Harnessing Houston’s Energy Transition With Molecule Software

Molecule’s Sameer Soleja joins the Digital Wildcatters podcast to share his expertise on the complexities and technological advancements in energy and commodity trading, including the energy transition, market volatility, and the role of ETRMs.

May 7th, 2024 | 43:30

Summary KeywordsETRM Software, Energy Transition, ETRM/CTRM, oil & gas


Jason Ethierco-host, Digital Wildcatters

Nada Ahmedco-host, Digital Wildcatters

Sameer SolejaFounder & CEO, Molecule


Jason Ethier Welcome back to the show. Today, we're here with Sameer Soleja. Sameer is the CEO and founder of Molecule, an ETRM platform, and he's going to tell me what ETRM means.


Sameer Soleja The acronym is not quite as important as what it does. An ETRM/CTRM platform is essentially a system of record for companies that trade, really, any volume of energy or commodities. So, it's a lot like an ERP system in terms of its breadth, but the big thing that it does that an ERP doesn't typically do is model forward exposure. So if you are going to buy and sell natural gas and you're going to buy it in April and sell it in October, there's an arb there, and that's natively what an ETRM helps you model.


Jason Ethier And for those of you who don't know, I just assume energy companies produce oil, but it sounds like they do a little more than that, and that's why they need this.


Sameer Soleja That's right. Typically, any energy company uses more than one commodity on the platform. And it's really fun to think about modeling each of these. Like a natural gas-fired power plant buys gas, sells electricity. A wind farm sells electricity and sells renewable credits. Pretty much everybody has more than one commodity.


Nada Ahmed And you mentioned earlier on that there are about 50 commodities. Could you talk about the diversity of commodities that you're able to process within the platform and the differences between them.


Sameer Soleja Yeah, sure. When we started the company 12 years ago, we started with what we believed to be the hardest first, which was electricity. Electricity moves in 15 minutes increments as opposed to maybe monthly for crude. And what's cool about it is it's mostly digitally traded, so there's a lot more standardization around it. And so it was a good place to start. However, since then, we've added everything from oil and gas to refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, soft metals, precious metals, and crypto, all of which act in fundamentally the same way, but power is still the hardest.


Nada Ahmed Yeah. Okay. So what made you decide to then address — I guess there was probably a need for this in the market.


Sameer Soleja That's right. So there were about 100 vendors in the market, all of them selling on-premise, difficult to use, single-tenant software with long implementation cycles. And I thought there had to be a better way using modern tech. That was the genesis of Molecule.


Jason Ethier You said a couple of words there, and us who don't know software, don't know what those means. So what does single tenant mean? What is on premise? And how old are we that this is the technology that it was 12 years ago?


Sameer Soleja So on-premise software is typically used at big companies. This chair is killing me.


Jason Ethier Sorry, we got mechanical issues with the chairs here.


Sameer Soleja Exactly. On-premise software is typically used at big companies, and basically, they have their own servers. And back in the old days, you get a floppy and install the software on those servers. It's not that fundamentally different now, except that you download the software and put it on the servers. As you can imagine for a software company, that means updating the darn thing's very hard. It's not as simple as hitting the update button on a Word or something like that. It's far more complicated because this software is like a million and one different things and it's hooked up to a bunch of different other systems and things like that. So that's on-premise software. Cloud software is, obviously, run on a cloud server somewhere, but the distinction between single and multi-tenant is important. Single-tenant is just like on-premise software, except that it's run on a cloud server instead of your own data center. But there's still one install, you got to update it, it's wired to a bunch of things. Multi-tenant software is more like Gmail. Sign up for an account, boom, it's there. The provider takes care of all of the infrastructure, and it's all shared infrastructure that's, logically, isolated from other customer data.


Jason Ethier And so am I hearing, so Molecule is different in that it's multi-tenant, whereas everything was single tenant, implying highly customized? And here you're able to leverage the fact that there's commonalities in the infrastructure.


