We are eager to share the seventh episode of The Product Management Leaders Podcast with you! Our aim with this podcast is to connect you with some of the top PM leaders and share their real-world strategies and tactics for building world-class products. In today's episode, Grant Duncan speaks with Artem Kroupenev, the VP of Strategy and former VP of Product at Augury, a Series D startup offering AI-driven machine health solutions for industrial equipment. He has led product at other companies, been a cofounder, a guest lecturer, an advisor to multiple startups, and is also a mentor at First Round Capital’s Fast Track program. Let’s hear what he has to say.
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Grant Duncan 0:05
This is the Product Management Leaders Podcast in which you hear from some of the top PM leaders about their real world strategies and tactics for building world class products. It's sponsored by Voximplant, the leading serverless communications platform and no code drag and drop contact center solution. Voximplant enables product leaders and developers to integrate communications into their products, such as embedding voice, video, SMS, in app chat and natural language processing. Join over 30,000 businesses trusting Voximplant. Now let's jump into the show.
Hey, this is Grant Duncan, your host. I’m speaking with Artem Kroupenev. He’s the VP of Strategy and former VP of Product at Augury, a Series D startup offering AI-driven machine health solutions for industrial equipment. He has led product at other companies, been a cofounder, a guest lecturer, an advisor to multiple startups, and is also a mentor at First Round Capital’s Fast Track program. Let’s hear what he has to say.
Hello, and welcome to the Product Management Leaders Podcast in which yo. Really excited today to have Artem Kroupenev with us from Augury! Can you first start by telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do there, and maybe some other companies you've worked for or helped in the past?
Artem Kroupenev 1:29
Sure. Happy to! Pleasure to be here with you. Thanks for the opportunity to come on the podcast. So yeah, today I head strategy at Augury, VP of strategy at Augury, and in my previous role, right before that, I spent a few years helping build and then manage the product team at Augury, as a VP of Product. So I've been involved with Augury for about five years and have seen kind of from the early, very early stages of the company, now to what is tremendous amount of growth that we're experiencing, and have seen the company develop over that time and have helped bring some products to market, achieve product market fit with those products, as well as now expanding that, you know, I would say portfolio of products into what is a category creation strategy, and really expanding our footprint across a number of different segments, a number of different markets, and a number of different products going into the future. And my background is really, I would say, entrepreneurship, I helped start a couple of companies in the past with a co founding team, those two companies kind of reached a certain stage of growth, not the same as Augury today, Augury is kind of the past that stage of growth. So this is my first time being on a company that's truly kind of a rocket ship in the sense of really rapid growth, as well as you know, really rapidly scaling across the market. And there's a lot of opportunity there to grow, beyond where we are today, obviously. I also spent a couple of years in kind of the growth consulting space, so not just starting startups from early stages, but also helping teams within very large corporations create growth and innovation. And we did that with a company called bionic out of New York. And we were able to, you know, create growth and create real value, real startups within you know, some of the largest companies in the world, companies like Nike and Citigroup and, and GE, and others. So that's part of my experience. And having the ability to kind of see the very early stages pre-product market fit, then kind of get at some of the products and services to product market fit, and then going beyond that both of the growth stages, as well, as you know, what happens when you are a company that's working at a very large scale? How do you then create that growth and ignite that growth within the company, having in some cases lost that ability to create that growth some time ago? So this is really my experience within the startup world, within the technology world, so far.
Grant Duncan 4:26
Very cool. Yeah, I can imagine, with your varied experience, it's got to be pretty fun to be at a rocket ship now, to see that growth. One thing that intrigued me, you talked about finding product market fit. I know there is discussion around how do you actually define? For you, how do you think about saying like, yep, we have it, or no, we're still searching for it?
