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PetroFeed re-imagines - and monetizes - the social networking model
PetroFeed co-founder Ashley Dunfield discusses the power of networks, virtual, human, and otherwise
Zinc tank is a proponent and early adopter of market intelligence-related technologies and other innovations that drive growth and success, both for zinc tank clients and for our own business. We also invest in, and partner with, a variety of startups that share our confidence in the power of innovation.

The following is the second in a series of case studies that will showcase the innovative technologies – and mindset – of some of zinc tank’s client/partner companies.





 

 

As is so often the case with startups that introduce disruptive technologies or business models, Calgary-based PetroFeed qualifies as a bona fide innovator not because of its unique or original technology but rather because it re-imagines existing technologies and applies them in new ways.

In this case, the PetroFeed team has developed the business equivalent of a Facebook-style network that connects its oil and gas industry members and gives them access to valuable datasets on specific oil wells and other facilities, and on the people and companies that run them and service them.

PetroFeed’s innovation happens in two ways, each of which delivers new value to everyone on the network:
  • Data that was previously available only at a steep price can now be accessed by PetroFeed members at no cost;
  • Data that was previously available from government free of charge, but in a form that was difficult to work with, is reconfigured by PetroFeed to make it more meaningful and far easier to use;
In a recent interview, PetroFeed’s founding CEO Ashley Dunfield discussed some of the PetroFeed’s key differentiators. He also offered his take on what it takes to succeed as a tech startup, particularly for those looking at an enterprise play, rather than consumer markets.

Ashley’s light bulb moment

The most important lesson for me was understanding the structure of a social network, and that the underlying structure itself can be used to facilitate efficient communications around any domain-specific content – whether that is a community space or, what I ended up doing, bringing those technology learnings back to the oil and gas space. Our entities are things like wells, facilities, pipelines, companies, geographic areas, and people. When you start mapping the relationships between all those things, you can enable people to monitor the activities of what is actually happening in a much more efficient manner than what is currently possible today.

Monetizing the data
Data is something that we talk about all the time. It should be looked at as a hard currency, as something of significant value that can be bought, sold and traded. It’s extremely valuable and there is so much data that’s not quite captured or stored or made useful today. If you can come up with ways of collecting that and connecting that, you can translate it from potential value to a hard value.

Connecting the dots
We are taking a platform approach: that is the power of a network. By building a network, everything else is built around people communicating and being able to distribute goods and services. Modern digital networks provide the most efficient way to do that. We connect that data up with everything else that provides that next layer of value to turn that information into a real world currency. But we are giving that away for free to drive adoption of our platform.

Lessons learned: an entrepreneur’s best practices
Be careful who and how you pitch
If you are doing a consumer application, you should be able to deliver your pitch in an elevator and people should get it and it shouldn’t be very hard. But if you are doing an enterprise application, it’s very different. I meet people all the time doing enterprise stuff that have received massive amounts of funding, doing extremely well, and after twenty minutes I still have no clue what the hell their business actually does. It’s harder to understand enterprise.

I also don’t believe in trying to make your pitch so that your grandma can understand or anybody else can understand. The only people that need to understand it is your target audience. If they don’t understand it, that is a big problem. Everybody else doesn’t need to understand it. I talked to so many people who were saying, ‘This isn’t going to work’ – or the government or whoever, people trying to give us free coaching or support in the early days. Nobody thought it was valid, and I’m saying, ‘No, trust me, we are solving a real problem, this is a big opportunity.’ People in our industry got that, but people outside of the industry, that were offering support, didn’t.

It was so frustrating. I would never go down that route again. I wouldn’t waste my time. I am just going to talk to people who actually are in this space or that target audience. I also don’t want to talk to people about it, or pitch anybody that I am not expecting cash from, because everybody has an opinion. The only opinions that count are from your customer or your investor.

It’s not just who you know; it’s who you hire…

I hired two guys that I happened to have a longstanding relationship with; not an intimate relationship – we just knew who each other were, and were really well recognized in the tech community. By bringing those two guys in, everybody else immediately was saying, ‘What the hell is PetroFeed doing that they can attract the talent of those two guys? If they got those guys, I am willing to listen.’

And then they were able to start talking to their networks, and now we have been able to grow to a point where everyone commanded the attention of anyone in the tech scene in our area. They are all the best-known performers in our space.

I really believe in building relationships; relationships are really fundamental to your process. They take a long time; you seed them, and you grow them, and you work off of other peoples’ reputations to grow your own.

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For more about PetroFeed, read zinc tank’s partner profile here, or visit Petrofeed’s website here. To discuss investment potential and other partnering opportunities with zinc tank, contact Brian F. Singh at 403-861-9462 or by email.