A Leap of Faith into the World of VR: How BadVR Product Manager Stefanie Feldman Dropped Familiarity to Chase a Life of Empowerment Through Data Visualization
From the outside looking in, you might even assume that we were all brought together because of our love for #VR and #BigData. Yet, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about our team over the last few years, it’s that we’ve all had an intricately detailed past that’s somehow woven us all together in the present moment.
To give you a glimpse into our history, the BadVR team has been formed in the most unexpected ways…
We’re a crew of high-achievers, ultra creatives, and soulful poets who’ve all stumbled into this company because it felt like home, not solely because our past career experience lead us here (and let’s be honest, the data visualization and VR industries move so fast that no matter who you are, or where you come from, there is something new to learn every day).
At the end of the day, everyone on our team has left behind a life or career that no longer served them, perhaps felt too comfortable, or in Stefanie's case, ditched the familiar to seek out her true purpose in life, and along the way, ended up in the BadVR family.
Stefanie found her way to BadVR during the summer of 2019 after a quest through Peru in search of her passions. After following her intuition and seeking purpose in life, she hasn’t stopped running towards an empowered life in the field of data visualization. But, we’ll let Stefanie tell you the rest!
Hey Stefanie! Tell us all a little more about your role as Product Manager here at BadVR!
I have been the Product Manager at BadVR for the past few months! Being in this role, I work very closely with the founders Suzie (CEO) and Jad (CTO) to keep projects organized and on track. Since we are still a growing team, there is no task too small or too large to take on so I dive into whatever I can to help the team!
Before we dive into what it’s really like to be a Product Manager for a data visualization start-up, tell me a little bit about how you got to this point in your life! What was your childhood like?
I grew up in a city on the border of Long Beach and Orange County called Los Alamitos. I love where I grew up… and still, I frequently visit as my parents are in the same house I grew up in.
Funny enough, my childhood bedroom even looks the same as when I left for college in 2002 (upgrades coming soon)! We had an amazing community of people that I still stay in touch with, including some of my best friends from high school.
I went off to college and I received my B.A. in Art History from the University of Arizona in Tucson…Bear Down! 😁
I had an amazing college experience thanks to my sister Elana. She was a senior when I was a freshman there, so I was lucky enough to start off my college career with my big sis to help look over me and make lifelong memories with.
Elana was the reason I decided to go to UofA! I had so many fun times when I went to visit her the years prior, so I and knew without a doubt, UofA was the place for me. It was her support and encouragement that inspired me to apply and I couldn’t be more grateful for our time there together. I loved everything from the friends I made, the big sports teams, awkward dorm life, to getting my first apartment and being a “responsible adult.”
Tucson was also a magical place in the desert, a total college town, but also filled with so much beautiful art mixed in with a little bit of weirdness.
Tell us a little more about life post-university! All of us on the team seem to have had a past life that magically lead us all to work for BadVR (talk about serendipity). What was the chain of events in your life that lead you to this role?
Working at BadVR was a beautiful and unexpected happenstance. I came to BadVR with 13 years of experience working in the Interior Design industry, actually!
Throughout those years I worked on all sides of the business; from design, sales, furniture manufacturing, and eventually a few design-related startups. During my time with these startups, I began learning more about the tech side of things working closely with developers, UX/UI designers, and web designers. It was at this time, I started to realize that as much as I enjoyed being in the design industry, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore and I knew it was time to start thinking about my next move.
During my time consulting for a local startup, I had the amazing opportunity to meet and work with our CEO, Suzanne Borders. I LOVED hearing about her company, BadVR, and all that it represented… but never did I think I would actually work for her!
After much thought, (and a lot of back and forth) I knew I had to make the difficult decision to leave something I was so familiar with to open myself up to something new…So, I left my job to take some time for myself to figure out what would make me truly happy.
After some soul searching and a magical trip to Peru, Suzie and I re-connected over lunch and the idea to come work with BadVR was born. At the time I met up with Suzie, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew exactly how I wanted to feel and what type of environment I wanted to work in.
Prior to my meeting with Suzie, I remember telling friends that I still wanted to work in a creative field, but somewhere I could learn new skill sets, grow, collaborate with a team, but most importantly, feel empowered and supported in my new role. And just days later in my meeting with Suzie, she happened to say those exact words to me… “I want to empower you to learn and grow” because she believed in me. How magical is that?!
Before sealing the deal, I was brought in to meet with our co-founder/CTO, Jad, for one final discussion. It was after that meeting with Jad and Suzie I had no doubt I was exactly where I was supposed to be!
Now that you have this new career at BadVR and feel empowered to great work every day because of your team, do you have anyone else in your life that has motivated you to get where you are today?
I absolutely would not be where I am today without my parents. From the time I can remember, they have always encouraged and supported me through all of life’s adventures, ups, and downs. They’ve shown me love, compassion, empathy, how to treat others and most importantly how to simply enjoy life. They always make family a priority by always taking the time to be with loved ones and keeping traditions alive.
My parents have also shown me the value of working hard, how to go after my goals and to never give up, even when the going gets tough. I truly look up to them because they’ve worked so hard to be where they’re at today, and nothing makes me happier than to see them living their best lives!
I am also so grateful for them for expanding my mind by inspiring my love for travel, art, music, and sports, which have helped shape the person I am today.
