Kai Crow is the Head Of Marketing at Joyous, an employee experience software company, where he is responsible for lead generation, marketing automation and branding.
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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
I started out my career in graphic design, working in a small studio, then moved quickly into web design and development. I joined Sonar6, an early stage startup with about 7 staff, back in 2008.
There I started in product design and had a natural progression into marketing once we had the product launched and needed to start selling it.
We were a small Kiwi company breaking into the US market in the middle of the global financial crisis, so we had to run a really lean sales operation and rely highly on marketing automation to streamline and scale our operation.
Since then, I’ve worked in and with a range of early stage, high growth businesses including US based Cornerstone OnDemand, who acquired Sonar6 and other New Zealand based businesses such as Plexure, AskNicely and Joyous, where I am currently.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
I run marketing at Joyous, an early stage company, currently 10 staff, producing an employee feedback SaaS solution for large businesses.
I also do a bit of marketing consultancy and advisory work for a couple of other early stage tech companies.
I find this quite beneficial for me personally, and my work at Joyous, because it helps me keep some external perspective, and helps me see the problems and solutions that multiple companies in different markets are coming up with in their marketing.
My role is very hands on, from developing marketing strategy and brand direction, through to running our lead generation campaigns, paid content and Adwords, etc.
3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
My day generally starts just after 7am when I hop on the ferry into the city. I live on the mainland, but have the option of a 30min boat ride vs a 1hr+ commute by car.
Not only does the ferry ride save time over driving in, I can use it as extra work time. That, and we sometimes see dolphins, and dolphins make everything better!
I generally use my time on the ferry to get on top of the little things like going through emails and slack messages that have come in overnight (which can become a problem as someone working down-under with a largely US based market).
Once I’m in the office, I usually start with checking on all our campaign performance, and any other little tasks (the sort of stuff that can easily end up forgotten if I leave it to later).
Then I’ll usually spend most of the day working on fairly executional stuff to help with launching new campaigns and new marketing content.
4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?
From a tools perspective, we use Asana to manage marketing projects and tasks. I like Asana because it gives us the flexibility to define different workflows and different task types for the various different things that we work on.
The marketing team in a high growth business deal with a lot of different work from planning and strategy, to laying out HTML emails, to building interactive web apps.
This means that a really rigid task management system can often actually hamper progress.
For me, personally, with managing my workload across a few different businesses, there are a few different tools I find really help.
First of all, I’m lucky that all the companies I work with use Slack.
Using the notification settings in slack has become really important for me – I can check messages from everyone first thing in the morning, then set any accounts I’m not working on to do not disturb, and that allows me to focus on what I’m working on for the day.
Similarly, making use of Chrome’s user account sync linked to my Google Apps account for each business means I can quickly context switch when needed and keep all the relevant tabs, bookmarks and history separate for each business.
A few other really simple things I use all the time: Do not disturb mode on my phone and computer and the VIP list on my email (lets me set it so I only see email notifications from people I need to, and leave the rest until I’m ready to look at them).
And Sanebox to further filter out the other email, so the stuff I know is unimportant, I can safely leave until (much) later, but still have zero unread in my inbox (an important part for me).
5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
As I mentioned, I do work a lot with vendors, customers and colleagues in the US market, in particular.
This certainly presents some timezone challenges and can lead to an increased workload. Particularly in the sort of always-on environment we work in today, there’s that expectation that you will be available at all times.
How you’re best to deal with that really varies from one person to another. I’ve worked with some people who just adhere to very strict working hours and make it known that they won’t be available outside of certain times.
Myself, early on I fell into the trap of being too available, saying yes to everyone and trying to do all the things. Because I thought it was good for the company.
I realised that the way I was working wasn’t healthy, and luckily realised that before I completely burned out.
Nowadays, I am still highly available. When a lot of my team are based in the US, I kind of have to be, but I do that with balance and measured priority.
If something is urgent, I’ll get up at 5:30am and work for 2 hrs before going into the office, but I make sure I take some time later in the day to balance that out.
I generally am switched on from about 6am -10pm as far as I’ll receive Slack and important email notifications.
It sounds stressful, but for me, keeping an eye on what’s happening keeps me in a better frame of mind than starting my day at 9am with 50 unread emails and chains of messages backed up in Slack.
That said, I also set the expectation that sometimes, I’m not available so when I feel tired, overworked or I’ve got plans for the evening, I have no issues with telling people I’m unavailable and switching all notifications off.
I think it’s really about knowing when to switch off, and that should be long before you reach any sort of breaking point.
I try to be absolutely rigid with the weekends – they’re my time and unless it’s life or death (which it rarely is in marketing), I’m not working then. I know that I need those two days to recharge, to clear my head and be focused for the next week.
Overworking yourself is a false economy. You might think you’re helping the company, but in the long run, you’re creating diminishing returns on your own time.
AskNicely, where I previously worked have just implemented an initiative they call ‘nice days’ which, is up to 5 days per year, not part of your annual leave or sick leave, that you’re free to say “I need some time”.
And I love this concept because it’s got the pretence around it that these days are for when you’re busy or overworked and that says to staff that it’s ok to take time out at those times.
In a startup, it can be very easy to get stuck in the trap of “oh we’re busy, I can’t take any leave at the moment”. But hey, guess what, you’ll always be busy!
I think, as a business, and as team leaders it’s really important to create a culture where it is considered okay to take time out, particularly for younger team members.
Some of that also comes down to procedural stuff, making sure that nothing will actually fall apart with one person away, but a lot of it is just setting that expectation and leading by example.
6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?
For me, the best thing is something that completely takes my mind off things. My main release is mountain biking. I find it’s great for clearing the mind.
Fast, intense action sports mean you have to focus. If I’m out on my bike and I’m thinking about work, I know I’m not riding fast enough!
The other thing I love to do is actually go completely off-line. I used to enjoy my trips to the US because international flights were still the one place that you never had any sort of connectivity, now even that’s changing.
But we’re lucky in New Zealand that there’s still a large number of places you can go and be completely off the grid, and not that far from a major city.
It’s quite liberating every so often to know that you can’t check email or Slack, that nobody is going to call you in the middle of dinner.
And even more so, when you come back to civilisation and realise that nothing has burned down without you around for a few hours or days.
7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
I think the main thing for me has been learning to recognise in myself when I need to take a break, and actually doing that.
There’s always going to a project on or something that you could use as an excuse not to, but there is real value in taking that time out.
I really find compartmentalising my day, and taking lots of short breaks to help switch between different tasks has helped me. I used to try to do everything everyone wanted straight away and do 5 different things at once.
Again. Thinking I was being efficient, but not realising that I was actually just burning my own time unnecessarily and wearing myself out.
Also, keeping perspective is important.
Yes, we’re in a high growth business, yes we’ve got aggressive targets, yes people have invested their hard earned money in us to help us reach those targets, but ultimately, I don’t have anyone’s life in my hands and I try to keep that in mind if I’m weighing up the value of working all night vs pushing a deadline out a few days.
8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?
Nothing in particular. What I would say is that, as I mentioned above, it really comes down to how you individually deal with stress and what works for you.
So it’s great to talk to others and read about what other people do, but take on board a range of ideas and figure out what the right balance is for you.
9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
I make a rule to never eat lunch at my desk – it’s good to have some time away even during a busy day.
Even if it’s just going somewhere else in the office. Ideally I get out of the office and go somewhere else to really clear my head for a little while.
If I find myself sitting at my desk scoffing down food, I know something has gone wrong with my time management that day.
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