Joshua Sparks is the Founder & Principal Consultant at Together, a boutique creative agency.
He is also the Founder and former CEO of health and wellness start-up THR1VE (which has now merged with The Sumo Group).
Balance the Grind spoke to Joshua about his various entrepreneurial leadership roles, building and selling businesses, launching Together, and plenty more.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
After studying law in QLD, and a brief stint with Clayton Utz, the vast majority of my career has been spent in entrepreneurial leadership roles with premium consumer brands, in the fashion, lifestyle and health sectors.
What I have loved is partnering with highly creative, innovative and disruptive brand owners to create the corporate, capital and organisational structures to realise the full potential of their vision.
For example, I was the first CEO of sass & bide, partnering with the amazing founders Heidi and Sarah-Jane to lead the business through five years of incredible growth.
Subsequently, I moved to the USA and partnered with Thom Browne after an initial consulting assignment to become CEO and lead the restructure, turn around and recapitalisation of Thom Browne New York, ultimately selling a majority stake to a Japanese company Stripe on his behalf.
I then took on the role of Executive Director of eCommerce with Anthropolgie, part of the Urban Outfitters group based in Philadelphia, with my team growing that business unit from $US180M to $US300M.
More recently I founded THR1VE.me, an omnichannel health and wellness brand focused on transformative nutrition solutions in Sydney, selling that business to Sumo earlier this year.
In between perm roles I have consulted to a bunch of different businesses in Australia and the USA, assisting variously on business and organisational design, growth strategies, restructuring and turn arounds, line extensions and licenses, and brand repositioning and digital transformation projects.
It has been amazing to work for clients across multiple premium consumer sectors, ranging from start-up to multi-billion dollar turnover, for brands such as Expedia.com, Creative Artists Agency, the CFDA, Just Group, M.J.Bale and Brain Train.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
We closed the deal to sell THR1VE to Sumo a couple of months ago, and since then I have been working with my wife Steph, a very accomplished creative and artistic director, to launch our new joint consulting business.
By bringing together my commercial and her creative expertise, we can offer a more holistic solution to our premium consumer brand clients, without the price and process disadvantages of a larger agency or consultancy.
And unlike 9/10 agencies, we have actually done it ourselves!
As we have both been very fortunate to work with truly remarkable founders and brands over the years, we are very determined to continue in that vein, working with leadership teams truly driven to build genuine brand love.
It may sound fluffy, but I have personally seen literally many hundreds of millions of dollars in brand equity created, in super-competitive markets, through an unrelenting focus by leadership teams on the brands’ ever-deepening connection to the customer.
Brand promise and position, and downstream customer permission to play, much more clearly directs the offer, its evolution and extension, priority channels to market, price and promotion, and so on. It clarifies and simplifies, for both the business and the customer.
Ultimately the brand and the offer – working together synergistically, evolved and extended as customers love grows – provides the differentiation and defensibility so lacking in an overwhelmingly commoditised and homogenised market.
So today that is our focus – supporting amazing leadership teams take their brands to the next level, building their tribe, and creating significant value – for all stakeholders.
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
As cliched as it probably sounds, there is no such thing.
We have been fortunate to pick up clients before even formally launching the new business, so we are juggling the immediate priorities of client opportunities, with creating the brand and business structure of our new business. And of course, ‘normal’ life doesn’t stop just because you are launching another start-up.
So while building the business – in every sense – we are also juggling our 8-month-old daughter Rosie, and shared custody of my older kids Poppy and Sam, ensuring we make the time available to be the parents we want to be.
As any business owner will tell you, especially during the start-up phase, that means you are ‘on’ every day and night. We plan the week every Sunday night based on what we know we have in the pipeline at that point, and then adjust on the fly day by day as we need to.
That said we also block out time for everything we know is critical to sustained high output, and frankly also for loving relationships.
So we make sure we work out most days, we meditate or play the guitar or hit the surf most days, we eat together as a family, and when we do any of that it is phones off.
Simple stuff, but it works.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
I think the number one tip is planning, mapping out the week into blocks, such that the calendar directs your time NOT the phone, email, or text, or whatever your preferred instant messaging service is.
In order of priority for us:
- Proactively manage your time – plan the week ahead as much as possible, based on your highest professional and personal priorities, and let the calendar guide your use of time, not the phone, email or text.
- Schedule those things that are critical but most often slip – the gym, meditation, time to cook good food, getting to your kids’ sports practice to help the coach.
- Make yourself accountable to a third party – find a training partner or use a PT, promise a favourite meal to the kids, let the coach know you are there to help ahead of time, or whatever.
- Make time to be still and think – distinct from meditation, at least twice a week spend an hour or so in quiet contemplation, with carefully worded questions to ask of yourself requiring non-binary and action-orientated answers.
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
The glib answer is that when you love what you do there is no need for ‘balance’. And I have no doubt some people do genuinely feel that way and can focus on their work to the exclusion of everything else, 24/7.
But that’s not me.
If I don’t work out five times a week I get grumpy. If I don’t get outside at least twice a day or more, I start to feel creatively stale. If I don’t mediate I drive my family crazy. If I don’t eat good food, my energy drops.
So knowing all the reasons I need to strike balance, makes it easier – that and a weekly planning session.
6) What does work life balance mean to you?
It is about knowing what’s most important to you, making those things the priority, and giving each your complete presence.
Work can, and should, be an extension of your authentic self. It should allow you to express yourself creatively and stretch you intellectually, and while you are doing it you should be completely present.
It doesn’t matter what it is you are doing, do it well, do it fully, do it with all the focus, and passion, and drive you can muster. Then stop .
Transition your focus to become equally present in whatever is next, playing with your kids, sharing dinner and glass of wine with your partner, playing sport or whatever.
There is no greater lie of modern life than ‘multi-tasking’. Nothing great was ever achieved – in any realm of life – while juggling three other tasks. Greatness requires mastery, and mastery requires complete focus.
The best way to balance work and life is to be self-aware, prioritise your time appropriately, and then give each priority the dedicated focus it deserves.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
- Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
- Zen Mind, Beginners Mind
- Zen And The Art Of Making A Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design
- The Purposeful Primitive: From Fat and Flaccid to Lean and Powerful
- The Primal Blueprint
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
It can be as little as an 8 minute Tabata on a stationary bike or with a skipping rope, or as much as an hour or more lifting weights, running or swimming, but starting the day with intense physical activity is an evolutionarily aligned and incomparably powerful way to fire up the entire system.
When we wake we are programmed, at a genetic level, to move. Taking advantage of the growth-promoting and fat burning hormonal environment first thing in the morning, and training in a fasted state to kick start the use of brain optimising ketones for energy, is simply the smartest way to start the day.
One proviso, it needs to be intense, to a level that is extremely if temporarily uncomfortable.
Keep it safe, but go hard, it is the intensity that signals the body – use it or lose it, mind and body alike.
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