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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
Hi, I’m Rob – COO and Co-founder of Caia – Australia’s first on demand health company for women and their families, connecting busy, time poor professional women to trusted & vetted health professionals through a secure video consultation platform.
I’ve had a very varied career to date. I started out working for EMI Music at Abbey Road and Olympic Studios as a Music Engineer in London before setting out on my own to run my own music production company. My business partner and I had a lot of fun, worked a lot of hours and met some amazing people on the journey.
While we did very well, this was entering a period where the music industry took a significant downturn with the rise of pirate downloading and ultimately I made the decision to shift focus and try something new.
I ended up falling into real estate and founding my own online property management company in London which was fast pace and hard work. I learned a lot and made a lot of mistakes but to this day, I found the experience laid the foundation to my entrepreneurial side.
After around 5 years running the business, I took a trip to Australia for a short holiday. This which ended up turning into 8 years after meeting my wife here, so I now call Sydney home! Having relocated to the other side of the world, I had to leave the business in the UK and ended up getting involved in the international aid and development sector after a brief period of volunteering.
I worked as a social impact consultant in microfinance, where I was lucky enough to travel far and wide – from Nepal, Cambodia and the Philippines, to Indonesia and Fiji. In my role, I managed a variety of women wellbeing and education programs that focused on improving both the social and financial outcomes.
I loved working with a sense of purpose and this became a value set that I took into my future roles at EY and Deloitte, where I was part of the Social Impact Consulting practice. After around 5 years in consulting the opportunity came up to revisit my entrepreneurial side.
I’d been thinking about starting something for a while and after coming across an article about Antler (a start up generator) in the AFR one day, decided to take the plunge.
Through this, I met my co-founder, Cortina McCurry, and together we founded our start up Caia. As a COO and co-founder of an early stage start up, everyday is different and full of learnings and surprises but I’m loving working with someone who shares my values and passions.
2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
A big objective for me since starting my own business has been to develop work life balance. I don’t always get it right but there are a number of things that I always try to build into my routine on a typical day.
I’m usually up around 6:30am – I’m a slow riser unlike my wife who jumps out of bed to walk the dog! I’ll try go on a run or head to the gym for circuit or yoga 3-4 times a week and then have breakfast. I religiously do 10-15 mins mindfulness everyday using Headspace – I’ve found it invaluable and the more I do, the more helpful it becomes in my day to day life.
I aim to get to the office around 8-8:30am, work through my emails with a coffee then prioritise my day. I use Asana with my co-founder to organise the tasks and priorities for the business and our team, and Google Keep to give me a quick check list of my top things to get done that day, moving the top priorities to the top
I try my best to stick to it and not get distracted by emails and browsing online – it’s easy to lose valuable hours before you know it! Whenever possible, I like to have lunch with our team and get away from the desk but I’m guilty of many a working lunch – something I’m trying to get away from by taking regular breaks and walking down by the water around the CBD of Sydney.
Being from London I always try to make the most of getting out in the sunshine as much as possible – it’s easy to think sitting at your desk for 6-8 hours will make you more productive but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a fallacy and getting up for a break every 45 mins gives my brain the space it needs to make me a more productive and a happier person!
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
At Caia, a founding value that my co-founder and I established was that we work to outcomes and our teams wellbeing and health comes first. This means empowering everyone in the team to work in a way that best supports them to achieve what they need to get done at work as well as recognising we all have lives outside of work too.
A big part of this being successful is trusting people to get their work done and communicating regularly so we can keep track of progress, any challenges and addressing where things need to change.
We work between Sydney and Melbourne so we use a blend of tools and techniques to do this – from morning team huddles to using Slack and Asana to communicate and share status updates around tasks.
For my role, I need to be across a lot of things all at once and with an early stage start up there are always fires to be put out meaning it’s easy for my routine to be disrupted.
Having the tools in place for us all to work remotely together gives me the flexibility to juggle things between work at home – I often need to dash home at 5pm to walk Pebble, my cheeky dog but will then log back on before dinner to catch up or things or review items for the team so I’m not a blocker for them progressing.
So far, this is working well – there’s always more to do having these values set helps to remind us that balance between work and everything else is super important.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
I’m a big believer in efficiency and being organised. It’s easy to get swamped with everything going on at work and then all the commitments outside of work.
I have times in the week that are blocked out for me to do the things I need to do outside of work such go to the gym, spend time with friends and family that are non-negotiable. I then use the remaining time to compartmentalise how I use my week.
Every Monday morning my co-founder and I spend an hour to work through all the things that need to get done for the week and how they need to be prioritised and allocated across the team. We do this using Asana, allowing us to assign tasks, track and communicate with the team.
This then allows me to allocate my week to focusing on a set of activities that we’ve agree on. Recognising this process tends to focus more on the operational and tactical components of the business we also set aside time for a weekly strategy discussion where we think through some of the longer term objectives for the business.
Splitting the two meetings in this way is effective as it allows us to focus on what’s important in the short term without losing sight of the longer term question of are we heading where we intended to.