Artem Kroupenev 4:54
I think it becomes a little bit trickier in the early kind of indicators to what that is. But if you look back and you're looking at the lagging indicators with product market fit, to me, it's actually pretty clear, at least I have defined it in a way for myself, that makes it rather clear. I'm not sure if it's the right way to define that. But at least it is a way to define that. So the way I define product market fit is two things. There's significance, in the old days, we would call it NPS, right? But essentially, you know, there's a significant number of customers that are users on a certain level of basis, meaning, you know, whether it's daily or weekly, or whatever the nature of the workflow dictates. And within that user base, there's a significant portion of them, who would be very upset if they no longer have access to that product, and not because it just provides them functionality, but also actually meets some of their emotional motivators and jobs to be done. And they see that as something that enables them to progress. So taking away the capability to progress in that sense, would be very detrimental to them. And they would vocalise that. And that's one way to measure. That's one part of the product market fit. The second part, which is I would say equally important is that within a specific segment, you have seen four consecutive quarters of increasing revenue for that product. And so, you know, most of my work with product that I've done in the b2b enterprise space, and so that comes from there a little bit near, you probably see some of those metrics emerge much earlier in the consumer space, right? But in some cases in the enterprise space, you do need to wait a year, in order to, on a lagging basis, kind of declare market fit with those customers. And what's important there, that it is in the same segment. And that revenue is growing, you know, quarter over quarter, it doesn't have to be a tremendous amount of revenue, but it needs to be growing. So those are the two sides to the way I would measure product market fit. And we have measured product market fit in the past.
Grant Duncan 7:13
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. So when you think about the most important metrics to track for a product team, what are some that come to mind?
Artem Kroupenev 7:24
So, you know, you would obviously want to be tracking metrics that indicate the impact of the product, or the service, or the solution on the customers' lives and outcomes. It has to come from the market. And those metrics need to be meaningful. And I think within the metrics space, you can have a lot of metrics that are meaningful, you need to have one, right, that is that is meaningful...
Grant Duncan 7:55
Don't get overloaded by them?
Artem Kroupenev 7:57
Well, not just overloaded - distracted and not having the ability... Metrics are a tool, not just a measure of progress, but to optimise, right? And the more that one, let's say, Northstar metric, can encapsulate the progress that you're enabling your customers to make as well as the progress that your business is making to make... If that Northstar metric can encapsulate both, then you're really optimising for the right thing. And within that metric, there's, you know, subsets of metrics that are kind of components without subcategories, that you can track and measure and optimise for. But you have to have, I believe, one Northstar metric that you're optimising for. And the subcategories of metrics, they're quite well known, right? In terms of whether the different aspects that you will be measuring, it's really engagement and traction with the customers, its metrics around the... And again, in the enterprise space, and use a division between the user and the customer, right? So engagement metrics will be tracked with users, whereas customer metrics would be tracked with the buyers, the influencers in the buying decision. It's kind of like selling toys, where the user is the child, but the decision maker is the parents, right? And they have different things that they optimise for. So you have the user metrics around engagement, you have customer metrics around the value, primarily, that we will track. Then there are metrics that are a little bit less tangible, but then go a little bit more to your vision and the progress that you're impacting in a party on your user and customer base. How close are you to helping them achieve their goals in making that progress? And those are kind of an additional set of metrics that are often overlooked, but they're important to track as well.
Grant Duncan 9:58
Yeah, and you mentioned some Northstar metric being important. Can you think of an example of what that's been for you now or in the past?
Artem Kroupenev 10:13
Yeah. So if you think about Augury, right, what we do with Augury is essentially provide machine health as a service. And machines, you know, I probably don't need to convince you of that, but, it's very often overlooked how important they are to humanity. Right? Yeah, the means of production is the way we kind of move civilization forward. And they're responsible for as much as you know, 85/90% of GDP across the globe. We actually felt that during this pandemic, I'm talking about it kind of in the past tense, but we're still in the midst of it in some ways. So, you know, we have these huge supply chains across the globe, and some of the things, necessities that we needed during the pandemic, we couldn't get them. And the machines are the ones that produce those things, and then they build those things. And so the space that we're in this machine health, so we, you know, provide sensors, and you know, the hardware and the connectivity, and then the diagnostics and AI, as well as outcomes around those machines. And that whole thing is delivered as a service on a subscription basis. And we make sure that those machines are monitored, and provided with insight and prescriptive analytics, so that you don't have to wait until that machine breaks, you actually know months in advance, when is it going to break, right? And what to do about it and how to fix it. So that approach, and that capability is revolutionary for the industry, that is primarily operating on kind of preventative and reactive ways of maintaining those pieces of equipment. So, really, within that, the impact is not just on the health of the equipment itself, it's really on the way that people take those insights and how they elevate what they do, in order to do their jobs better, and then eventually even transform their jobs into something that's a lot more impactful, right, taking AI insights, and utilising that to really meet better production goals and meet better safety goals. And as well as, you know, together, collectively meet the business goals of the organisation in a much more meaningful way. So from there, with that kind of context, the North Star metric is around the health of the machines. Right? How many machines are covered? And how many machines have, you know, been improved from a state that is potential deterioration, essentially, there are very, very few machines that would fail on Augury's watch. Virtually none. And we actually have a way to guarantee that outcome. So the AI, so the level of maturity, where we have an insurance back guarantee, that if Augury is monitoring the machine, and it fails, which means we have missed that diagnostic, then we have a way to pay to repair or replace that machine.
