May 31, 2023

5: Peter Tyler – From $0 to $10mil ARR and how to actually “play hard”

Peter Tyler, a now-retired business development consultant for oil and gas companies has a background working for, and starting, many successful companies in the industries. Among them are Aucerna, 3esi, Enersight, Schlumberger, Petro Canada, and Merak. This episode dives into Pete’s career — company exit dos and don'ts, building great teams (and company culture), and the importance of being intentional with one’s life and career. Throughout the podcast, there is a strong emphasis on being open to change and the power of surrounding yourself with great people who are engaged, work hard, and take time outside of work to play hard (read: decompress).

In this episode

[00:00:00] Podcast teaser

[00:00:17] Podcast Intro

[00:01:05] Peter’s early background

[00:06:45] Early Enersight days

[00:12:51] Enersight hitting $1 million+ in revenue

[00:15:43] Building great work cultures

[00:19:04] Why you shouldn’t optimize happiness around hours worked

[00:23:18] Hiring great (and talented) people

[00:27:47] The downside to work-life balance in early-stage startups

[00:30:19] Money and relationships

[00:32:32] The impacts of money on relationships

[00:33:51] Peter’s regrets

[00:36:24] Managing the relationships with product development

[00:41:21] 2 software development philosophies

[00:43:31] Talk to everyone (when building products) 

[00:46:25] Doing what’s right and getting nowhere

[00:51:48] Career lows

[00:54:28] Selling to Aucerna 

[00:57:28] What Peter’s up to now

[01:00:44] Paragliding without getting injured

[01:02:04] Losing car keys

[01:03:29] Peter’s favorite petroleum fiscal contract 

[01:06:26] Being intentional with your definition of success

[01:10:05] Maintaining relationships across decades

[01:11:59] Where to connect with Peter

Links & Resources


Matt Harriman: My name is Matt Harriman. Welcome to the Achieve and Enjoy podcast, where we explore the relationship between work and happiness, achievement and joy, and success and contentment. We share our own stories and interview interesting people who have something to teach us about achieving our definition of success while enjoying the journey that leads us there. Today, my guest is one of my best friends (and best people) on Earth, Peter Tyler. Hi Pete.

Peter Tyler: Thanks, that might be a bit of an exaggeration on me being one of “the best people on Earth,” but I'll take the rest of it for sure, friend. 

[00:00:37] Matt Harriman: Well that's my opinion, so that's fine. I received a bunch of interesting questions from people that they wanted me to ask you, but we'll get to them later. I want to start with a little bit about your background. If I recall correctly, you've had multiple exits in your career. You started a business early on called Enevative (exited for some number of dollars, which was a freedom-maker), then Enersight was right after that?

Peter Tyler: I ended up staying with Schlumberger after that exit for probably almost four years — moved to Calgary to be a product champion, their idea of a product development leader.

It was excellent. Schlumberger has great training. I learned a lot about managing products and big projects. But big companies and I don't get along. After I moved to Calgary, I had one of the worst experiences of my life (also happened to be my birthday). Neil Buckley there, and as I was complaining. He said, "Why don't you come work for us?"

[00:01:51] Matt Harriman: We'll dig more into Enersight and after that. How did you make that jump from full-time employment to starting your own thing? Go back because I don't know that story from your earlier days.

Peter Tyler: My career started in the oil business in Calgary. I worked for Shell and Petro Canada, then took a year off to travel around the world and see stuff. When I came back, everybody who I'd worked for at Petro Canada had left and joined this software company in Calgary called Merak — I’d used it a little bit at the time and had a rough idea of what it was.

I went out for an interview with this guy called Dean Stewart, who I'd done some work for previously. I got home at like two in the morning, not really remembering how the interview had gone, and the next day was offered a job. Got me into Merak where I worked in the software business in Calgary for a while.

Then, I got into a consulting group that was led by Neil Buckley. I opened his offices in the US as a subsidiary of Merak — it all merged back together. I was then put in charge of Latin America in ‘96 (I was in Latin America when Merak sold to Schlumberger). What I realized at that point was that you needed to own a company if you were going to make anything when a big transition happened. I looked after probably only 10% of their (Merak) worldwide revenue, but Latin America also happened to be one of their biggest growth markets. Which is why when the bonus I got represented less than half of my annual salary for doing all that, I went, "Ooh, that's not fair." Other guys were paid out in the tens of millions. 

A bunch of us who were involved in the deal all started realizing where we'd been in this middle management layer and decided we were going to start a company. We were going to create a consulting company that was going to grow across these 6 guys (I still know all of them), each with different exit capabilities. 

I was in Latin America. The guy I ended up partnering with was in the US. Another guy that I should have partnered with moved to England and was working there. It ended up being me and this guy, Adam Vasquez, who were the only two left in the US and able to start a company. We started a company to do fiscal modeling around Schlumberger stuff and consulting. Jason Ambrose, another guy you may have heard of, started a company called Palantir (later acquired by Aucerna) in the UK with a guy called Rasen. Thomas Langren went out and started a whole pile of mobile phone apps in Sweden. All of us started companies, and all of us ended up being successful. It would have been really interesting if we'd done it together. We all wanted to own something that put us all into that boat. All five of us came out extremely well in the long run, and some of us cycled back and ended up working together again later.

Matt Harriman: Was the desire to own something purely financial, or was there anything else to it?

[00:04:41] Peter Tyler: It was a combination. One of the wonderful things about Merak as a company was that it gave people incredible autonomy and opportunity. I was 25 and running the Latin American division of a software company, which wouldn't have happened in any other company, paying me $60,000 a year. We all liked the company and were just thinking, "We can't work for this big company. We'd end up in Schlumberger, you know? Too much overhead. Not enough control. Not enough ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it." This was the real drive.

Like all of us, I wanted to be successful, but I also wanted to have my own way with things. And I think that's something I always took forward in all the companies I worked with. I liked making sure people around me could do what they wanted to do and were supported in it as much as possible — removing the barriers for them. An example being, if you're not a level 3, you're not doing job Y. That kind of stuff sucks for most people. 

Matt Harriman: You know I can relate to that. That makes it obvious where some of the decisions that you made, and how you ran things with Enersight in the US came from.

