Robotic Industrial Process Automation
We are thrilled today to finally be able to announce our investment in CruxOCM, a company at the forefront of the automation revolution in heavy industry.
In the summer of 2019, on a visit to Berlin, I sat down for coffee with Robin Dechant who, at the time, was leading the “industrial tech” change at Point Nine. When I asked him if he had seen anything interesting, he mentioned a company out of Techstars Norway that was doing something cool in oil & gas. In a previous life, in college, I had worked as an “ordinary seaman” for two summers aboard an asphalt tanker in the Gulf of Mexico (weeks at sea, scraping rust, painting metal, breathing in asphalt fumes, and marveling at the sheer scale of the energy industry). As an angel investor, I had backed Imubit (another company in the oil & gas software universe). The first investment in Angular was Aquant, a company with deep roots in heavy industry as well. So needless, to say, I was excited to meet a Norwegian company working on these issues.
I was still in Berlin when I held my first call with Vicki Knott, the incredible, inimitable CEO of CruxOCM. Her accent threw me off: it was definitely not Norwegian. “I’m Canadian,” she said cheerfully, “and I’m based in Calgary.” Angular really wasn’t designed to invest in North American companies, but I had developed enough of a sense of the oil & gas industry and the software opportunity there to know that not only was Vicki onto something but that she was one of the most impressive entrepreneurs I had ever met. After meeting her equally impressive co-founder Roger Shirt, extensive due diligence, several calls with industry experts, and lots of discussions about TAM and software models, I reached what felt like the inevitable conclusion that Angular had to invest in CruxOCM. It was just too good to pass up because of an investment criterion like geography. I introduced Vicki to two more funds that joined the round, and Angular co-led CruxOCM’s seed round. Long before Covid, this was a fully remote investment.
CruxOCM is building a fully autonomous control and optimization platform for large-scale dynamic industrial systems — starting in oil & gas but with plans to go far beyond that. It can be hard to explain what Crux does, but here goes: Imagine a natural gas pipeline that is 1000 kilometers long. Such a pipeline would involve many pump stations and hundreds if not thousands of subsystems. Now imagine you need to shut that pipeline dwn for routine maintenance. That single shutdown procedure alone might take 18 hours of coordinated work spread across dozens of control engineers at multiple control rooms and locations. The procedure would be documented in (literally) binders stuffed with hundreds of pages of checklists and protocols, safety rules, and scribbled notes on optimization strategies. Now consider that every hour, millions of dollars of product is flowing through that pipeline. Any slow down or error would have severe economic costs. Consider further the potential for environmental damage or risk to human life or safety if any of these procedures are done improperly. Finally, consider that these routine (and unplanned) shutdowns happen regularly — sometimes a few times per month. It’s not easy to see how every percentage point in efficiency gain can translate directly into millions of dollars of increased revenue and incalculable safety and environmental impact.
This, essentially, is what CruxOCM does: CruxOCM’s software transforms these massive industrial processes into abstracted runbooks which can be optimized and automated. This allows a handful of control room operators to do the work of dozens. It ensures that processes are always run correctly, safely, efficiently, and optimally — and yes, it generates millions of dollars in revenue for these big oil and gas companies. One medium-sized customer only has estimated that CruxOCM’s software will generate over $100M in annual efficiency gains.
To learn more about Crux, you can check out their awesome blog and video series. Here’s an example:
Our investment thesis on CruxOCM, therefore, was pretty straightforward:
- Team. We think Vicki, Roger, and the rest of the CruxOCM team are simply extraordinary. In my experience, Vicki and Roger represent a once-in-a-generation fusion of deep domain expertise, passion to solve an industry’s challenges in a new way, credibility with established players, and limitless ambition to build a new software category.
- A huge and underserved market. Heavy industry — starting with oil and gas but not limited to it — is ripe for disruption from intelligence software automation. Until now, it was considered too difficult to build that sort of solution at scale. But CruxOCM believes it can be done and is already providing it.
- A plan for scale. CruxOCM has built its system as a highly scalable and repeatable software platform from day one. There is no custom code. There are no lengthy install cycles or POCs. It just works. These are founders who don’t just want to revolutionize an industry, they want to build a real software company.
We’re also thrilled to be joined in this investment by our friends Kane and Avidan at Root Ventures, Jamie and Matt at Golden Ventures, and Jens Lapinski. Special shout out to the amazing Eric Wiesen of Bullpen Capital who led the company’s most recent round! Working with you has been a goal for a long time — so I’m thrilled it’s finally happening
In addition, our investment in Crux has been a fantastic showcase of the deep ties the Angular family builds with portfolio companies — to help them grow in as impactful a way as we can. Specifically, Crux worked closely with SEVEN (!) members of our team (family): In addition to myself and Head of Platform Anne Blum, Crux worked closely and intensely with Phil Wickham on narrative, Guy Poreh on marketing, Keren Myr on sales tactics and strategy, Jerry Dischler on product management and product hiring, and Jennifer Schear on US immigration.
We are thrilled to be partnered with CruxOCM, and we are delighted to double down on our investment. We are also excited to watch as CruxOCM’s vision gains traction with real-world customers, including one of the five largest energy companies in the world. We are super happy to be joined by our friends at Bullpen on this journey — and we look forward to seeing what CruxOCM has in store for heavy industry over the next several years.