Grant Duncan 13:09
Man, that's, that's powerful. That's like a totally different level of an SLA, or like uptime metric, than most businesses think about.
Artem Kroupenev 13:20
Right, and then a part of that is, the reason behind that guarantee is to make sure that, you know, customers have much less anxiety with adopting AI, and adopting a solution like that, you know, we're just backing it up to an operational outcome. And that has been very helpful in helping people accept the solution, right, because of the level of maturity. So it's a bit of a long winded answer. But you know, going back to what is the Northstar metric? Well, it's the number of machines that are monitored, and the number of potential issues or potential losses that are avoided, because the perception is that machines are not going to fail. But we also are measuring how many of those potential failures have been avoided, and how many of those machines have been saved. And in order to do that, a person needs to understand that that machine has an issue, know exactly what to do about it, and then go in and perform that preventive you know, action to improve the state of that machine, which includes a number of decisions that they make, and those decisions are informed by AI. So within that metric is not just the output of the you know, what's baked in there is not just the output of the platform, but also the activity and engagement of the customer, that goes around actually creating value and performing that action around that machine. And the speed of that activity, right, it's kind of like a funnel from how many machines that are monitored, how many machines have indicated issues, versus how many machines have been improved over a certain period of time. That funnel is also indicative of how quickly do people react to those insights? How quickly do they perform the activity? Right? Which means, how quickly do they transition from a reactive, non insightful mode of work into a very proactive, you know, mode of work that has a AI integrated, essentially as a natural part of their environment?
Grant Duncan 15:26
Yeah, yeah. It's interesting, because it's not only that metric... That North Star metric isn't only tracking your success, but it's also the customers' adoption of your solution. That's a great way to think about that.
Artem Kroupenev 15:43
Yeah, exactly. It's the adoption of the solution and the kind of transformation or evolutional goals that those customers would like to meet, because they would like to see their teams transition to that mode of work. And then as a result of that, well, how much operational loss has been saved, how much money has been saved, you know, what, what are some of the other real hard operational metrics that they've been able to derive for them? So that North Star metric kind of encapsulates all of these different things.
Grant Duncan 16:13
Yeah, that's a great example. So something that I think is important, is thinking about prioritisation and trade off. So how do you think about making decisions when, let's say, a multi-million dollar customer is requesting something, when that may not be aligned with the strategy or roadmap of the company?
