Jessica Bragdon is the co-founder of Koala Eco, an Australian company that creates plant-based cleaning products made with Australian essentials oils.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m originally from the United States; I grew up in Boston and New Hampshire. I studied Psychology and have a masters in Organisational Psychology from Columbia University. I worked for a long time in NYC in the boutique hotel business.
Over the years I’ve always been involved in lots of projects and businesses to do with design and aesthetics. My current role (with my husband Paul, who is a chartered accountant by training and a Western Australian by birth) is as co-founder and director of Koala Eco, a company which makes home cleaning and body products from natural ingredients and the essential oils of native plants.
These essential oils can deodorise, clean, purify, the list goes on. And not only that, they smell gorgeous. No need whatsoever for synthetic fragrances. And while these are powerful cleaners and antiseptics, they are also completely safe around babies and young children when used correctly.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Paul and I have two young sons, so if it’s a school day, we start off early with the family getting ready to go in different directions, school for them, the workplace for us. We used to work from home, but now we have an office near where we live.
So it’s a walk to work with our Aussie Shepherd Matilda (she’s a vital team member, in charge of office morale). From there, the day typically involves meetings with our team to discuss strategy, branding and distribution.
We may visit our labs to check on progress for any new products that we are developing; this can be a lengthy process because we won’t launch until something is entirely right. We also may have product or PR campaign shoots to factor into our working day.
I’ll talk at least once to my twin sister Adrienne, who is based in the States and is looking after our expansion into the market there. During a working day, it can be a challenge to grab a few minutes to sit and centre myself with a bit of meditation, but this is something I endeavour to do.
At home in the evening, Paul often cooks, I will clean up. We try really hard to build quality family time into each day.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, I do try my hardest to balance the demands of the business with home and family life. Paul and I share the load pretty well and are good planners when it comes to negotiating our different schedules and what’s happening with the boys.
I won’t say we always get it right, but we’re not too bad. If there are things that I can achieve from our office at home then I have the option to do that. It is good, however, to have an office outside of the home, because that brings the psychological benefits of physical separation from work.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
When your work is a passion-project that aligns very closely to your personal values, then it is impossible to separate the two completely.
I don’t mind that really, because Koala Eco is about offering lifestyle choices, and if Paul and I didn’t willingly embrace those choices ourselves, we couldn’t run an authentic company.
However, we do have ways of trying to make sure we are not focusing on the business to the detriment of our family and personal lives. So for me, this is about taking ‘me’ time.
Once a month I make sure to have a day to myself to regroup, recharge and rest. Usually, it involves the ocean. Paul and I make sure we go out together alone for dinner or a drink together when we can. And when we are out, we try to focus on anything but work!
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
We’ve always embraced early morning exercise, but in the last 12 months we’ve made a particular effort to sustain this. Paul surfs at 5:30 and I run or go to Pilates or yoga classes.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I’ve some great recommendations for books. If I’m trying to switch off the work brain, I plunge into The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, or anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
But if I’m thinking about Koala Eco and everything we’re trying to do, then I’ve been learning a lot from books like Good Is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn by Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones, such an illuminating read.
I also just finished Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by Brad Feld, which is a great guide to building supportive entrepreneurial communities.
For podcasts, I love How I Built This, an NPR podcast with Guy Raz, who interviews the innovators and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s best-known companies.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My iPhone is essential. For apps, I am often on Shopify, and Time Buddy for calculating the time in all the places in the world where we are working.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Jacinda Ardern. Enough said!
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Running a business and raising a family is challenging but worth it. It’s important not to let business dominate family life, and I’ve learned that with young children one has to be able to prioritise and accept help.
Sometimes things can threaten to feel overwhelming, but it’s important to define the boundaries and not get exhausted. I do think that we are fortunate in that Koala Eco is all about the things we believe in and would be practising anyway: care for the planet, healthy choices.
So, although I’d be the first to admit we don’t get the balance right all the time, I am certain of this: it’s absolutely OK to allow ourselves to be ‘good enough’. We’re genuinely trying to do our best to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, personally and professionally.
Our sons will benefit, we hope, from living in a contented and purposeful family environment, and also from understanding that things can’t always perfectly be in balance.
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