CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Michelle Bourke, Founder & CEO of Foresight Digital

Michelle Bourke is the Founder & CEO of Foresight Digital, a plug & play growth team for companies that need their marketing and sales functions to scale fast or go global.

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

I’m the founder and CEO of Foresight Digital. We’re a plug and play growth team for innovative companies that need to scale fast or go global.

I’ve been working in marketing, leadership and business growth for over 14 years. After an 8 year career in corporate marketing, I left to work on a couple of tech startup ideas while solo consulting for two years.

The startup community in Melbourne was less mature back then and so it was difficult to navigate but I loved the space; as soon as I got into it I realised I had found “my people”! I became deeply involved in building that community as a Board Director of Startup Victoria, while also founding the Female Founders Committee.

I founded Foresight back in late 2014, we went on to win the Telstra Business – New Business award in 2016, and in mid 2018 I rebranded the business from its former name to Foresight – which much better represents our difference and who we are.

Our mission at Foresight is to create game-changing brands of the future.

We believe that connecting data and emotion is the missing link that delivers sustainable marketing and sales performance for growing brands.

You’ll often find us working with scale-up companies across Australia, the US, UK and other global locations, who have recently raised a round of funding or have been able to bootstrap to a point where they’re ready to really invest in their growth.

We also perform marketing due diligence on scale-ups for Venture Capital firms, helping them accurately assess the potential investment, forecast growth and pinpoint key opportunities to scale.

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

As the CEO of a growing company, I still wear many hats, and so my work day breaks down differently to earlier in my career when I was only focussed on marketing.

These days, I focus each weekday on a specific area of the business. For instance in general, Monday is for finance and operations, Tuesday and Wednesday are for sales, Thursday is for marketing and Friday is for more internal meetings and HR.

The early part of every day however, always follows the same pattern which is based on Agency Agile – a methodology we invested in training on for our team about a year ago. A few of the key daily elements include:

  • A morning checkin which we hold at 9am each day. At checkin we go through our progress on all stories and value being delivered for clients. This way, all managers know where their teams are at, reducing the need to tap on shoulders and interrupt people during the day.
  • That’s followed by discussion time where I and other members of the team can talk about any important team announcements or interesting news.
  • And then coordination time where we call out who we need to quickly chat with. This means that it’s really easy to have meetings with multiple different people without having to set up ad hoc calendar invites for different times of the day. We know each of us will be available during coordination time and this keeps everything moving smoothly without interrupting everyone’s day flow.

Separately, I also like to have a couple of lunch sessions each week with members of my leadership team. This is separate from performance or other professional development reviews. It’s a way of keeping in touch with what’s happening more broadly in their lives, with their families and their teams, and understanding them as a whole person.

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

I’ve always loved working remotely. PJs are the best kind of office-wear don’t you think? Actually the other day I called one of our new recruits to let her know she’d got the job.

The first thing she asked me was “So what’s the office dress code?”. I told her “Oh mostly we just wear pyjamas to work” and she was ecstatic until I quickly told her it was a joke. After a brief moment of devastation, she’s now advocating for a “PJs At Work Day” which I must say I’m partial to!

In all seriousness though, when I was a solo consultant, working from home was a daily reality. But as a leader of a fast growing business at the moment, I feel it is important to be present as much as I possibly can be with the team in our office. We humans are social beings, and there is something that physical presence does to create calm and inner confidence in the team.

That being said, across all of our business (myself and our staff included), flexibility is held up as being an important component of how we operate.

For example, one of our staff comes in an 10am each day as he drops off his kids in the morning and works until 6pm instead, another group of team members choose to work from 8am to 4pm to beat the traffic, another individual works part remotely during school holidays to spend time with his kids, and others might work from home for rent inspections when they need to.

I take advantage of this flexibility for various parts of my personal life too. These little things can make all the difference in creating a sense of balance.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Sure! I’d caveat these ideas with the fact that I believe how people manage their time and their schedule changes as their role in a business changes.

It can depend on a number of other factors too like whether they’re working remotely, from an office, during hours or after hours. These are just what works for me in my current role, at the current moment and I’m sure they’ll evolve again over time.

1. Notion. It is an app that allows you to build apps for your entire life – both work and personal. If you aren’t already using it, stop wasting time on Trello or Evernote or whatever you’re doing right now and get on Notion. Seriously. Do it.

This is an example of one of my work days in Notion with my personal task list app I built.

I also have a column for what 90 day strategic priority each task relates to so I can keep laser focussed on the stuff that matters most. Entrepreneurs are all too practiced at getting distracted with new ideas so I’ve found this is a good way to reign that inherent nature in!

2. When I’m working from home I love using the Pomodoro technique. I use the Be Focussed timer to do that. It forces you to take a 5 minute break every 20 mins or so which is an excellent way to get the house cleaned or finish little things you’ve been putting off like organising that one drawer you’ve been meaning to tackle since the early 2000’s.

