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Nesh CEO Sidd Gupta: On Designing a Startup Opportunity From Industry’s Data Gaps

In an interview with TWA Forum department lead content creator Stephen Forrester, Nesh co-founder and CEO Siddhartha Gupta talks about his journey from working with operating and oilfield service companies to founding a startup. After noticing a gap in how the industry answered questions, he envisioned a company that would use conversational AI to significantly reduce the time it takes to do tedious, simple tasks involving massive amounts of data. Read the full interview to find out more about Gupta’s entrepreneurial journey, his reasons for co-founding Nesh, how he envisions digital and AI impacting the oilfield moving forward, and how bolstering skills outside of your technical domain can make a difference in your career.

Sidd Gupta is the cofounder and CEO of Nesh, a venture-backed, energy technology startup that created a smart assistant for oil and gas. Gupta has more than 10 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and previously worked at Schlumberger and Shell. He worked onshore and offshore as a production engineer, led product management for a large upstream software portfolio, and obtained significant engineering experience in resource plays. He is also a self-described data nerd and design enthusiast. Gupta has published several papers and patents and is an active member of SPE. He holds a BS in petroleum engineering from the Indian School of Mines and an MS in petroleum engineering from UT Austin.

Tell us about a little about yourself. What's your story? Where did you grow up, what did you like in school, what did you think you'd do when you grew up?

I’m an Indian transplant in Texas. I grew up in Lucknow, a city in the Northern part of India, close to Delhi. I was a pretty nerdy kid, so I liked to read a lot and participate in quiz and debate contests. After watching Top Gun, I wanted to be an air force pilot when I grew up, but after I got prescribed glasses in 6th grade, that dream was done for, and so I decided to pursue engineering. I studied petroleum engineering for both undergraduate and graduate school.  

You had a pretty extensive career before co-founding Nesh, primarily with Schlumberger in a variety of roles. Give us some context on your professional life. What lessons from the field have you been able to implement in your work now?

Schlumberger was my first job out of school, and for someone joining the oil and gas industry, probably one of the best places to work. It is common knowledge that their training programs are the best, so I learned a lot for the first 2 years and went through a very structured curriculum. It was a very diverse and inclusive workplace, and one of the things I admired the most about Schlumberger was their ability to attract diverse talent despite being so large. That’s something I’m trying to do for my own startup today.

I always had that innate desire to start something on my own. A few years ago, a close friend of mine launched a successful startup, and that got me thinking that I could do it too. But first I had to find that one big problem.

After time with Shell and Schlumberger, you went on to co-found Nesh. What was the inspiration to become an entrepreneur? Tell us about some of the highs and lows of being a young professional going in a different direction like this. Has it been worth it?

There were a lot of small things that led up to the decision of starting Nesh. I was and still am largely inspired by Bill Gates and Andy Grove, and after reading about them as a kid, I wanted to be like them. But they were larger-than-life figures in a distant country 9,000 miles away, so while they inspired me to be innovative and their stories pushed me closer to the cliff to take the leap of entrepreneurship, it wasn’t enough to go all the way. I always had that innate desire to start something on my own. A few years ago, a close friend of mine launched a successful startup, and that got me thinking that I could do it too. But first I had to find that one big problem.

One of the problems that I noticed in our industry was the amount of time and money companies would waste looking for answers in data they already have. The problem was large enough and the pain sharp enough that I decided to start Nesh to solve it. I didn’t know what to expect when we started Nesh. I think Reid Hoffman said that starting a company is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. The journey so far has been a bit of a blur because we have been extremely focused on building that plane. It can be a very lonely journey on most days and except your spouse, there aren’t too many people who understand what you are going through. That’s tough, but on the other hand, I’ve met so many amazing people who I would’ve never met otherwise, so I am thankful for that. Has it been worth it? Give me a few more years before I answer that question.

Tell us about Nesh. What product/service does Nesh provide to the oil and gas industry?

Our vision when founding Nesh was very simple: To create enterprise software that was unexpectedly delightful to use. Something that can bring people a little joy during their work.

Like I mentioned before, our industry wastes an enormous amount of time and money looking for answers in data they already have. So, our goal was to create a software that can provide an answer to your technical and business questions by simply asking for it, like a knowledgeable and ever-present colleague who never judges you. That’s what we have been working on for the last 2 years, and we’ve been successful at creating a conversational AI that can do just that. Nesh can connect to internal and publicly available data and lets you have a natural conversation with it.

The oil and gas industry is a cash-flow-dependent industry, yet it wastes 8,000 years every year looking for basic answers, and I believe Nesh can return some of that lost cash flow. Working from home will likely become the new norm, and when you can’t turn your chair to tap your colleague’s shoulder to ask her a question, Nesh can be there to look up that answer.

Some of our clients have used Nesh to read, analyze, and query flowback reports that are emailed from the field. This reduced the analysis time from 30 minutes per well to under 10 seconds. Another client used Nesh to help their business analysts track the market and their peers. We trained Nesh to read huge amounts of publicly available data about their peers, partners, and competitors, and were able to reduce the analysis time by over 90%. There are many more areas including corporate strategy, competitor benchmarking, merger and acquisition, exploration studies, and HSE where Nesh can be used.

If you were peering into a crystal ball, what will the company be offering in the next 5, 10 years? Where does your next passion take you?

Our short-term goal is to make sure our team remains healthy, happy, and safe so we can serve our customers. Medium-term goal, we are looking at expanding this tech to adjacent sectors within the energy vertical, including renewables and chemicals, because the application of conversational search and analytics scales beyond oil and gas. Looking out slightly further, I envision Nesh being used in the manufacturing and industrial automation sectors. Wherever there is an efficiency bottleneck in accessing information, Nesh can be a good fit, and our job over the next few years is to make a platform that can seamlessly scale across all these industries.

Where do you see this industry going in the future, and how do you think its destiny is intertwined with that of renewables and alternative energy? Much has also been said of an increasing the need for the industry to be digital and automated. Given the work that Nesh does, I would assume that you'd agree with this sentiment?

BP’s Net Zero campaign and Statoil’s rebranding to Equinor are just two signs of many indicating what’s to come. As industry insiders, we know that oil and gas will be around for many more years, but there is no denying that the growth of oil demand has started to slow down. I believe, and we already see this happening, that many of the industry-leading companies will be an integral part of this energy transition. There will be a massive focus on reducing the carbon footprint of E&P operations and a simultaneous undertaking of R&D in renewables. The next generation of engineers and geoscientists entering this industry won’t just be solving for maximized barrels of oil but will also have to contend with doing this while continuing to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. I very strongly believe that digital has an important part to play in solving this new and more complex equation.

The oil and gas industry is currently experiencing volatility that is far more severe than many young professionals expected. What kind of advice can you offer to them, both those who are happy in their corporate jobs and those who want to consider entrepreneurship, as you did?

I don’t have enough grey hair to give sage advice, but I’ll say this—our industry, startups and large companies alike, needs smarter, more well-rounded people more than ever before. The problems today’s young professionals will solve are more complex than the ones we solved. If you are in school or starting out in a new job, think about picking up a new skill outside of what you majored in, like design, writing, coding, video production, or even something as crazy as podcasting. I am not suggesting a backup career option, but moving forward, whether it’s the next well you drill, or the frac you plan, or forecast you run, or company you start, you’ll benefit from that creative thinking.

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