as well. I see many service sectors where you had the brain trust, for want of a better word, within specific companies. If you look at what the young workforce want today, they don't necessarily want to tie themselves to a specific provider anymore. So I think the marketplace will proliferate.


Iain Cooper:

Now, whether again, it comes crashing down again or there's some consolidation... If I was entering the energy space now, it's obviously a very different world from when I joined, why do people join the energy business? It was exciting work, exciting environments and the ability to travel. That hasn't gone away. I just think the mechanisms by which you can do that have grown significantly.


John Mannes:

Do you see specific opportunities on the technology side for tasks that could easily be outsourced or automated by some kind of third-party technology provider, particularly things that would contribute significantly to margin to a lot of these businesses?


Iain Cooper:

We've seen that with some of the investments folks like Honeywell and Siemens have made into the oil and gas space. I think they clearly see there's a role for them in assisting with the automation of these industries. And so, yeah, absolutely. I think you'll see more perhaps non traditional oil and gas companies see that there's value in that space, whether it's around the digital side or the hardware side of automation.


John Mannes:

Are there specific tasks though, I guess, when you think about the industry that you think are particularly ripe for automation, given the state of AI and machine learning and RPA and such today?


Iain Cooper:

You should be able to drill a well, drill and complete the well, completely, remotely and autonomously. Making up connections, swapping out drill bits, following a trajectory, that's all something that really could be done by computer. Production enhancement fracturing as well does lend itself for automation. Again, most of these things you're following a plan or then responding to real-time data as you modify the plan on the fly. That's a general optimization skillset that certainly could apply anywhere in the industry.


John Mannes:

What about procurement? We talked a lot about CapEx here. Is that an area where you see a lot of opportunity for automation or outsourcing?


Iain Cooper:

Whereas in industry, manage huge amount of equipment globally, moving it all over the place, perhaps less than optimally in some cases. And so again, technology that can facilitate the optimization of logistics, à la Walmart, I think is certainly something that Exxon wish they were certainly looking at.


John Mannes:

One other big category you and I have also talked about in the past is decommissioning of aging infrastructure. This is something we've been paying a lot of attention to just given the amount of spend from oil companies that's been going into managing aging infrastructure that has to continue to run and then decommissioning pieces that are just basically excess at this point. So I'm curious what you're seeing around technology for those particular applications and whether you've seen any tech companies capturing some of that spend and solving real problems in the field.


Iain Cooper:

Schlumberger invested in one particular company, BiSN, that was developing liquid metal seals so that you would not necessarily have to have large amounts of cement, which had always been known to be potentially a leak [inaudible 00:00:19:14]. They actually grew significantly during the downturn, again, primarily driven by plug and abandonment. When there's typically a downturn, you do see the operators refocus on the P&A type of jobs. I always felt that was a good opportunity again, to deliver holistic services around that while decommissioning. BiSN certainly was one of those that stood out for me. And again, obviously it was one of those that had an interesting mix of investors that was a service company and operator and even competitor service companies being on the same investor role.


John Mannes:

Do you see opportunities as well for software there? Or I suppose this goes back to some of the earlier discussion around hardware and operations to solve real problems in this industry. Is there still an opportunity for a software-only company to be able to make a major difference in something like aging infrastructure?


Iain Cooper:

I think so. I think decommissioning has always seemed to be at the low end of the market where margins tend to be a little tighter. So anywhere where you optimize on the planning, logistics, equipment, relocation is ripe for innovation. And so I think, yeah, certainly on the optimized planning side, I would say there's an opportunity there.


John Mannes:

Let's talk a little bit about then maybe refining optimization, just like massive multi-variable problem. What we've seen at least in the market in the last couple of years is just the excess capacity driving down margins. You talked a little bit about logistics. Can you give folks a little bit more context on where the opportunity might be there and if you were a founder, how you might go about starting to solve some of those problems?


Iain Cooper:

I was thinking more on the upstream side there where you're mobilizing multiple crews to multiple locations with multiple equipment. So you've got a really large multi-parameter optimization problem, particularly scheduling of personnel on top of that. And this is where someone like a RigUp actually has quite a lot of influence, I would think because they've got the personnel directory by which they could potentially optimize particular crews. And you could certainly imagine combined crews from multiple service companies, perhaps in the future, based on location, skillset, access to tools. There's an opportunity to change the paradigm of operator contractor service company into a more open kind of delivery.


John Mannes:

You emphasized upstream. Is that at the expense of downstream in the sense that maybe there's just less of an opportunity there?


Iain Cooper:

Downstream is a little more static. Now, you've got a refinery. It's a bit more like a traditional chemical company. There's still quite a bit of optimization that can be done and obviously you're monitoring to optimize processes within the refinery. But in the upstream side, you really got a [inaudible 00:21:46] space that you're trying to manage.


John Mannes:

Specifically, maybe focusing on upstream for the purposes of this conversation, where do you see the biggest opportunities for increased efficiency on just pure workflows?


Iain Cooper:

We started to see that. We invested in Possible at Schlumberger, which was looking at standardized work instructions and being able to communicate, that have sign off-on instructions and then also be able to give immediate assistance to folks when they needed to look at repairing a valve, et cetera. Anything that facilitates the ability of people in the field to respond quickly to environments that are not normal or not expected, will be important.


Iain Cooper:

So being able to do that cradle-to-grave management, of being able to schedule a job, put the people in place, schedule the job itself, have systems that can manage change in real time while you're doing that job and then ultimately spit out the automated reports needed to either validate the job or for regulatory reporting that touches on security, data management, analytics, telemetry. It's a very complex problem that we're trying to solve, as complex as deep space missions. And it's right here at home.


John Mannes:

If we're thinking about increasing... Obviously, there's only so many levers you can pull in business. One of them being cutting costs. The other one being increasing revenue. If you're a startup founder and you want to solve one of these two problems within oil and gas, what would be your recommendation?


Iain Cooper:

Cost always comes first. The operators are always trying to drive. You do see cycles. It does depend on even the individual personnel within those companies. We're always being driven on price.


John Mannes:

Awesome. Well, thank you, Iain, so much. This was incredibly interesting and really thankful that you were able to spend some time with us and share some wisdom with these founders.


Iain Cooper:

Thank you. I never tire of talking about the time I had in the VC. I obviously loved my time on the oil field side with Schlumberger. [inaudible 00:23:37] no better company to have spent 29 years with in terms of being able to access the world and look at a broad range of technologies.


John Mannes:

A unique facet of the oil industry is the size and scale of infrastructure and operations investments around the world. While oil's had to reckon with more change than most, it has one of the strongest foundations of any industry on the planet. Budgets and returns are thought of on much longer time horizons than your average tech startup. This enables the industry to move forward amidst volatility. Startups like RigUp has shown the world how disruptive technology can be to the oil industry. And the next set of unicorns in the space will help oil producers find their footing in a world transitioning away from oil. Tech-enabled services, and automation more broadly, is poised to become even more important to the industry as pressure to control margins becomes even greater. We see opportunities for tech companies to build massive businesses supporting the decommissioning of aging infrastructure, automating procurement, supporting midstream operations and optimizing both labor and logistics.


John Mannes:

I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Future Proof. We'll be posting episodes on Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud, so watch for our next episode. Check out Basis Set's full research on oil and gas at basisset.ventures/research. And if you want to chat about any of the themes from this episode, drop me a note at john@basisset.ventures.

For more information on this topic, check out BSV's research:
Oil & Gas