Artem Kroupenev 16:39
Yeah, it's definitely a very difficult question to contend with, especially in the very early stages. And we see a tendency, especially across, I would say, enterprise companies, but not just, to structure the whole product, in some cases, the whole stack of your product portfolio around the needs of a single customer. And obviously, that's a very difficult thing to say no to, but also a very dangerous thing to do, right? Because that carries a lot of debt. And with that threat, and when we talk about that debt, it carries debt around the, you know, technical debt right around there, architecture of how you do that. But also it carries what you know, we can call, user experience debt, right, and user value debt. And you're over investing in building that type of solution for a single customer. The decision there a lot of the time, is not whether you should do it or not. But How quickly can you get others into the mix, in order to diversify your portfolio, if you will, of that experience? And how quickly, or at the very least, how quickly can you get to validation with additional customers? That's what those requests that are coming from this one huge customer, you know, whether those requests are generalised, or those requests are very specific, right? So that's really the issue that happens in the very early stages. And it's very hard to get around that, especially if somebody is writing you a large check. As the company grows, and you have more of a diversified customer base, if you have a good team of product leaders and then the strategists in place, then the conversation is around really what is what drives our vision, as opposed to, you know, how do we prioritise between requests from customers. And, and getting to a very strong vision, you know, utilising the widest possible knowledge that you have, is really important, even if you just land it, right, even if it's not necessarily you know, 100% baked or 100% there, you have to have that, because then that is a tremendous tool and helping you drive prioritisation, helping you drive you know, new things that you're building for customers. And if you're saying no to something, you have a strategic justification for doing that. Or at least delaying that to the level where you can learn enough about it. So to me after that initial stage where you might be driven by just one customer and that's all you can do, vision becomes your primary tool of driving prioritisation at the strategic level, right. And then within that, within the more tactical level, one of the most important things that happened is your ability to really collaborate across you know, the whole product management team and have a discussion where you're actually sharing your individual insights around, why some of the things are important for the users. And that collaboration has to have a cross functional component together with the, let's say, go to market and sales team at the same time, so that you're looking at kind of the value of those requests, not just from a user perspective, but you're also looking at the value of those requests from a customer's perspective, what will drive value for them now, versus, you know, in the future. And that's where product managers, you know, the way we've structured it, and the way I've seen it work best is product managers take a lot of the ownership, not just for the success of the usability of the product, but also for the business outcomes for the product itself. And maybe that goes into a different topic slightly. It's a pretty big question about prioritisation, but I think it happens best, when you have a very strong vision that everyone can understand and can also have an input into. And second, it's when your product team, especially leaders in that product team, have responsibility not just for user outcomes, but also for the business outcomes and customer outcomes of the product. And that way, they can make decisions autonomously on how to drive that product prioritisation. So I hope that makes sense.
Grant Duncan 21:14
Yeah, yeah, I think listeners will probably find that interesting. So one thing you talked about in your background, in your current experience, is how you are currently the VP of Strategy and were the VP of Product. Now I imagine many of the PM leaders listening to this are probably intrigued by why you made that switch, and what that change has looked like for you. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Artem Kroupenev 21:42
Sure. So I think, you know, for me, it's a little bit more personal, right? And it might in some senses might be unique, right? And I find that, you know, if you ask five different companies what the VP of Strategy, if they have one, does, there'll be five different answers. But we've built this in a certain way, and the way I look at it is, you know, one part of it is this role enables me to take responsibility for a wider scope of things than just product strategy and product capabilities, including, go to market, or looking at ecosystem, looking at strategic marketing, category creation, and also looking at corporate development. So, kind of a wider sense of perspective. And then at the same time, while it is wider, it's just a little bit less deep, right, even though I love the work of product, and going all the way through and putting products out there in markets. Yeah, you know, working with that team... But looking at that wide perspective, I can't really go as deep. And then I need to really work with other people and really trust other people to be able to do that. But I think at this stage for us, for our company, there's a lot of other growth stage companies, kind of lateral view of what is happening across the organisation, and the market is incredibly important. And in some cases, that responsibility falls on... Could be any number of different functions and titles. In this case, this is a core part of what I'm doing.
Grant Duncan 23:34
Yeah, I think you're probably right, that every company's strategy roll is going to look a little bit different. But it's interesting to hear what that looks like for you all. So what sources or communities do you use to continue learning?