Peter Tyler: The other thing is that I like changing jobs. Early on, I never did the same job for more than 24 months — usually 12 to 18. As I got older it slowed down a bit I guess. I was the ops manager for Enersight for almost 10 years, but there were still changes within that. Up until then, there was no position I'd held for more than a couple of years. I believe that you have to move quickly and change what you're doing, or at least change your environment, or you stagnate. You don't really learn how to make things happen if you don’t.

[00:06:28] Matt Harriman: Let's talk about the early Enersight days. So you came to Houston to set up the US operation for Enersight. What was the revenue at that point?

Peter Tyler: The US revenue was like $70,000 when I joined the company, and I joined in 2008. If you remember, 2008 was really good and ‘09 was really bad. The oil price dropped from something like $100 when I packed my things up in Calgary to like $40 by the time my shipment showed up in Houston. I was like, "Oh, shit." And the $50,000 or $70,000 of software that we had was really a bunch of guys who just said, "Oh, it's only like $4k, gimme a copy. I’ll put it on my credit card." Of those clients, we only actually had one that we knew of a user in. By the time I got down here, our revenue was limited to one company called Swift — they had like three or four copies. I was working very hard to make sure we didn't lose them. It was the scariest thing I'd ever done. I moved down here (Houston) and realized that what had been promised really didn't exist. We had to start from scratch.

Peter Tyler: When you really look at it, it's like any company you buy. You really need to make sure you dig under the covers. The unfortunate thing is when you're buying a company, you get to do that, but when you're joining a company, you don't get to do that until you're already in. No regrets in the long run. At the time, I bought into the company (I physically bought shares in that company at a valuation that probably did need at least $75,000 in US revenue) I think we had $50,000 worldwide. It worked out in the long run, but it was a long run.

[00:08:19] Matt Harriman: I joined in August of 2013. At that time, we had customers with verified email addresses and phone numbers, which allowed us to track usage and other metrics. Can you talk about the early days and how the company grew? I don't know what you can legally share about annual revenues, but I know where it ended up and it was a lot more than $70,000. Walk us through the story of starting with $40 of oil and few clients. What did you do?

Peter Tyler: First, we focused on making one client happy. It was important to ensure that our software worked as intended — a challenge in the beginning. We spent a lot of time figuring out what our software should do. At the time, I was working in an office that cost $75 a month, called Caroline Collective. The roof leaked and the air conditioning wasn't great. I convinced Guyardo Latu to join me in selling our software — the only person in the company with a door to his office from start to finish.

We started knocking on doors and showing people what we had. We needed to ask questions to figure out what clients wanted and what they were struggling with. Our early software did drill scheduling, which was in high demand due to the shale revolution, but nobody had a way to forecast their capital based on drill schedules. We realized that people were using horrible spreadsheets that didn't provide any control of spending or the ability to do what-if scenarios. After copying a major oil company's model and realizing they had unreproducible and bogus data, we created a tool that gave people control in that environment.

Matt Harriman: It made a market where there were no planning tools before.

Peter Tyler: It put a front end on the input data for the stuff that we had been selling in companies like Merak. People used to generate the volumes and capital profiles in Excel and put them into these economics things and say, "Here's what it looks like." Nobody was thinking about what a completion is and when it can be done. Or what a drill is and when it can be done. Or any of the other parts. They were just focused on capital cost, volume, and price. We created a tool that allowed people to think about the inputs of that — game-changing for the oil industry at the time. That's really where that market came from, nothing but spreadsheets. It was highly successful because we took things that used to take weeks and made them possible in hours.

[00:12:36] Matt Harriman: So say whatever you can or can't say about the revenue, but call it near zero in '09 (you had a couple of customers), where did it get to? Where were the exits? How many digits?

Peter Tyler: It took a while. The million-dollar mark's always the hardest. Well, it depends on who you talk to. The hundred-thousand mark's always an exciting mark because it means you actually have enough revenue to maybe cover some of your costs and keep your head afloat. A million dollars? Like, wow, we're actually making enough money to pay people, and there are serious clients interested in keeping us going. I think it took us about four years to get to the million-dollar mark, and then it started going up.

Our growth was in the area of 80% for the next five or six years. It took us through to 2015 when we sold Enersight into the Aucerna group. Wayne Sim had decided he was going to be the person who put this whole market segment called “Planning” together and convinced a PE firm, Rubicon Technology, to come in and back him. He effectively used other people's money to buy up all these independent successful players — 6 had been formed by people who had been involved in Merak and left. It basically took the Merak group that had been around in the late nineties and put all their independent companies back together. We exited around the 10 million mark in revenue. It then continued to grow within the Aucerna world, and at the end of the day, the Enersight part of that business was still well over a third of its annual income.

Despite it not being the most expensive tool to implement (reserves tools were in the million-dollar range of implementation, whereas ours was still in that one to two hundred and fifty thousand range for most companies) we peaked with a couple companies over a million in revenue by the time Aucerna exited.

[00:14:40] Matt Harriman: From my story, when I left Chesapeake and joined you at Enersight, it was a total culture shock. Chesapeake was my first real job, and I quickly found that I was also allergic to big companies. It was a country club at the time (peak Aubrey McLendon days), there was a 15% match on the 401k, and there was a person in charge of absolutely everything. I then show up at the Enersight office and nobody shows up until 8:45 when Josh Groves lets me in. Beer bottles are everywhere. I don't have a desk. There's an empty bottle of tequila sitting on the printer, which is also next to a sink.

Peter Tyler: Yes, come on.

Matt Harriman: Not to mention, the office is in the middle of an apartment complex and it shares a building with a childcare place or something — not what you would envision for a startup.

Peter Tyler: It was affordable space. 

Matt Harriman: It was real fucking clear why you didn't invite me to the office before I said yes. All of that worked out. What was really apparent, really quick was the people. People got along, they enjoyed working together. Sure, there were issues, like with any group of people, but it was a special group. Me, Josh, Caitlin, and Leslie, we all got hired around the same time. When making our group and the group before us come together, how much of it was intentional and how much of it was just luck?

