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Balancing the Grind with Rhys Furner, Head of Partnerships & Sales Development (APAC) at Shopify Plus

Rhys Furner is the Head of Partnerships & Sales Development at Shopify Plus, where he leads the Partnership and Sales team across the Asia-Pacific region.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve always been in sales and marketing roles. Even my first job as a 15 year old was at Eagle Boys and I had to wear the Eagle Suit on my first shift in Bathurst on Mount Panorama weekend.

I ended up selling pizzas on the street to the V8 enthusiasts driving up and down the main street of Bathurst so I knew pretty early on that I was going to move into the sales space.

Upon graduating, I entered the digital agency space and worked on executing digital marketing campaigns like AdWords and SEO and pretty quickly moved into a strategy role for clients which involved me selling to existing and prospective clients. During this role I worked with a lot of agencies and built out an agency partnerships model which was quite rare at the time.

I pivoted from here into the ecommerce space as I loved the tangible aspects of ecommerce like seeing direct ROI of your activity. I started my own ecommerce business using Shopify and pretty quickly realised how much I loved the platform, what it stood for and the impact it could have on the world by helping more entrepreneurs bring their dreams to reality.

Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Canada to onboard at Shopify to build out our agency partner program across APAC. I was only the fourth person to be hired in the region and little did I know that the journey up until now would be as amazing as it was going to be.

We’ve now grown to a team of over 200 people in the region sprinkled across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam.

I lead our Sales Development and Partnership teams in the region and also work very closely with other executives in the region to develop our vision and strategy. It’s a pretty dynamic role for a really dynamic company and I love it.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Every day really is pretty different but if I had to sum up an average day it is really centred around people, product and process (apologies for the cliche). Everyday I have 1:1s with people from my teams, other leads within the business, key stakeholders, partners, etc.

I’m also working on the strategic execution with my teams on our goals, market expansion strategies into certain regions within APAC and helping our teams pitch and win some of the most recognisable brands in the region.

I also overlap heavily with our teams in North America and Europe, so it can throw the calendar into a bit of chaos but it’s great seeing what teams are doing around the globe and how we may be able to learn and adopt certain approaches.

A good example of a recent day was starting early to sync with other Partnership executives in North America to discuss program wide initiatives being rolled out. This was followed by 1:1s with people in my team to discuss their progress, challenges, thoughts, etc.

I then moved into an APAC leadership discussion where we were working on our plans to expand into key markets in our region. My day then finished with an onboarding session with new team members to get them ramped up on the partnerships side of the business.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yep! About half of all of Shopify’s employees around the globe are remote and here in APAC, 100% of us are fully remote. We do have a WeWork office in Sydney which some people use relatively regularly but I’m based on the Sunshine Coast (lucky me) so I’ve been fully remote for over 3.5 years now.

At first, it took some getting used to. Particularly coming from the hustle and bustle of being in the agency space where being surrounded by creative people becomes your main energy source. But now, there’s no way I’d even consider going back to a normal 9-5 office role. I just enjoy the flexibility too much.

As for it fitting into my life, I have two boys – Dash, 4 and Ziggy, 20 months. So being able to have flexibility to enjoy watching them grow up is absolutely priceless.

It also allows me to live in one of the most beautiful places in Australia with beaches nearby and a lot of entertainment for the kids.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

To me it means to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. We should be able to work hard at something we’re passionate about.

In many ways, what I do is who I am and I’m fortunate to work for a mission driven company where I get to see the outcomes of our work really help people and make the world better.

However on the flip side, we need to be able to enjoy what that hard work creates for us. And that is to be able to live out the non-work things we’re passionate about. For me, that is anything to do with sport. I also love investing and architecture and we’re about to embark on building our second house.

As for achieving this, for me it’s living within our means and investing to be able to fund these things that we’re passionate about. Really a lot of my motivation is centred around providing my kids with the opportunities that I didn’t have, but also making sure they don’t grow up spoiled little shits!

So in summary, make sure you carve time out for the things that matter to you outside of work.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I’m not a crazy routine type of person. I don’t have a specific time that I start or finish work. It’s generally dependent on what’s happening family wise or on meetings that need to happen across timezones.

