Interview with Matt Svetlak: Developing a top mobile app in its niche on the global market is not a piece of cake. Advances in technology, user feedback, innovations from competitors, and changes on the global scale determine whether a product will remain successful.
In such circumstances, the VP of Product becomes the person who determines the product development strategy and inspires the team. Matt Svetlak, VP of Product at BP Mobile (AIBY Group), is the kind of person for the iScanner app. Thanks to his strategic vision and experience, iScanner remains the #1 document-scanning app in the US and never ceases to amaze users with unique features.
Matt, thank you so much for meeting us for this interview. Please tell our readers about your journey in IT.
My favorite subject at school was biology, but no one in my circle was applying it in a way that was exciting to me. Economics and management seemed more attractive, so I decided to study them.
At university, my friend and I got into web development. We were trying to launch various websites for ourselves and sometimes for customers. I was creating ideas and vision for the product and was responsible for the content, and my friend took over the development.
We had a lot of enthusiasm and little understanding of what we were doing. Our business wasn’t bringing a steady income, so we decided to close it. However, thanks to this experience, I realized that I like to work on product quality.
I decided to delve a little deeper into this topic, read a book on testing and grew even more interested. I sent letters to several companies asking them to take me on an internship, and one of them accepted my request. And that’s how I began my career as a mobile application tester.
Sounds inspiring. Your experience of failure helped you find your calling. But how did you make your way from a QA Specialist to the VP of Product? Give us some insights.
I worked as a QA Specialist for about 2 years. From the very beginning, I developed skills that would allow me to better understand product quality. These are also useful to a Product Manager.
I learned UX, User Research, and basic analytics. On the one hand, a QA may use these skills to find bugs and shortcomings in the current version of the product. On the other hand, they are also important for product management. My growth from a QA to a VP didn’t happen overnight.
I grew within the company and combined the positions of QA Specialist and Product Manager for some time. I didn’t see any contradiction there. Product management was a logical extension of product improvement. The difference is that as Product Manager, I started working on the product in a broader sense of the word and with greater responsibility.
With the success of iScanner, there was a need for the VP of Product. This position calls for more strategic product development tasks. I still have to know everything about the product and its development and control the situation. But now I also pay much more attention to the product development strategy and create conditions to put it into practice. For that, I change processes, supervise the work of other product managers, and look for new directions.
Your career path is so admirable, please tell us more about your product. What does iScanner do?
iScanner is a document management platform based on artificial intelligence technology. It enhances document quality, turning a simple photo into a professional digital document. You can scan any document with your phone and use iScanner to edit the document on the go with the help of a wide range of tools.
For instance, you can add signatures, text, and images to a document, correct distortions, convert a document to various formats, and much more. Also, the app lets you store different files and work with archives.
Beyond that, iScanner has several additional features. It solves math equations, counts identical objects, and measures the area of a room.
However, product features do not always guarantee its success. Why do you think iScanner has become successful?
Our success is based on systematic and stable work, constant analysis of user feedback, and testing of many hypotheses. Plus, our team is doing a really good job and is constantly looking for new opportunities to improve the product. We would never have become leaders in our niche if we just copied our competitors.
Our success has inspired many, and as a result, the competition among similar apps has become incredible. At a basic level, copying functionality is now a common practice, and we constantly deal with it in our work.
Copying works when it comes to combining simple existing solutions, but when we start using our in-house technologies, competitors are left empty-handed. In-house technologies allow us to offer more opportunities to users than our competitors. For example, we have recently implemented our own algorithm for correcting distortions in scanned documents.
Developing in-house technologies is hard, but it gives our product a competitive edge in the long run.
How to maintain the high morale of your team and inspire them to reach new heights?
My experience as a Product Manager helped me see that what matters the most is respect for both the team and users. Be honest with them and with yourself, even when things don’t go according to plan.
Be sure to explain your decisions and actions and remain open to discussion. This will help you make smarter decisions and allow your team to understand what is behind each decision, feel involved and choose the best way to implement ideas.
When the future of the product is in your hands and you feel responsible for it and for the team, do you manage to maintain the work-life balance? How do you avoid burnout?
I would say yes, I do manage it now. I went through a period of severe burnout, and I seriously considered leaving the profession or at least returning to testing. I worked late hours almost every day, on weekends too, slept for 4–6 hours, ate spontaneously, and it didn’t do any good. I lived in this rhythm for 6–12 months.
For some time, it seems like it’s worth it, but in the long run, it’s very important to set some boundaries. I keep a calendar both for work and personal tasks and find it very helpful. Also, it’s very important to give your body a regular sufficient amount of sleep, balanced nutrition, and add moderate exercise. Now I try to find time for walking or light jogging for 30 minutes every day. It’s better not to listen to any podcasts or audiobooks and give your brain a break. A nice walk can even help you solve some problems subconsciously.
Since I spend most of my time on the computer, I prefer to do different physical activities to shift the focus from mind to body. In addition to walking, I practice low-impact fitness in the gym or outdoors and meditate. A few months ago, I also started playing tennis. The most interesting thing is that these activities helped me get to know myself better. Understanding your personality can help you grow and learn new skills in any sphere.