Sameer Soleja That's right. And that leads into why we are strong at power, because power requires so much more data. We're able to throw cloud servers at it and ramp them up when it makes sense and ramp them back down when it doesn't.


Jason Ethier Got it. Interesting. Okay.


Nada Ahmed You've been around since 2012, so doing this for about more than a decade. Tell us about your journey from when you started and where you are now.


Sameer Soleja Yeah. When we started, this was in the first class of Surge Accelerator back in 2012, I envisioned where we are today is where we would be maybe the next year. It has been a slog, but things really picked up over the last couple of years. I think the reason it took so long is there was a lot of low volatility in the energy industry for a decade, so people weren't trading as much in interesting or new ways. And these systems have hundreds of features in them in order to make them usable by anybody. At last count, I think we have about 200, 250 features on the platform, and we're still behind some of our legacy competitors in terms of what we can offer. Not as far behind as we were, but building 250 enterprise-grade features that are required to have 5-9 percentage correctness is not an easy thing. It took nine years to get there before we raised a Series A, and then everything's gone fast since then.


Jason Ethier You said something interesting. There was not a lot of volatility in the energy market. On the one hand, I'm thinking the shale industry had stuff going up and down a lot. The way ERCOT is there can be points where we hit the maximum price. But you're talking about a different type of volatility.


Sameer Soleja I'm talking about periods of extended volatility long enough for people to want to start new trading desks or close down new trading desks or start new companies. Like the 2014 to 2016 shale volatility, for example, that was just straight down.


Jason Ethier For three months, it was just down. Okay, so volatility in many ways means up and down. What drove that or drives that volatility itself?


Sameer Soleja I mean, interesting things in the world drive volatility. So the Russia invasion of Ukraine. Horrible and interesting at the same time. But that drove gas prices to spike in Europe, and then their response to it drove them back down, among other things. Similarly, Uri, which showed up in Houston a couple of years ago, the freeze that we had. There were only a few days of volatility, but it was extremely high, enough that new companies being formed afterwards in the power markets are structurally a little bit different than they were before.


Nada Ahmed So it's a global operation. So how do you trade commodities that are maybe produced here and then sold in Europe or other parts of the world?


Sameer Soleja People do them on electronic platforms, and in a lot of cases, they'll do them directly with each other with emails and instant messages, and then ultimately a PDF sent back and forth.


Jason Ethier Is Molecule the trading platform, or it's more of just a record for internal use?


Sameer Soleja It's the record for internal use. If customers are on both sides of the transaction, well, then the record can be a little bit stronger.


Nada Ahmed Okay. So it's a record. So is it used by both parties buying and selling? Does it have to be used by both parties, or is it just anyone can use it?


Sameer Soleja It's usually just used by one party, either the buyer or the seller. Someday, when we're a lot bigger, it'll be used by both.


Jason Ethier Got it. Okay. So not eBay for Molecule.


Sameer Soleja That's right.


Jason Ethier One of the things I wanted to go back to is you were also talking about how you could have the record. You could look at the forward exposure of risk, and that begs the question, do you provide a risk model or a forward price model, or is that something the customer gets somewhere else?


Sameer Soleja That's a really great question. So for options, we have built standard industry models into the software. I mean, you can invent new option models, but fundamentally, you're still using Black Shoals in most cases, or some derivative of it, like a Kirk's Approximation or something like that. Those are built into the platform for the purpose of making marks. But in a lot of cases, other than options, people provide their own. So they'll either source them from somewhere and upload them to the platform, ask us to scrape it from somewhere that's authorized us to do so, or have us do what's called a curve build, where they give us instructions, and then we build out a forward view based on the instructions they've given us. And we're actually getting ready to launch a user-facing curve build feature this month.


Jason Ethier You want to tell us more about that?


Sameer Soleja Yeah. So if you think, for example, that your KD Power is some function of the natural gas prices at Henry Hub, and maybe some weather data we have will give us a formula, or you can program the formula yourself into the system, and it'll produce prices that you can compare to your trade so you can see how you're doing compared to the market that you believe exists.


