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Interview

“Coding is the English of Tomorrow,” Kayrros President Antoine Rostand’s Advice to YPs

Antoine Rostand is the founder and president of Kayrros, a start-up focused on tracking energy from production to consumption using novel and alternative data sources combined with machine learning and intelligent algorithms. Rostand started his career as an oilfield engineer at Schlumberger and later founded Schlumberger Business Consulting. The TWA Interview team talked with him about the challenges of starting a new company, what role alternative and big data will play in oil and gas, and how young professionals can adapt to the volatile industry.

Many oil and gas companies are starting to leverage analytics and big data in their operations, but currently only a small percentage of data collected is actually used. What do you think the low hanging fruit is for companies to analyze?

There are two avenues for data-driven value creation: internal and external data. Internal data, such as the Internet of Things and sensors, have the potential to improve operational processes from exploration to production and maintenance. This is an obvious track for value creation that any oil and gas company should pursue. Leveraging external data is trickier, as most operators have no idea about what is available. New data, like satellite imagery, social networks, or open society resources, are growing exponentially and can provide a lot of value to oil and gas companies on competition, production levels, inventories, refinery runs, demand, and other key market drivers. The Kayrros vision is to make all of these data easily available and usable for oil and gas companies and anyone interested in energy.

What advantages are there to taking a deeper dive into niche or alternative data sets such as satellite images or social media information? How can it be combined with more conventional data such as production levels, rig counts, and drilling permits?

This point is crucial in our vision: We are moving to a world in which stakeholders will start relying on “measured” and not just “reported” data. It is a tectonic shift. We are using technologies to track real things: rigs, frac crews, trucks, tankers, and construction projects, to name but a few. Achieving this requires the combination of all data sources, conventional and unconventional.

You have had a varied career focusing on energy, consulting, and technology and hold two graduate degrees in business and engineering. What advice do you have for young professionals who want to pursue the data and analytics side of oil and gas? What skill sets and professional opportunities should they seek out?

There are two fundamental trends in the world today: a transition to a decarbonized energy system, and the growing importance of artificial intelligence.

All energy professionals should think across energy sources. Energy systems are constantly evolving. Even in a scenario of rapid decarbonization, oil and gas will remain a big part of the fuel mix and require massive investments, but other sources of energy will be growing at an exponential rate to mitigate the impact that climate change has on the planet.

As AI continues to develop, any young professional should be able to code. Coding is the English of tomorrow.

Oil and gas is an inherently cyclical industry. How can young professionals survive the cycle and differentiate themselves in their work?

Before AI, the recipe to success in any industry was to develop a T-shaped capability set; being a specialist in one field, and being very good in all of the rest. Now, it’s important to develop a double T-shaped set; being a specialist in one field AND coding, and being very good at everything else.

At Kayrros, we recruit from top schools, and we look at people who have these two tiers: expertise in one segment of the industry such as oil, gas, data, power, software, finance, and the ability to code.

Being an Entrepreneur in Oil and Gas

After a successful career at Schlumberger, why did you move into the entrepreneurship world and how did you develop the idea of combining machine learning, novel data sets, and the energy markets?

In Schlumberger, I was already in the entrepreneurship world. Thanks to Andrew Gould, the company’s former CEO, I had the opportunity to do what is called intrapreneurship, which is to create a new business within an existing organization. As an intrapreneur at Schlumberger, I created a completely new business line within the company—Schlumberger Business Consulting—which became a world leader within 5 years. In addition to that, I also created the Schlumberger SBC Energy Institute, now A.T. Kearney Energy Transition Institute, a leading non-for-profit institution focused on the energy sector transition.

The idea to combine machine learning and novel data in the energy industry came to me a few years ago, when I had a sort of “Uber” moment. When I was doing strategy consulting work for large oil and gas companies, I was amazed by the difference between the truth—such as levels of production, reserves, decline rates, and investments—and what was available from traditional data providers. I realized that the largest industry in the world was making huge decisions based on incomplete, outdated, and often unreliable data. We had to do something about it, and technology was the obvious solution.

Oil and gas is a cyclical, capital intensive, and complex business that operates on a huge scale. What are some of the unique challenges to building a company that targets the industry?

First, it is important to think global from the start. This is why Kayrros, which is only 2 years old, has offices all over the world and a very international team, which already includes more than 15 different nationalities. Global talent is needed to build a global leader. Second, it is important to think in a systemic way across streams, from exploration to the pump stations, and across energy sources from oil to wind farms.

What has been the most exciting and enjoyable aspect of starting a new company? What has been the most challenging?

The most enjoyable aspect of starting a company is to choose with whom you want to work. I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry for decades, and I was very lucky to meet great people who I could trust. Trust is key in a startup.

The biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is to work through the rollercoaster of emotions that come with opening a business—excitement, good news, bad news, and all of the ups and downs—while maintaining a clear vision on what you want to achieve. For Kayrros, it is to bring transparency to energy markets.

Do you have any other advice for young professionals?

Energy is the basis of economic growth, but solving the energy conundrum is one of the most difficult challenges of our time. For someone joining the industry, my advice would be to anticipate how the energy industry will develop in the future to think beyond pure oil and gas. And code!

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