Artem Kroupenev 23:52
The primary one, of course, is customers and partners. And I think the question might be more centred around the professional nature, the discipline of product managers maybe, right, if you're referring to communities, but yeah, I'll just think deliberately and open up to others, you know, that the primary source of learning and understanding for me is of course, the customers, partners, stakeholders for our products or services, you know, everything that we do. And that is a set of people usually, right, in the beginning, but then, you know, I find that, we had to create a community out of that, just enabled that definitely. And then and then the power of that community that we create or are creating is then that enables them to obviously interact and collaborate and then enhance division, and then enhance the ecosystem. And that approach, which is geared towards ecosystem is also incredibly important, because to enact that type of change that is kind of stipulated in the vision, we can't do that ourselves, right? So we need to, we need to have a good number of others that are also aligned to that, and they're helping drive that for the industry. So that is the primary source. Another thing that I tend to do, that I think, you know, not everyone does, but that's just part of my approach, is that I like to create connections, really personal connections with people that are like minded or have similar challenges or similar, you know, kind of conditions that they deal with, on a one on one basis, across both, other industries, but also within the same industry, including competitors. So I like to maintain that level of relationship and, you know, people who are in the strategy, or in the product field, who are companies that compete with us, you know, potentially, and have those relationships, I think that's a tremendous source of a lot of different things. My background is in political science, international relations strategy. So having the ability to have a back channel, somebody that you're working with, and also that personal relationship, enables a tremendous amount of leverage and mobility, and helps break down a good number of misconceptions about each other. Because if you compete with a company that's in the same stage, or slightly different stage, the challenges you're facing are very similar. And then, you know, I am part of a number of different communities that are either strategy or marketing related, either through communities created by some of our investors, or communities that enable me access to peers... And another one, that's really important, I think, is also communities that enable me to also provide mentorship to the extent that I can. So people that are slightly earlier in their careers. And that's probably one of the communities that we learn the most from, is being able to, to have those types of conversations, you know. So I think that kind of pretty much pretty much covers it. And I think that the last one is, yeah, I always kind of try to have this balance of you know, I'd like to have somebody who I'm mentored by, right, maybe one or two people, that community of peers, and then you know, one or two people that I am mentoring, I think that's a very balanced approach. To me to really accelerate learning.
Grant Duncan 28:07
It's like above, below and to the sides.
Artem Kroupenev 28:09
Yeah, exactly. Yeah!
Grant Duncan 28:12
Yeah, very cool. One of the things I heard you saying in there was around peers, like in your own company and other companies, how do you manage internal stakeholder relationships? I think once you get to a company size of a certain level, which I imagine you're at now, you have to do some level of almost like internal evangelism, and collaborating with people. Can you share how you manage and go about that?
Artem Kroupenev 28:48
Yeah, absolutely. So I think within the context of my role, right, helping people understand where we're going, what the map looks like, and paint the map for them, and have them really excited about the opportunity that presents in front of them. That's a core part of my role, right? So helping people kind of get there and creating clarity around that and context around that, is incredibly important. So, when we talk about kind of stakeholder management or relationship management, you know, part of my role, you know, internally and also externally is to help people understand what is that opportunity, how we are shaping that, how we are helpful and like, you know, how others play a role in that. And also all the way to the individual person within the company, of how they contribute to that, very clearly, right? So that's part of the role, and the dynamics there are essentially clarity, constant work and clarity, and a lot of repetition. And also creating a conversation and a dialogue within that repetition, it's not just repeating the same message over and over, even though sometimes that happens too. But also having the ability to, with a lot of humility, take an addition to whatever that is, and kind of transform that together into something else and create opportunity for people to do that. So it's not just kind of just a top down message that you kind of disseminate. And the other dynamic within that is that some of the things I think a lot of people within product leadership will agree, is that you might have an idea that you've been talking about for, you know, for some time, maybe for years or for a year, right. But then when people start together and really embrace it, you have already got tired of it, right? But that's a good indication that your idea is resonating, starting to resonate, as you were tired of it yourself. But now you're starting to see, Oh, this is just when it's getting picked up. Right? So that's the other dynamic, and I think that that's true for marketing and product. The other aspect of stakeholder management or relationships, for me or for, you know, any leader that comes from product, that's kind of those personal relationships are the most important ones you can have, it's incredibly difficult to move anything forward without a personal relationship. I haven't ever seen a top down rigid approach to leadership and management work in product, because what you're tapping into, is the creative motivations of people at the highest possible level, right? People are self actualizing through doing this work, and simply telling them what to do, you know, and the same, that's because that's the way, that's what I said, so, is incredibly detrimental to that, right, kind of almost kills it at its root. So how do you motivate people to do those things? Well, you create the space for them and clarity and the frame to work with them, right? And you enable them in every possible way to be creative. And where they do need some level of direction or a picture of where we're going, then you can provide that as well. But you have to do that on the basis of an extreme level, almost an extreme level of trust, interpersonal trust, that you meet, not just meanwhile, but you always have, you know, their back, and you're also willing to change your perspectives and opinions in accordance to new information. Right? And once you're able to do that, then that trust becomes the foundation for those relationships. And so that I'm talking now kind of from a product managers or product leaders perspective, but that's very true for almost any stakeholder within their organisation. And this is true for strategy, even, you know, on an equal level, you know, having that personal trust established, enables you to say something, or to create something that people would be even opposed to, fundamentally in some in some cases, and not because they believe the idea of what you're saying, but because they trust you to to make it work. So I think that's the approach to stakeholder management. From my perspective.