Peter Tyler: I think a chunk of it was intentional. We wanted to hire people who got along because I recognized early on that if I could get people to be engaged in what we did, they wouldn't mind working 24/7. And by work, I don't mean actually putting pen to paper. They knew that if something needed to be done in the middle of the night, they could do it and sleep in until four the next day if they wanted. I wanted people who were part of a group. I found that early on in my other ventures if you make it enjoyable to be at work, people work better. So we had beers in the fridge for you to grab one when you felt like it and food around. We did Taco Thursdays or Fridays forever. We always had somebody go get it, but they just expensed it back to the company. I was really big on making sure that the work environment was fun. The other part was, I tried to hire people I got along with. Most of my interview stuff was about A, are they smart? And B, do we gel? 90% of our interviews happened at bars or lunches or someplace in a social setting for people to understand what it would be like to be with people socially. That was on purpose. I didn't want to work with people who were nine to fivers, went home, and didn't interact beyond that. You get tons of value out of the social interaction of people. That part was intentional. 

Now, a part of it was luck as well. I had a really good headhunter who knew how to find people. Plus, we got rid of a fair number of people. If we actually go back and think of how many people either left of their own accord because they didn't fit in or left because it wasn’t working out, very few of those were people who weren't successful after leaving. They were smart guys. They went off and were successful in other companies or in other spots, but they weren't going to fit into our team. I think that's the other part. We were very specific about making sure that the people we had got along and added the value we wanted. And if they didn't, we either encouraged them to move on or dealt with it. 

You were much better about actually pulling the knife out and stabbing people than I was. You may be the only guy I know to fire an intern while he was still working for us. Well done.

[00:18:49] Matt Harriman: It had to be done.

I think what you said is interesting because a lot of the conversation about work-life balance and happiness focuses on minimizing the amount that you're working so that you can go enjoy other stuff. I don't believe that it has to be that way.

That time at Enersight and my time now — the amount of time that I'm working — couldn't be more different. When I was at Enersight, it was long hours and late nights. But as you said, I enjoyed it. We were on a mission together and having fun doing it. Whatever the number of hours was (60 or 70 hours a week), I really, really enjoyed it. Now, I probably don't put in more than 40 hours a week and I'm also very, very happy. Which is why I don’t think the number of hours you work is what you should optimize for happiness.

[00:19:50] Peter Tyler: I don't think it has to be. What you want to do is make sure you enjoy your job so that when you're doing it, you don't notice that you're doing it. And also that you don't sacrifice other things. I'm a work-hard, play-hard kind of guy. I put in long hours. I think about work all the time, but shoot, we used to take the boat out and take off at two o'clock. I used to take the whole summer off. I think you guys showed up in June, and basically, I drove up to Calgary in my RV on July 1st and didn't come back until August 15th.

Matt Harriman: When you say work hard, play hard, you actually mean play. Most companies that say as a cover for corporate alcoholism. But for you, it's going out on a boat, or going skydiving, or going go-karting — it’s actually play.

Peter Tyler: Look at the mud runs we did. We convinced the entire team to go do a 5K mud run when half of the people could barely walk a 5k. We walked most of it, but we did it together. That was my drive. I've always been really driven to do things in my spare time. I don't watch TV — or I try not watch too much. I'd much rather go for a run or a hike or a ski or fishing.

[00:21:12] Matt Harriman: That's a good segue to another question. How the fuck do you have so much energy all the time? When I texted the group and asked, "Hey, what should I ask Peter?" That came up. I think that was the first one.

Peter Tyler: My mom and dad, I think. You think I have lots of energy, go try my sister out. She's been at the same company since she finished school, and she's six years older than I am. She lives on the side of a ski hill, and when she comes home from work, she gets on her bike, bikes up the hill in the summer, and skis up the hill in the winter. She never stops. I don't think she’s cooked a meal in her life. Her idea of a good meal is something she can grab out of the fridge and just keep going — she raised two kids that way as well. I think I was brought up the same way. We were always going. We spent two months climbing and exploring in an RV or a station wagon every summer from the time I was three. Once you've gotten to the point where sitting around isn't really something you should do, you just don't do it.

Matt Harriman: It sounds like it's just a habit. Your default is motion.

Peter Tyler: Exactly. I do have ADHD, but I didn't know that until I had a kid. I was telling my mom about their problems concentrating and all this stuff, and it looked like they had ADHD. My mom just went, "Yeah, what did you expect?" And I'm like, "Well, what do you mean? What did I expect?" She goes, "Well, you have it." And I'm like, "Oh... that helps." Because in order to keep anything going, I have to keep changing my focus. If I'm moving and being active, it definitely helps deal with the fact that I have problems concentrating.

[00:22:53] Matt Harriman: It sounds familiar to when we were analyzing my son's defiance. I was like, "Yeah, he's really defiant a lot of times." My wife looks at me, and she's like, "Yeah, I wonder where he got that from..." Reverse psychology worked very well on me as a child, that's for sure…until I figured it out.

Going back to forming that group, I think the things that we did as a group, the culture at work, and the habits that we had, it was bred to be fun.That's the main thing I think of. There were parts that sucked about it — running 9 different models for Shell in the middle of the night because the scripting engine didn't work because we sold it before it actually worked. That wasn't fun, but so much of it was. 

Going back to the hiring piece, this is a lot more prevalent and better understood now, but hiring for fit or hiring for just people getting along is easy for discrimination to hide and to end up not being inclusive and diverse. A straight white guy has a lot of straight white guy friends. How did you think about that? No criticism at all, but it's definitely a thing companies think about to build equitable businesses. 

Peter Tyler: It's a real challenge. I'm gonna credit it with just being Canadian. I grew up in Montreal. There were three people of color in my entire high school. And they were just people that I got on with. One was a best friend, one was a basketball player. A lot of the things that are really evident here in segregation and things like that just didn't exist. People were people. Now, in hindsight, for me, it became incredibly interesting being here because when I grew up, it was French versus English, and it was as racist and discriminatory as you could almost get. Like I was bad, no question about it. My attitude changed through time and all that, but if I look back, it was very similar in property. I figured that out in my late twenties when I moved to Houston. I went, "Oh, okay, we need to deal with that." 

