Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Alan Newton, Founder & COO of virtuall

Alan Newton is the founder & COO of virtuall, a product innovation business focussed on connecting people and places in a hybrid world.

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

After graduating in Law with Sociology, I decided to pursue another career and spent twenty years successfully working across different sectors, including many years in the events sector, for two of the UK’s largest agencies.

My last event industry role was as a Global Supply Chain Director, having held senior Commercial and Operations roles prior. My current role brings all of those career learnings together as Founder and COO of a product innovation business focussed on connecting people and places in a hybrid world.

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

As a startup founder, the only thing typical about a day is that you will wear many hats and regularly switch from one task to another.

As much as I try to time-box my week to focus on specific things on certain days, sometimes everything is urgent and you need to switch from one thing to the next. I work across 13 time zones, between an operational delivery partner in Asia and clients in the USA. A recent day looked like this:

  • 8.30am – Call with Asia office to run through current projects and client feedback
  • 9am – Reviewed sales reports and worked on sales plan for the year – including development of relevant slides for investor decks
  • Noon – Nature walk & some content marketing filming + lunch
  • 2pm – Emails & Linked activity
  • 2.30pm – Weekly operations team meeting
  • 3pm – Weekly co-founder meeting
  • 3.30pm – Content writing 
  • 4pm – Product development workshop
  • 6pm – Break
  • 7pm – Onboarding session with client in USA
  • 8pm – Final email check and review tasks for next day

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

Achieving balance means a lot but you know as a startup founder that there are going to be days when it slips, particularly if they’re as action packed as the recent day I outlined. To achieve work life balance you need to be rigid with your time management and build time into your calendar for other interests, friends & family.

As much as possible, you need to respect that time. I practise meditation & breathe work daily, I try to go for nature walks and I write / journal daily. I also read a lot and have creative interests and projects I’m pursuing outside of the startup that make me happy. These are scheduled into my week so my days & weeks include all these activities scheduled into my calendar.

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

I started scheduling time for artistic pursuits away from the day job and it has made me happier. Startups can be very stressful and time consuming and it’s important to manage both.

I have almost completely stopped watching TV and I only consume news that comes to me via friends or newsletter channels. Avoiding the news helps create a more positive mindset and reducing TV time allows for other pursuits.

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

Ricardo Semler is an excellent go to in terms of business books and maverick ideas. My reading is quite broad from business to mythology, to philosophy, history, psychology, fantasy, and autobiographies.

My go to podcasts include: The Diary of a CEO, 20VC, The JRE Podcast, TED Talks Daily. Newsletters tend to be sales focussed newsletters as Founders need to learn to sell and build their sales process. I sign up to newsletters by sales experts in the US: Scott Leese, Amy Volas, Wayne Morris, and Richard Harris.

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

It would probably have to be Steven Bartlett. He’s juggling so many different plates having transitioned from being a successful entrepreneur to life as a public figure, and he is a big advocate of work/life balance. I just don’t know how he achieves it. 

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

You have to be strict with yourself and your loved ones. They need to respect your time (and you theirs), but you also need to respect your own time. It’s too easy to skip downtime to just do that extra little bit of work that then takes up the rest of your evening or weekend! Schedule the time into your diary and plan to do something fun at least once a week.

Whether that’s scheduling “a date with yourself”, or spending time with a partner, or with friends. I rarely used to do anything alone but now I often go to the cinema, theatre or opera alone because everyone else is too busy. I realised that unless you take the bull by the horns and do what you want to do , time can pass you by and your life will be full of “I wish I had…”

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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.