On your journey through life to finding this career and company, were there any life-changing moments that pointed you in this direction?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing because looking back at my journey of the different jobs I’ve had over the years, I can truly see how each one brought value to my current role.
Some lessons were more challenging than others but I’m grateful for every moment and lesson learned. My mom has always told me that one thing leads you to another, and in my career, this couldn't be truer.
A couple of years ago I unexpectedly got laid off from a job I absolutely loved! It was devastating at the time, but after landing back on my feet, it taught me a very valuable lesson. That no matter what happens in my career, I will be ok, and to not be afraid of change. This was the true start of my pursuit to start exploring what makes me happy at a time I felt so incredibly lost.
Although I’d have to say, my biggest life-changing experience was this past year when I took action to my lessons previously learned and made the empowering decision to finally let go of something super familiar and take a chance on something totally new (BadVR)… I couldn’t be happier!
So, we know you love the company and the role you play, but what motivates you to get out of bed every morning and take massive action in your job each day?
You may not believe me, but literally everything we’re doing or working on motivates me in some way. Every new project we receive (as they’re all unique), every event I am a part of only makes me want to learn more and more, especially being a newcomer to this industry.
I am in such an exciting position where everything is so new to me that I’m like a kid in a very high-tech, immersive candy shop. It can certainly be overwhelming at times as there is so much to learn and I always want to know everything!
Being new to not only the VR/AR industry but also being in a Product Manager role, I want to continue to learn best practices and grow my skillset that’ll help the company continue to succeed. My goal is to take what I have already learned from past job experiences and apply them to this role in a new, innovative way.
What is one thing you’ve learned from working on this team? Also, what do you think they have learned from you?
In my short stint with the BadVR team, it’s hard to say just one thing as I have learned so much. From VR/AR, data analytics and product management, every day is a new lesson.
Something super valuable I have learned is to not be afraid to speak my voice, share my opinions and ideas with pure confidence and less fear, even in an unfamiliar environment.
Another one of my favorite moments was when I learned how to do a small type of coding into one of our headsets and excitingly told our Senior Engineer, Brian, about it, to which he sent me a gif saying “One of us! One of us!” I was instantly filled with so much joy (and laughter) at that moment. It was something so small, but after many errors, getting it right all the way through was a win!
I hope that I have brought the team some new perspectives from a newbie like myself; from designing a product, to how a customer might interact with it.
Let’s take a step outside of work! What are some activities you’re doing outside of work, just for yourself?
I’m currently working on tapping back into my creative side! I always loved drawing, painting and writing as a kid so am slowly working on getting back into my groove. Creating art in all sorts of mediums has always been a source of relaxation and a great stress reliever for me. Being in this new creative medium, I want to continue strengthening my right brain so I can continue bringing more creative ideas to the table.
I also volunteer on a leadership advisory board with my sister of an amazing nonprofit called Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. At Vista Del Mar we work on helping and supporting children with significant emotional, social, learning, and developmental disabilities by planning all sorts of activities with the kids from open mic nights, sporting events and visits to local museums.
To stay active and get my Zen on I regularly practice hot yoga, love a good sound bath and reading books that expand my mind.
I’ve also slowly been discovering an enjoyment for cooking (Mom, you’ll be proud), which I want to do more of. Having an incredible farmers market just a couple blocks away, it’s been a fun way to explore healthy and delicious new recipes!
And lastly, another just-for-fun new activity outside of work (which I NEVER expected to be involved in) is Fantasy Football. My boyfriend loves football and I knew it’d always be on, so figured if you can’t beat em, join em! It’s been a really fun activity to do together since we’re on a team together in a league full of our friends. It’s always nice to find new ways to bond together.
What are the things that energize you and brings you life each day?
In short, things that energize and excite me most are music, travel, art, cute puppies, The Dodgers, family and friends, and connecting with new people!
I absolutely love traveling to new countries and/or cities where I can fully immerse myself in new cultures, places and meet all sorts of people. I have been especially drawn to Latin, Spanish speaking countries. The music, art, architecture, food, culture, and people are just so vibrant and full of life that it ignites something magical inside my soul.
I also love love love seeing live music any chance I get, from a dim jazz club to a music festival. Music always resonates with whatever mood I’m in and is a necessity in my life.
Another thing that energizes me is connecting with various types of people from strangers I meet traveling to my Uber drivers. I love hearing people’s stories, where they come from, and taking even just a brief moment to connect on a deeper level.
And lastly, the main thing that truly energizes me is my family and friends. Sometimes it’s not about what I’m doing, but the company I am with that makes any moment or experience that much better!
Last but never least! 2019 is coming to a quick end…What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
I’m looking forward to the new places I’ll travel to, new connections I’ll make and engaging more with my creative side. I’m thinking of trying something totally new and making my way over to Asia to visit Japan and/or Bali. Although I’d be more than happy to continue to explore more of Central and South America.
In regards to BadVR, there are so many things to look forward too! This past year closed chapters yet brought exciting new beginnings. We have some very interesting new projects in the works, and I can’t wait to be a part of them from the ground up. This next year is going to be filled with tremendous growth for me individually and with the BadVR team as a whole. With how much I have learned in such a short amount of time, I can only imagine what this next year will bring. I truly can’t wait to see all the amazing things this team will do in 2020!
Want to keep up with Stefanie and see all the creative, ground-breaking work she’s doing in the data visualization space? Click the links below to stay connected!
Reach out and schedule a demo of BadVR today!