Let Us Introduce You
Meet Steph, AKA The Adventurer. Steph is equally excited by the mercurial elements of Icelandic weather as she is by the fruits of a successful ideation workshop.
By Kelly Pellico
One of the most important elements of any partnership is enjoying who you’re partnered with. Of partnering with Vital Findings, a client recently said this of the team: “Not only are they crazy smart, great at what they do, a true partner and extension of our team, they are also great people. Kind, patient, understanding, and a lot of fun.”
That’s Steph in a nutshell: crazy smart and incredibly kind. To learn more about the leader of Vital Findings’ health and wellness portfolio, read on to understand what makes Steph tick, and which country holds a special place in her adventurer’s heart.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m kind of a rare breed – born and raised in LA, and I still live in LA. I never went too far. I went to USC and studied psychology and sociology. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I started experimenting with the different paths of psych. I dabbled in child development, working with kids with autism. And I tried clinical psych, doing counseling work at a school in East LA. Both were heavy and hard to not take home with me. A friend of mine who worked at an ad agency then said, “Hey, this is fun, come work here.” I liked social psych, so I joined the agency’s consumer insights department and discovered that I loved it. I was there for five years and then transitioned to Ipsos for three. Then I joined Vital Findings and have been here for over seven years now.
What do you enjoy most about working for Vital Findings?
I like that the work is challenging and creative. We’re in research, which is very mathematical, but because the work is custom, with high-end design, there’s a lot of creativity involved. Whether you’re designing a new methodology or crafting a strong video or visualization, the work is challenging and fun.
I enjoy our collaboration too – having everyone in a room collaborating in the name of creating a better output. And I love the people here. Coming from other companies, you see the difference between people who show up to the job and do the bare minimum of what’s required and the people who truly care and are passionate and curious. Those are the people at VF. It’s infectious. We’re all kind of the same breed of nerd. We’re perfectionists, for better or worse, pushing each other to take it a step further and push our limits. And we have fun doing it.
What do you think clients enjoy most about working with us?
Something a client said to me that I’ll always remember is that we’re really good at distilling a lot of information into the most important key takeaways and in a way that anyone can understand, even someone who doesn’t know research. That’s so important – that your research feels comprehensive and yet very easy to understand and apply. I also think our clients know they are getting people who really care about their business. We don’t just try to get the job done. We’re always trying to wow and impress, and we’re not going to stop until we get the answer they need. At the end of the day, we’re not really a partner on a project, we’re a partner to the business.
You lead Vital Findings’ Health & Wellness portfolio. What do you love about the space?
It’s a space I’m personally passionate about. I’ve always been a big proponent of therapy and mindfulness, and everyday movement is important for me. I’ve been a runner since high school, so every day I’m either running or doing another activity like Pilates, yoga, or hiking.
I also love that my clients are working to better the lives of their customers by helping them manage disease, prevent disease or just change habits so they can live a longer, healthier life. There are a lot of different ways it manifests but knowing that you’re doing research for that cause is gratifying.
If you had to choose, which project are you most proud of?
There are a lot of good ones, but my favorite is probably a study we did focused on support. We were working with a company to develop a product focused on helping people meet their health goals, and we wanted to explore what role someone’s family, friends, or peers could play in that. We took product concepts through the entire lifecycle of development. We did foundational research, which inspired new ideas. We led an energetic and successful ideation session that created ten innovative product concepts. And then we tested those concepts among consumers, creating a clear product development roadmap.
You’re known for your calm, patient, and compassionate leadership. What’s your secret?
The saying may be cliché but we’re not curing cancer. Working in the health and wellness space is grounding and gives me perspective, and I try to project that to teammates who are earlier in their careers and still trying to learn their priorities. I also think compassion comes from remembering your own journey and how you felt along the way. I can remember the stress of learning a new role or new tasks and that being scary or nerve-wracking. With time, you become more confident and less afraid of the unknown so, for me, it’s about guiding the team and helping their skills and confidence grow.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Weekend hikes and traveling. I make up for having lived my whole life in one place by skipping town every chance I get. I’ve been to 29 national parks and counting, and my bucket list is just a list of places I still want to travel to. My next trip will hopefully be the W-Trek in Patagonia. I also enjoy ceramics, something I discovered in high school and re-discovered post-pandemic. It taps into the creative side of the brain but is meditative at the same time.
29 national parks so far! What’s your favorite?
Oh, that is such a hard question. I’d say Mount Rainier. I feel like it’s very underrated. I went toward the end of spring. It was so green and there were so many wildflowers. Then you had the mountains and Mount Rainier in the background that still had snow, and you could see some glaciers. No one really talks about it, so I went with very low expectations and was completely blown away.
Besides national parks, what’s your favorite place?
Iceland holds a special place in my heart. It’s a landscape I’ve never seen anywhere else and comes with unpredictable weather. You’re in a snowstorm one minute, and then the clouds part and the sun comes out and it’s absolutely gorgeous, and then two minutes later you’re in a windstorm. It’s crazy, but somehow it felt really exciting. You never knew what the day was going to bring.
I also saw the Northern Lights. We were staying at this little bed and breakfast, and we’d been telling the owner that we wanted to see the Northern Lights but hadn’t seen them yet. She came and knocked on our door at two in the morning and told us to go outside. We drove out a bit so we had less light pollution, and they were just amazing.