Jason Ethier Got it. And so this is a new feature that didn't exist before. I assume it's sophisticated and complicated to ensure it produces the right outputs.


Sameer Soleja Yeah. I think everything in our system has been built from the ground up using CI and CD, for example. Continuous integration, continuous delivery, automated testing, etc. I think we get the stability and accuracy out of that. And certainly, our customers expect a very high degree of accuracy, so probably 99.999% accuracy. It has that built in. My team is going to kill me because I like to say it's just not that hard. The math doesn't seem that hard. There's not even any calculus in curve building, usually. I don't know. I don't think it's all that complex, but it's a really cool feature.


Jason Ethier Yeah. And it's that accuracy that matters. And people want to know it works every time without books, especially when they're trading large amounts of dollars. Do people use the software who don't produce the molecules, the commodities?


Sameer Soleja Yeah. So sometimes it's people trading for fun and profit. Sometimes it's marketers, so people who match buyers and sellers, and sometimes it's buyers. So for example, there's a number of electricity retailers that use our software. They need to buy electricity in advance against the exposure that comes from their customers so they don't get blown out in something like Uri.


Nada Ahmed So I'm asking on behalf of our listeners who are usually startups, you said there were hundreds of other vendors out there. How did you break into that market? How did you start getting some of your first customers? And then how has that changed now 10 years down the line?


Sameer Soleja One foot in front of the other for years. I remember one month into Surge, lying down on the ground at Surge Accelerator thinking, What am I doing? This is never going to work. I've made a horrible mistake. And that was 12 years minus one month ago.


Jason Ethier Was this before or after Kirk told you you weren't trying hard enough?


Sameer Soleja Probably both! Yeah, I mean, I think it's really funny. We built this cool whiz-bang feature. It was a natural language processing-based trade capture tool. And what I had heard in the market prior to this was that trade capture was the hardest part. And I was like, Well, darn it, we're going to go solve that. So we built this really fancy natural language parser that's still on the platform today. And we rolled it out, showed it to people, and they're like, Cool, so you can capture my transaction. And now what?


Jason Ethier It's a feature, not a product.


Sameer Soleja Yeah. I built a fancy input mechanism. I guess that was it. And so it was probably 18 months before we closed our first customer, before we had sufficient critical mass or even nearly sufficient critical mass to get there. Oddly enough, that one came because somebody read a front-page business section article about us in the newspaper. Houston Chronicle. And again, it was probably a slog for the next nine years to build up a customer base of people who trusted us, people who we served well, and a product that could broadly address the industry. So, yeah, nine years and 30 pounds, that'll do it.


Jason Ethier Is that customer still with you?


Sameer Soleja Oh yeah.


Jason Ethier Good. It means they love it.


Sameer Soleja In fact, I'm meeting them for lunch today.


Nada Ahmed And has it gotten easier now to get customers or actually customers coming to you versus you going and trying to sell them the software?


Sameer Soleja Yeah, something between two-thirds and three-quarters of our deals are inbound at this point.


Jason Ethier Oh, wow. Good. Good inbound. Is that a matter? Well, I guess there are a lot of reasons why you would have inbound, but what are the top reasons someone doesn't buy? Let's ask that question. After they come to you.


Sameer Soleja Yeah.


Jason Ethier I know it's always budget, but usually budget is the excuse.


Sameer Soleja No, it's almost never budget. Although we are typically the premium-priced offering by a little bit. As a rule, our TCO, the total cost of ownership of Molecule is significantly less than any of our competitors, even if the sticker price seems a little bit higher. It's usually a feature that we don't have. Some of our biggest competitors a thousand features in the product. That's the moat. That's what makes it hard to get into this market. We believe we have the 250 that matter, but there's probably another 100 or two that we could build that would make a difference as well. So it's usually features.


Jason Ethier And I imagine it's a highly technical buyer. They know that's the feature they need.


Sameer Soleja Yeah. And trying to draw a line between the feature that everybody needs is really hard. It's a real jagged pinball-looking thing. We've already done the 80% features for the most part.


