History of Venturetech
Larry Keast started Venturetech in his garage in 1980. (Larry's bio) Within the first two years, he discovered power swivels and saw this as an interesting and exciting business niche that needed competition and development. But with 3 small children, no shop or equipment, and no money, he had to postpone designing his own power swivel for almost 20 years. (He tells young entrepreneurs that only the first 20 years are the hardest...) So for the first few years he sold consulting engineering services, designing various equipment for clients he found. He also began offering parts and service for all brands of power swivels, plus buying and refurbishing old ones, and building hydraulic power units for them. This was just a small business and the family had no extra money. Still, Larry's dream was to use his engineering talents to design and manufacture his own equipment. HIs wife went to college while keeping the books, raising the children, and feeding the family. Larry was working long hours to make a small living while always dreaming of manufacturing his own power swivels.
Every fortunate entrepreneur has a story of an event that leap-frogged him to the next level. Here is mine. Weatherford always moved unwanted equipment from their nationwide yards to a consolidation yard in Alvin, Texas. We knew they had 25 or so old power swivels there, because occasionally they would have us do repair work. Times were bad so we had no work from them lately. I happened to be on the phone with a California customer who somehow heard Weatherford was selling me those power swivels in the Alvin yard. I had no idea so I just said, "We're talking." I hung up the phone and called Andy, the yard manager and said, "Andy, I understand you're ready to sell those power swivels." He said, "Yeah, Larry, you need to come down here and make us an offer." The next morning I was there taking photos and making notes about each one. In 2 days I submitted an offer of $110,000, including Weatherford hauling them to Houston. I had no money and no idea where I was going to get $110,000. But it was like this: If you're an antique expert and you stop by a yard sale where granny wants $25 for a table you know it's worth $300, you give her $25 and you're both happy. This was my position so I knew I had to do this deal, no matter what. Then two days after I submitted my offer, Andy called and said, "Larry, where do you want those swivels?" I said, Andy, I don't have the money deal done with your office and he said, "I didn't ask you that!" The swivels started showing up 2 or 3 at a time, swamping the parking lot of my lease space. Landlord NOT HAPPY! Since the oilfield was down at this time, I knew we couldn't sell them soon. But we worked on them part time for the next 2-3 years, and by 3 years after that, we sold them all! We cleared more than $700K, huge money for my little company. So it was DECISION TIME! I hired my first Autocad designer and start designing my own power swivels, and I decided to buy a 20,000 sqft building from Frito-Lay with 2 acres of concrete. Big changes began!
We used this military truck in daily service for years. Drivers reported salutes as they passed. It was in numerous parades.
After several years of engineering, Venturetech introduced the XK-90 and XK-150 power swivels. We had 8 employees at this time.
We started hiring "second-chancers", including ex-offenders, people in recovery, and old folks. This policy improved the character of our team and we have continued this practice.
We moved into our 20,000 sqft building after we heavily remodeled and installed a 10-ton bridge crane. Our well organized shop and our production control "war room" allowed us to serve customers efficiently, and we began to grow as sales of our power swivels began. 15 people by now.
Power swivel business growing. Founded non-profit America in Recovery to encourage small businesses everywhere to hire "second-chancers". Up to 20 people.
Introduced the XK-250 power swivel which has found application as the top drive in automated Super Singles rigs. 26 people.
Bought four more acres next door and flew the Texas Longhorn flag in honor of the University of Texas football national championship. Growing fast, big backlog, can't keep up. 35 people.
Bought another 1-1/2 acres to allow future shop expansion straight back. Still big backlog and growing fast. 47 people.
We were awarded the Fast 100 Enterprise Champion Award by the Houston Business Journal for rapid growth, patriotism, and community service. See this nice article with Adobe Reader. 52 people.
Started building test rig. Began working toward certification of API Q1 Quality Control System. Sales and production continue to increase - four month backlog. 96 machines shipped this year. 55 people.
Economy crashed, sales stopped. Laid off 30 good teammates. Used the year to reorganize, reevaluate, and start engineering on our top drive. Completed our test rig which Larry’s wife launched with champagne. Began testing every power swivel on test rig before shipment.
Top drive engineering underway and first prototype parts being tested. Started major addition to building. Sales are strong and we’re hiring again.
2011 – 2013
Achieved API certification! Completed 20,000 sqft addition to shop. Now own 11½ acres including landscaped and stocked retention pond. Built a separate shop for Larry’s fun cars and also for developing non-oilfield products. Took the first top drive team picture on Larry’s 70th birthday. Up to 11 top drive patents, more pending.
Biggest year yet. ZK-250 Top Drive prototype to first field tests. Now 14 patents on Top Drive, three more in application. Planning to double shop size again. Designing ZK-150 Top Drive.
Venturetech’s 35th Anniversary! XK-100 power swivel released, replacing the XK-90. Second prototype of ZK-250 Top Drive completed, and prototype of ZK-150 Top Drive in progress. Oil price crashed to $35/bbl but we had a big backlog so still a good year. 19 patents issued for top drive by now.
