We sat down with Michael Sueoka, our VP of Product, who shares his product philosophy. We also learn about the path that brought him to product design and the culture and mindset he is building at SteadyMD.
Tell us about your background and how you got here.
I went to the University of California, Irvine, majoring in Economics. While studying, I received my real estate license and started pursuing this career path. Directly after graduating, I started in commercial real estate development in Beverly Hills and was managing hundreds of units across Southern California. I learned a lot about business, but I wasn’t enjoying my time.
So, I quit and began my first internet marketing company that I grew to 8 employees and learned a lot about the internet, algorithms, and tech. I also started another agency that focused on visual design for the entertainment industry. While I was working at both startups, I randomly heard about the term User Experience. This piqued my interest because it took into account the analytics from the internet marketing company, the designs from the visual design agency, but most importantly was bringing in the user and their needs as the primary driver.
At that point I started studying UX design through an apprenticeship and eventually was hired by Jaime Levy. There I worked with many different companies like Minion Rush, EA, YouTube, Grindr, Honda, and EXOS, to name a few. After consulting for a few years, I decided to pivot to in-house roles at a few tech startups for UX design and later switched to product management. During my time consulting I was connected with Yarone Goren (SteadyMD Co-founder and COO) and kept in touch with him through the years as he started SteadyMD. When the company shifted to a B2B focus, I was excited to jump on board as the VP of Product.
Tell us about your product philosophy. How is this different from other companies?
For our tech, it’s all about the user.
“Everything we build should provide value to the user and be easy to use.”
That may seem like common sense within the product and UX fields, but this philosophy is put into practice less frequently than most think. This is because making an intuitive product isn’t easy and most people focus on the solutions rather than understanding what the problem is, choosing the right problem to solve, and delivering in an effective way that provides value. The biggest difference is that most people and companies probably aren’t talking to the user to fully understand the needs and what is working. When we design a product, we’re talking to the users everyday. What parts do they like? What do they not like? Is there anything that is confusing or hard to use? Most importantly, is this solving the problem that needs to be solved? If it’s not easy for the user and providing value, I haven’t done my job.
Can you elaborate on this product philosophy?
“The mindset I always bring is to be problem-based not solution-based.”
This may sound a bit pessimistic at first, but let me explain. I actually don’t care about the solution; I care about the problem. Oftentimes I see people within the UX and product space creating amazing solutions, but the issue is that they don’t actually solve an existing problem in the best way. So before we start designing, I ask myself the following: What is the problem? Who does it help? And what does success look like? The most important thing should be to fix the problem, know what is actually going to help us succeed, and see how that fits in with our mission. For me and my team, I would rather have a quick “hacky” solution that scales instead of over-designing or over-engineering an elaborate idea.
Can you give us an example of this problem-first philosophy in action?
Imagine your boss or client comes to you and asks if you can build them a Golden Gate Bridge. Most developers and designers will get to work and come back with a bridge built after spending a lot of time and money. However, instead of jumping in to the solution, we dive deeper into the problem. Why do we need this bridge? Who is it for? Who does it help? How often will they be using it? What is the high-level goal? After asking these types of questions, I might find out that the bridge is for sheep. More specifically, 5 sheep that will need to pass each day, and sometimes their 1 shepherd. By focusing on the problem our team is able to come up with more options for the specific need, like placing some quality wood planks down that cost a few hundred dollars and can be completed in a day. After talking to the shepherd a week later, we might realize that we need railings, which we can add on within another day or two. Or maybe, we skip the bridge altogether and build them a boat specifically for sheep. If I would’ve gone with the original requested solution, I might have later realized that the bridge – made of steel – is too low and now boats can’t get through, which causes a bigger problem than we had in the first place. And now, we’re back at square one. While this is a very simplified example, it shows how much time and money can be saved by being more concerned with the problem. Here at SteadyMD we go wide with solution options, and then narrow in with the different teams – engineering, product, design, user testing – to find the best solution before we even begin.
How is working for SteadyMD compared to your past start-up experiences?
For starters, SteadyMD is, without a doubt, the most diverse company I have ever been a part of. That is a really cool aspect of working here that I value a lot. I also love the culture of support for each other that we have here. Though the majority of the company is working virtually, everyone is willing and ready to jump on to talk through any issues we’re having or to give insight into what they’re seeing. Our employees truly believe that what we’re doing is changing and benefitting lives. Because of that we care enough to help each other in whatever ways possible. It’s close to our heart and more than just a job to check off each day. We want to provide the best care possible for our partners and their patients. These aren’t just nice words – I see people actually speaking it and living it every day at SteadyMD.
Can you talk about the “tech” culture we are building here?
Since SteadyMD has shifted to a B2B business model, we have had to take our whole company and shift to a tech mindset. This isn’t just for tech-based roles either. We need people in operations, clinicians, marketing and sales…everyone to be willing to learn how technology can be applied to a problem and have conversations about what is working, what is not, and troubleshooting.
“Also people that I believe make up an effective team have a growth mindset and are ‘high-urgency maximizers’ with a variety of backgrounds and experiences.”
By high-urgency, I mean people that are action-oriented. They would say “Let’s schedule this meeting right now for tomorrow” compared to those that might just mention scheduling it sometime next week and letting it linger. Maximizers are people who get the job done thoroughly, and done well. They do what they intend to do and make effective use of their time and effort to make improvements and an impact. People with growth mindsets are okay pushing outside their comfort zone. They learn new things that they might not fully understand yet so they can grow through the process. These people see challenges as a learning opportunity.