Nada Ahmed Yeah. And I think that's the hardest part, right? As a startup, you're told minimum viable product. And for something like this where maybe the moat is having those 250 features, the minimum viable product might not have enough to even get your customers on board. But balancing that customization that every customer is going to want something different to actually building something that you can then scale.


Sameer Soleja Yeah, that was really hard. And that's what we heard a lot about early on. The way our competitors, the big ones, were built, it was consultancies, essentially. It was custom software built for somebody, and then things were tacked on on the sides, and we decidedly did not want to do that. We wanted to make what was a platform from day one, and that has definitely made things hard. It means saying no to features sometimes, in fact, probably most of the time. And it means figuring out how to give the customization without customizing the core platform itself. So we had a couple of tricks that we found for that. One was embedded reporting that was fully customizable, and another was providing our API, which allows users to do anything they want. We're getting ready to launch our third trick for that, which is a data lake for customers where they can go mine the data themselves.


Jason Ethier What's a data lake? I hear it all the time. I don't know what it means.


Sameer Soleja So it is a database where you pull in data from different systems, but you do nothing to it on the way in.


Jason Ethier Okay, so it's raw.


Nada Ahmed It's not necessarily structured, categorized. It's just there.


Jason Ethier What makes a data lake new or different from the way it was like data was managed before?


Sameer Soleja A data warehouse is a cleaned, structured version of all that data coming in from different systems, which makes it easier to use. But the problem is to get to minimum viable product on a data warehouse is a huge lift, whereas a data lake is like, put a button.


Jason Ethier Yeah. Okay. Got it. Interesting. Okay, good. I wanted to ask a little bit about other products you work on and really how that relates to the energy transition that we're seeing here. And I know when we were talking before the show, you said that you're seeing a lot uptake in REX and interest in carbon. Tell us a little bit about the future that's coming.


Sameer Soleja I think it seems like everybody is starting a carbon or renewables desk these days. From oil companies to commodities companies, like metals companies maybe, to even large businesses that buy large amounts of energy, for example, Google, who want to use clean energy for their ESG commitments, and in some cases, even regulatory commitments. So a lot of people are using credits and certificates as an interim solution before there's sufficient capacity available easily everywhere, it's an okay solution. It's not great, but everybody's doing it, and it's something. I'm a big believer in, Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Let us put one foot in front of the other to get towards the energy transition. And if that's certificates and credits for now, then that's totally fine.


Jason Ethier And a certificate is more on the renewable generation side, or are there other types of certificates? I don't know about.


Sameer Soleja Oh, there's all sorts.


Jason Ethier Oh, my gosh. Tell me.


Sameer Soleja So for example, in the US, there's a REC, which is an electricity, retail electricity, I'm sorry, Renewable Energy Certificate. It's really electricity issued by the grids. There is a RIN, which is a certificate for renewable fuel. The RIN is issued by the EPA. There's an LCFS, which is like a RIN, but issued by the state of California. In Europe, there's GOOs and EUA, so Guarantees of Origin, and—


Jason Ethier So certificate tells you about where something came from?


Sameer Soleja It is typically... Yeah, it tells you either about what the provenance of something was, or it's something issued by a government that you're required to have that represents what you can do.


Jason Ethier Okay. And so in lieu of having a carbon credit, which I guess is more well defined. That's why we're leaning on these proxies, be it energy or alternative fuels. Obviously, people are buying carbon offsets. What do you think we're waiting for to be able to turn on that spiget? There's definitively not a standard in the US. Who's going to develop that? This is really trying to guess the future. If it's not government, where would that thing come from? If clearly industry is looking to buy it.