The other part was, we hired people that fit in — I liked people who were different. A part of that was that I traveled all over the world (my parents pushed me to travel). I met people from everywhere and realized that smart people exist everywhere in the world. The one truth I got from the year and a half I traveled around the world was that we can think whatever we want, but everybody's the same. Everybody wants to be happy. Everybody wants to have a family. Everybody wants to, deep down inside, make other people happy too. There are exceptions to the rule (or every rule), but 99% are good people — there's no reason to suspect otherwise. 

If you go in with the fact that everybody's gonna be good, then it's easier. I don't think I ever addressed it directly. At the very least, I liked hiring women. We always had an exorbitant ratio of women engineers — considering how many women engineers there were within the oil and gas sector. True within Enersight, in Enevative before that, and that was true with Merak Latin America, where girls had a very difficult time being in the oil patch in Latin America at the time. I had two that worked for me, one in a consulting role and one in a sales role, and we made sure that they got treated properly all the time. Early on in my career, I had to deal with it. I literally had conversations with Vice Presidents saying, "Hey, you can't have your employees do this to my employee." And I realized that these people were as good, if not better, because being a girl in engineering fields, you've gotta be better. Unfortunately, it's a boys' game (as you pointed out). People who can survive tend to be spectacular. We can go through and name all the people that we knew as consultants and as clients that were all spectacular. I'm not gonna name them on here, but anybody who hears this, they know who they are. How many of them we tried to hire or talk to are still involved with what we do because they are so good?

Matt Harriman: I think the traits that you were looking for, and that I definitely adopted, were akin to horsepower. Like, we need intelligence, we need drive, we need that kind of stuff, but those things show through no matter who you are.

[00:27:38] Peter Tyler: My one regret early on it was that it meant your work-life balance was a bit skewed. It would have been a hard environment to be a pregnant woman early on. I don't know whether I regret that, but it was the kind of culture we put together. I don't have a good answer on how you make that work properly within a small startup — I wish I did. It's a challenge. Once we got larger, it was no problem. But when you're small, it's harder. I think that's a challenge the industry needs to figure out and face. Making work suck less deals with that a lot because you’re looking at how you reduce your hours, keep your family balanced better, and still produce the results that the companies need. I think that's a productivity thing — I love the Productivity Experiment. Was way late in my career, but it totally changed the way I looked at work.

Matt Harriman: You're talking about Chris Bailey's book? I'm listening to his third book that just came out pretty recently. I think about that a lot. Early-stage startups are traditionally a grind, with long hours and all of that stuff. We haven't had that kind of meteoric growth that a lot of people have, but I see a lot more of these hybrid businesses where it's not such an investment upfront. There are other ways to make money along the way for an earlier-stage company. I feel like the bar goes up for everything else (productivity and effectiveness and market fit) to avoid working 80-hour weeks.

Peter Tyler: Yeah, you can't afford to waste time, so you gotta keep it focused on what is going to give you the biggest return for your time investment. Typically that's the right thing to do anyways. If you can actually order the things you have to do in a day and pick the thing that's gonna change everybody more, that is how you become the most productive. If you look at guys who run big companies, that is what they do every single day, all day long. CEOs of huge companies don't typically continue to put in 60 to 80-hour weeks, but they add a spectacular amount of value by focusing on the things that really have an impact. Then they either leave the other things off or give them to other people to make an impact.

[00:30:09] Matt Harriman: How did you think about being happy along the way? I know after Enersight exited, and even before that, there were times that you were threatening to quit and all kinds of stuff. How did you think about happiness in relation to the goals of growing the company and all of that?

Peter Tyler: For me, I needed to enjoy what I was doing at work. There were times when, early on, from a management standpoint, I'd been overpromised and underdelivered. Even through to the exit, one of the three partners did a good job to try to keep me whole and even keep the other employees whole.

The other partner just took their money and ran — the second time in my life that I'd realized that money really impacts people's thoughts, processes, and the way they act. These weren't selfish people. They'd been reasonably good to me through the process but didn't really do much to pat us on the back for the success we'd had.

Now, the good news is the next group that we were in within the Aucerna world was very different in that the person who was running that had made his money beforehand. This wasn't trying to make him richer. He wanted a company worth over a billion dollars, but that wasn't so he would have a billion dollars. It was just so he'd have another checkbox on his resume effectively. The one thing I learned early on was if it's not in writing, it doesn't exist. It doesn't matter who you're dealing with — best friends, not best friends. If you don't have it clearly written down, don't expect it and if it's money-related, don't expect it to come in later 90% of the time. If a person has an option of keeping a million dollars in their bank or giving you a million dollars, even though that would only be 10% of their net worth and 100% of yours, they're unlikely to take that into account.

[00:32:18] Matt Harriman: What did that do to your relationships with those people?

[00:32:22] Peter Tyler: I'm still pretty close to all of them because, in the end, it all worked out. I rolled everything into the next version of the company, and it went like five times, and in the end, I exited with as much as the other guys had the first time.

I was fine in the long run, but at the time, it was pretty tough to deal with. I would say most of my struggles around work where I was like, “I'm gonna quit cause I can't take this” were related to management-financial issues, not so much being told what to do. Whereas, if I look at my time in Schlumberger and other companies I've worked with, I quit those roles cause I was being told what to do or that I couldn't do what I wanted to do successfully. Whereas the time within Enersight, when I wasn't happy, was really related to a financial arrangement that was misrepresented several times.

Revenue early on promised a percentage of the company and after the fact, it turned out that they diluted the company. So I got a diluted percentage rather than the number that was given— a huge hit. When you suddenly lose 10% effectively of what you think you're going to have, that's huge. Again, huge for me, nothing for them. 

Matt Harriman: Any regrets along the way? 

Peter Tyler: Any regrets along the way? I think the one — often a regret, but not always. I had an opportunity at one point to move to Denver and I didn't. I took a bribe to stay in Houston — quite a significant one.

Matt Harriman: For legal reasons, this wasn’t an illegal bribe. 

[00:34:10] Peter Tyler: No, this was a raise. I got a massive annual bonus to stay in Houston. I kept getting that annual bonus right through the end of Quorum.

