Balancing the Grind with Annie Liao, Investor at Aura Ventures

Annie Liao is an Investor at Aura Ventures, an early-stage thesis driven VC firm backing high potential founders (pre-seed to series A).

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

I’m currently an investor at Aura Ventures, a thesis driven high conviction venture capital fund based out of Australia. I also run the Builders Club – Australia’s first AI coworking residency, a place for top builders and tech entrepreneurs to come together to build, ship and launch.

I’m a kiwi, born in NZ but raised in Canberra. My siblings are both doctors and dentists, much to my parents dismay I didn’t fall into this path. Instead, I spent my free time re-watching Silicon Valley and Shark Tank.

From day 0 of stepping foot in my first startup event, I was obsessed with the vibe and people in the startup community. I remember in the first year of University, I volunteered both Startmate and Antler demo days scanning QR codes just to get in on the action. I ended up interning at an early-stage startup too where I really got to see how hard being a founder was and how high the highs get and how low the lows are.  

I started working at Westpac when I was 18 years old as an intern. I was lucky to be in a cross-functional team with developers as Business analysts where we built a banker CRM tool from scratch. I ended up learning how to code in this role too. I received a lot of close mentorship there and ended up staying for three years, doing well and getting accelerated promotion two times; the fastest from intern to senior data scientist in Westpac history.

After much deliberation, I decided that the data science path wasn’t for me. I instead pivoted into strategy consulting working at BCG across ANZ and SEA for just over a year. These skills, combined with my love for community building have really shaped how I am in the ecosystem today. 

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

As cliché as it sounds, what makes a career in VC so interesting is that every day is different. Here is what at typical day would look like:

  • 6:30am: Wakeup and either go for a group workout HIIT class or a run (slow jog) around the Harbour blasting some pop songs
  • 8:30am: Get ready for work, grab brekkie on the go, call the family while walking to work
  • 9:00am: Arrive in the office! Create to do list and time box tasks
  • 9:00-5pm: Founder meetings, coffees, event planning / community building, thesis writing… investing! 
  • 5pm-8pm: Varies, but I always like to have a pre-planned social activity at the end of the workday to add structure to the week. 2-3 nights a week it would be running or attending a startup event. A lot of my close friends are also founders, so occasionally they end up coming to the Aura offices and we will co-work together to jam things out. On nights where I do non-work-related activities, it is usually a dance class or Netflix night. 
  • 8-10pm: I usually set aside some time to work on the Builders Club and consume knowledge / news. I live in the city so I like to wind down by walking around the harbour most nights and listening to the buskers.
  • 10:00-11.30pm: Shower, pack the gym bag for the next day and sleep. I tend to burn out if I go to sleep past 11.30pm for consecutive nights so this is a priority for me.

Because my work week is often quite social, I always make sure to have 1-2 nights in to make sure I stay grounded and don’t burn out.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

To me it means managing time in a way where I feel fulfilled in the activities I am doing. In all honesty, work-life balance is still a work in progress and still something I am constantly refining. 

I would break it down into pillars and what I see as “negotiable” vs “non-negotiable”. To double click, the “pillars” I would categorise are: family, relationships, health and career.

What’s really helped is every month, I have a D&M session with close friends and we discuss our goals, how much emphasis we like to place on each of these categories and define SMART actions as next steps. Sharing these goals and getting an outside opinion helps me stay accountable. I’m someone who is quite social and enjoys being surrounded by people, so having a close network of friends both inside and outside the startup ecosystem has been key to this.

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Transitioning careers has affected my lifestyle a lot. Coming off the back of strategy consulting where I often had to travel weekly and hours were regimented off client demand, it’s been both exciting and challenging. In venture, it’s very much self-directed.

Of late, I’ve realised that time is the scarcest resource you can’t get back. It’s best spent with people and doing activities that make you smile and laugh. There are two things I’ve been focusing on in the last quarter to work towards this:

  • I’ve forced myself to ruthlessly prioritise who I spend my time with, building more meaningful relationships with those I want to be there with me through all the stages of life, as we self-develop, the highs and lows and important moments.  
  • Being more spontaneous and forcing myself to proactively break out of “routines” when I feel them forming. I try to do one new thing out of my comfort zone a week. This is anything from salsa dancing or saying yes to a cheeky after work drink.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

Some gems I have stumbled across since joining VC:

  • Zero to One – the first book I read when I joined VC
  • The Sachin and Adam Show – they are OGs and masters at their craft!
  • The Latent Space Blog – great for AI enthusiasts
  • Data Driven VC Newsletter – both scary and exciting for the future of VC

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Working hard and playing hard is one piece of advice I got from a mentor at BCG and a concept I refer back to constantly. Working hard is important, but without “playing hard”, you will burn out.

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.