Sameer Soleja Yeah. Here goes that chair again. I think carbon offsets are a loaded concept because I think they're actually the weakest of the types certificates that we described, I'm sure they are required from a regulatory perspective in some parts of the world, but in a lot of places they're voluntary. And so because there's many different registries and registry of registries that certify and issue them, there's really no quality standard there. And if you think about what a carbon credit means, It's very difficult to imagine how it could certifiably mean something. For example, if you get a carbon credit for planting a tree, how do you know that tree wasn't going to be planted already? So why should you get the credit for it unless the credit incentivized you to do something different? That's an impossible challenge. I think there's a structure around emissions that is emerging internationally around what are called scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. I think that is a more measurable output, where one of them is the emissions that... Let me see if I got it right. That the emissions that were produced in making the thing that you have versus the emissions that you will produce, versus scope 3 being the emissions that ultimately in the entire lifecycle of your thing your customer may produce.


Sameer Soleja Scope 3 emissions are the hardest to calculate, but Scope 1 and 2 are a little bit more defined. And I think, for example, California has headed in the direction of mandating scope 1 and 2 emissions reporting. And I think that's a direction that seems to make more sense.


Jason Ethier And that will drive people wanting to... Well, if they're reporting, then they're managing, and then they're going to want to buy offsets.


Sameer Soleja Offsets, yeah, exactly.


Jason Ethier Okay. I don't know if I had a further question there.


Sameer Soleja Well, you did ask about... Oh, sorry. Go ahead. You did ask about who's certifying these things. There's a couple of... There's some big certifying bodies. The two big ones that I know about are Vera and Gold Standard. And Vera, I think, had some scandal last year where people were upset with them for certifying things they probably shouldn't have certified. And then people lost faith in it, and then the whole market collapsed. So like I said, the job is hard.


Nada Ahmed Because you mentioned Google earlier, and then there are lots of these big corporates like Microsoft also who are making these net zero emission goals, and then they need to be able to buy carbon credits for the emissions that they're producing. So then they would use something like your platform to manage those carbon credits. Do your customers then use that one platform to manage all types of trading that they do, or could they be using multiple platforms?


Jason Ethier But also the thing they're buying might be a little different because I imagine for a lot of the carbon offsets, it's more about reporting.


Nada Ahmed Yeah, it's about — no? Okay, you're giving me a face.


Sameer Soleja No, no. Yeah. Imagine if you're a wind farm, for example.


Jason Ethier Okay.


Sameer Soleja So you build a wind farm, and typically these wind farms are built on 10-year models, maybe 15-year models. You have a model that says, I'm going to sell this much electricity from it over this period of time, because I think this is what the 10-year forecast is roughly likely to be. And also, as a function of that electricity, here's how many carbon or renewable credits I will sell. And in some cases, the recs may bring in more money than the power.


Jason Ethier And also entering a period where they have marginal carbon offset on... Some people are talking about cutting credits based on if my wind turbine's on and it shuts down a fossil fuel, you can also mint a credit off of that spread. I think there are people measuring it today with the hopes of certifying a credit in the future. And so there'll be more of these coming. It could be interesting. And interestingly, like you said, the rec might be more valuable than the power.


Sameer Soleja That's right.


Jason Ethier That is what it is. That's why we need these things.


Sameer Soleja We are definitely in the Wild West.


Jason Ethier Well, I'm looking at the clock a little bit. Let's jump back to the fundraising journey, especially here in Houston. If I remember, 12 years ago, there was no money in venture capital in Houston outside of maybe Mercury and Surge. Where did you raise that first seed round? Did you have to go to HAN and Houston Angel Network and hold out the cap? Say, Please give me money. How did that work?


Sameer Soleja I did, and I didn't get any money. Oh, no. No, Mercury was actually the first company that believed in us. And them entering and joining our cap table opened the door for a lot of other people. So it's like they were the vote of confidence. And they've been a great partner this whole 12 years since then. There were a lot of angels that entered, not through Houston Angel Network. There were people who were LPs in Surge and/or other venture funds in town. I did do the circuit of the, count on one hand venture funds in town, and didn't really get anywhere because we had a long way to go. So there were a bunch of angels that really helped us along the way. And then I was very fortunate in that my family was able to finance a lot of it as well. So I like to say that it was one foot in front of the other for nine years, but it wouldn't have been possible but for all of these people.