Grant Duncan 33:47
Awesome. I think those are great insights. And something that you know, people have to deal with on a daily basis... I know leading a team myself, definitely trying to tap into their motivations and let them self actualize, like you're talking about through the work... Way better results when that can happen.
Artem Kroupenev 34:10
Yeah, yeah. I think it's not just what's in it for them, but what's in it for you as a leader, right? I mean, kind of in the general sense, I mean, that, to me, that is the best feeling in the world. Right? It's not just when you did something, but also kind of, you know, have you enabled somebody to self actualize? In a way, it becomes very apparent. That, to me, is more important than the product itself.
Grant Duncan 34:41
Sure, right. Yeah, totally. Now, we're still human.
Artem Kroupenev 34:45
Grant Duncan 34:46
Yeah. Cool. So if you had a magic wand, and you could fix any one product management or strategy problem, what would that be?
Artem Kroupenev 34:59
I mean, how powerful is this magic wand? Haha! That's the question. I think that, you know, one of the biggest ones is that very often, this is still the case, and people like Marty Kagan have been talking about this for a very long time. But product managers still, by and large, are responsible for the solution. But I think that what what needs to happen, is happening in some companies, and maybe, you know, quite a good number of companies at some levels, definitely is happening at the Augury, is that product managers, and product leaders are responsible for the problem, and want to take responsibility for the problem, you take, essentially responsibility for the future of your company. Right. That's a pretty big weight of responsibility to take on. But responsibility for the future, I believe that, you know, the kinds of incredibly talented product people that I've met over the years, those are absolutely the right people to take responsibility for the future. And that not enabling them to take that responsibility is very, is detrimental to our collective future as a humanity. So I think that, that is one of the maybe misconceptions or capabilities that I would introduce more and more and more, right, is this notion that product management, in its essence, is social engineering. And what I mean by that is that the problems that are being solved are essentially new tools, new capabilities, that then enable new behaviours, in some cases, for very large parts of society. And the way we develop as humans is through the use of tools, right. And today, those tools are one of the primary means of moving society forward. And product management is actually the core of that, of that capability. So, you know, not allowing people the right skill sets, the right mindsets, the right, you know, processes, to be able to understand that that is the type of responsibility they're taking for, and then actually to take on that responsibility and get the problem, meet human needs, you know, in a better way, is something that would definitely fix within that domain. There's a lot of companies that are definitely already there, in many ways. So that's kind of the misconception that it is a huge responsibility. And it has a lot of elements of Social Sciences in it, baked into it. And not having those tool sets or those mindsets, you know, creates a tremendous amount of waste. I think so. So that's the power of the magic wand that would like to have. And if we were just to be able to, like do that instantly, then, you know, we would have every product manager kind of deeply empathetic and have a deep understanding of what are the emotional jobs to be done for their users and their customers.If we could just do that in an instance that would be be great.
Grant Duncan 38:26
Yeah, yeah, that does sound pretty awesome. Well, Artem, thanks so much for coming on the show. We've really appreciated your time here. I think you've shared a lot of great insights. Last question for you here. Who is another PM leader that you think we should have on this podcast?
Artem Kroupenev 38:44
Sure. So one person that comes to mind is Hope Green. I don't know if you're familiar with her, but I believe she was VP of product at a couple of different companies out here and in Los Angeles. And I just always liked her, her approach. And I know she has a consultancy at this point. And then she published quite a bit on product management. So there's a lot of depth in what she brings to the table. So that's the one that would suggest.
Grant Duncan 39:15
Cool! Well, Hope, we hope to have you on here soon! All right. Thanks again, Artem, we really appreciate you coming on today.
Artem Kroupenev 39:24
Absolutely. Thank you so much. Have a good one.
Grant Duncan 39:30
Thanks for listening to today's podcast, and thanks to our sponsor, Voximplant, as well. If you're looking into how to improve your communication and customer engagement, check them out. Lastly, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and tell your friends, so that others can find it more easily. Have a great day. And feel free to reach out to me, Grant Duncan, if you have any questions you want asked in our next episode.