Today, Artem Petakov is the president and cofounder of Noom Inc., one of the fastest-growing US-based consumer healthcare companies whose most popular service is a weight management program. Noom announced its $58 million funding round in May of 2019, and continues to see rocketship growth. It currently has more than 50 million users, and is adding an average of one and a half million new users monthly.
But back in 2005, Petakov had a different gig — as a software engineer and tech lead at Google.
During his time there, Petakov founded and later led the GeoSearch project, a part of Google Maps. “GeoSearch is a digital way to map locations and destinations online — an answer to out-of-date solutions like the Yellow Pages at the time,” he explained to Business Insider.
Inspired by Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” Petakov and his team at Google crawled geo-tagged, user-generated information on the web, extracted it, intelligently clustered it, and made it searchable on Google Maps.
Petakov credits the foundation that he gained at Google as being critical to his ability to launch Noom in 2011. Read on to discover the lessons Petakov learned while at Google, and how he leveraged these experiences to grow his own company.
GeoSearch, which Petakov worked on with a team he’d built himself from scratch, took one and a half years to go live in front of millions of users.
“The impact is immediately higher, and you learn to do things at scale,” he said of his experience building a product at a behemoth like Google. “You’re also working with top-notch engineers who are often perfectionists, so the quality of work is incredible.”
The one drawback of working at a tech giant, he said, is that things move slowly. “Working on a project that needs to be sound on both the technical and legal side in order to do it at scale — it’s unavoidable that the process takes a long time,” he explained.
Petakov said that reflecting on the inherent obstacles of large tech firms helped him do things differently and pick up the pace when leading his startup.
“When coming into a hyper-growth startup where you are impacting real-life users, the experience of iterating on a project applies, but you can also iterate much faster,” he said. “At Google, it took me two months to build a demo and then one and a half years to get it out. At Noom, we launch a new, updated version of the platform about once a week on mobile, and launch many times a day on the web.”
Petakov learned that despite their talents, top-notch engineers can be hard to manage. “Because engineers were the only ones to run the show, Google was always stronger at technology and a little bit weaker at design and product marketing,” he explained. In bringing this knowledge to a startup environment, Petakov learned to “appreciate all other disciplines outside of [my] role as well.”
Working at a large company also helped him discover the “the importance of spreading your message” as a manager.
“I had to recruit my own people onto my own team,” he explained of his role at Google. “When I had the idea for GeoSearch, I had to get executive buy-in organically.”
He added that knowing how to sell your ideas can be even trickier when you’re running a startup, and credits his Google job as paramount in enhancing this skill. “At Google, you have all these resources and people at your disposal,” he said. “At a startup, you have to get the talent to join first. You also need to advocate double the amount, since you not only have to convince people of the strength of your idea but also your brand at the same time.”
“In an MBA classroom, everyone is encouraging you towards innovation and when those disruptive ideas happen, they are praised,” said Petakov, who received his undergraduate degree in computer science from Princeton. “In the real world, disruptive ideas are met with hesitation and discouragement — not to mention lower salaries at the beginning. MBA programs can sometimes spoil innovative ideas, and not accurately prepare you for the experience in the real world. When you get rejected by your 50th VC, you learn a different strength on what it takes to sustain a disruptive idea.”
The cofounder of Noom believes that many who enter the tech industry after completing an MBA program “learn to have commitment phobia.”
“Studying perfect case studies and completing short projects [in an MBA program] require students to constantly be switching focus, without ever needing to commit to and build an idea from start to finish,” said Petakov. He explained that the amount of time that is necessary to invest in something for it to be good “is far more than is appreciated” in business school. “Most seasoned companies took 10 to 15 years to develop and evolve as startups,” he said.
Even though Petakov valued his time at Google, the ultimate payoff of growing from a tech giant employee to a company founder was gaining limitless opportunity for innovation and creativity.
“At Google, crazy ideas are welcome,” said Petakov. “I thought I had crazy ideas until starting Noom, where in order to disrupt an industry like healthcare, your ideas need to be off the wall. You learn to disrupt the status quo.”