Andrew Ellett is the co-founder and managing director of HelpPay, a social fintech that makes it easier to share bills and help those in need pay bills.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve always had a passion to build and create things, but I’m not really creative. So, from a young age I was always building businesses, and often in creative industries (e.g. music publishing, web design) but I realised very early that I can employ people who are much better at the creative side of things.
I also have Bachelor degrees in Arts (Indonesian) and Commerce (eCommerce). While I was studying, I worked for accounting companies to pay my way and to gain business experience. The most important thing I learned was that accounting wasn’t for me.
In 1998, at the age 20, I started a digital agency (then called a web developer or web design agency). After various mergers, partnerships and investments, I’m now the Chairman and we have 9% of the business owned by staff, a silent equity investment from top 10 accounting and the advisory firm William Buck and a Managing Director (Adam Barty), who is also an equity holder.
In the last 10 years or so I have either been (or am currently) on the board of a CRM tech company (www.engagerm.com) and also investor, advisory board member and co-founder in a number of businesses, some of which I have exited from.
I am presently the MD and co-founder of a social fintech called HelpPay (www.helppay.com). HelpPay is a platform that enables giving and helping towards the bills for those in need. HelpPay is part payment platform for the socially minded corporate, part social network and part crowdfunding platform for social good. The difference being, any funds contributed by the HelpPay platform go only to a billing provider, not to an individual.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
As the MD and co-founder of a funded start-up, every day I could be responsible for any task you’d expect of a company with global aspirations. From product development to sales, team management, marketing, testing, doing a coffee run, investor management, budgeting, accounting, mentoring or research and development.
Staying organised is an important part of any day. Understanding the tasks at hand, priorities of each and where to spend my time gets daily attention. It’s a battle to try and work in the “important but not urgent” quadrant, as there are always so many channels of communication and competing needs. I am always trying to evolve my workday, work more efficiently, stop bad habits and learn new good habits.
Invariably there are always internal (staff) and external (partners, prospects, clients) meetings. Largely these are by Zoom/Teams of late but I also believe in the value of face to face and make an effort to see the team for workshops, team building or professional development.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes. Remote working is here to stay and COVID changed my personal views on the need for an office where all staff work from, all the time.
I still struggle to take time off during standard business hours (8.30am to 6pm). I am trying to learn to work when my biorhythms work best and not be a slave to community or business expectations. However, that’s hard with the traditional ‘9 to 5’ workday so many businesses still operate on.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance is being content and satisfied with your state of being when at work or outside of work.
As a life-long business owner who has almost always been self-employed, I find it difficult to compartmentalise my work from the rest of my life. My lines of work and life are almost always blurred and I learned a long time ago to accept that my life is my work (and vice versa) – and that’s OK for me.
There are times when I can completely shut off from work (less so with COVID and less ability to travel and with constant working from home, etc). But I love that the contacts I make in business may become lifelong friends. By accepting these blurred lines and accepting that even on holidays there will be times I need to work as a business owner, is important in achieving balance and satisfaction or calmness in my day.
Some people will turn off as soon as they leave the office, turn off their “work phone” and be hard to contact. As a business owner, employee, employer and entrepreneur, that does not work for me. Accepting that is leading to my own contentment and satisfaction at home and better work-life balance.
As someone who has always worked for themselves, I have an innate natural drive ands, I always start (and finish) the day energised. I believe one should work with a sense of urgency, and I admit this sometimes has an adverse effect on work-life balance.
I am currently striving to achieve better work-life balance through a series of new habits. See next question for those.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
- Divide and conquer – as an individual I can only do so much. Implementing a divide and conquer approach has meant that I don’t have to be in every meeting or decision and in turn, this has allowed me more time to conquer my own priorities.
- Let others fail
- Truly delegate
- Not living on email. Let go.
- Work in a happy state of mind
- Work outside each morning
- Take time to exercise
- Remember that we all choose to do what we do. If you don’t enjoy it, then stop.
- Don’t do all the detail yourself
A business is a living, breathing being. An institution. It’ll never stop. So working harder and trying to finish in a day is pointless. Focus on the priorities.
Along with physical exercise such as running, gym and tennis. I have tried to do more yoga to keep my body in balance.
I think it’s really important to have an aligned team around you. You can achieve better balance if you have people you trust for when you are not available or need a break. That means you need to empathise with your colleagues when they want the same in return. Building, managing or being part of a quality team is critical to achieve success in business and to have a good work/life balance.
Lastly, engage with experts or consultants who you can learn from. I regularly engage professional help to improve habits in life and in business.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
- Masters of Scale with Reed Hoffman; https://open.spotify.com/show/1bJRgaFZHuzifad4IAApFR
- Built to Sell Radio
- Fintech Chatter
- New Payments Platform (NPP Soundbites)
- A16z Podcast
- Saxo Market call
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Apple AirPods, first or second generation. Brilliant for business calls, as it is convenient to take calls whilst exercising, travelling or listen to podcasts and music while working, etc.
The Gen 3s I found gave a bit of vertigo. Some people prefer them, but not for me. The noise cancelling in them is great, but I find the first 2 better for keeping an awareness of what’s going on around you too.
What is as important as the latest gadget or app is how you use them. I highly recommend that your phone – almost without exception – has all notifications turned off. Except for phone calls and texts, my phone does not make a noise when someone sends me a WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack or email message.
I know to check these apps when I need to and people who I regularly engage with know if it’s urgent to call or text. Similarly on my computer, emails don’t make a sound when they arrive. I take time to go and check my email when it suits me and so I’m not constantly interrupted. Try it, it’s life changing for the better.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Simon Sinek and Tony Robbins are two of the great educators of our time. Whilst I don’t agree with all of their theories, they are educated, have much experience and are easy to learn from, as they communicate their theories eloquently.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
It is really important to have balance in life in everything you do. From work to the food you eat, to where you spend your time and your exercise regimes.
Bringing hobbies, health and fitness into life is so important. I like to regularly do yoga, play tennis, run on the beach or go fishing to unwind. Anything that’s away from an office environment.
When at work, we provide sit/stand desks to all our staff, this helps take some time to stretch and not be in a seated position for hours on end which is really important to be able to work the long hours we do.
It’s an ongoing project that ebbs and flows for everyone depending on your situation at home and your ambitions. One person could be committed to switching off from work when their kids are of a certain age, while another could be inspired to work their butt off regardless of hours on a new business idea. They can also be the same person at different stages of their lives.
We’ll all have our indispensable parts, but a static work-life balance approach creates a static work-life existence.
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