Q&A with Tech to Market guest Chad Harkness

Chad Harkness, an innovator for oil and gas services, recently chatted with BIZ. Publisher and Editor Sean Green about his e-commerce platform for the oil and gas industry ahead of his speaking engagement at Tech to Market in Shreveport this October.

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As managing director of The Oilfield Marketplace, Chad leveraged his 20-year global oil and gas career and managed to break the shackles and security of corporate life to start an Amazon-inspired platform for the oilfield.

For years, Chad watched the E&P industry deploy and adopt technology and processes that brought about operational efficiency, but was continually frustrated by the commercial inefficiencies that persisted across departments. That is when he developed the Oilfield Marketplace, a digital resource for oil and gas buyers and sellers, built by oil and gas industry professionals themselves.

Starting his oilfield career in Shreveport with Schlumberger, an oilfield services and equipment company, the Tech to Market event will be a sort of homecoming for Chad.

Below is a Q&A between him and Sean (click here to see video of their conversation):

1. Chad, how did you come up with the idea for The Oilfield Marketplace?

After 20 years of dealing with all the different parts of the ecosystem, it’s always been inspirational to me how we have relentlessly attacked operational efficiency. People wake up every day and figure out how to drill faster, get more hydrocarbon out of the ground faster, be safer and cleaner. I saw how we’ve been more efficient in almost every aspect of what we do, but not the way we run the commercial side of the business. So the motivation came from parallels of our personal lives and how the efficiency of our personal lives has been transformed by e-commerce.

2. Was it born out of frustration with middlemen or more of an opportunity to make everyone’s life in the oil and gas industry easier?

It’s this idea of seamlessly connecting buyers and sellers, getting back to this “one-click” culture. We reflected on how much money the industry wasted during the last downturn, we don’t have a just-in-time supply chain in the oil field. If we’re honest with ourselves, throughout the next 15-25 years, it’s not something we will be able to afford as an industry. There are other energy sources out there that when we look at costs, oil and gas is going to have to be much more efficient. 

3. What about buy-in from oil and gas folks, what was their reception and did you have to sell them on it?

This is as much about a culture change as it is a technology platform. There has been a lot of selling, and the oilfield is not much different than other B2B spaces. When you look at technology adoption curve of different industries — travel, tourism, media, banking — some industries are further ahead and as you go down that curve, oil and gas is very much in that bottom quartile in terms of value created by digital. E-commerce is a part of that. Any time we talk about culture change, there’s a lot of convincing and selling. One thing that plays in our favor is that because transformation in our personal lives, everyone know what that looks like, they get where we’re coming from.

4. What types of challenges did it present when it came to getting off the ground?

Being one of the first to leverage digital to connect buyers and sellers, we found that foundation, that architecture doesn’t exist. My marketing team is really having to work from the bottom up to create that digital understanding between the buyer and the seller. You can’t just start a website and expect people to come there, you have to find ways to reach both parties and ensure they meet in the middle. The other big technological challenges is the ability to give buyers the comfort that the solution they’re buying online is the right one for them. In our industry, buyers have their hand held throughout the sales process, so we have to give that same level of comfort in a digital environment.

5. What has The Oilfield Marketplace done for the industry? I would have to imagine it’s a game changer.

We’re a growing business so we have not had the global game changing impact yet, but we can start to see some really interesting impact. Shifting the focus to commercial efficiency, this is a conversation we need to bring to the table to stay relevant in the global mix. We are trying to drive down the cost per barrel for everyone — for producers of the energy and the people who need the energy to have better lives. It’s proven that this kind of innovation benefits everyone, it can be good for buyers and sellers. What we’re trying to do is something that is open, unbiased, and vendor- and buyer-neutral. 

6. Now, Tech to Market. What do you plan on bringing to the Tech to Market event?

We’re really excited to be at this event. One of the big roles we can play is that we believe the oilfield marketplace has a strong value proposition for the innovators. One of the big challenges is getting their innovation to market, especially in North America. It is a big place, there are lots of customers, and buyers are super busy. What we can do is we give those same buyers an extremely efficient way to learn about new innovations that can make their operations more efficient. Doing e-commerce well is relatively expensive and we’ve now taken that risk away from everyone, so that’s something I think we can bring to the innovator. I think my marketing team does a great job making people’s products look great. Inventors are great at a lot of things, sometimes they have gaps in marketing and we step in on that front.

7. What can attendees of the event expect from your presentation?

Being an entrepreneur for the past year on this topic, I think I would love to have some offline conversations with young entrepreneurs on their journey. It’s a community, so sharing information and mentoring, I’m happy to do that. I would also say people can expect to hear about how digital can be leveraged, and also being open and honest about some of the challenges we’ve overcome.