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Houston oil and gas software exec eyes M&A activity following private equity deal

Travis Parigi, CEO of LiquidFrameworks, is excited about the new doors that have been opened for his company. Courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi has built his software within his own company for about 14 years. Now, he's in a position to further develop his product at a faster rate.

In January, LiquidFrameworks entered into a partnership with private equity firm, Luminate Capital. The new financial partner has opened doors for Parigi and LiquidFrameworks — including putting merger and acquisition activity on the table.

"I have historically written stuff from the ground up, and we're going to continue to do that, but we want to give our customers more than that," Parigi tells InnovationMap. "And I've never had the opportunity to go out and strategically target opportunities where it makes sense to compliment the product. And I think that's going to be a very exciting thing to do."

Parigi, founder and CEO, tells InnovationMap about how his company has transformed over the years — and especially over the past several months with its new financial backer.

InnovationMap: How did you get your start in software development?

Travis Parigi: I've been building software since I was a very young kid, actually. I started writing software for companies at a very early age and realized that I really, really enjoyed it. And so when I say young, I'm talking in grade school and high school. And I really found that it was rewarding and I enjoyed meeting the requirements that people gave me. From the very early days, I knew I wanted to start a software company, but I really wasn't sure exactly what it would do. I went to work in the consulting industry right after graduating from A&M University with a degree in computer science and engineering and was building software for variety of different companies that were their clients and started to get some exposure to the energy industry.

Then in the late 1990s, the company I was at was going through some financial struggles, and it became an opportune time for me to start my own consulting company building software for companies. One client I had was Schlumberger, and I really started seeing this similar business problem related to collecting data at the well site. The workers in the field were working with paper and Excel. I thought it was a great opportunity to move people out of manual and into the digital world.

IM: Now, over a decade later, what role do you feel LiquidFrameworks plays in the industry?

TP: We play a role of standardizing the datasets that our clients are working with as it relates to the quote to cash process. So, specifically around their pricing data and their catalog data. We're standardizing that data and we're getting it into form and a shape that allows them to easily keep it up to date and easily syndicated changes related to that data out to not only other offices and districts, but also field crew that may be occasionally connected to the network.

With that data, we can do all sorts of things that end up benefiting the customer — like using it to create field tickets, invoices, work orders, safety forms, quotes, and all sorts of transactions that really need to be based upon one homogenous set of data that standardize, that isn't floating around in various documents.

IM: Where does the artificial intelligence LiquidFrameworks has developed come into play?

TP: We're taking it one step further, and once they finished those transactions, they end up with not just the reference data as it relates to pricing, but also the transactional data, we can use that data to infer the best way to quote or price new services in the future that will position the company and the best possible place to win the deals that they're quoting and bidding against. We're using different types of artificial intelligence algorithms to do that.

Nowadays, companies like us have at our disposal tools in the AI world — specifically in the machine learning world — that we just didn't have when I started the company. Fourteen years ago when I started the business, cloud computing in 2005 was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. And it wasn't as widely accepted and it certainly wasn't as widely accepted as it is in the energy industry today.

IM: What kind of clients are you working with?

TP: We're targeting three different industries. The upstream oil and gas service provider market, the downstream service provider market, and the emergency response service provider market. On the upstream side, they are companies doing work at the well site, and in downstream, they are companies doing work at the refineries.

IM: As automation and cloud technology is being more adapted within oil and gas, what technologies are now on your radar?

TP: In the beginning, we spent a lot of time educating our potential customers about cloud computing and about technologies that we had available. And now that a lot of that is so well received, it just means that we don't necessarily have to focus on that anymore. We can focus really on what really brings ROI to the customers that implement our product.

I keep a keen watch on a lot of the different technologies that are emerging out there. Blockchain is certainly one of them that we're looking at. I think there's some interesting things that we might be able to do with that as it relates to price book management, which is complex and varied. It could be that blockchain could end up providing a nice mechanism for both parties to independently have pricing data verified.

We're always keeping an eye on and doing work in artificial intelligence, specifically around machine learning. I think there's always new interesting stuff taking place there outside. I would say those two technologies are something that we're pretty pretty keen on.

IM: How has the transition into private equity been with your new partner in Silicon Valley-based Luminate Capital?

TP: We had a financial partner prior to Luminate Capital called Houston Ventures. Our managing partner there was a guy named Chip Davis. He was fantastic, and he helped us grow the business for about seven years. Eventually, we got to a point where we had grown to a level where I felt like, in order to do some things we wanted to do, we needed to establish a new financial partner. Private equity made the most sense for us, and it's really allowing us to do some things that we couldn't do with venture.

Over the years, we built out a fairly extensive roadmap, and my development team has worked very hard and diligently to fulfill those items on the roadmap. But our customer base has really grown significantly, and we've moved up into enterprise customers who have asked for a lot of things that we want to put into our product. And so our long range roadmap has grown. For these new features, we either need to build that ourselves in house, but, in some cases, there are some things that are tangential and complimentary to our product that other companies have already. So, it could make sense for us to go out and acquire those kinds of companies. And with Luminate, they provided us not only capital for us to do that, but equally as important, they provided an engine that we can facilitate from an M&A perspective to help us go and source those deals, find them, help assess them, and ultimately help acquire them and then integrate them into the overall platform.

IM: How has the partnership benefitted your company from a networking and opportunities perspective?

TP: Their portfolio of companies are similar to us and that they're are all enterprise software companies. They're not necessarily in the energy space, but they're all enterprise software companies. Being able to network with those companies has really been helpful. We didn't have a CFO prior to Luminate coming in. Part of the deal was that they said, "hey, we really would encourage and recommend that you get a CFO at this stage because you're growing and you need it." They provided some relationships there to in the form of recruiters to help us source the CFO. And we ended up sourcing a local CFO — Paul Marvin — who's absolutely fantastic.

IM: How has Houston been as a home base for you?

TP: Houston has been fantastic for LiquidFrameworks. I started the business based here and see no reason to change that. It is a fantastic market for us, both from a customer perspective as well as an employee perspective. The employee talent base in Houston is rich and deep. There's a lot of technical people here, and obviously there's a ton of energy companies.

IM: With all your operations being in Houston, do you see opportunities for other offices in the future?

TP: We have customers all over the world — a lot in Canada, so I could see an office there for sales and implementation. I would say that as we grow, expanding sales to other geographies is certainly something that will ultimately end up doing. It's just not something we've had to do yet.

IM: Are you planning on growing operations here?

TP: We've added a couple dozen people to the team just over the past few months, and we plan on doubling the staff by the end of next year.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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