Meet A Minnesota [Startup] CTO: Steven Bayer



Steven Bayer

Thank you to Andcor Companies for underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series.

Steven Bayer is the new CTO of Retrace Health, a Minneapolis startup applying technology to reduce the expenses associated with primary health care.

How long have you been working in technology for and what is your technical background?

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Computer Engineering and have worked in technology ever since; initially in application development and then more recently in digital product management.

What are you focused on right now?

We are focused on improving both our internal and customer-facing infrastructure. Many healthcare companies are making an effort to make their customer-facing technology morefriendly/usable for their patients, but in those efforts they typically ignore the often confusing/unusable internal applications they utilize for their employees. We see this as a failure, and to truly ensure the best possible experience and outcome for a patient, it is important that all aspects of a company are easy-to-use and work seamlessly together.

What are the some of the technologies within your environment?

RetraceHealth initially relied on SaaS for many of its business applications in order to allow it to focus on the patient experience and quality-of-care. Now that we are growing we are able to devote some of our resources to replacing applications that don’t meet our expectations with home-grown solutions. For that effort we are currently using the MEAN stack (Mongo, Express,Angular, Node) for development in combination with Git and Amazon Web Services.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

This one is easy for us. Our business goal is that each one of our patients has an exceptional experience, and each of us knows that all of our efforts are driving to that outcome. We obviously have a more detailed short-term and long-term strategy than that, but given the integrated structure of how we work (see next question) and our size, it is easy to stay coordinated with our work.

What is the size of your department (headcount) and how is it organized/managed?

Our department is currently only two full-time employees complemented by a handful of dedicated consultants/contractors, but we have arrived at what we think is a solid working structure based on how we work together currently and our own experiences at larger organizations.

It really isn’t anything new in that we are simply organized as an integrated team with marketing, product, design, and development all under one umbrella. We all work together, are aware of what each other is doing, and are all expected to contribute insight to the products we develop.

The main difference is that we don’t allow ego to drive decisions. If someone really has a good idea, it doesn’t matter if they are the expert. Each idea is considered on its own merits. There are many companies where integrated teams exist, but more in a territorial sense. People are more concerned about babysitting the implementation of an idea as opposed to jointly shaping that idea. To us that is not an integrated team.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?

We sell the value that we are bringing to the community and the opportunity to help shape a company as opposed to just implement other people’s ideas. That combined with the intense focus on creating an exceptional, family-friendly work environment has allowed us to hire our top choices for the non-tech positions we have targeted to date, and has also elicited positive reactions from the tech people with whom we are currently talking.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

I dedicate time each day to read through a series of news feeds I have set up to keep up-to-date on daily happenings in tech. As trends emerge or as things interest me I investigate them further

(I have probably tested over 500 native and web apps). I also attend local meetups and events to see what people are talking about locally and occasionally go to conferences on the coasts to get a national perspective.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

Augmented reality is my favorite thing currently. The amount of time people spend staring at a screen is staggering. Even when people are in public with their friends and family they are constantly checking their phone. Anything that can help people to realize the advantages of technology while still allowing them to interact directly with each other is a win. Magic Leap is a company that looks to be doing some good things in that area, and if Google Glass ever re-emerges with a more inconspicuous, less creepy product they might be able to do some cool things as well. At any rate, if a company can fit augmented reality into what people already use (instead of having to wear another thing), good things are likely to happen.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Using micro-segmentation, big data, and behavioral science to target people’s weaknesses/tendencies to get them to buy things is one of my biggest issues currently. An argument can be made that companies have no responsibility to operate in their customers best interests and that individuals should have personal responsibility for their actions. However I don’t think that argument holds in cases where companies are spending millions of dollars fine-tuning their attempts to prey on peoples’ weaknesses in order to sell more stuff. Obviously there are plenty of good uses for big data, but there isn’t really a clear way to check abuses of its use.

Right now, if someone successfully gets 1% of its users addicted to buying fake items or power-ups in a game (spending thousands of dollars of real money), they are applauded, and that’s not great.

What are you into outside of technology?

I’m into books, travel, sports (playing more than watching), and TV. I always feel like I need to defend the TV one, and for that I will provide a quote from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Esquire in response to what wisdom he wished he could impart on his younger self:

“Watch more TV. Yeah, you heard right, Little Kareem. It’s great that you always have your nose in history books. That’s made you more knowledgeable about your past and it has put the present in context. But pop culture is history in the making and watching some of the popular shows of each era reveals a lot about the average person, while history books often dwell on the powerful people.”

Also, there are a lot of good television shows out nowadays. You should watch some.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

If you talk to random people at concerts or bars downtown, you sometimes run into someone who is starting their own company whereas I don’t think that ever happened to me even a few years ago. And, if you peruse for the twin cities, you will find a large number of meetups around entrepreneurship, development, design, etc. where you will meet a number of very ambitious, enthusiastic people who are starting companies. So in short I think it is trending the right way, but still nowhere near Chicago, much less Silicon Valley. We still risk losing our best people to better opportunities outside of Minnesota, and until a few more successful startups emerge here, and more investment arrives to support our startups, that will likely continue.


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