Balancing the Grind with Abi Bennett, Chief Operating Officer at Starshipit

Abi Bennett is the Chief Operating Officer at Starshipit, a provider of integrated and automated fulfilment solutions for online businesses of every age and stage.

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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 a very practical person, but have a creative side too. I left school wanting to be a chef, but after a few weeks of work experience in a kitchen, I learnt that although I loved cooking it probably wasn’t for me – too many shouting chefs!

What I did learn was that the hospitality industry provided a great outlet for my extroverted personality and let me use my practical and creative skills. So I headed off to Uni to study Hospitality & Events Management.

After graduating I spent 15 years in events management working across a range of venues from large scale conferences and events, to the grand finale in my events career where I was Head of Groups & Events at The Ritz Hotel in London.

At 25 I was promoted to my first management position – Events Manager. I was totally out of my depth leading a team of 11, with huge sales targets and the operational pressure of running multiple events at one time. I loved every minute, but the learning curve was sharp! 

I moved from the UK to New Zealand in 2012. Post-GFC I was really looking for a new start in an industry of the future. I loved the idea of the tech industry, fast paced, future proofing my career, dynamic, and a broad range of roles.

However I discovered changing industries was not a simple “Pivot” – it took time and determination to get into tech in a company where there were  growth opportunities. I secured a role with Fiserv (a Fintech and fortune 500 company), but getting a foot in the door is hard.

My suggestion to anyone reading this is to find a good recruiter who can represent you well and use your network to connect to potential new employers. 

From there I was approached about a job in a small tech company and met George, founder of Starshipit. I joined as employee number nine, as a Customer Success and Development Manager, then Head of Operations and 12 months ago, COO . 

Looking back on my career I’ve been very fortunate to work with some inspiring women who challenged and encouraged me. I’m really grateful to have been surrounded by such supportive leaders early on in my career.

I’ve been drawn to companies that have strong values and beliefs, and recognise and value their employees. It’s been a roller coaster, eCommerce is a fast paced industry and I’ve loved every minute!

I’ve never had a career path in mind, because I’ve never planned too far ahead. I’ve carved a career from being a generalist, it’s a term that took a while for me to discover, there are many blogs about being a generalist v’s a specialist, there’s a great ted talk by Emilie Wapnick where she describes “multipotentialites”. I’m one of those and feel so much better about being a generalist since I discovered it’s a real thing!  

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

No two days are the same. I keep Monday mornings free to do planning for the week, then a typical day might include a 1:1 with a head of department, internal project meetings or external syncs with branding or PR agencies. 

I work very closely with sales, marketing, customer success and support teams, as well as HR and finance and as we’re coming towards the end of the year we have been doing a lot of future planning for the next couple of years, for example looking at export plans for new markets.

I also work alongside key partners that we are technology providers for, so that might mean one day I’m meeting with their senior leadership team to align on the product roadmap or negotiate commercial terms.

For me it’s really important to always have some customer contact – I want to keep my finger on the pulse and being client-facing is one of my favourite parts of the role. 

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

100%! Starshipit has championed flexi-time and remote working from the get go. This has always been great for me as flexibility is paramount  with two young boys and a labrador to look after. 

I generally work from home Monday and Friday and go into the office Tuesday to Thursday, and it really helps me to  structure my exercise routine around that. Of course it all falls apart when there are school holidays or lockdowns, but the flexibility allows me to hang out with the kids at their sports or extracurriculars – this is non negotiable for me!

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

To me it’s about fitting in everything I want to achieve in a week and not necessarily separating work from life as such. Proportioning time between family, work and yourself, you have to be organised and structured to fit it all in, and the first thing to go is “me time”. 

Something I do to ensure that doesn’t happen is book out my diary over lunch every day so I can exercise. I find I need a brain break at that time of day, which helps me to focus in the afternoon, and I also get some peace and quiet to myself. 

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

Absolutely, it’s hard to maintain  structure when you’re working full time with two young boys at home in lockdown. The number one priority has been the mental health of the family, so lunchtime trips to the park or beach as a unit have become an essential part of our new lockdown routine.

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

I have always loved reading fiction books but when I had kids I just didn’t prioritise it. This year I made a pledge to get back into reading, I got a new Kindle which sat in a drawer and I ended up getting some paperback books which I read on the couch with a glass of wine on a Sunday afternoon. 

I love watching period dramas on TV and I love reading books too.  It always feels so indulgent to make some time for yourself, but I’m conscious that I need to take time to be still as I have a tendency to always be on the go. My partner calls me the annoying “active relaxer”. 

From a professional standpoint, I read SaaStr blogs on a weekly basis. As a COO I’m always looking at ways to improve our systems and processes and SaaStr is a good source of information.

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

Anything and everything that I can automate in my life! From subscriptions of toilet paper to food delivery bags to my robot vacuum cleaner that comes on at 8am daily. Time is precious so anything I can do to avoid time wasted in Auckland traffic or at the supermarket, I will! 

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

 Sheryl Sandberg or any other female C-suiter leading a multi =-million or billion dollar company.

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

Do a job you love with people you love working with, that has a culture that inspires you and brings out the best in you.

Always have something booked in the diary to look forward to, I love travelling, for me I always have short breaks booked in, and take a decent two week holiday once a year, you never truly unwind until the second week. Book a holiday that’s long enough that you’re tired of being on holiday.

In life, remove the things that negatively impact you. I stopped watching and reading the news during lockdown as I found it made me anxious and wasn’t really a good use of time. I literally saved hours of my life by not watching those daily updates and I felt all the better for it. 

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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.