From producing power, food, medicine, and on, machines collectively drive 85% of GDP in developed countries and ultimately support nearly every aspect of modern society. Despite the critical role machines play in our lives, it wasn’t until Covid exposed how broken our physical industries are that many people woke up to how badly the traditional factory floor needed to be transformed. As a result, resilience and flexibility have become non-negotiable characteristics of successful manufacturing companies post-pandemic. Adaptability and agility start with machine resilience, which fundamentally starts with healthy, predictable machines. Increasingly, companies are applying technology designed to predict industrial equipment failures before they happen to help manufacturers avoid downtime that can cost a significant amount of money, worker safety issues, poor quality output, and subprime factory performance. These companies are turning to Augury, a pioneer in AI-driven Machine Health and Process Health solutions for manufacturing and other industrial sectors, which started in 2011 with the simple question, “How much time and money could be saved if machines stopped failing unexpectedly?”
University friends, Saar Yoskovitz and Gal Shaul, pondered this question after both served in the Israeli army and were surrounded by machines throughout their service. Yoskovitz also studied speech recognition using Machine Learning algorithms in university and thought, “Hey, if we can detect words, why can’t we detect malfunctions in machines?” The two longtime friends decided to start “listening” to machines and founded Augury with the mission to provide manufacturers and other industry sectors with insights into the health of machines, processes, and operations to transform how people work and what they can create.
We recently sat down with Yoskovitz to learn more about how Augury is using AI to unlock powerful business results, what the journey was like to become one of the first Industry 4.0 unicorns, the impact Augury’s technology is having on people, and more.
Eclipse: Tell us more about yourself.
Saar: I grew up in Haifa, Israel, which is a small town an hour north of Tel Aviv. As a kid, I spent three years in the U.S. I lived two years in Shreveport, Louisiana, so believe it or not, I actually had a southern accent growing up. My family also spent another year in Merced, California. I was fortunate to be in the U.S. in the late 80’s, a time when personal computers were just getting started and I received my first computer in second grade. From a very early age, I was tearing computers apart, rebuilding them, and going deep into understanding the technology. When we went back to Israel, I was in fifth grade and started studying programming. I can draw a direct line from getting my first computer in second grade to where I am today.
Eclipse: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur or was this journey serendipitous?
Saar: If you asked me when I was younger if I wanted to build a company, my answer probably would have been no. Interestingly, throughout the years, I basically ran my own business without realizing that’s what I was doing. For example, when I was in seventh grade, I helped fix people’s computers and teach people how to use Office and the Internet. My mom would drive me to a “client’s” house, sit outside in the car, and I’d go in and help them. That’s how I earned money growing up. So, I never thought of this as starting my own company, but throughout the years, I have multiple examples of doing just that.
However, when I was in university, I studied in Israel at Technion — it’s kind of like MIT in that it is a tech-focused university — and I had already started working at Intel in the CPU division. As I was getting closer to the end of my studies, I knew I wanted to start my own company. I kept asking myself, “In two years, if I want to start my own company, what is the best move after I graduate to build the right toolbox that will enable me to succeed?” I started talking to very smart people in the industry and asked quite a few questions. Should I stay for my Master’s degree? Should I continue working at Intel? Should I go and join a startup? Should I start my own company immediately? Interestingly, they all told me I should stay at Intel for another couple of years to have a better understanding of what a good company looks like and what it takes to build a global company from a cultural perspective and processes, especially in product R&D. I listened, but I didn’t survive two years. After a year, I had enough and I called my friend, Gal — who is now my Co-Founder — and said, “We just have to start something.”
Eclipse: What was your “aha moment” that led you to start working on Augury?
Saar: In my studies at university, I focused on speech recognition using Machine Learning algorithms. When you think about it, what we do at Augury — which is diagnosing machines based on the noise they make — is very similar. Our technology takes an audio wave and tries to find meaning inside of it, but instead of searching for words, it searches for other patterns that are distinct malfunctions. The core concept of our technology can be linked back to my studies. In terms of the connection to machines, both Gal and I are from Israel and we served in the Army as officers. Gal was in the Navy and I was in the Artillery Force. We were both surrounded by big machines that our lives depended on and quickly became very intimate with those machines — every small noise, creak, or crackle, we knew what the noises meant. We thought, “Hey, if we can detect words, why can’t we detect malfunctions in machines?” To start, we began with the assumption that we could build a digital stethoscope for machines and worked to understand the type of machines we should diagnose. Before we wrote even one line of code, we went to pains to understand the problem we were trying to solve and whether there was a market for us. We started talking to commercial buildings, factories, car fleets, and overseas shipping — all the critical machines we could imagine — in order to identify the best market for us to go after. At the time, this process was called Customer Development and now, it is called the Lean Startup Methodology. Through this process, we learned about predictive maintenance, the gaps in the market, and how we could leverage modern technologies in the industrial space.
Eclipse: What is your elevator pitch for Augury?
Saar: At the most basic level, we make sure there’s toilet paper the next time you go to the supermarket. We do this by working with the largest manufacturing companies to make their production lines more reliable, productive, and sustainable. As I mentioned, we do that by listening to the machines and based on the noise, we can tell you what’s wrong with them.