3. I have days every so often when I don’t do ANY of the above. Consistency and trying to follow a regimented process can be, well, boring after a while. On these days I do the tasks I want to do first – the easy ones not the hard ones usually. Stuff it. I throw in some healthy procrastination. I work however the whim takes me. It’s good to get out of your box once in a while and have a stretch!

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

Oh goodness. The Greek poet Hesiod said “moderation is best in all things”, but very honestly I think balance looks a lot more like swinging back and forth between different levels of extremes.

In fact, achieving a sense of balance is very much like the principle or practice of mindfulness. The mind is like a playful monkey, always thinking its own thoughts, doing it’s own thing and generally being a cheeky, misbehaving critter.

If you tell it to shut up, it’ll just get louder and more obnoxious. Your job is not to “get rid” of thoughts, but to keep bringing yourself back into the present and focusing on your breath; on the physical presence around you.

Work-life balance is like a macro version of that meditation moment. We are all in the process of moving away from balance at any, and *every* moment, so the best thing I do is act as my own gentle reminder service to say “hey there, maybe it’s time to meditate today because you’re going nuts!” or, “hey sister, you’ve been putting work above personal stuff for a while now, let’s take a break and go visit your folks”.

I don’t believe work-life balance is a static “goal” that can be achieved, it is a series of honest conversations that you need to just continue having with yourself. And as long as those conversations keep happening, you’re going to be just fine.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Hmmm, good question. I’d say these three things have given me the overall sense of stability (even when everything else feels like it’s going crazy), to be able to hold on through the tough times and keep persisting with my goals:

1. Creating a personal support network that gives energy

A lot of people have individuals in their lives that sap positive energy from them. Whether they’re just negative, passive aggressive or a full blown sociopath, you probably know what I’m talking about here.

They’re the friend that you feel drained rather than energised after spending time with them. Over the years, I have come to realise that individuals who are permanently in this state don’t actually need to be invited into my life, nor am I obliged to let them stay if they were there already.

By removing them from my life, I can give my energy to the people who generously return it in a positive way. This means that when things get tough at work, I have an amazing personal support system in place to keep me sane.

2. Self investigation and awareness

I really enjoy learning about and trying to understand who I am, and to become a better person if I can. It certainly doesn’t rid me of my less desirable qualities as a human, but it has helped me recognise the parts of me that I can work on.

One of these is my insatiable curiosity to learn and do new stuff. Put it this way, if I’m not careful, I won’t just come up with a new business idea every month, I’ll create a website for it, map out a marketing plan and start building my dream team list and ultimately get distracted from what my core focus should be.

So knowing this about myself means I’ve spent a lot of time saying “no” to myself and filing ideas away so I can keep my energy focused. Eyes on the prize people! Eyes. On. The. Prize.

3. Loving my body and mind with daily health habits

Like every teenager before me and every teenager to come, I struggled with self esteem and body image. But over time I’ve come to truly appreciate and respect my physical and mental being. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I only eat plant based foods, I keep fit but I try not to overdo it.

I’m fairly competitive so moderation around any of this stuff requires constant monitoring, but hey, that’s life right? Staying healthy in mind and body is a chief ingredient to withstanding the onslaught of daily life as a founder.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Oh wow – I don’t even know where to start! I am a massive fan of reading. My Goodreads profile shows you where I over-index in terms of genre interests (although I haven’t updated it for the last couple years):

I believe that all genres of books have the capacity to expand your mind and help you think in different ways. It’s one of the things I love about the fantasy and sci fi genre. You can imagine whole worlds, see geo-political parallels explored to their extremes, all from the comfort of your armchair. Plus you can apply a lot of this creative thinking IRL.

But here are a few of the more practical goodies:

  1. The Brain That Changes Itself – made me a better human by realising how empowered we are to create change for ourselves at the deepest physiological, neurological levels
  2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini – made me a better marketer
  3. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott – made me a better leader
  4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman – made me a better life partner
  5. The Secret Life of Whales by Michelin Jenner – made me realise that no matter what I achieve I will never be a dolphin or a whale, which is a real shame, but I guess there’s only so much we’re capable of!

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I give my husband a big hug before I leave home and tell him how much I love him.

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

Don’t feel guilty about not having this ephemeral “balance” that everyone speaks of and very few people, bar the Dalai Lama, attain in perpetuity.

I think it was Susan Scott who said, “a relationship is built one conversation at a time”. And as long as you’re having a conversation with yourself, or you have good, supportive people in your life who can point out when you may be off balance, then everything is ok.

Life is ever changing. The universe itself is prone to entropy. That is, the nature of the universe is a gradual decline toward unpredictability and disorder. So it’s all good. Think about it this way – when your life descends into absolute chaos, you’re more “one with the universe” than you’ll ever be!

Lastly, the best way to create work life balance as a founder is to have an amazing team around you. So if there are any marketers or business growth specialists who read this interview and resonate with it, check out what Foresight does and our values here.

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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.