For Episode 84 of Amplify Your Business, we’re joined by Darlington Etaje of the Physics Inspired Drilling Simulator. This groundbreaking solution for drilling companies and researchers alike came not only out of an entrepreneurial vision but an academic one, too—all while Darlington was pursuing Canadian citizenship!
(1:03) Tell me a little bit about this business and what you’re trying to solve in the drilling industry.
Over the last couple of years of research, I realized I was trying to solve problems without first understanding the system. After two or three years, I realized I had been going about the problem the wrong way. I went back to the drawing board into the “engine room” of the drilling process and eventually created a virtual drilling simulation app.
However, in listening to the market, I realized that this digital model would not work for every client. So, instead, I started a business that trains engineers to use our platform so they wouldn’t have to start from scratch as I did. Also, this allowed us to help other businesses innovate and make their processes more sustainable. Instead of solving problems, we help other people solve their own.
(2:49) Alberta is a hotbed of drilling, but I imagine your model is applicable worldwide?
That’s correct. Globally, the drilling process is the same. In Alberta, we drill on-shore, but in my home of Nigeria, we drill off-shore. At the end of the day, however, when you hit the ground drilling, it is all the same process. A process developed here in Calgary can be implemented globally.
(3:52) You’re at the pre-revenue stage right now, so how far along is your solution in terms of development?
The biggest part of the development process is to build a well pot design into the app. Historically, you pay someone else for the software, so it ends up off-site. For our app, it’s all done from one place.
As of now, we’ve built a prototype that supports virtual delivery, and we are engaging with prospective customers to explore what is important to them and what problems they would like the software to solve. This research will determine the order of problems we will task ourselves with solving.
The biggest question I ask is, “what keeps you up at night?” That is where I make my money. Pick the lowest hanging fruit and implement it into the app. Then, we review with the customer to see how well the app will work for their chosen problem. By reaching out to every customer and contractor in the drilling space, I hope to offer a platform where we can all make money together.
(6:41) Are you the only player in this app-based drilling space, or are there competitors?
Yes, but most of them have fragmented offerings where an engineer creates a solution that becomes proprietary. However, an essential part of the feedback that my interviews have located is that we are the first app that offers all solutions in one app. We don’t look at problems from the singular point of view that our competitors do. We look at it from all sides.
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(7:50) Entrepreneurs always need to remember how they can make themselves unique in the market. You’re implementing a great strategy—research first, especially by solving their most pressing problems first.
You are part of the first inaugural cohort of the Alberta Catalyzer program. You just finished the first six weeks—can you tell me a bit about the program and how you were accepted?
I found out about the program through a newsletter by Platform Calgary. The goal of the Catalyzer program is to raise 900 programs by 2030 and help those companies employ 20,000 Albertans and generate $5 billion in revenue. I want to be among those 900 companies.
Over the past six weeks, there have been intense training sessions and coaching programs. They helped me see new sides of my business and my offerings, like business road maps and customer maps. I saw that it’s not about what I see in the product—it’s what the customer sees. I discovered many of the app’s most powerful features based on discovery calls, not simply what excited me.
(13:22) When will you have this simulator on the market?
In terms of my products and services, I offer one service presently—training. First, for products, I offer engineers the opportunity to test their project viability on my app. Secondly, I optimize drilling processes by helping engineers in the field.
For my training service, I am ready to go. For my products, there is a need for field testing first. I will be taking my findings and comparing them to data from field engineers to ensure there is accuracy. If all works, I will progress to further field tests. Success here will allow me to return to academia with a validated product suitable for both researchers and drilling companies.
In short, service is ready to go. For the app, the product is still in the validation phase, likely finishing up after three months. That being said, validation testing is never fully done. For every new service, it will need new validation.
(17:02) What has been the biggest challenge you have faced from idea to product?
There were two challenges—technical and entrepreneurial.
First, understand the highly technical nature of your field. Without this understanding, you cannot build solutions or even understand problems.
Secondly, learn how to talk to your customers and who they are. Get out of the door and start asking questions, especially if you’re in my field. If you truly care about the solutions, go out and talk to people.
Improving these areas feed each other. For example, I used to have problems finding people to speak with. Now that I understand the process, people want to talk to me because I can provide value.
(:) I understand that you have written your citizenship exam and are awaiting the results. I’d like to personally congratulate you and thank you for showing Canada a sense of drive and self-determination through new eyes.
With all due respect to my home country, I have learned most of my business lessons in Canada. In the fourth year of my Ph.D., I am now discovering the Canadian mindset. We’re not about getting things done in and out—it’s about doing it right and respecting the process. Canada is a country of integrity and excellence—two ideals I plan to exemplify.
Thank you, Darlington, for joining us, and thank you to the audience for watching!
If you’d like to catch up on past episodes or be featured in a future episode, fill out the form on our website—we look forward to seeing you soon!
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