Jason Ethier Did you ever try to go to California and do the Sand Hill Road? What was the response there?


Sameer Soleja What's energy?


Nada Ahmed Why should we care?


Sameer Soleja Why should we care? Oh, that's a niche market. Are you kidding me?


Jason Ethier It's the biggest niche market. Do you ever felt like they gave you a discount not having a team in California?


Sameer Soleja I wonder about that. No, I would say the discount was probably not having a team with Stanford and Harvard on the background.


Jason Ethier And you went to UT Austin, for the record.


Sameer Soleja I went to UT, and I went to Michigan.


Nada Ahmed What do you think was the advantage of being in Houston? Or was there any?


Sameer Soleja I don't know. The customers are here. The customers are here. Our first customer was in Houston, the second one was in Austin. So we were closer to the ultimate customers. And the ecosystem of people who could provide advice for better or for worse was here in energy. There were even a couple of ex-Enron folks who had come in through Surge and provided advice on what not to do.


Jason Ethier That was actually one of the best talks at Surge.


Sameer Soleja It was amazing. \It was amazing.


Jason Ethier But anyways, not for the radio.


Sameer Soleja That's right. I mean, but it was a very kind and well-received talk and a self-reflective talk, I thought. So that ecosystem was really the advantage. We have a strong team, but it is scattered across the US. Our tech stack is not a tech stack that is super commonly used in Houston. So it's not I don't think we could find a huge ton of developers here who work using our tech. Yeah, it was really the customer.


Nada Ahmed So you were remote from the beginning, hybrid, with people spread out.


Sameer Soleja Yeah.


Jason Ethier Do you think things are changing in Houston on the fundraising side? And I know you're not on the seed round stage anymore, so maybe it's a different world.


Sameer Soleja So just subjectively, I hear of a lot of seed funds getting started. So I'm really hopeful that they will actually be able to deploy cash. But then last year was one of the worst years ever for venture companies to raise cash. So I don't I know if that's the case. I guess I hope that that is changing. I love what the entrepreneurial community has done in Houston to at least put the vestiges of entrepreneurship into play. But you could invest $100 million into a building that's beautiful, or you invest a million dollars into 100 startups. And it seems like we're always making the first tools.


Nada Ahmed That's Texas for you.


Jason Ethier I was going to say, since you're doing finance, sometimes portfolio theory is hard for people. They like the real thing. And I think that's especially true in Houston, where people like the real asset. They like the oil well. And you show up with a software business with a J-curve that goes down for a while. The question is, where's cash flow? So I definitely understand that mindset. I understand its origins, but it doesn't necessarily mean it jives with the forward prediction curve that we need to have for energy.


Sameer Soleja That's right. And so as a startup in Houston, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place where if you're not doing physical assets and Silicon Valley doesn't love you, you go.


Jason Ethier So what do we need to do to convince Silicon Valley to love us?


Sameer Soleja We need some more success stories.


Jason Ethier There we go.


Nada Ahmed So Or do we need Silicon Valley? Can we build our own VC system here or an ecosystem that can fund startups? Because you did go to Silicon Valley and they don't get it. Because their success has been based out of software technologies and not so much hard tech or industry or energy. So it's also leveraging the industry that we have here, but then building an ecosystem around that that allows for startups to thrive.


Sameer Soleja I mean, clean tech is the place for it, right? Houston has the absolute right to be the world leader in clean tech. We have everybody who knows anything about energy. We have a whole ecosystem of potential buyers and suppliers. And yeah, maybe we don't have certain types of programmers, but ultimately, if we want to invest in our city's future and in our state's future, we have the right at this moment, and we have the ability at the moment to do it. If we let the opportunity pass, it will be tragic.


Nada Ahmed Yeah, and perhaps it requires a little bit of a change of mindset from investors, right? Because they have options on where they can put their money, but it's prioritizing building this ecosystem. That means taking some risks.


