Houston startup creates the Alexa or Siri for oil and gas companies
When Sidd Gupta's friend lost his job and struggled to find a new position after the major oil downturn in 2014, Gupta noticed a systemic problem within the industry.
"A company rejected him because he was unfamiliar with the software they used in their operations," Gupta explains. "In our industry, companies will judge a potential hire's technical capabilities based on which software they know how to use rather than how good they would be at the job."
While software requirements for oilfield jobs are common, it made Gupta consider how we can make complex data and knowledge more accessible.
Gupta saw something else brewing in the energy industry that also piqued his interest.
"There was entrepreneurship in the oil and gas space and an interest in data science during the oil downturn. We saw startups created in Austin then Houston. There was an infectious entrepreneurial energy at that time," he says.
Last year, he took the entrepreneurial leap, quit his job and founded Nesh, a smart assistant like Alexa or Siri, but specifically for oil and gas companies. Nesh sources information from public data, vendor sources, technical papers, journal articles, news feeds and more to give answers to complex, technical questions related to energy.
Because this tool is meant for businesses and not personal use, the software must be trustworthy, Gupta says, and he asked himself what he needs to do to make an engineer or a CEO of an energy company believe Nesh's response.
The answer: transparency. With Nesh, users can see how the smart assistant came to its answer. The software shows the data and workflow behind the answer as part of the user interface.
And Nesh learns from its users too. If an unfamiliar question is posed to Nesh, users can add new training phrases to teach Nesh what to do next time the question is posed.
"We created Nesh as something super-simple to use," Gupta says. "There's no learning curve, no technical knowledge required, you just need to speak plain English."
Gupta, who was raised in India, came to the United States to pursue his master's degree in petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. After working in oil and gas for over a decade, he started Nesh last year with co-founder and CTO Seth Anderson.
Gearing up for the future
This year, Nesh is in the process of fundraising, and, with the new funds, he plans to expand his workforce, which is currently five employees (including Gupta himself) based in Houston. Due to its size, Nesh currently can run only one pilot program at a time. With more employees, Nesh will be able to scale up its pilot programs and run multiple pilots in parallel. The larger user pool for these pilots will give Gupta and his team better insights into Nesh and allow them to continue refining the tool.
Right now, Gupta wants to commercialize in those operations where Nesh is already running pilot programs. He says he hopes for Nesh to have both internal and external growth, with the next surge of hiring and an expanded user pool for the product.
He plans to make Nesh available as a commercial product in fall of this year with a target market of small to mid-sized oil and gas companies.
Gupta says Nesh is different from anything in the market.
"With enterprise software in general, it can be very hard to get a demo version of software without talking to a sales representative—something that people dislike," he says. "I want to bring the B2C aspect of trying a software to the B2B world."
The business model goal for Nesh is for potential clients to be able to test the software themselves, Gupta says, and then contact the company if they're interested.
"I want transparent pricing to be visible on our website," he says. "I want potential customers to be able to experience the demo just by giving their information."
As Gupta sees it, one of the main advantages to being in Houston is the important support networks as well as the potential customer base. He's grateful to local organizations such as Station Houston and Capital Factory for connecting him with many resources.
"I'm seeing a lot of innovation here in Houston," Gupta says. "There's a lot of oil and gas companies, so as we begin looking for potential customers, that's a very important advantage of being here."