My other advice is to be precious with how much time you spend in meetings. Do you really need a meeting or would a quick call or Slack message suffice? If you do need to meet, make sure all meetings are of value – do you need to be there for an hour or can you get it done in 30mins?
Does everyone need to be in that meeting and if so, what do you they need to come to that meeting with to contribute? Does the meeting have an agenda or purpose – if not I will either request one from the organiser or not attend.
It may seem harsh but it’s easy to lose a whole day in poorly organised or unnecessary meetings – you may feel like you’ve been productive, but when you reflect back on the day at 5pm you realise little was agreed or progressed and there’s still all your actual work to get done.
Your time is precious. Guard it well during the day and it’s less likely you’ll need to be working into the evenings and weekends. My final tip is switch off as many notifications on your phone and devices as possible to minimise the chance of distraction.
5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
For me, right now, it means prioritising my quality of life over work. This doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about my work and the business I’m building, rather I won’t allow work to be at the expense of my health well-being and family.
Previously I’ve been caught in the trap that work is everything – it’s easy to do when everyone around you is doing the same, coming in early, leaving late, missing family events and dinners with friends. At the point of starting my own business I realised that I had full control over my time and how I use it.
As a co-founder, I also have the responsibility of setting the work culture I want to work in with my team. That means living the culture you want to see. For example, I can’t tell my team to leave the office at a sensible time when I don’t do the same.
As for achieving this goal, a big part of it for me is prioritising tasks, compartmentalising my time and knowing there are times in the week that are non negotiable for me.
6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
For me, the best habits I’ve managed to develop are as follows:
Mindfulness – I’ll use Headspace everyday in the morning and sometimes through out the day as needed to help me to be present and to rest the mind. I find it’s a great reset and opportunity to get some perspective, especially if you are busy with lots going on inside your head.
Regular exercise – a bit of a no brainer, but like most people, I definitely feel better after exercising. I don’t always do as much as I like but it definitely helps me to be more productive, balanced and positive.
Communication skills – During my MBA I was immersed in lots of experiential learning where we were taught and practiced key skills that are often overlooked in traditional learning environments.
Learning active listening for me was a game changer. It fundamentally changed how I approached communication – both in terms of how I listened to others but also what I said. If you haven’t been exposed to it before, I’d highly recommend looking in to it.
Learning to play to my strengths and recognise my weaknesses – It’s easy to focus on the things you’re not good at – especially in a start up where you are doing pretty much everything! I’ve learned the hard way that its neither productive or helpful for your wellbeing.
Over time, I’ve got better and playing to my strengths and being open about my weaknesses. Sure there are times where you are bad at something and you cant avoid it – in these scenarios there’s an opportunity to learn something new, but otherwise I’d much rather surround myself with people who compliment my skills and offer a new perspective on things.
Learning human centred design and design thinking – I’ve spent much of the past 6-7 years using HCD and design thinking in my work. I really like it because it essentially says: “it’s not about you it’s about your customers/ the people you serve. Focus on that” For start ups I think this is a super helpful to remember to keep you focused on solving a significant pain point for your customers.
7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I mainly read fiction outside of work to help me unwind. That said, during my MBA I came across a number of books, articles and podcasts that I’ve found valuable and often recommend to people.
HBR have some great articles and I love their Ideacast podcast too. Some I’ve particularly found helpful are:
- The Power of Small Wins
- How to Play to Your Strengths
- The Right Way to Solve Complex Business Problems
Running Lean – I’ve found this book really helpful particularly since getting back into the start up world recently.
8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Focus on having a positive, growth mind set. It’s easy, especially on a Monday morning, to wake up and think ‘oh no, another week ahead” especially if you have a lot on and your diary is crazy.
I often have this thought when I wake up but I’ve learnt to challenge that initial thought and turn it around. Rather than thinking “I just need to get through today”, I try to reframe it to myself, such as “there’s a lot on today, but its’ an opportunity to learn new things and meet new people”.
It’s a subtle thing but is actually very valuable at promoting a growth mindset and setting you up for success.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Life is short! Enjoy as much as it as you can and focus on a balance of things in work and everyday life that give you enjoyment through the doing of that activity not the end result or goal. There is a really great HBR ideacast podcast I’d highly recommend where MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya talks to this.
In modern society, many of us have grown up being conditioned to prioritising goal orientated tasks (passing exams, getting our first job, getting a promotion etc.), which, when we achieve, we derive satisfaction from.
The challenge with this is it delays satisfaction to a date in the future and research shows that when we arrive at that point the pay off isn’t as satisfying as we thought. This spurs us on to the next goal, then the next. While having goals is important, prioritising these activities, effectively always shifts satisfaction to a future time.
I found the podcast interesting as it challenges us to try and readdress the balance by focusing more on doing activities that give us satisfaction in the present i.e. deriving satisfaction from doing rather than achieving. For example, learning a new piece of software or enjoying doing the gardening.
If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!