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Balancing the Grind with Ash Davies, CEO at Tablo

Ash Davies is the CEO at Tablo, an online self-publishing platform where authors can write a book, build an online profile, and publish to nearly every bookshop in the world.

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

Sure. I’m in business, across publishing and hospitality. I spend most of my time as CEO of Tablo.com, which is now one of the fastest growing book printing and publishing platforms in the industry.

Tablo is much like a Canva for books, with a platform that lets authors create, print and publish books in the browser. It’s used by well over 100,000 authors, from debut writers through to New York Times bestsellers.

In many ways Tablo is becoming a modern publishing company, driven by technology. Self-publishing and book printing are our core products. We also have our own traditional arm called Tablo Tales, representing our most extraordinary authors on the global stage.

I’m also in the hospitality space, with a few projects underway. The most exciting right now is Hugo’s Deli, a New York style sandwich bar in the heart of Melbourne. I really enjoy the human side of hospitality, creating an experience that people travel to, talk about, and want to share with their friends.

As for my career background, I don’t really have one. I started my first company at 14. I’m 28 now, so I’m still young, but I’ve also been in business for half of my life. I fell in love early with the path of building companies with disruptive brands, and all of my work today is in building a portfolio across industries that I care about. The main skill that I’ve learned is in finding talented people and giving them the agency to make decisions. Outside of that, I’m probably unemployable.

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

My days are dynamic, since at any time I’m being pulled in three or four different directions. I’m becoming a morning person — working out early, and cherishing my coffee routine. It’s tragic, but I go to bed thinking about my coffee. That 7:30am to 9am block is the most productive part of my day where I get to read, write, and think, without interruptions.

I’ll come into the Tablo office and work with the team, taking all-hands meetings or product meetings. I’m not a highly scheduled person, but I’ll arrange ad hoc calls throughout the mornings. The morning is when I like to engage in more collaborative work, listening, asking questions, and making shorter term decisions.

Late-morning, I’ll drop in on our new deli to check on construction. We’re wrapping up our interior fit-out and hiring our team, so there’s a lot of activity right now, but it’s also not too demanding on my time. The afternoon is when I focus in on more laborious work, from admin to presentations, and check in with my other businesses.

Evenings are social, but surrounding that I typically read, research and keep a close eye on the news overseas. Managing a portfolio is consuming, and it’s work that I love. Siri knows that the last app I scroll before going to sleep is Yahoo Finance. I’ll wake up two or three times each night to check news and emails from overseas, a habit I’ve never managed to shake, but I still seem to wake up from 5-6 hours of sleep feeling fresh.

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

Maybe I’m old school, but I don’t think you can replace the kind of communication, rapport and innovation that comes from having a talented group of people in the same room. I know that a lot of tools make remote working possible now, and I support it for my team, but it’s not my priority.

In person communication is a key factor in how Tablo grows. No Slack channel can replace the casual bump-in with a colleague that leads to a new idea, or the thought that comes from overhearing a conversation in the office. The networks that you accidentally build when you surround yourself with interesting people can’t, and should not be replaced by technology.

I do believe though the best ideas come when you’re away from the office. So I encourage my team to rest, and take time away from work.

Pre-pandemic, I would be in Sydney or Adelaide on fairly regular intervals, or would be in New York once or twice a year. When I travel though, it’s never with the intent to work remotely, and is always to meet people.

If I’m going on holiday, I’m not working remotely. I’d rather throw my phone in the sea and switch it off.

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

It’s difficult to answer, because my work is so intertwined with my life. But I don’t think it’s a question of balance, and I think it’s a question of values and priorities.

I focus on surrounding myself with great people, and I try to always prioritise time with family and friends over my work. Work should come second.

I don’t think that the number of hours in a day that you work is a proxy for how good your work is. I rest and take more time away from work than most people think. I tend to have better ideas, and work with more clarity, when I’m away from my desk.

One of the sacrifices of entrepreneurship is taking away the ability to switch off, and disconnect fully from work. My responsibilities are compounding, and problems don’t go away — they just evolve daily into different problems.

So I don’t have the ability to step away from work and “balance” my calendar. But that’s ok. I enjoy it, and a lot of joy that comes from work when you’re in control of it, and it’s not in control of you.

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

Definitely. I’ve forced myself, somewhat through necessity, to work on my businesses rather than in my businesses. The new habit is delegation. I’m still very active in the companies, but I make a lot of decisions through the lens of making myself redundant, and finding great people who are endlessly more talented than myself.

I’m also very actively trying to create change, especially because the past year has taught us all to sit on our plans and wait for the world to open. I’ve just moved house, Tablo is about to move office, and I’m scoping out a few new opportunities for the new year amongst other things. Embracing change, and at times actively seeking it, is a healthy way to keep on your toes and stay excited about the future.

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

If I can be biased, A Dream Life by Claire Messud, published by Tablo Tales, is perhaps our most exciting release right now. Claire is a New York Times bestselling author, and A Dream Life is a crisp, witty novella about a family who moves from New York to Sydney and has their life turned upside down. And Claire is amongst the greatest writers of a generation.

The Secret Life of Writers by Tablo is our podcast interviewing some of the best minds in the literary world. It’s an insight for all creators, hosted by our very own festival extraordinaire Jemma Birrell.

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

I really can’t live without music. A lot of apps and productivity tools could be taken away and we’d surely survive. But it would be a gloomy world without Apple Music or Spotify on my phone.

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

Richard Branson for sure. I’ve endlessly admired his way to mix an extraordinary portfolio of businesses, with a sense of adventure. That’s goals.

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

At the end of the day, it’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people, and putting your health and relationships ahead of your work.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.