Samir Madani is a real influencer on the oil market. His innovative initiatives as crowd sourced research represented by OOTT hashtag or Tanker Trackers are great examples to follow for analysts covering other commodity classes. In an interview with Lithium Today, he talks about success factors behind his projects and new ideas that have potential to make an impact in commodities space.
Lithium Today (LT): Samir, your personal tweeter account has 22.8K followers at the moment of writing this, while FT Commodities have 34.4K followers and Reuters Commodities 29.1K followers. These are organizations with big teams, big budgets and long traditions behind them, while you are a single person who started not long ago.
Do you feel the influence on the markets? What were the key factors behind this growth of “popularity” in still a niche field?
Samir Madani: Some nights I’ll be watching CNBC or Bloomberg and hear someone talking about oil, and they’ll mention something that was raised possibly in a #OOTT retweet or discussion on Twitter. I think that’s fantastic because we’re all working with real-time information. It benefits everyone!
LT: How did you build the dispersed team to support the research behind Tanker Trackers and #OOTT?
Samir: I first asked for volunteers at the end of April 2016, and they really drove the growth of #OOTT together with journalists who used it as an outlet to gain more traction for their oil stories. It’s a success today, and is living its own life. It amazes me to this day when I see those tweets come in on my Tweetdeck, especially when there’s an OPEC meeting. You don’t miss a thing!
LT: Have you commercialized your activities in some way or is it still a community of enthusiasts and a “hobby” you do after your daily job?
Samir: After 20 years of working in technology and after the birth of my last two kids (a pair of twins), I decided I couldn’t track oil tankers and storage as a hobby anymore because the hours were brutal. I’d tend to the family all day (was on a lengthy parental leave, as this is Sweden) and got to working on tracking sometime around midnight to 3am. Would then wake up at 6am and do it all over again. I then bit the bullet and decided to go full-time on this because it was way more mentally stimulating as the world of oil has so many interesting aspects, especially when you have access to the real-time data and visuals. Our job at TankerTrackers.com is to keep the interest level high by not just dishing out export numbers, but visuals of the tankers via maps and satellite images. As there’s a lot of geopolitics involved, a lot of fascinating and intriguing situations pop up daily. We cover them in our stories.
LT: Physical commodity trading community is closed, and I would say “old fashioned” – not really early adopters in regard of new technologies, unlike financial industry.
So, have you managed to build a closer links to that community? Do physical trading houses, physical consumers and producers reach out to you?
Samir: People reach out to us all the time for information, advice or partnerships. We sit on research that obviously helps them.
LT: What I love about #OOTT and Tanker Trackers is the marriage of commodities and tech. With ingrained tech sector values, as openness, egalitarianism, free access/content. Do you see other prospective areas in the commodities & tech where similar in nature initiatives could be undertaken?
Samir: Definitely. Every sector and commodity is being tracked nowadays. Some of us count shipments while others count the number of cars in a parking lot to determine how the next fiscal report will look like for a retailer.
LT: How do you see the future for Tanker Trackers and #OOTT?
Samir: Growth for both. At TankerTrackers.com we have our own development and content roadmap while #OOTT grows organically thanks to its audience and active news/research/opinion contributors.
LT: Do you think, the success of your initiatives could be repeated with any other commodities?
Samir: Absolutely! We started from scratch without any help. Just take the initiative, build a community around something everyone can relate to, and keep at it!
LT: Would your research methods work with battery materials as lithium, cobalt, magnesium, vanadium? These are all intransparent markets – I would argue more intransparent than oil. Hence added value would be high. I doubt, but maybe you see it differently?
Samir: Oh, absolutely. If you know where the excavation is taking place, even that can be tracked; from mine to port. From port to port.
LT: Any thoughts on the impact of EVs on oil market in long term perspective, with plans by number of governments to ban sales of combustion engine vehicles in next 2 decades?
Samir: It’d be great if we can cut down on carbon emissions in general. Whether EV’s are the cleaner option or not is a question as I’m quite concerned about the total environmental impact of producing even more vehicles rather than refurbishing existing vehicles. However, very few industries survive on just selling parts. They need the entire product and even model to be replaced in order to remain profitable or at least viable.
LT: What lies behind producing good, actionable research in commodities markets?
Samir: When you have no big budget to work with, then it’s just a lot of hard work. The best part about that is, your learning curve skyrockets in no time. We really don’t like automation for that reason because it becomes totally unreliable when vessels switch off their AIS transponders.
LT: Satellite technology and commodities industry. Area that tends to fascinate me. Do you follow it? If yes, where is it going, what can you do now with satellite technology at hand that you could not do 5 years ago?
Samir: Extremely fascinating, indeed! We partnered up with Planet Labs, and they built the largest orbit of over 200 cube sats (30x10x10 cm large) that pretty much line-scan the surface of the Earth every 24 hours. That wasn’t possible just a few years ago and it’s now a major reason why our accuracy remains among the highest in the industry, even for a three-person dotcom startup.