It paid for this house I'm in. But I basically spent the whole thing on the house. It didn't actually put any more in my pocket — it just made my life fear better. The one guy who was offering me a job said, “I'm not gonna give you any more money, cuz, that's stupid. You can't force my hand.” He said, “Just go and move to Denver.” I should have actually taken his advice rather than the other two guys who said, “No, no, no, no, don't leave us. You're here, take all this money.” Purely from a lifestyle standpoint, I think my family would've been slightly different had we been in Denver rather than here.

My son's not very outdoorsy. Had we moved to Denver, I think that would be different — I would have enjoyed it to have him share some of my interests in that aspect. From an overall regret, that’s one thing I had planned on for my life. Put a plan together and follow it. I didn’t have a plan once I got to Houston. My plan was to be here for 3 years and move on — the same as I had done everywhere else. I’ve been here since ‘09. 14 years. Somewhere along the line, I lost my focus on that (relocating). 

[00:35:20] Matt Harriman: Why do you think that happened?

Peter Tyler: I enjoyed the job and the people. Houston is also a great place for raising a family. It's comfortable, affordable, and pleasant. The only downside is that we can't ski or go mountain biking, but we still manage to do so for six to eight weeks a year. I think I traded my personal, and company's success, for a better quality of life.

[00:36:03] Matt Harriman: What would you have done differently with the business, including Enersight, 3esi, Aucerna, and everything else?

Peter Tyler: Early on, we did a good job. Later on, I should have gotten ahead of some of the politicking between the US and Canada. I liked having autonomy, but I did a bad job of managing relationships with product development. I wish I had a better relationship with them throughout my career. I should have communicated better with product development. For example, we often put together detailed design documents, but six months later, the product didn't do what we wanted. I think that's still a challenge.

Matt Harriman: Dean once gave us scathing criticism about a feature we designed — we didn't think through a detail the way he would have liked, but he got the idea and then the feature got there. Product development is an interesting one.

[00:39:02] Peter Tyler: It's hard to grow a software company from an expert who understands it. It's so hard to work off design documents — it just gets lost along the way. Unless you're really agile in the feedback process, it comes off the rails.

When the president of the company moved to Houston, our revenues started doubling every year for the next three years in the US. He understood what the software was supposed to do, and that was the key. I wish I had a solution for the challenge of how to develop within that framework. People are working with a lot more offshoring and outsourcing, and as long as the communication is good, it works. But I think it's challenging.

[00:41:11] Matt Harriman:  Josh and I have talked about this quite a bit, and it seems like there are a couple of philosophies on software development. One is very pragmatic and practical. You have a scope, a problem that needs to be solved, you break it down into features, describe and design them, and then ship them out. The other is much more of a creative endeavor where you explore the problem space and the possible solution space. This is where that one button in that one place that does that one thing can make 10 features irrelevant. How do you think about that?

Peter Tyler: I think that almost all companies and software start in that creative space. If you aren't in that creative space, it's really hard to do big design. There are very few cases of software that have really excelled in multiple generations. Look at Windows and the number of times they got it wrong. We’re talking about Microsoft with incredible processes and everything else. There were certain versions of Windows that completely sucked because they weren't worked all the way through and hadn't spent enough time working on what was needed. Every single company can get into that loop where they think they understand what's needed and they go and build it, but it just isn't quite there. I don't know how to deal with that. There are lots of times when people fail, and not so many people are successful. SAP may be one exception to that, but it's just this monster behemoth that changes little tiny parts at a time. When they come up with a whole new one, they get a couple of people to spend millions and millions and millions to try to make it right, and then it finally works. It's drastically changing. Whereas I think within startups, you have to be able to say, "Okay, let's start over and change everything." To do that, you have to work in some kind of creative mode.

Matt Harriman: One thing that I've seen is people get too close to customers and they listen too much to their problems. They listen to their ideas for those solutions. There's a distancing that needs to happen. You need to get close so that you really understand the problem and the needs they have for what they're trying to do. But then, when you're actually coming up with the solution, it feels healthier to get the hell away from them.

[00:43:41] Peter Tyler: Make sure you're dealing with a broad enough client base. When I first moved to the US, I was in charge of creating a reserve solution. I went out and talked to all our clients, six major US players (Unical, Chevron, and Shell), and said, "How do you do reserves?" They all said, "Oh, we just take volumes. We put them in this system, we track the volume, and then we document how it changes and all this stuff." So we built this huge volumetric reserve system and realized that the clients that we had talked to were the only guys who would ever buy that type of system. Pretty much everybody else used Aries and just had economic cases flow off the backside and called that Reserves. We had designed an incredible system for those companies (almost all of them ended up buying it), but we didn't get any other clients. We had thought we'd gone out and talked to the client base, but we had talked to our client base. We didn’t go to the next level and explore what the bigger market was. Ever since then, I've really tried to step back and say, "Does this make sense for everybody?" 

Matt Harriman: And sometimes it does make sense if the pockets are deep enough, and it only works for five companies. But you better not assume that 20% of the market also needs it in addition to those five.

[00:45:10] Peter Tyler: I think at the end of the day, that tool wasn't a money loss for the company, but it was by no means what we were expecting on the backside. This shouldn’t have been a huge thing. 

The job I had at Schlumberger was redesigning that tool to work better for the broader US client base. I quit over the fact that development said my design was wrong, and the business guys said that development couldn't deliver it. They were arguing back and forth across the table over who was going to make the project fail. I literally started swearing, threw a pan at a window, it exploded, and marched out calling them all idiots and not willing to do their job. They both wanted the other person to actually say it needed to die. If you want to kill something and you have the right to kill it, you have to kill it. You can't chicken out of your decisions — immensely pissed me off. That was the night I quit Schlumberger basically. It was my birthday. Bad things happen on my birthday, usually in meetings, so I try not to do meetings on my birthday.

Matt Harriman: Well, you've got, what, eight or nine months till your next one? You're okay for a while.

Peter Tyler: Yeah.

Matt Harriman: One more of these kinds of questions, and then I want to switch up to some of the ones that other people sent. Is there anything you wish you'd done sooner or wish you had abandoned sooner at the Aucerna-Quorum days?

