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A New Pearl Harbor

A recession in a country, industry and a man’s life is a destructive a violation. I won’t forget that Tuesday morning phone call out of a clear blue sky.

Sometimes it is required to write a new chapter.

Reflecting almost 3 years until the day of said shit-canning the warning signs were there but like Turkeys in the run up to Christmas we were clucking around ‘gee I see another 400 people got let go from Shell’ that will never happen to us.

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Dropped unexpectedly like Seagull crap at the Aberdeen market all over a toddlers face

So this article is not about the emotions visceral and raw that they were the feeling of it cannot happen to me. Believe me it can and it most likely will a number times during your career. Post 2008 the bondage and safety net of the fabled job for life have been removed.

That attitude served our parents and grandparents in an era when it was best to keep your head-down and pecking at the ground- not making eye contact with the farmer in case he were to shout ‘You boy bring me the the biggest goose you can find.’.

That is not to disparage our teachers and mentors we are all simply products of the Zeitgeist.

Depending on where you are reading this then you will either have several layers of insulation or a tin roof about your head:

‘some people never feel the cold, I however am not one of those people’

Typically there were 3 key principles that can put you in the top 5%.

1. Having a stable loving family.

2. Growing up in the same country you were born in.

3. Going to a good school.

In the ‘West’ 2019 these elements have been taken by granted by some and a sense of entitlement has crept in. We have also become desensitised to the realities that many of our fellow community members face. As we saw by listening to Lesia and Jose sending money or life energy to family around the world is not trivial.

In China it is very difficult to send more than $10k overseas, the widespread adoption of crypto at least the underlying utilisation beneath the mania is testament to a cry from a people for a change. A change in how capital is transferred and a general disenchantment with the sticky fingers of Western Union etc who charge exorbitant fees for the movement of our human energy.

Still not convinced it is a big problem?

We can dive into some of the new solutions: Revolut, Monzo, another challenger banks in another post but it is sufficient to say that a revolution is the voice of the people and we saw how many institutions were racing to keep the genie in the bottle back in 2017.

So this new paradigm will be scary for some..for others it is toughen up cupcake and a element of forever thus. The Jew’s who escaped the Nazi regime were the ones who had assets overseas in the form often of Gold.. As my grandma was fond of recalling always have a bag packed…

‘Help!’

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The Scarcity mindset

So on that unremarkable Tuesday morning when that phone call came and I was marched into the office to meet 3 stony faced managers I remember thinking someone had died they looked so grave.

In my head I did a quick recount of the websites I had been browsing the previous day (BBC news!) I ran through all the emotions- anger, denial, regret in no particular order- ‘but I have a mortgage to pay!’

Three rounds of meetings and heartfelt although pointless letters followed to no avail the seeds of my destruction had been sown in part in the boardrooms half a world away, partly in my own complacency the feeling that the ‘gravy train’ would keep chugging…

We are in this together

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Camaraderie is something greater than the some of its parts. No doubt our friends in the military have this sense and there are just certain managers, friends who you would go into battle with however long the odds. Offshore work requires a big dose of this- to spend 3-6 weeks away from loved ones often isolated from creature comforts you appreciate the nuances of each of us whether they be the 2am gym workouts or the three sittings at the Forties Bravo Breakfast. ‘Cooked, Porridge and fruit salad if you must know) The scarcity mindset again….

‘Get to the Chopper!’

I need a job any job

The CV copying, job board trawling, cold calling tendency took over and goodness knows how many times I copied and pasted ‘hardworking, conscientious, diligent self starter.’ I even took the step of tailoring each CV for sales, data management or the mail room…

To no avail well I did get an interview for the mail room but that is another post….

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As Ray Dalio explains in what should be mandatory watching for everyone… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHe0bXAIuk0

Don’t take it personally the economic lubricant of money was simply drying up.

Out of the Ashes

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Remember where the FIRE escape is!

I mentioned that I was not alone and this story would not be half as entertaining without my good friend Roy Kittrell right there in the trenches with the bullets flying. If I recall right he had been ‘let go’ in Nov 20115. The same minth we had an amazing night out when The Prodigy made it to Aberdeen topped off by an appeared by the guardian of time himself – Flavour Flav!

Old Father Time was ticking on my Geology job

Housing Hacking

Real Estate is never far from investors, and the public mind through such house porn TV as home under the hammer etc… The result is that real-estate at least here in the UK is seen as a god given right or even like the ultimate Instaglam bragging rights.  We have all seen it smiling couples with keys in hand a ribbon around the door with little though to the macerator being blocked with sanitary towels flooding the bathroom.

This cultural entitlement had seeped through to me and I remember overpaying at the top of an already hot market in 2013…

(anyway most bloggers seems to have a few real-estate badges of honor).

Flipped this for 10x shame it was only £4 of initial outlay

The one thing I did do was hustle with the house that I had. Scott Trench and Brandon Turner over at BiggerPockets are advocates of using the otherwise empty spare bedroom or duplex for a guest.

