Nattavadee (Prao) Suchato looks younger than her age, and that fact combined with her ambitions in a tech and gaming world dominated by men posed countless challenges during her career. “Sometimes the voices of nontraditional employees like women get cut off,” says Suchato “I want to help women in tech make their voices louder, to be a supporter for them, and make sure they know they’re not alone and that someone is listening to their ideas.”
Before arriving at Stanford GSB to study for her MBA, she was a senior management associate at SEA Limited, a Singapore-based holding company with businesses in digital entertainment, online marketplace, and e-payments. Prao focused on games that address physical and mental health, using gamification to motivate users to improve their health. As co-founder of Runster, she developed the world’s first online exercise game.
What’s the main thing you learned about yourself while working at a big company like SEA?
The main takeaway was that everyone in a company can be your teacher. Even if they are your subordinates, or your colleagues, or your managers, you can learn from them. But you really need to listen. If you just learn from the ones who have higher rank, you miss the voices of those who are saying important things.
It sounds like you learned that based on personal experience.
There were a few times I felt like my voice was not heard. In Asia it’s hard to put yourself out there with all of the cultural norms that emphasize seniority. There were times when I was reluctant to say what I thought at first because I thought it would be hard for senior management to change their direction based on one fresh undergrad’s idea. I think it’s normal to be that way when you’re at an entry level, but you need to continue working on yourself and gain their trust to prove yourself more and more. It’s not a sprint, more of a marathon.
You enjoyed writing, creating games, and puppet-making as a child. What drew you to those creative endeavors?
When I was young my mother was a single mom, and she took me to a lot of classes outside of school. One was an art class on Friday evenings, and I really liked it. My mother believed that creative activities would help carry me further in my career, no matter what I chose to do. She believed that even though you might study one thing, if you have those creative abilities they might take you in a different direction than your original plan. She wanted me to have that for my future. Drawing, reading comic books, talking to friends about art, that helped me look into the B-side of everyday life.
Tell us about your project to create and donate breast prostheses for women who otherwise might not be able to afford them after surgery.
When I was an undergrad, one of my aunts was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I saw what she had to go through after her surgery. She lost the confidence to meet friends and family, because it’s like something was taken from her. That was devastating for me. So I thought about it, and I wanted to help give women like her back their confidence.
There were people trying to make these prostheses and donate them to low-income women. To make the prostheses, you need two pieces of fabric. The hardest part is to sew it from the sides. I worked with the makers to come up with a way to make it easier — to start the sewing process and then send that to the volunteers so they can put the fiber in it and do the final sewing, which takes less than 15 minutes rather than taking the sewer an hour. Essentially, I found a creative way to speed up the manufacturing process.
You’ve focused on creating games that educate and improve players’ physical and mental health. What drove your interest in that?
From the time I was young I played a lot of games. I’m not a big hot spender on games, but I play a lot and see a lot of potential in gaming. I want to use gamification to help solve other parts of society’s problems. For example, I started working on games to help people exercise more.
You co-founded Runster, which promotes itself as “world’s first online exercise game.” Is running a personal passion of yours?
We chose to use running because it was becoming popular in Thailand at that time. We followed that trend to guide us in the right direction. We wanted to start with one specific type of exercise before we expanded. We just released a new one called FitForce. That’s using games to help improve the quality of peoples’ lives.
How can games do that?
I did a lot of research about people who don’t like to exercise, and the key pain point is that it’s hard to take the first step. They’re not sure where to start. When you start anything that’s hard, you find it boring and that makes it difficult to adopt into your lifestyle. To make it easier and more fun, gamification can be used to bridge the gap to convert someone from a non-exerciser to someone who adopts an exercise routine in their life. That’s the gap we hope to fill in.
Do you see other roles for gaming in the realm of health?
I see a lot of new applications that include gamification to help people become healthier. For example, apps to monitor your water drinking during the day. That’s very interesting. Apps are also changing the ways gyms and fitness centers operate to include more VR technology. By integrating that into the fitness centers, that could enhance the experience of those who go there to exercise.
After a trip to the Grand Canyon you came away with an existential observation: “I am but a speck of dust in this vast universe.” Why do you think the experience struck you that way, and do you believe even specks of dust can make an impact on the world?
The more I travel the more cultures and people I see and meet. It has made me realize how small I am compared to the world. There’s just so much I don’t know about, and I feel like dust in the universe. But I still think dust can make a difference because everything is made from dust. Every item is made from carbon that combined to become a chair or a table. Small bits of dust combined together make everything. So yes, even specks of dust can make an impact on the world.
Photos by Kiefer Hickman