[00:46:31] Peter Tyler: We could have been done sooner. I think it just comes down to working more closely with the Calgary group and understanding where things fit. One regret I have is your departure — which was a legitimate exit for the right reasons — I tried to fight that battle, but I didn't do it very well. I think both of us thought it was such a slam dunk that there was no reason it shouldn't go. I really thought we had presented our case. If I had done enough research, I would have realized that there was no case we were going to present that would be successful. I should have warned us up front rather than setting expectations of being successful.

Matt Harriman: People can withstand a lot when they're fighting the good fight — fighting against their own organization to do what they think is right. As soon as the hope that it'll actually happen is gone, it's really hard to stick around.

[00:47:35] Peter Tyler: And you shouldn't, right? If you believe that something should be happening, you should be able to do it. That's why small companies are easier to work with. I always empowered the people who worked with me to do whatever they wanted to do. If somebody came to me with a good idea, I wanted to let them go and do it. Most people will be successful given the freedom to do so, as long as you define success as some improvement to the company.

I think one of the things we had within the Aucerna world is that if certain people didn't agree with a success condition or didn't like the people, it was very different. We had gone from a company where people had nothing to do with it; it was really what they delivered. We had to get along, but nobody was going to get killed because they pissed somebody else off. Even the owners were like that with me — we got upset about certain things and we got in big fights every now and again, but we still respected each other and didn't stop each other from doing what we wanted to do.

Whereas, when we got that second piece, where people were physically stopping things and undermining them, that completely sucked. I wish I could have done something about that. The one thing I wish I had stopped earlier was business development for the Toma Brava group. I was doing all kinds of really cool stuff around ML/AI. There were all these great startups, including some awesome ML/AI-based reservoir simulators. We spent a huge amount of time looking into them and realized that TB was never going to let us buy any of those things.

Matt Harriman: Tomo Bravo?

Peter Tyler: Yeah, Tomo Bravo. One of the reasons we sold was that the company that owned us before had a fund. We had used a huge chunk of it to create what we were and got a return, and they were willing to stick around. Since they had already gotten their value out, and we weren't going to be able to get more money from them, our exit had to do with getting enough money to do something bigger. My job was trying to define what that was going to be. It turned out that we could buy somebody who had a good PE ratio, but we couldn't buy somebody who was losing money. Every single ML/AI was either not making any money or was a startup. I spent six or eight months talking to these guys and kept being told that that doesn't quite fit. Eventually, I realized that "doesn't quite fit" meant "Don't look at those guys. We're never going to do that." We all should have realized that earlier. That wasn't necessarily the exit we wanted. It was the exit that, at the end of the day, pays the most money. They're quite the bully, pushing everybody else out of the market early and then lowering the price on you after the fact. We got good money out of it, but there would have been other players closer to the end had they not highballed and then came back.

[00:50:35] Matt Harriman: This reminds me of something. When we talked about the time when I lost hope and decided to quit, I stayed on until the exit from Rubicon to Toma Bravo because I had a chunk of money due to me at that time. It was a period when hope was lost, and the mission we were on could not be accomplished. The gap between that loss of hope and the time I actually quit was probably one of the lowest lows in my career — I was there for the money and for the people that reported to me. I put all my energy into helping the people there become happier, removing barriers, and assisting individuals. I did my job, but they would have called it quiet quitting, if that was a thing (which is a bullshit term, but we can talk about that another time). That was probably one of the lowest lows I can think of in my whole career, what's yours?

Peter Tyler: That's a tough question. From my perspective, one of the lowest lows was early on when Merak was in the sale process to Schlumberger. I knew all the Schlumberger guys in Venezuela (I was friends with them), and they all told me that we were selling to them. I was young and called the CEO of our company, who I was friends with, and asked what the hell was going on. He said it was not happening, but the announcement that Schlumberger had bought us came out two weeks later. All my friends hated me because our CEO had called their CEO and told them to keep it a hush — they were in violation of the NDA they had signed. They were telling me the truth. Instead of taking the truth and using it for good, I used it for bad. It took me six months to recover, and I lost some good friends in the process. It was really, really stupid of me. If there's a rumor out there, decide how much you know about it early.

Matt Harriman: I remember being surprised when we were talking about exiting and I had to learn what you could and couldn't say. In any other situation, you talk about all of this stuff with your friends, but these major financial events and exits, you have to lock it down. When we sold Enersight to 3esi, several days before the close date you could find the announcement online.You couldn’t get to the site, but if you Googled “3esi and Enersight,” it showed up as one of the top results in the preview. It's hard to keep all that stuff under wraps.

[00:54:56] Peter Tyler: The other lowest low was when I realized who we were selling to. We all went out to lunch at some Mexican restaurant off Woodway, Cyclone Anaya’s. We were in the back room having this big party, and I was almost in tears the whole time — nobody knew why. We had built this family, and I felt like it was about to completely fall apart. Miraculously, it stayed together fairly well for the next two or three years, but it did totally change the dynamics of everything. As great as it was financially to sell, emotionally, that was probably the lowest low work.

Matt Harriman: I remember a lot of tears through that time. It felt like there was a real possibility the good old days were over. 

Peter Tyler: Right?! It was very different. 

Matt Harriman: When y'all first told me what was happening, I had no fucking clue what was going on. I think I had been a manager for like a year at that point and was just starting to figure things out. I remember thinking, “Oh shit, this is a new thing to figure out.” But I think the gravity of the situation and how much things would change didn't set in until we were all crying in our margaritas. What do they call 'em? Green monsters or something? That probably helped the tears flow. 

[00:56:00] Peter Tyler: John Howell was the saving grace for me — the Portfolio Decision chain had sold into 3esi before that. John had also spent days in Venezuela in the late nineties. I always saw him as a mentor. He really made that transition easier by allowing me to talk to him about their experiences and where they were. Great guy to have on the executive team.

The second lowest low was probably when he quit because I knew why he quit. It wasn't because he was tired of what he was doing, it was the same sort of thing that forced you out at the end of the day — things are almost impossible to get around. It was a leadership challenge, and you weren't going to change the people who were causing him to leave. We lost John Howell and Don Merri to the same debate. Don was running Australia for us — really good friend, excellent manager, and super successful compared to the person who kept that role. We lost what I thought were three of the best people in the industry because of personal issues.