Back in 2013-2015 Hotel prices were up in the gods here in Aberdeen I mean offshore workers were being housed in Dundee and whole swathes of rooms were block booked.

I whacked a few photos on Airbnb cleaned the toilet and watched the emails, phone calls and watched the money roll in. Aside from the extra few grand it just felt like having a roommate at college and it did make me appreciate the weekends that I had the place to myself….

https://www.biggerpockets.com/

Not Miami beach. Yet!

The Runway

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All in all I had built up what the community calls sufficient runway to take a long holiday or go snorkelling in the Caribbean but not a jot of it. I still have the spreadsheet which calculated how long it would take evaporate my 2 years of FU money.

In my head I would never be employed again.

The best laid plans never survive contact with anything!

That brings me back to my partner in crime, every Steve needs a Woz, every Jimmy needs a Dr. or Bunk and Roy found himself in a similar fix.

”When Aberdeen was so hot that you had to overbid 20% on properties, had to view them with 20 other couples lined up outside, I managed to find a decently done up 1 bed property for less than stamp duty that you didn’t have to overpay on.’

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Blood on Union Street

A man who has is closer to the markets than all the Bloomberg terminals in NYC; Roy spent 3 months hunting, bargaining and negotiating before closing on a 1 bedroom apartment on the fabled Union Street.

”let it burn darn you let it burn..”

Let’s hear from Roy:

‘’lucky I didn’t follow literally everyone else’s advice to borrow money from my parents (like that was even an option) and go hell for leather buying a 2 bed house that would have bankrupted me inside a month of being unemployed.’’

Striding purposely into his new castle with his keys still in his hand. The flat was bought furnished which meant it came with all the ‘essentials’ cutlery sofa etc.

Our at this time employed geologist was just sitting down to that first cup of tea…

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Ding ding

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Brent crude loses 20% in the first hour of trading… And as we all know it did not get any prettier.

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End Times

Contrast this with walking into the bank in 2013- ‘you’re a Geologist’ how much do you need!

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Assets vs Liabilities

But lesson here Bey- When you sign on that dotted line the banker takes ones of yours into the jar and then if a crazy scheme or the chance to move comes up you don’t have the balls to do it.

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”How did it come to this?”

A chance meeting

It was amid this shit storm that I was putting in the reps at the gym and doing my best to stay fit.

On a cycle ride home I got a message which would change the course of the next two years.

‘Hello this is Alan’s wife can he come and stay in your spare room’ I believe the price to stay in my salubrious surroundings had cratered to $20 a night.. A fee which I was very glad to take !

It transpired that Alan was the head of the local startup incubator based at the McRoberts building within the University of Aberdeen.

Like Al out of Stephen King 11/22/63 just in the nick of time instead of a portal into history Alan told me about Geodirk a seismic startup that was being bootstrapped out of the ABVenture zone.

Now I have read enough silicon valley startup books, to really get my gears spinning I was imagining a pair of underwear models, doing pull ups in between sipping turmeric spiced lattes and a similar bevvy of young women all eager to change the world with us.

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The reality was actually far more interesting….

Cold Calls

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Remember you don’t just to get the keys to the kingdom or in our case the swipe card to the 8th floor as a favour oh no you don’t.

I fished a mobile number from Geodirk.com and dialled- I thought what the hell if no one pics up I can always go back to matched betting to pay the electric.

Enter Sherlock Holmes

Folk rarely leave a mobile number lying around on the internet as uncle Jim says you Never know who is in the audience. Enter to our little story Ken Armitage a former bobby who instead of chasing bad guys turned his attention to sniffing out oil and gas reserves.

Ken has built SAECEN formly know as SPIRAL with over 30 years of industry knowledge to build ‘the rules and tools’.

Let’s listen to the man himself:

http://www.findingpetroleum.com/video/Geodirk/Ken-Armitage/1271.aspx

Spiral derived a lithology model from seismic velocities using empirical relationships.

These empirical relationships came from a large analogue dataset Ken had made from his 40+ years in the industry.

What we did at Geodirk was to take the free MNSH and Rockall seismic datasets and ‘bang them through Spiral’, and compare the following models:

Model 1. Spiral Lithology Model from seismic

Model 2. Isopach maps from the well data (the colouring pencil and paper maps)

These two models had noticeable differences.

We concluded that either:

  1. a) Spiral is doing its job correctly, the seismic velocities used in processing were incorrect, and therefore we have a powerful tool for fixing velocity models
  2. b) Spiral doesn’t work and we need to alter it until it matches Model 2.

That’s when the BGS looked at us and went with Option B. Ken thinks option A is more likely and they want the punters to pay for reprocessing seismic.

Every Jimmy needs his Bunk

It was at this point that I sensed ‘shit could get real’

Me an Roy had met on PESGB field trip 6 months prior. We struck up a common interest about rocks, stock markets, girls and Aberdeen.

