Ashwin Ramachandran is the co-founder & CEO at Sapyen, a venture-backed HealthTech start-up working to prevent all preventable illnesses in Australians.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
Hello! Ash here; co-founder and CEO at Sapyen, a venture-backed HealthTech startup working to prevent all preventable illnesses in Australians, starting with male infertility!
I’ve got a note on my phone that runs through all my goals, no matter how huge and unachievable they may seem, and while I strive to achieve them all, I inevitably deviate and redo my list quite often.
I think I’ve had a career that, today, looks nothing like I would have envisioned 5 years ago, and that’s primarily because I’ve learnt to say yes, albeit cautiously, to convincing opportunities despite them often needing me to deviate from my “plan.”
Before starting Sapyen, I strategised the licensing and commercialisation of Intellectual Property at the University of Melbourne, managed operations and stakeholder engagement within the University’s Continuing Education portfolio, and spent some time at Birchall within their Campaign Management team, raising >$12 million in crowd-sourced capital for early-stage Australian tech startups.
Helping high school seniors get into Ivy League universities was my first ever business, which I started as a naive 16-year-old to make enough money to buy an iPad; soon enough, however, I’d learnt enough to charge $3,500 per student and all my clients came through WOM referrals.
I’d learnt so much more by running a small business than through any form of formal education. I’ve also worked in professional services at Deloitte Digital and KPMG, lived in 8 cities across 6 countries, learnt 5 languages, traveled to over 40 cities globally, dropped out of school once, helped address the SDGs with the UN across the Middle Eastern school network, and built a startup that failed before starting Sapyen.
I can state, without any doubt, that I would not have had a career as exciting as the career I’ve had if I’d stuck to my career plan. It’s been a wild ride!
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
As an entrepreneur, every day looks so vastly different, but I try to maintain some structure to avoid completely veering off course.
As soon as I’m up at around 5 am, I’m on my phone, lip-syncing to my playlist, reading the headlines, and replying to emails and messages for 15-ish minutes before I’m out for a quick 20-minute walk to ensure I’m energetic during my morning standup with my co-founder at 8:30 am. I spend some time reviewing and organising my schedule every morning and setting daily goals to keep myself accountable.
I usually try to work from 8:30 am until 6:30 pm, but I’ll inevitably end up working a little longer, given that we might have to prepare for an upcoming pitch, create new content, or send out more cold emails. Once I’m done with work, I usually spend the evening on a walk with my co-founder, on the phone with my parents, or on Netflix; I’m presently obsessed with The Good Doctor!
I often get the best ideas when I’m doing the most random things, like watching Netflix, chatting with a friend, or scrolling through TikTok at 11 pm, so, without fail, I’ll cut my break short and take voice notes or map ideas out on a post-it note. I try to avoid working late at night, but there’s always the occasional 1-2 nights per week when I’ll stay up late doing some work.
I have absolutely no cooking skills, so most dinners are from Uber Eats or a quick at-home pita bread wrap. I call my parents, who live overseas, every day, which I typically do when I’m eating, or right before, and then I’ll scroll through LinkedIn for 10 minutes before going to bed.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, absolutely, we’re super flexible! That said, I personally prefer to go into the office daily because it adds a lot of structure to my day and helps me clearly separate work from home.
If you’ve worked with/near me in the past, you know I prefer time-boxed periods of focussed work in a quiet corner, preferably a silent phone booth with my headphones on, so I can focus and then, once I’m done, socialise.
I love using post-it notes everywhere, and working from home, unfortunately, means my walls are now all filled with sticky notes, and I’m also finding uncapped sharpies in the weirdest of places.
Although I love going into the office, I hate long commutes to and from work, so I have a habit of relocating close to work; in fact, I’ve never lived more than 10 minutes away from my office!
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I don’t necessarily like the term ‘work-life balance’; to echo Beat Buhlmann, the idea that I need to separate what I do for a living from living itself seems to not entirely convince me. In fact, I have very little “balance” on a daily basis.
When I can focus, I try to make the best use of my focus; sometimes, this could mean I work 12-15 hours a day or work until 3 am. That said, I’d like to be clear — I’m not stating that I don’t take a break; I do, as and when required to help me regain my enthusiasm.
Back when traveling was still a thing, I’d routinely take short weekend breaks to zone out and recharge; typically, this would mean I’m interstate or in New Zealand over the weekend, or if I can’t take a flight out, I’ll just get me an AirBnB or a hotel room over the weekend in Melbourne to experience an environment change. Consistently subjecting myself to novelty helps me stay refreshed and allows me to perform better.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I’ve started going on daily walks with my co-founder so we can bond outside of work and de-stress, and I’ve begun scheduling 20-minute chats with at least 2 new people per week to learn more about things I don’t know too well.
People have become generally more accessible given that we’re all working from home, so I’ve also just started reaching out to people I think are cool and striking conversations; sometimes it’s weird and awkward, but oftentimes, it’s super fun!
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Podcasts: I’m listening to Revisionist History by Gladwell, and I’ll also occasionally listen to select episodes from the Tim Ferriss Show. I highly recommend both, and if you’re listening to the Tim Ferriss Show, my favourite episode is the one with Bob Iger!
Good reads: I really enjoy reading through Future by a16z and Square Peg’s blog, which includes some really engaging and well-written investment notes.
Newsletter: I’m subscribed to What the Health by Emily Casey; there’s some cool content and resources on there for HealthTech entrepreneurs, and also, Emily seems to be a pretty cool human!
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I can’t go anywhere without my computer — you’ll usually find me walking around with a laptop even if I’m just heading to IKEA. I think it’s because back when I was a student at university, I sent around a weird number of cold emails to recruiters in hopes of landing an internship, so I’d nervously walk around with a computer in case anyone ever replied and needed something from me.
Apps-wise, Slack and Apple Music are my absolute favourite! I’m always online on Slack, and I have a surprising obsession with Apple Music’s City Charts.
Another weird one I’m starting to get really into is driveandlisten.herokuapp.com. Sometimes I’ll “drive” through a city while working or stretching; I have absolutely no articulable reason for why I do it.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Jacinda Ardern, hands down. I’ve sent her more fan emails than I can count on one hand because I genuinely respect her as a leader and person.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
While learning from others is cool, you need to define your own process; what works for my co-founder doesn’t work for me, so be cautious when taking advice regarding “work-life balance.” Set personal goals, learn to prioritise and say no, and routinely take time to reflect on your work, progress, and weaknesses.
Also, establish a plan, but trust yourself enough to deviate if you find a convincing opportunity.
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