[00:57:19] Matt Harriman: There are a lot of ways you could describe John, but one of them is that he's an absolute force against anything stupid happening. It was a big deal when he left, that's for sure. So what are you doing now?

Peter Tyler: What am I doing now? Skiing. I'm dabbling in a few things. I'm doing some work on two or three different startup businesses that friends have. I've invested minorly in a couple of them and am trying to make sure those investments are going in the right way (and help with how to build and grow to the next phase).

I'm not looking for opportunities, but they seem to knock. Right now, I'm looking at maybe helping another company that's halfway along in the software bid. I'm looking at what it takes to be successful as an incoming US oil and gas software company — a new thing that's just come up recently. We'll see where it goes, but if that plays out, it would be an advisor part-time role, which would be really cool. I like taking advantage of my knowledge and helping people be successful. I don't see that changing on that side of the work world.

The other thing (we've talked about it quite a bit) is I really want to give back to other people. So I keep looking at how to take some of my non-work skills, like carpentry, and help people who need it. That all came out of skiing one day with these people who couldn't save up the $2,000 needed to fix their master bathroom, which was falling through the bottom of their mobile home. How do people have that kind of problem? People shouldn't, but it just seemed like too much that somebody couldn't solve that for them. I wanted to get in the business of helping people do that kind of stuff. So I do some work with Habitat for Humanity and other similar organizations, and I'm enjoying that. But I kind of wanted to take it to the next level where I was closer to the face than just being a cog in a wheel.

We'll see how that goes. One of the problems is I'm looking at moving to Colorado, so I don't really want to get that going full speed right now. I don't want to have to abandon something. So I think I'll see a lot more of that as I settle into Colorado.

[00:59:44] Matt Harriman: I think there's a lot of need there to make up for a whole bunch of other systemic problems that cause those problems and cause there to not be resources for people.

[00:59:56] Peter Tyler: Yeah, and I don't think I'm going to be the person to solve the systemic problems. So, I was hoping I could focus on some of the actual symptoms and just get them out of the way.

[01:00:05] Matt Harriman: I don't see you transitioning into Bernie Sanders' role anytime soon. No, likely.

[01:00:13] Peter Tyler: I don't have the backbone for it. I tell the truth way too often, and that doesn't work well usually. My truth, right? There's always more than one truth in the world, yeah. Yeah.

[01:00:23] Matt Harriman: Alright, so several people gave me some questions that they wanted me to ask you. They're all over the place, so I'm just going to fire them at you. First one, Rebecca Allison asked, "How do you fly an arrow?" Shoot.

[01:00:36] Peter Tyler: Uh, okay. It's called a powered paraglider, and you stick a big fan on your back, and you put the parachute on the ground behind you. Then, you run forward, and the parachute comes up like a kite. Once it's over your head, you run faster and pull the fan on as hard as it goes, and up you go.

[01:00:51] Matt Harriman: Beyond "How do you fly one?" I want to know, "How do you not die?" Like, how do you land? How do you?

[01:00:58] Peter Tyler: You turn the fan off, and you come down and you pull on these brakes until you're going slow enough that you can run on the ground when you land and you figure it out.

[01:01:05] Matt Harriman: For anybody that's listening that doesn't know Peter, he's always doing shit like this. Whether it's like the one-wheel board and crashing it into your neighbor's rocks or landing on some rocks because you were paragliding over the ocean and hit some more rocks, there's always rocks involved in your style.

[01:01:25] Peter Tyler: Always play. Always. Always. Yeah. I keep breaking my shoulders landing on things off of one-wheel boards. Uh, that's not fun. I don't recommend it at all. But they're both working properly again. Well, good flying. You just hope you don't ever fall out of the sky. You gotta parachute that works if you're over 70 feet. But between, like, 75 feet and the ground, that's where you don't want shit to go wrong. And I mostly stay in that range. I mostly fly at like five to 12 feet if I can. I like being close to the ground. It's more fun.

[01:01:55] Matt Harriman: Related question, how many times have you lost your car keys?

[01:01:58] Peter Tyler: Every day for my whole life. I have this thing called tile now, and I can click my phone, and my car keys go beep, beep, beep. So, I have it in my wallet is the other thing. I lose just as much. So, I have one in my wallet, one of my keys, one of my wife's, and without those, yeah, I'd be stuck at home half the days.

[01:02:23] Peter Tyler: That's a good one. Losing keys. The only time I've really had a bad loss of my keys was when Caitlin decided she'd kick them into the lake, into the bottom of Lake Somerville. No coming back from that one. They sunk to the bottom along with her phone and my phone.

[01:02:37] Matt Harriman: And didn't somebody dive in and try to?

[01:02:39] Peter Tyler: Yeah, we tried. We dove in and swam at the bottom and came up and hit our heads on the bottom of the dock and almost drowned and decided that was a bad idea. So, we got a magnet, and all we brought up was like 10 pairs of rusted sunglasses. It was not good, and Terry didn't have to drive all the way out from Houston to come give us keys and let us get home. I'm sure there was no alcohol involved in any of these decision-making processes here.

[01:03:20] Matt Harriman: So, Leslie Armand Trout wanted to know what your favorite petroleum fiscal contract is.

[01:03:25] Peter Tyler: Yeah. Okay. So back to my Enevative Solutions phase. I got good stories on that actually. I actually tell you what to start with, anyways. My favorite fiscal petroleum contract is the Malaysian PSC from like, I think it's the '80s or something like that, which existed for a long, long time. Mostly, because we were working with Hess at the time. You have an oil cost recovery side and a gas cost recovery side. Then, you can actually transfer unused cost oil or cost gas across between them after it's been used. After that, you can then transfer to exploration in other. So, it required a huge amount of complexity, and nobody really understood it. It was very hard to understand and get it to work properly. That was one of the hardest ones we've ever built. It took a while to get going. It was super cool. But back to Enevative Solutions.

Matt Harriman: Let’s hear this story. 

[01:04:18] Peter Tyler: I want to hear this. My friend Adam Vasquez and I started this company with the goal of combining energy and innovation to create Enevative Solutions. I attended a course taught by Daniel Johnson, who is known for writing the Bible on petroleum fiscal modeling. We were hoping to get him to authorize our company or become a partner.

