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  • Writer's pictureMatt Swan

Rocking the Wave of Change: Growing a Seismic Company in an Evolving Energy Landscape

According to published statistics, ~85-90% of start-ups will ultimately fail. The problem with that statistic is it is looking over a 15-year timeframe and that’s more than enough time for any business to go from world leader to failure. It also doesn’t provide any answer to the question of how long do you have to be going before you are not considered a start-up?

The common answer to that question is 5 years. If you are still running by then you surely have a functioning business with returning customers and a product or service that is providing value. At 5 years 45-50% of start-ups will have failed. RockWave is now 3 years old and showing no signs of failure. We are going from strength to strength and believe we are as safe a bet as any of our competitors, and in many ways perhaps a stronger option for you, as an individual, if you are looking at your next career move.

I thought I’d qualify that statement by lifting the lid on RockWave, and revealing a bit about how we have got where we are, why we are set up for the long haul, and what makes us different to our competition.


1. To understand a character, you need the Origin Story

Our backstory is rather simple; we needed new jobs, so rather than go looking we created our own. Hoping for something more inspiring? Let’s dig deeper.

The motivation to create our own jobs stemmed from the frustrations of working within a corporate environment for many years and realising that things could be done differently. I won’t say better – things work in different ways to suit different companies - but take a hard look at the structure and organisation of a large processing house and you’ll find the cracks and the stresses that mostly come from the ultimate objective of these large businesses; to make a return for shareholders.

We don’t have shareholders as such. We are owned 100% by the 5 of us who founded the company, and all we wanted was a secure income. That has been the goal from day 1 and we made sure we never owed anything to anyone. When you release yourself from the need to make X return in Y years for the benefit of external parties, other things can take priority. Our focus goes into providing a high quality, collaborative experience for our clients, and treating seismic as a service, rather than a commodity.

Profit when it comes is the bonus from having satisfied customers and employees, and our employees share in that via our bonus scheme.

2. The only company that services the full subsurface

RockWave Geophysicists are in a unique position in that they get to work across (or down) the full subsurface. From sub-bottom profiler UHRS (2-30 KHz) data looking 3-4m deep for windfarm cable routes, to full scale O&G datasets (0-250 Hz) using the latest FWI tools. We are quite confident this is the only place that you can do that and is something we set out to achieve from the start.

As a result, we have a broad client base that spans the energy and infrastructure markets and includes large engineering firms, windfarm developers, geo-consultancies, and O&G companies. Such diversification makes us far less susceptible to downturns in any one side of the business.

View our services here.

3. Technology and Compute capacity are no barrier.

That may have been the case when working within a small company before… but then there was DUG. Thanks to DUG we have access to some of the best algorithms in the industry and essentially unlimited compute capacity. We are not constrained to lower tier algorithms or queues for clusters and instead can fully unleash our passion for processing! And before you ask, yes, we do sometimes compete, but when we win, DUG also wins (we do have to pay for that compute!)

4. Business is continuing to accelerate.

Year 3 we grew our revenues by 100% thanks to over 30 contracts awarded by 17 clients. We recently surpassed our 50th total contract and are currently booked out to September. Hence the need for more RockWavers to cover the growing demand we are seeing for our services beyond this.

5. Disaster Fund – the benefit we don’t advertise.

Of course, there are shocks that hit the whole world. Covid for instance. This could happen again and if you don’t learn from history, you set yourself up to fail. We wanted to build a safety net such that should a Covid event or similar happen again that shuts business down for 6 months, RockWavers won’t have to worry.

With that in mind we have begun a 5-year plan to build up a Disaster Fund capable of paying all necessary overheads including salaries and pensions for a full year. It will be there for long-term job security and peace of mind. It will be there so clients see the same RockWave coming out of any shock as went into it. It will be there so we can all kick back and watch Netflix whilst locked down, rather than worrying about jobs and mortgage payments. It will be there and with luck, never used. Yet another thing you can do when you don’t have to pay out to shareholders and another small company risk removed.

6. When we say people are important – we genuinely mean You.

True story: Many years ago, as part of an annual review process, we had to demonstrate our commitment to company values. I questioned the ‘people’ value. You’ll know what it would have said, almost all companies have the same. I was told that I was viewing it wrong – it’s about ‘people’ in general, not ‘you’. Perhaps that is the case in a large organisation where any cog can be replaced, but it doesn’t make you feel particularly valued.

At RockWave it is completely the opposite. Our strength lies in every individual. As a small company each person is a far larger % of the entire company and we value everyone’s input. This is also why we place so much emphasis on cultural fit over technical expertise. Once you have crossed our technical bar, it really is all about how much you engage in the business, come with a service minded attitude, and add value in other ways. Your voice is heard and encouraged, and you become part of one big team.

Read about our team here.

7. You can’t get promoted at RockWave

This is true. We only have Geophysicists.

Every Geophysicist adds value in the same way. All run projects, liaise with clients, represent the company, and provide assistance to each other. Fighting for titles and hierarchy is nonsense.

That doesn’t mean everyone is paid the same. Through consultation with our employees at one of the legendary RockWave workshops, it was clear equal pay was not what people wanted. They wanted to be rewarded for adding value in their own ways. Based on this we built our own RockWave Matrix that places value on technical and service aspects of the role. Development within this matrix leads to pay increases in a fully transparent way. It is also in our employee’s control how quickly they move within this, if at all. This allows employees to chase the development objectives they want, not feel obliged to climb the ladder from Level 2 to Level 2B because that is the only path, or find themselves at a dead-end because positions on the higher rungs are limited.

8. Alternative view to Work/Life balance

Remote work is the argument of the times – how often should employees be asked to go into an office? We started out in peak covid so getting an office was never a choice, and we soon found we didn’t need it. Why spend an hour or more of your day travelling just to login to a remote compute centre?

A valid argument is flow of ideas that come from casual chats you would have around an office. Agreed, moving out of an office and trying to recreate that would be challenging, but having always been remote we have had a clean slate to find ways to overcome the disadvantages.

Ultimately it all rests on strong communication and trust. When you have trust, you really can redefine work/life. We don’t get hung up about 9-5, preferring to allow people to work their hours around other important elements to them. This works as everyone knows the priority is keeping your project on track and ensuring your client is satisfied and receiving the service they deserve.

9. Were we ever really a start-up at all?

If the point of this article is to articulate that we have left the ‘start-up’ phase, and now offer a secure alternative to many of the long-standing names, it does make me stop and think if we were ever really a start-up at all in the truest sense of the word.

Although enjoyable to paint yourself with the ‘start-up’ banner and the ‘high-tech’ image that conjures up, let’s face it, this wasn’t a new idea or invention. Provided we had the right technology and the right people, the business of seismic processing was already proven. We’ve just tried to package that up in a new way that is optimised for the modern world and can successfully service the multiple energy segments that will dominate the market for years to come.

10. The missing piece…

The one thing we are missing are enough talented seismic processors who can thrive in our organisation and help meet the demand from our clients….. Can you fill that void?

Our recruitment process is open and waiting for your application! As with all things RockWave it’s a little different to normal, so rip up that CV, free you mind and head to our careers page here.

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