He also taught me go to every curry night, evening lecture in a word network as if your life depends on it. Others call it dig a well before you are thirsty.

This was well before the Crytpo bandwagon started rolling but we all know who saw 5 years ahead on that !

The key lesson here is to know the limits of your skills set and create the team around you to get the project done. I can feel him blushing from the Penthouse in KL as I write this but the man what may have been turned a renaissance man to quote The Wire:

‘a good Church Man is always up in everyone’s shit.’

Well Roy watched every burning candle on those charts and managed to have the sense of mind to equate the geopolitical ramifications half a world away to our careers which were heading to hell in a handcart….

“The Bridge of Don- where dreams go to die” 

So after another couple of days pacing around and applying to everyone from Big Blue (yes things were desperate) to the night shift at Mickey D’s and the Tasty Tattie I picked up the phone and arranged to meet Ken.

Quickly dropping my can of Aldi value Pilchards into the trash I called Roy who is a night owl to my lark.

‘Would you like Fries with that?’ Yup I served fries on Matchday!

Cake Date 1

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‘Roy quick we are meeting Ken in an hour at Union Sq train station.’

This was our one shot the fast train out of the Aberdeen carnage…

Wiping the Biscotti from his chin and swapping out his pyjamas before donning the Geologists out of office casual wear of blue shirt and brown chinos.

We were ready for our cake date with destiny.

A surprise co-pilot

Jack Blanton was doing his MBA in Aberdeen along with his wife Claire who was studying for a PhD. Together we road the ups and downs.

I’ll let Jack tell you in his own words!

The Corner Office

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By this point space in Aberdeen was literally being given away but we setup shop in the McRobert Venture Zone.

We contemplated sleeping on the floor if The Bank came knocking to repossess our homes!

The Back Bedroom

In fact much of our work was done at the kitchen table or in this case the conservatory

Another day in the Digital Oilfield the corner office in Canary Wharf is a thing of the past.

Down but never out!

Big Boy Pants

The Fast Train to Edinburgh. We started early with the recruitment drive.


Roy delivered what can only be described as virtuoso performance holding court with the brightest and best in the industry but we were in a sense tap dancing.

Employment contracts! (probably)

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Geology that is just liquor and colouring in

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Did we find any money yet?

By this point we had real fuel in our jets and had drank the startup cool-aid

The journey now entered the Wiggles of False Hope curves where negotiations were playing out in the corridors of power about financing the next step. As you will be aware we never made it public…

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For the record I never made a cent but learned something worth its weight in gold team work and playing for each other wins in the end.

The Promised Land

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The obstacle is the Way’ ..

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ – Charles Dickens, a Tale of Two Cities

‘Life is what happens when you are busy making plans’

‘The night is darkest before the dawn’ 

‘One you’ve been to the Sheridan School of Economics you learn to enjoy beans and rice, rice and beans.’

”It was exciting and exhilarating. I got a contract with MMbbls to do a data-room directly because of that invaluable North Sea Seismic Interpretation experience. ”

‘When can you strop stinking my house out with Sardines!’

”Put yourself in places where good things can happen to you” RK Granddad 

‘Good grief there was a turd in the JobCentre Plus Floor.’

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There were other characters who came and went or were quite simply names on an email- Princesses, Generals, Majors regardless of their stories all of which are unique there is something to be said for really pulling together.

Backwash

I am reminded of one of the most magical experiences of my life the night tour of Alcatraz. You have all seen the the movie and possibly the TV show.

Our guide was a young woman who did have a real PhD in Criminology she also had boat loads of compassion and a real drive to change the lot of the American men and women locked away in SuperMax prisons.

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For all those locked down

The Three Monkeys from Mozambique

I am in danger of violating my Mum’s own laws of never talking about politics, religion or money (that ship already sailed).  But if we do see neglect in this world then it our responsibility as holders of immense resources to seek out people in need both within our immediate circle and beyond.

As you will know by now in the digital age you never know who is in the audience–or who the next Airbnb Customer will be!

Late editions

Books

Meanwhile as we go about writing the next chapter in Sheridan Kittrell Enterprises here are 4 books about startups which will make you realise that the journey is its own reward.

Right time to pack some books for Ebay!

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If you prefer audio form while you are sending those job applications out be sure to check out Alex’s Gimlet Media Podcast Without Fail for a candid conversations with people who have done hard things: what worked, what didn’t and why.

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Hosted by Alex Blumberg.

How about we get the Geodirk Warriors into the studio for Season 2??

Where did they land?

Final Grades

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In the final analysis life is like this Hieronymus Bosch Painting sometimes you are playing in the garden and other times you toiling in the hell fire and sometimes your cockatiel just shits all over it.

For Alan, Ken, Jack, Roy and all others who sail in the Good Ship Geodirk!

One comment on “From the Job Centre to the BGS… a Geologist’s trip down the startup rabbit hole

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