[01:04:35] During the course, I handed him my business card, which had the name "Enevative Solutions" on it. He looked at it and asked, "Enevative Solutions? Are you sure?" I confirmed and at that point, we had already incorporated the company.

[01:04:55] That night, I went home and searched the term "innovate" on Google (we didn't have internet access during the course) and realized that it's a word used in psychological terms to remove all energy from things like drugs or people who are manic. Clearly, Daniel Johnson knew what it meant.

[01:05:18] So inadvertently, we had created a company that was supposed to remove all energy from other people's solutions.

[01:05:22] Matt Harriman: I can think of a couple of energy software companies that should have picked that name.

[01:05:26] Peter Tyler: Yes. So we dropped the "r" and became "Enevative Solutions" instead of "Enervative Solutions." The domain and everything else were available, but there was a reason for that.

[01:05:36] Matt Harriman: And this was while you were hoping to have him as an advisor or partner?

[01:05:41] Peter Tyler: Yes, exactly. He thought we were a bunch of morons, but we did end up working together later on.

[01:05:49] Matt Harriman: So I guess the lesson here is to Google all the words before naming your company.

[01:05:54] There's another related story about logo and graphic design. There's apparently a "penis and swastika test" that you should run. Basically, you turn the design in every direction to make sure it doesn't look like a penis or a swastika.

[01:06:14] Matt Harriman: There's a reason it was available. That's funny. If you could give one piece of advice to people who want to be both successful and happy, what would it be? You're someone who gets stressed out and pissed off like any human, but ever since I've known you, you've seemed happy, despite everything going on.

[01:06:43] Peter Tyler: I think you need to determine what your idea of success is early on. For me, it was always "work hard, play hard." In university, I had remote-controlled cars and all kinds of stuff. If there was some way to spend my time that wasn't school, we were doing it. We worked hard, played hard, and were always all on. We went to spring break, drove down to Indiana for the weekend to go caving. We spent enough time doing school that we were there, but I spent no time doing nothing.

[01:07:25] If you have a plan and you stick to it and make sure you don't get stuck, it's so easy to have a plan on where you want to go in life and what you want to do and end up liking what you're doing enough not to stick to your plan. Early on in my career, changing jobs every two years or so was well worth it. You don't have to change companies necessarily. I know people who did and were highly successful, and I know people who didn't who were highly successful. But everybody I know has changed their roles at some point.

[01:08:19] Matt Harriman: It sounds like it's important to make sure you're not getting tricked into feeling too comfortable or settling for something that isn't really what you want.

[01:08:29] Peter Tyler: Yeah, and it depends on your plan, right? For me, I never saw myself being happy in life without being happy in my job. MARAC as a company taught us that we could have a good time at work and outside of work. So since then, I wanted to make sure I was having a good time at work. If I wasn't, I moved on. That was part of my plan: happy work, happy life. Some people are happy to have a happy life, and work is just something that enables it to happen. I could never be that person, but that wasn't my plan. If your plan is to have a job that pays the bills and do all this other stuff that keeps you happy, then that's fine. Just do it intentionally. If you're going to do something in life, do it intentionally. Don't just do it because it's happening. Intentional plans and changes make a difference in people's lives. Wise words.

[01:09:32] Matt Harriman: Hmm. I think this has been good, Pete. We talked about a lot of things we haven't talked about before.

[01:09:39] Peter Tyler: Yeah, that's cool. I was hoping we'd get some good stuff out of it. We've talked a lot over the years. You're one of my favorite people and you've had a massive impact on me, our company, and everything. So I've already thanked you for all that. But I want to thank you for coming on and doing this.

[01:09:57] Peter Tyler: I'm blessed. You asked me if I'm lucky or if I hire the right people. I think it's a combination, but at the end of the day, I'm super blessed that the people I've put around me are successful and great people. I still hang out with 12 people from my university days. We still go on trips on a reasonably regular basis. Every five years, that whole big group goes and does something because we're still close. The same is true about a group at Merak, and now at Enersight. I'm just really lucky that the people I work with and the people I'm around, I want to stay connected to. And for some reason, they don't mind me being connected to them.

[01:10:41] Peter Tyler: I make the incredible assumption that my absence doesn't impact my relationship with people, and then I just show up. For example, Raj Sands. I knew him back in the Iraq days. He worked with Palantir and lives in Singapore. He called me up and came out to Steamboat for five days while I was up there. We hung out for five days with another guy who was one of my college roommates and was skiing with me for a month. These are guys I won't talk to for a year at times, but when we talk, we feel like we're still best friends. I don't know whether it's because I have short-term memory challenges, so I'm always happy to be with these people, or what. I would love to be better about staying in touch with people and maintaining those relationships, but what I find amazing is that when I ask those people to partake in that friendship again, they're all there. And we can go spend a week together or a weekend or go wherever. I think I'm just blessed that I've picked really nice people to be around over my life.

[01:11:45] Peter Tyler: How often do we talk? Nowhere near enough. But I still consider you one of my best friends.

[01:11:50] Matt Harriman: When we talk, we snap right back into it. If anybody listening wants to reach out, can they? If so, how? 

Peter Tyler: For sure. The easiest is way of LinkedIn. It's Peter Tyler. Look  and then look up Peter, Tyler and Enersight. Put those all together or a certain, and it'll hit my profile and I'm happy to connect And you'll, 

Matt Harriman: You'll see it between 1 and 130 business days after they send a message.

Peter Tyler: It might not be the next day, but quite often it'll be within the week for sure. I'm not on there every day anymore, but I do watch it. 

Matt Harriman: Anything else?

Peter Tyler: No, that was awesome. Appreciate your time. Super proud of what you're doing with Pod2. I think it's impressive, especially the book. I was supposed to have my copy here and hold it up so you can sign it, but we’ll have to get together so I actually do that. Matt Harriman: We'll get together again very soon. Thanks again, Pete. this was the Achieve and Enjoy podcast episode number five. We're on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and is our company (you can sign up for emails there). I hope you enjoy your work this week.
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