Slowest year ever, no backlog. Oil $25/bbl at lowest point. Reduced to small crew. Welders, mechanics, & machinists patching concrete in parking lot and painting forklifts. Grateful that our international parts & service business allowed us to break even. Engineering designer Jim Strickland died at 87 after working for us 17 years! Jim is a great story of doing what you enjoy.
Oil back to high 50's, phone ringing again. Launched new patented power swivel tilt feature. 22 patents by now.
Introduced our patented 10,000 psi washpipe seal assembly required by long reach horizontal wells. Unlike anything on the market, our seal life is much longer than competition and we are continuing development. 23 patents issued. Business is OK at "new normal" oil price $50-60/bbl.
Excited to be developing the Super Handler, a major addition to our product line ! Combination pipe handler and power swivel in one trailer-mounted machine! 6 patents pending. Customers say it will be a game-changer! Customers got in line to buy. Exciting!
Covid 19 global pandemic and worst oilfield crash in history! We avoided layoffs by investing in repairs, improvements, and additions throughout the business. Thankfully, we worked the whole year and none of our people got covid. Stopped Super Handler development and put engineering to work completing new smaller products not requiring capital budgets. These included SafeLatch torque arms and ScopeDown torque tracks.
Business picking up. Oil $75-80/bbl and rig count increasing. Customers love the Super Handler, saying it will be a game-changer, but they have no budgets for capital equipment this year. So we postponed finishing the Super Handler engineering and are now quickly finishing development of new "accessory" products that customers can buy with their current budgets. These exciting smaller products include our ScopeDown Torque Track, SafeLatch Torque Arms, and trailer-mounted breakout vise. Numerous patents pending.
LARRY G. KEAST BIO
Larry earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Texas and is a registered professional engineer. While at UT, he joined the Army National Guard, went to MP school, OCS, and airborne training, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant.
His first job was with Cameron where he gained experience in engineering, offshore service, and manufacturing of blowout preventers and subsea equipment. This was excellent diverse experience in a large well-led global company founded by a great entrepreneur Jim Abercrombie and led by a great engineer-President Herbert Allen.
After nine years with Cameron, Larry joined World Wide Oil Tools as Vice President & General Manager. Almost a startup and in complete disarray, he built this little company into a respected international manufacturer of pipe testing equipment. Directing the development of four new product lines, Larry received three patents in the process. He also traveled worldwide, and he learned to love startup manufacturing companies.
In 1980, Larry started Venturetech in his garage. The company now leads the field with his power swivels working on oil and gas wells worldwide. In 2007, Venturetech was honored as one of Houston’s Fastest Growing Businesses by the Houston Business Journal, along with receiving their Enterprise Champion award for doing good work in the community above and beyond financial performance. Larry continues to direct Venturetech's development, and is excited to be launching new top drive and pipe handling product lines. Approx 28 patents so far, more pending.
For fun, Larry is building a car collection including a 34 Ford pickup, a 62 Corvette, several Jeeps, a 1923 Ford T-bucket roadster, and a Bonneville Salt Flats race car. To fund this enterprise and create jobs, he started Torque Engineering, LP and is now manufacturing AIRTORQ, a driver-controlled air suspension kit allowing offroad Jeep drivers an 8” up-down-tilt adjustment on-the-fly. See www.torq1.com.
He also learned to fly in the last few years and he rides his bicycle to work 10 miles twice a week. He loves having a lot going on and does not understand retirement.
Giving back to the community is an important part of Larry’s life. He learned the power of support groups in the substance abuse programs Insight and Lifeway, and was an advisory board member of Cornerstone Recovery. After his wife was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1996, Larry joined the Texas Liver Coalition board as Director of Support Groups. Under Larry’s direction, the Coalition developed 32 support groups in Texas cities which helped thousands of people each year. Larry also served on Mayor Bill White’s Task Force for Hepatitis C. Thankfully, Larry's wife was cured after four years of early and very difficult treatment. Many years later, today's medications cure Hep C routinely.
Mr. Keast has enjoyed mentoring and speaking to engineering and entrepreneurship students at the University of Texas and the University of Houston. He has served on the Business Advisory Council of Goodwill Industries. Larry has also served as President of the Dover Club, a support organization of business owners, and as a board member of Unity church. Larry is a member of Nomads since 1980, and has enjoyed membership in The Alternative Board, a business owners' roundtable group. In 2012, he was honored by Dickinson High School as Alumni of the Year, and also served on the board of their education foundation. Larry is a member of AESC, IADC, SAE, AOPA, EAA, and is a Certified Fluid Power Engineer.
In 2000, Venturetech began hiring people who deserve a second chance including ex-offenders, people in recovery, and older folks. Returning these Americans to the workforce has proven to increase company morale and productivity and this practice continues today. In 2004 Larry began spreading the word among other small business owners and founded America in Recovery, a non-profit encouraging companies nationwide to hire these people.
Married for 54 years, Larry and Zandra have three children and six grandchildren in Austin, Corpus Christi, Los Angeles, Berlin, and Budapest.