Eclipse: From your perspective, what’s the most fulfilling aspect about being an entrepreneur?
Saar: The impact. Impact on the people on my team — the ability to watch them not just grow professionally, but also fulfill their wants, needs, and purposes in life. We’re a very mission-driven company and it’s great to see people grow with us. The other side of the impact is related to our customers and the world overall. Our product has a direct impact on sustainability via energy usage and waste reduction. It also has a direct impact on supply chain resiliency. During COVID, we actively worked with people on the front lines to ensure they could fulfill their customers’ needs — not only medicines and vaccines, but essentials like toilet paper and food.
Eclipse: What excites you the most about the potential of Augury?
Saar: Going back to people, one way of looking at Augury is we have a solution that enables you to detect issues in your motor and you can replace it on time. The other way of looking at Augury is that we fundamentally transform how manufacturing is being done and the roles that people play in their day-to-day lives. We’re helping people move away from mundane work like turning wrenches, looking at valves, and filling in paperwork, to have much more impact and meaning in their jobs. By leveraging our technology to get real-time insights, we empower our customers to make decisions, have impact, and ultimately, enable them to have more time in their personal lives to go to their kids’ baseball games and what not. Similar to how product and engineering shifted with Agile and Lean and how Salesforce changed the way sales and marketing work together, we’re starting to see an evolution of how manufacturing is being done. To me, enabling that change and being embedded in how people work is the biggest impact we can bring to the industry.
Eclipse: In 2021, Augury became one of the first Industry 4.0 unicorns. Talk us through what the journey was like and any key lessons or takeaways.
Saar: For whatever reason, we decided to build a hardware startup selling to the maintenance world. Our journey took a little longer than expected and it was definitely not the easiest path to take. However, there is a saying that timing is everything and if you don’t have good timing, you work really hard for seven years until you have good timing. I think that is the Augury story. We had a very clear vision in 2011, but it took longer for the market to catch up. That said, once the market did finally catch up, we had the right team, the right product, the right timing, and therefore, we became the category leader and eventually, a unicorn — which is another flashy term that doesn’t mean a lot. To me, the journey is that of grit and sticking to what you believe is going to happen or what you believe is true, even if no one really sees it. It’s also important to bring the best people alongside you for the journey because it’s not a one or two man show — it takes a group of very talented people to achieve the success Augury has.
Eclipse: You’ve scaled from a very small team to a larger team over different stages and phases, in addition to acquiring different companies. How have you maintained the right cultural tone throughout all of these changes?
Saar: It is important to point out that a company’s culture should always be evolving. What worked for us at 10 people, doesn’t work for us at 200 or 400 people. When we wanted to check whether the company values we set were still relevant, we went to the team and held a workshop. The message there was every single person owns the culture. It’s not just me, it’s not just Gal, or our Chief People Officer — every single person at Augury needs to help us nudge the culture in the right direction. Culture exists whether you want it to or not. You can help point it in the right direction, but you can’t control it. As a leader, you must promote the right behaviors and let people go for the wrong behaviors. People will always check leadership on that. We have set certain habits and rituals to help foster the culture we want at Augury. For example, at every all hands, we put our values on the screen. We constantly ask ourselves how we make sure that our values are not just a list of words on the screen or wall, but are actually ingrained in our daily behavior. We also encourage the team to give their colleagues shoutouts and examples of how people portrayed the values during our all hands. Again, there are ways to promote the right behaviors and put a spotlight on people who embody your culture. On the flip side, it is important to make it clear you will not live or tolerate “incorrect” behaviors or norms.
Eclipse: What is the biggest tip you would give aspiring entrepreneurs just starting out in their journey?
Saar: Focus on the customer problems. As an engineer, the hardest learning for me was that technology isn’t interesting. Technology is just a bridge from the present to the future and you have to focus on that future. What is the outcome of using technology? What is the impact? Focus on the customers 100% — they know everything. Even if they don’t know how to articulate it, they have the knowledge you need. The more you spend time and focus on your customers and their problems, the better business and product you will build.
Eclipse: Speaking of customers, we had the opportunity to tag along with you to one of your customers, Colgate, last summer. What is it like to see your product in action and to know the impact it is having on your customers’ businesses?
Saar: There are two parts to this answer. As a kid, I always loved watching the Discovery Channel, particularly “How It’s Made.” I was fascinated by seeing the factories and creativity of mechanical design. I get to live that now. Walking the lines, I’m constantly amazed by how Augury’s customers solve problems, the ingenuity there. While I’m proud of the impact Augury is having on our customers’ businesses — the increased revenue, improved gross margins, etc. — it means more when we hear people saying, “This changed my relationship with my kids.” That’s very deep. That’s not just a sensor on a machine. Our product has a real impact — a very tangible impact on real people’s lives. We have customer champions who were technicians and now they have corporate roles overseeing the Augury rollout or how to use digital solutions across their factories. That is a meaningful advancement in their career that they may not have had if our product hadn’t come into the picture. To me, the impact of Augury always goes back to the impact on our customers from a personal perspective.
Learn more about Augury and the power of production health on the factory floor.
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