Interested in learning what goes into the process of developing products at Kepler? Product Manager Paul Albert-Lebrun is here to answer your questions and share his journey from SatOps to Product Management.
How long have you been at Kepler and what is your role here?
I’ve been at Kepler since May 2019. As a Product Manager, my role lives at the intersection between building the right product and building the product right. I work relentlessly to understand what the customer desires, through customer dialogues, market data, and conversations with the Business Development, Marketing And Sales team.
What are the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of yourself and the product team?
Within Kepler, I don’t know that there is a role as multidisciplinary as product management — as mentioned before we work all across the organization between marketing, business development, engineering, finance, regulatory etc.
The product needs attention on both immediate things while it’s out in the field and on its growth for future success. To that end, the team is constantly working to address both of these. On an almost day-to-day basis, we sync up with the service delivery, sales, BD, and engineering teams to get a lay of the land on the immediate needs. We record all desires and wants — this could be the customer asking for something specific that the product doesn’t currently do, or the engineering team communicating that bugs were discovered and require attention. Then it’s a prioritization game. We use multiple prioritization methods to make decisions on what should be worked on now and what can wait, with the intention always being the same: in the end, the customer should have a better overall experience and the product should be becoming more capable. Once things are prioritized appropriately, it switches to a communications game. We strive to clearly communicate what is required from the engineering team, defining requirements and presenting what outputs are desired.
In terms of ensuring that the products grow in the right direction for future success, I work with the Business Development and engineering teams to define the vision and strategy. On a lower level, that means owning and managing the product roadmap and making decisions on what should be built first and what can wait. Similar to the immediate product needs, we use data coming from the market and early customer dialogues to make these decisions.
And then finally, on a day-to-day basis, I try to instill a sense of excitement internally around the product. I am truly excited about the products we’re building and I feel that I have to share that with the team. We’re building the future, who doesn’t want to be part of that?!
You’ve changed roles during your time at Kepler. What initially brought you here and what encouraged you to make that change?
I originally joined Kepler because I was excited about the mission and what Kepler was doing in the long term. I started in Satellite Operations because “flying satellites” sounded pretty sweet. I did have some prior experience with satellite technology, so it wasn’t entirely new to me as well. To be totally frank, I never saw myself doing SatOps until I saw the job posting and thought, ”This sounds challenging and interesting”. What I loved about SatOps is that it was problem-solving under fire, constantly having to make decisions really rapidly, doing trade-offs, planning and scheduling satellites, and more. I loved the responsibility that came with making these decisions. However, I always felt like I could do more on the customer experience front.
When you’re in operations, you’re the last line of defence before the customer sees the product. I generally felt that it was my responsibility when there were issues and the customer didn’t have a good experience… I would be thinking “What could I have done better to make the experience better?”. I wanted to be more involved in understanding what the customer wanted and what we could do to make the product better. I brought this up at some point and was then given the opportunity to work more directly with one of our customers. I met regularly with the customer, understood what was lacking in the overall experience, and implemented solutions rapidly to address these. I got really into understanding the data that surrounds our product and how to use that data to better the customer experience. I fell in love with that… At some point, I started looking up what I could do with an engineering background, and a desire to work on business problems and customer experience. That led me to product management.
Eventually, Kepler posted a product management role and it just checked all the boxes of what I was looking for. I was lucky in some ways, because what I’ve come to understand is that product management isn’t easy to get into. Kepler truly gave me an incredible opportunity to work where I felt I could have impact.
What experiences, hobbies, and passions led you to this field and to Kepler?
When I was studying engineering at McGill University, I loved learning by doing. I participated in Design Teams which is an extracurricular activity where we get to build engineering projects from scratch. I was part of the robotics team for a few years and absolutely loved not only the technical parts but also everything that surrounded managing a team and having to raise money. In my last year, I started the McGill Space Group, which was my introduction to satellite tech. The group built small satellites, (similar but way simpler than the Kepler ones), ran educational events, wrote papers on space regulation and more. After graduating from McGill, I went to work for the Space Flight Laboratory, a branch of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, where I was an engineering associate doing test engineering on some of their satellites. That was the extent of my satellite experience before joining Kepler.
It’s all a long-winded way of saying that I think my extracurricular experiences in undergrad (the design teams but also a small business that I founded) gave me a taste for what Product management could look like.
What is your favourite thing about working for Kepler?
Can I choose two things? The mission and the people. The mission of putting the Internet in Space is something that seems far off, but is actually closer than we think. The opportunities that will come from delivering on that mission could mean so much for the future of humankind, and that’s incredibly exciting to me. In terms of the people, it’s inspiring to be working with such an intelligent and dedicated team… you’re always rapidly learning from everyone. Everybody is willing to work together for the mission. It can get hard at times, but everyone works together and that drives us forward.
Which Kepler value resonates with you most and what does it mean to you?
Can I choose two again? Mission Driven and Work Together. The thing is, if you understand the mission then you understand the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing. There’s something to be said about a group of people understanding the ‘why’ behind what they’re doing and working together towards a common goal. When everybody understands the ‘why’ and everybody’s working together… I mean there’s really no stopping a team like that.
What is an achievement that you’re most proud of from your time here? Are there any major goals that you’re currently working towards?
An achievement I’m proud of is instilling more of a product mentality to a team of really tech driven individuals. For a long time, we were operating the product within the business development, sales, and engineering teams without anyone between them. When I started as a product manager, there was no one else doing Product at Kepler and it felt like I was really connecting the teams together towards a common goal. My biggest achievement was ensuring that communication was flowing from customers to engineering.
Changing the mentality to be product-driven was a huge achievement. We’re always working towards a more customer-centric mindset — continuing that shift is definitely a goal of mine. In terms of what I’m working towards, my goal is to put the Internet in space, so I’m working on everything that is required from a Product perspective to achieve this. Right now, I’m working relentlessly towards understanding what our customers would want out of a first version of this product. That’s my focus for the next year.
You’re attending the Satellite2021 Conference this week. What are you doing at this event and what are you looking forward to?
We’re announcing a new product called ÆTHER, which I’m extremely excited to talk about to potential customers. ÆTHER is all about enabling other companies to reach their mission, so I’m looking forward to discussing the opportunities it will bring forward for others. I find it extremely inspiring that the work we’re doing at Kepler is enabling these other missions, and the fact that we can play a small part in that is huge.
At Satellite, I want to talk to customers (this time face to face!), tell them all about ÆTHER and understand what sorts of features would be critical for them. I also want to continue discussing the opportunities that Global Data Service (GDS) has to offer. GDS has a lot of really interesting applications that are continuing to grow. One of the ones that I’m extremely excited about is a private network concept for moving data from point A to point B without ever touching the Internet. That’s a huge opportunity for multiple different customers that are at Satellite.
In short, my main focus at Satellite will be presenting ÆTHER to potential customers and developing further understandings of what they would want from this product, and doing the same for our private network concept with Global Data Service.
What’s your favourite space movie?
I think Apollo 13 is my favourite one. I watched it when I was a kid and it just got me super pumped about space. I loved the teamwork aspect in that movie… that we can solve anything as a team when everyone has a shared mission.