I am a pretty planned person from a career standpoint though and I think overcommunicating your plans with people is essential. Not only does it force you to sound it out to see if it makes any sense but it helps people around you understand where you want to go and why so they can support you on this journey. The sooner you can get on track with this the better.

I also like to create a ‘blueprint’ to me and all of my direct reports do it too. It’s so critical to understand what makes people tick and what’s important to them when working remotely from the get go.

As a remote team, you miss the typical ‘water cooler’ chat where you learn about people through osmosis. You need to gather this info ASAP as it could otherwise take 12 months to really figure out someone when working remotely.

One little hack that I’ve found to be really helpful for me is to have walking 1:1 meetings. I chuck the AirPods in and the Ultraboosts on and walk around the canals near my house and it’s really beautiful and ultra relaxing. It ticks the exercise box while also being productive.

Outside of that, I’d like to say I meditate every day but I don’t. I like meditating but I find it hard to do every single day. For me, I’ve become good at noticing the signs that I need a break and that is generally a slow down in my productivity, the answers aren’t coming to me as quickly as they normally do and general irritability. When I spot these, it’s time for a massage and a day off to recalibrate.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I’m lucky at Shopify as we have an incredible book bar where a lot of great recommendations have come from. Reading to me is kinda like meditating – I’d like to do more of it but I haven’t nailed a regular routine yet.

Some of my recommendations that have really helped me better understand the world and be better at what I do both at work and outside of work include:

  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hurari – this is all about us as humans and our history. I’m a big believer in if you want to plan for the future, you need to understand the past and this is well worth a read for anyone in any industry.
  • The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape – this is just another one of those reads that everyone should do. The knowledge gained in this book will make you a lot of money over your lifetime and will mean you don’t have to work for as long.
  • Originals by Adam Grant – this is a good book on idea generation. It argues that idea generation is as important as the idea itself. The more ideas generated lead to the right idea. This is a great read for those in a business who want to harness their teams to be more creative at problem solving.
  • High Output Management by Andrew Grove – Andy was the former CEO of Intel and a real legend in the tech space in Silicon Valley. This was a really insightful book for me as I made the move into leadership. It’s really tangible and focused on middle managers, often a neglected segment in a lot of leadership books. It’s a little old but still super relevant and I practise a lot of the learnings from this book everyday in my role.
  • Grit by Angela Duckworth – I like to think that I’m a pretty gritty person given that I’ve been through many challenges in my life that have made me who I am today. But not everyone has gone through tough times so how do you foster grit in people when it’s inevitable that tough times will come? This is a good book on what grit means and how to build it.

There’s plenty more book recs I could give but I’ll leave it at that for now. I do also really enjoy podcasts and often listen to:

  • The Daily from the New York Times for interesting news tidbits.
  • The End of the World with Josh Clark is super interesting on the existential risks that exist to humanity. This was interesting to me because I’ve invested time into understanding a lot of history like in my Sapiens recommendation above so looking at where the world is going is the next step and this is a really interesting look into that.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show is a great way to get insights into how some of the most successful people think.

Outside of these, I listen to a few finance podcasts and internal Shopify podcasts.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I try to prioritise the three things I need to get done each day and go old school by writing them down on a piece of paper. I find this keeps me focused when the emails, Slack pings and phone calls keep coming through.

It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed with the email and Slack traffic so I try to silence this out as much as possible and be comfortable with the fact that inbox zero doesn’t exist.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I’d love to hear from the Atlassian founders on how they manage it with so much pressure. Obviously they would have a great team around them but it would be fantastic to hear their thoughts, habits and routines.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Work life balance is hard. It’s ok to not be nailing it. Just try to carve out some time for the things you enjoy in life and you’ll generally be ok.

I also recommend trying to work for a company that is mission orientated so you can be passionate about what you do but I realise that is also pretty hard to find for most people too.

I’d also say that remote working is not for everyone, and that is totally ok. To leads of remote teams out there, spend time to understand the people on your teams even more so than you would a team you lead IRL.

As a lead, it’s important that you show vulnerability about how you’re feeling so your team is comfortable in also showing that same level of vulnerability. The more open dialogue the better.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.