Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Aaron Wallis, Founder & CTO of Lexer

Aaron Wallis is the founder & CTO of Lexer, a customer data platform helping brands and retailers understand their customers.

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

Throughout my career, I’ve always found myself to be either the most creative person in the technical team or the most technical person in the creative team.

I’ve always had a creative career working with advertising and marketing agencies, and prior to founding Lexer in 2010, I was the Digital Services Director at M&C Saatchi.

In this role, I was responsible for management of a fifty person digital production team, including designers, illustrators, animators and developers amongst others. After I had gained this creative and technical expertise, I began my mission to humanise data, which led me to found Lexer. 

At Lexer, my role as founder and CTO is to leverage data to help brands engage with customers in a more meaningful and insightful way.

Alongside the leadership team, I’m obsessed with building a passionate, driven and award-winning business spanning across both Australia and North America at the moment.

As the CTO, I am responsible for Lexer’s technological needs, as well as our research and development. So, I guess you could say I spend as much time as I possibly can thinking about our product roadmap and vision, as well as our company culture.

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

Luckily, I’ve always been a self-proclaimed morning person. I’m up and out of bed at five every morning, which works well for my current role. My typical workday starts pretty early – often between six and seven in the morning – to juggle international time zones and Zoom meetings with the US teams. 

From around eleven o’clock, the Zoom calls start winding down and I usually give myself a break to walk around the block and get some fresh air.

The afternoon is when I am most productive and carve out time in my day to focus on really challenging work, but usually by around three in the afternoon, I’m pretty braindead from a full day of work and meetings. I’ve found that the best way to break up my day is to take pockets of time for myself within office hours to stretch my legs and relax the mind. 

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

At Lexer we’ve always had a strong ‘work from home’ culture, but the pandemic has completely changed the way we work. The work from home culture originally came from a place of flexibility to allow work-life balance to occur.

We support a culture where it’s okay to say “hey, I’ve got other stuff happening in life right now” and actively step away from the computer as and when needed throughout the day, whether that’s dropping by the post office or running errands.

We’ve created a culture of dependability, which is one of our inherent values that comes from a lesser focus on where or when the work gets done, as long as it gets done when we said it would.

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

Work-life balance means having flexibility to be able to tend to my personal life, as needed, when needed. This could mean going to the post office to pick up a parcel or booking a doctor’s appointment during office hours without having to feel the urge to justify it.

Why do employees or employers need to find an excuse for these activities that are just a part of life? Work-life balance means prioritising self-care when I have a free moment.

That supported by the trust and knowledge that these activities I do in my free time ensure that I am in a happy and healthy place to be really switched on and productive during work hours. Work-life balance means that it shouldn’t be too difficult to look after yourself.

Something that’s been important to me is to ensure that I have the support structures in place to navigate the unique challenges that come with being a company founder.

The problems you face as a founder means you often can’t share them with other people, and we don’t really have the option to troubleshoot or bounce ideas around with other colleagues. Though, you still need to be able to work through these challenges, which is where peer and community support becomes so critical. 

I have two core communities that I lean on for support. One community is the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, made up entirely of business owners and founders, which provides an excellent platform to chat through challenges and workshop solutions with people who are all at the same level.

Beyond that, I have my own personal network, which is made up of leaders with similar sized businesses who  have experienced similar challenges before. These communities provide a safe way for me to ask for advice and provide a sort of therapy too.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

In a pre-pandemic world, I was doing four to five face to face meetings per day, but now I’m doing up to nine meetings a day over Zoom instead.

This inevitably means that the breaks in my workday and the down time in between meetings is much shorter, if not sometimes nonexistent. We’re fitting so much more into our days than ever before, so without the right self-care structures in place, your head can start spinning out and the path to burnout feels very real.

Something that I’ve always loved, but have leaned into even more working from home over the last eighteen months is constructing LEGO. I have my LEGO set-up right next to my desk at home, so in between meetings or tasks I will tinker away on a few pieces of the LEGO build I’m working on.

I’ve found this physical task therapeutic and helps to refocus the mind ahead of the next meeting or big task on my to do list. I’ve also made a more conscious effort with exercise, which has helped me stay sane during months of lockdown, remote working, and Zoom meetings. 

In my personal time, I tried my hand at sourdough bread baking, which seemed to be trending at the time but wasn’t my forte. So I pivoted my energies to mastering the art of cooking a really great steak instead (pretty rare, for those wondering).

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

Admittedly, I once loved reading and listening to podcasts, but with the ‘work from home’ environment, I struggle to make time.

I used to read and listen to podcasts while commuting or travelling, but since the pandemic there’s been a lot less time for this. I think my attention span has definitely diminished. I cannot imagine spending more than twenty minutes reading a book these days, I’d love to be able to though! 

In my downtime now, I prefer activities that allow me to use my hands or get outside, like building LEGO, challenging myself in the kitchen or playing with my dog, Susan. I find that these more hands-on and practical activities help me to refocus my attention and leave me feeling re-energised.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I’m enjoying the Streaks app at the moment, which acts like a to-do list that helps you form good habits. Another app that I’m loving is a game called Mini Metro, which is a subway simulator and strategy game!

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

I would probably ask that question to someone that is much busier than I am. I think it is really challenging to find someone who has completely mastered work-life balance and if someone has mastered it, they are probably not handling a huge influx of work. Ideally, I’d like to find someone who is extremely busy, yet successful, to model a work-life balance after. 

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

I often wonder if work-life balance actually exists. Does anyone ever wake up one day and think “A healthy work-life balance? Yeah, I’ve got this.”

One day it might be sunny outside and I will want to take a long lunch and drink a margarita in the sun, whereas other days might be cloudy or rainy and I’ll work overtime because it feels like the best way to spend my time at that moment.

Work-life balance really comes down to flexibility, and having structures in place to support a work model that works for you and your environment.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.