Always treat people with respect but don’t operate solely on trust. When it comes to ownership paper it up. Always paper up.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brett Chell. Brett Chell is the President and Co-Founder of Cold Bore Technology. He has more than 15 years of international experience in the oil and gas industry and specializes in developing “disruptive technologies”, new processes, equipment and software systems for the drilling and completions sectors. He has expertise in drilling operations and technology and has built, commissioned and operated both conventional and coil tubing configurations.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
So I started in the field working on the drilling rigs with my brother in law when I was in my early and mid 20’s. It was a really good part of my life that really helped me understand the value of work and that remote labour jobs can be so damn difficult mentally. I learnt it was not something I could do forever. I just don’t have the mental fortitude or desire to do that kind of work, and I have a lot of respect for all field personnel because of that. Anyway, I built and commissioned some rigs at the tail end of my field career and then decided I wanted to build my own companies.
My next move was to learn how to finance my own companies and get a street degree, if you will, in private equity and institutional financing. I spend the next 4 years working under a mentor and we built several technology companies from scratch. One of which involved installing a Volkswagen bug-sized video camera on the ISS. We raised over $40M in financing and that was where I was schooled. A few deals later in 2014, myself and some really great partners started Cold Bore and Axial Energy Tech. Axial Energy Tech was essentially a services company that employed the controllers, CFO’s etc for our companies. We would use the same people to fulfil the roles at multiple startups in the very early days to keep overhead down. Normally startups struggle with that because it’s hard to keep some of those positions busy all the time, so it made sense to look at a structure like that, where we could service multiple startups within our business group at once.
Can you share your story of grit and success? First, can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Anytime anyone starts a new company, they statistically have a 1 in 10 chance of making it. That was us, day one at the end of 2014, when we were a small pre-revenue technology development company in Calgary developing drilling technology, wondering if against the odds we would make it. Then 2015 happened; oil prices crashed and, in the matter of a few months, almost all drilling just stopped. We had raised $3M at that time, we were a year into it and broke. We had a prototype that we were testing and for lack of a better term, we were bankrupt and dead in the water.
This was not uncommon at the time for really big companies, but small ones like us were expected to already be gone and liquidated. My partner and I made the choice to do a wholesale pivot, repurpose the tech we did have and move to fracking because that was still going on in a small capacity. The only thing we knew is that fracking was WAY behind drilling in terms of technology so we did some research and found a small application where our acoustic drilling tech may apply if repurposed. Turns out we were right and it was well received.
We knew at that time that it was a product and not a company, but we had a fighting chance. So we left Calgary and went to Vancouver where the mining finance guys were on fire. We made the case to a bunch of them that they should take some of their winnings and double down on a massively depressed energy market while everyone else was running. We were able to raise a full round and survive. Coming from the drilling side, we always had a central computer that all sensors tied into, so I always just assumed that the fracking industry had one for completions. We quickly learned that this part of the process, which was up to 3 times more expensive, was indeed analog and very outdated. They had no central operating system which tracked onsite operations operation and tied all the service companies data together. This was the moment we decided to build just that. Now the world’s first ECR (electronic completions recorder) or the SmartPAD™ is available commercially.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My co-founder Blair Layton and I raised all the money for the company from our friends and family, so I don’t think it’s any mystery why we are the only two of 6 original ‘founders’ still here. I think they call it “Skin in the game”. It was a good lesson for me.
So, how are things going today? How did grit lead to your eventual success?
Today we are commercial with a truly game-changing technology (I hate that term but it’s accurate here), we are working for many of the world’s largest oil companies, partnering with the largest database companies and in talks with the largest services companies to integrate our systems with theirs. We have amazing strategic partners that have built and exited billion dollar companies and we are taking ground. That being said, we are attempting to climb a very large mountain so we have a long way to go. We have line of sight on the summit now though, something we could only dream of until last year.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well since we essentially raised what will likely be $13M by the time this is published by getting ourselves in front of people and telling our story, I had to learn the ins and outs of most levels of finance in our industry through hands-on experience. In one of my first presentations, I was in a big boardroom with lots of professionals in suits. I did my whole song and dance and at the end, they asked what we were raising at. I quickly told them we have placed a $5M dollar “evaluation” on our company. That’s when they all stood up smiled and said “thanks for coming in buddy” and promptly left the room. I went back to the office and Googled it which revealed to me that the word I was looking for was a very basic term, the most basic. When you value your company you put a “valuation” on it, not an “evaluation”. It was a long walk home that day! I learned that it was “valuation” that day, but more importantly, I learned that I would survive even if I messed up royally in front of everyone. It was a big day of learning, to not dwell on mistakes and keep moving forward.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Honestly, it’s our unlikely story. No one can believe that a completely green entrepreneur and an accountant, along with a highly dedicated, very small team managed to sail their ship through hurricane after hurricane without stable backing. People really do understand the value of our technology but that is just our what, not our why. I really connect with people, including clients, in that sense. Our tech is great but more importantly, I want to leave them with the feeling that they can trust us to make it happen for them and their respective company.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Drink lots of Monster Energy drinks and listen to as much Gary Vaynerchuk as you can.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Absolutely correct, no one succeeds without a lot of help along the way. Actually, there are so many people, especially in my family, that are both mentors and partners. Literally everyone in my family is an entrepreneur. This includes my uncles, grandparents on both sides, mom and dad. My uncles all helped me blaze a trail, taught me fundamentals and invested in some of the rounds when they were open alongside all our other shareholders.
I could tell a story about any one of them but for this, I will choose my mother. She owned a modelling agency when I was a kid and now runs a horse rescue ranch where she teaches riding to kids. She is a very powerful woman in the way she carries herself but the trait I retained the most from my childhood which she instilled in me was an ability to approach anyone and immediately open a relatable conversation. She is the queen of deep conversations with strangers and almost every person that meets her will message me after and tell me the same thing, “I just talked to your mom for two hours in the parking lot and I love her”.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I feel like I’m still on the journey to success. It’s a wild ride and takes a huge amount of my time, effort and passion to keep the momentum and trajectory where it is. I like people and it’s important to me that the people I work with get the same version of me that my friends and family do.
I try my best to lift up others when I get the chance and help them live the best version of themselves whether that be in work or just life.
Bringing goodness to the world is itself a journey, not a destination so I try to respond to what I see around me and act in a way that feels right and that I know I can be proud of.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Check your ego at the door, it will do you more harm than good.
2. It’s going to take 3 times longer than you plan.
3. It’s going to be 5 times more expensive than you think.
4. Always treat people with respect but don’t operate solely on trust. When it comes to ownership paper it up. ALWAYS PAPER UP.
5. Lot’s of days are going to suck really bad, but that is going to happen anyway so you might as well stick it out and get something for it.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to really encourage free thinking and teach the true meaning of the scientific method. It should be made clear that science is not a belief, but rather an incredible tool for discovery.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/brett-chell-81199424/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/64lincolncontinental/
Thank you for joining us!