Sameer Soleja Absolutely. I think it means taking risks, likely in places that are unfortunately politically charged here. Okay, well, we can go fight about whether climate change is real while California runs off with the energy ecosystem. Yeah, that would be silly.


Jason Ethier So what are some of the places you would specifically think we should allocate capital in here?


Sameer Soleja Electricity. Anybody around electricity and renewables. I think it's stuff that we understand extremely well, especially the big hardcore tech around it. The turbines and the panels and the batteries and also the thermal gen, all of that together. I think we could run off with it very easily. And like I said, if we don't, it will be California or, weirdly, New Jersey, I think that runs off with it. There's a bunch of electric companies in New Jersey.


Nada Ahmed Interesting.


Jason Ethier I think the original Edison Electric's out there. Princeton.


Sameer Soleja And they have Princeton right next door, right?


Nada Ahmed This is maybe It's a little bit of a tangent, but I was curious. I mean, since you work with energy and the energy prices and being able to provide energy where it's needed, how do you think this transition now to a lot of EV vehicles, electric cars, is going to impact the market?


Sameer Soleja I mean, I think it'll only increase the amount of electricity that's needed. And because grids and traditional generation are so expensive, we'll see a lot more distributed gen, which means a lot more people playing in these markets. So it may not be a city-size utility anymore. It could be a 12-block sized utility that plays in these markets. So I suspect what we'll see is retail contracts for some of the things that are wholesale only becoming available.


Nada Ahmed Interesting.


Jason Ethier So I guess when you think about the Houston innovation ecosystem, is there something you're most proud of?


Sameer Soleja I'm most proud of the people who fought through.


Jason Ethier That's Kirk, by the way. So anyone who's asking Kirk O'Brien.


Sameer Soleja For the people who fought through and made something on the other side. And some really scored funding rounds, like the dudes at CART, for example, right? Whatever they, whatever like, pixie dust they put together has really made a lot of people believe in them. And kudos to them.


Jason Ethier Yeah. And I think in a very Houstonian fashion, sometimes those folks don't ring the... Or they don't blow their own horn that much. Broadreach did a massive outcome for them, gosh, six months ago. And I don't think they've done a victory lap around Houston yet.


Sameer Soleja Not even on the website at all.


Jason Ethier Exactly. In some ways, to the credit of how do we convince people in Silicon Valley that they need to pay attention. The challenge is we don't market those. We have big wins. And I would love to bring the guys on CARD on this show, but they don't do energy. So it's not relevant. But it's good to hear them coming back to Houston.


Sameer Soleja The other thing I'm starting to hear a lot of. So if you run a startup of our size, you'll start getting inbounds from private equity firms from around the country. They've gotten a lot more frequent lately, and they have gotten I'm a lot more informed about energy lately. I'm not exactly sure why. I think that some other companies in our market are getting ready to transact. But I also think that energy is an interesting place all of a sudden for private equity and venture companies around the country. So it may be that we have a moment and that money is coming inbound from elsewhere.


Jason Ethier Thinking about Houston, generally, are there any hidden gems that people need to know about?


Sameer Soleja Company-wise?


Jason Ethier Or lifestyle-wise.


Sameer Soleja I mean, every... Houston is the best place to live. We have... Probably the biggest thing for me about Houston is its diversity. So I grew up in a small town, and I went back for my reunion a couple a few years ago, and I had, I guess, I had forgotten that I live in one of the most diverse places on Earth. I went back and people are kind and generous, but they still thought I was a little weird. Aren't you one of those people from... Friends would be like, well, aren't you one of those people from that side of the world? Sure. It doesn't mean we're better than anybody else, but it does mean we're used to being around people of different shapes and sizes and colors and creeds and stuff like that. I love that so much about Houston. Probably the only other place I've been in the world that has that level of diversity would be London. When people from London ask me about what I like about Houston, and I say that it's like London, they look at me with bewildered eyes. Are you kidding me?


Jason Ethier I was going to say that the — Where's the culture?


Sameer Soleja Dishoom, man. Dishoom. No matter what.


