You Know the Drill: Building a Brand in the Drilling Industry
Sean Ryan, owner and president of American Drilling Inc. in Pensacola, Fla., founded his business in December 2015. He worked as a driller for an engineering company when he decided to start his own venture, and although he was ready to take on his first project in early January 2016, he didn’t land a job until mid-February. “I was holding on for dear life waiting for that job to come in,” Ryan says. “Then, oddly enough, my first job was a huge job with deep holes that, apparently some other drillers had turned down. I kind of took that as a learning experience, so now I want to be the guy that, when people don’t want to do the job, this guy will.”
Ryan says the inspiration to start his own drilling company came from his parents, Anne and Mike Sr., who owned and operated Environmental Technical Drilling Inc. in Farmingdale, N.J., which, today, is run by his brother, Mike Jr. Listening to his parents’ stories about the rough times and the grit it took to succeed made him proud.
After high school, Ryan joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Five years ago he moved to Pensacola with his wife, Sarah, who is a native of the area. He says his military experience brings “a ton” of value to his company by way of discipline and work ethic. That isn’t to say that running a business is always simple and straightforward. For one, Ryan isn’t able to leave it all behind when he heads home after a hard days’ work; there is a business side to account for and growth to achieve. In addition, getting started was tough. He had to step outside of his comfort zone to establish clientele. At this point, most of his geotechnical and environmental projects come from repeat customers. “Reputation is key to get them to keep calling me back,” he says. “Right now we’re running one crew, but hopefully by the beginning of next year we’ll have two crews out.”
About 70 percent of American Drilling Inc. jobs are geotechnical, 20 percent are environmental and 10 percent are water wells. With just three employees total, including himself and his wife, the biggest challenge Ryan faces is scheduling. Limited bandwidth often leads to late nights in the field, but with four drilling rigs to put to work, there is room for the additional crew members he plans to bring on.
Ryan has spent 18 years in the drilling industry, not including the childhood years he spent helping his late father; the work he does is in his blood. In fact, his grandfather served as a driller in Ireland. His advice for others planning to launch their own drilling businesses: “Research the business side. That’s what I did. I spent about a year before I went into business researching what it took to start your own business, and exactly the pros and cons.”
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. My days stay busy working in the field while I try to keep most of the business side for nights and weekends. The desire to build a great reputation for my company is what keeps me coming back. ADI’s main goal is to keep clients satisfied, and knowing the job will get done correctly and on time is an important part of that.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. I have three small kids, so in order to make it home to spend some time with them before bedtime, I tend to start my days before the sun comes up. Starting early helps tackle any obstacles that may come up on a new project. After the first few holes, we can usually tell how the job will play out. In between borings I usually return phone calls and schedule upcoming jobs.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. In order to succeed as a driller, you have to love what you do. It’s not an easy occupation to be in. The days can be long, the weather conditions aren’t always ideal and it can keep you away from your family more than you’d like. But if you really enjoy what you do, you keep coming back. Eventually, just coming back isn’t enough. In order to be successful you need be able to come up with new and unique solutions to problems. It’s important to separate yourself in terms of quality from other companies.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. I wish I knew how little time I had left with my father. I was 11 years old when he took me out on my first job. Being out there with him and learning how he handled obstacles were some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my career. He would come up with some pretty creative ways to get even the most difficult jobs done. I try to run my business with the same mentality. No matter how much I learned from him over the years, there are still plenty of days I come across something on a job that I wish I was able to talk to him about.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Experience. It helps me in all aspects of the business, but mostly ADI’s reputation. When an engineer makes a wild request on the job and we perform like we have done that same thing 100 times, it shows that we are reliable and we can get the job done.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. When I first mentioned going into business, my mother gave me some great advice. She said, “Don’t do it.” Then she said, “But if you do, don’t look back, stay positive and learn from your mistakes along the way.” The best and simplest piece of advice I’ve been given was from my father. He would say, “Sh** or get off the pot.”
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. I would say one problem is the shortage of drillers. Getting young people interested in the field seems to be a challenge and, in turn, is challenging for a business to achieve growth