Jason Ethier That's the best place! Oh my gosh. I think I did make a trip once to London to stop in for Dishoom on my way to France. It was worth it. It's so good. Anyways, we're not talking about London, we're talking about Houston.


Sameer Soleja But you know what? Our food is equally as good.


Nada Ahmed What's your favorite restaurant?


Sameer Soleja In Houston? Gosh, there's so many to choose. The one that I hit every week, it's going to sound super conventional, but my wife and I hit it almost every week is Barnaby's. It is American fare, but it is solid American fare. It is always good, and it's comforting. But other favorites include Ninfa's on Navigation, Guadalupana, Chapultepec Lepita. I'm a huge fan of Tex-Mex. There's a ton of great stuff.


Jason Ethier I did not realize Tex-Mex was a thing until I moved to Houston. And then I had it. Because you're in Boston, it's like, Tex-Mex is not good.


Nada Ahmed It's like Taco Bell.


Sameer Soleja Do not go.


Jason Ethier Oh, there's actually flavors, and there's crispiness, and it's not sloppy tacos. Anyways, no. The Tex-Mex, for sure. Good. We talked a little bit about funding gaps. Are there other gaps in the Houston ecosystem that you've come to realize over your journey over the last 12 years?


Sameer Soleja Definitely some tech gaps. So a lot of the developers and engineers that we encounter here are coming from large companies, which is awesome. But those are the people who hire developers here. And that means that the tech stacks are largely Java and .NET.


Jason Ethier Old school.


Sameer Soleja Old school. And what's so weird, and I think you've been around long enough to know this, Jason, what's so weird is that back in the day, Java was the experimental thing that you were, the new thing that you were doing things with. And now it's what's used for performance. Okay. I remember the JVM back in the day. There's no way that was a performance thing. So there's a lot of .NET and Java developers here, and it would be really awesome if we were able to start finding folks with Python experience, Rails experience, Postgres, things that the rest of the tech world is using because that's what we use.


Jason Ethier So I want to ask a slightly different direction. It's funny I learned on Java. I learned on C++, and I learned on Java, and that was 20 years ago. So it's like, okay, old-school technology. I actually just started picking up Python. I'm amazed how easy it is. I'm like, why are we still using those old stuff? It's terrible. We should use only Python. But part of the reason to be able to pick it up is because ChatGPT is ridiculous at explaining to you what you need to do. Do you think that could change the game for software development in Houston if people learned to use GPT to augment themselves?


Sameer Soleja Yeah, I think it changes the game in a lot of ways, like learning, like you mentioned, but also rewrites. So I saw ad, I was probably targeted this ad this morning, but it was from IBM, and they have a service, a part of their Watson franchise, that allows you to rewrite your COBOL apps in Java.


Jason Ethier That's so valuable.


Sameer Soleja Press a button and like... So it obviously needs to be human supervised, probably, but that would be a great transition for people learning a new language.


Jason Ethier And so for people who don't know, COBOL is a software language from 60 years ago, 50 years ago. And that was something where a lot of foundational systems worked on it, and no one ever upgraded it because it worked.


Sameer Soleja And still do today.


Jason Ethier They still use it.


Sameer Soleja Like your bank.


Jason Ethier Yes. The banks. Yeah, the banking systems. Yeah, that's ridiculous. I mean, it's needed. We got to get off those systems. I can understand where that's translation. It's a perfect use case. I guess as we wind down, is there one thing that the audience could do to help support you in what's next?


Sameer Soleja I think, obviously, we would love referrals to anybody who is trading energy and commodities around the country, around the world. I think remembering us as a Houston tech company and supporting us the way you would any other Houston tech company, that's really all I could ask for. We love Houston. We love being here. No plans to move anytime soon. And whatever we can do to support the Houston tech ecosystem, we'll be happy.


Nada Ahmed How can they reach out to you and learn more about your work?


Sameer Soleja Yeah, just hit me up on LinkedIn. You can look up my name on LinkedIn, send me a message. Happy to help.

Get a Demo