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Balancing the Grind with Bree Kirkham, Chief Operating Officer at Folklore Ventures

Bree Kirkham is the Chief Operating Officer at Folklore Ventures, a team of investors, founders and builders committed to supporting Australian and New Zealand tech founders.

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

I am the Chief Operating Officer at Folklore Ventures, a ‘first cheque to forever’ investment firm. We like to partner with the best companies from the moment they start to wherever the journey leads.

As COO, I am responsible for our operational excellence, with a specific focus on growth, community, communications and people. I was promoted to COO from Chief of Staff (whilst on maternity leave!).

Prior to joining Folklore, I worked at three American unicorns (ClassPass, Airbnb and Uber) in strategy and operational roles, having moved into tech after a few years as a corporate lawyer. I studied a combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of International Studies and am currently studying a MBA at the University of Sydney Business School. 

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

  • I wake up at 6am and do a quick check of emails to ensure there is nothing that requires immediate attention. If not, I hit the Peloton for a quick ride (if I can be bothered!) followed by feeding, dressing and playing with my two babies (3 months and 18 months). 
  • I get into the office around 8:30am and review emails before meetings start – usually a bunch of 1:1s with team members and planning/ execution sessions are on the cards. This takes me up to lunch. 
  • Over lunch, I scoff a salad with colleagues and dig into emails as well as work admin. 
  • As COO I juggle a number of different tasks, with varying degrees of priority. I try to keep my afternoons for deep-thinking and execution work across strategy and operational excellence especially. I block out chunks of time to ensure this can happen (with myself and with my team).  
  • I get home to have time with my children and then once they are asleep I log back on to finalise work and reset ahead of the next day. I like going to bed with a “pens down” feeling – that everything on my daily to-do list has been achieved. The bigger pieces of work remain active, but I get a sense of accomplishment this way. 

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

We have a few policies to support this at Folklore, but on top of this our team understands how important my children are and know I will be offline for a few hours in the afternoon. We believe in output. We work hard, we produce results and we appreciate that we each have a life outside of work. 

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

To me, work-life balance is about finding harmony in both, not perfection. This isn’t easy all of the time. There are often demands at work that take me away from my home life and visa-versa. But I do my best to preserve that balance, and actively check in with myself daily to assess this. 

I also am very mindful of how precious time is. I use time wisely and ask that the team do the same. This can be small things like every meeting having an agenda, blocking time with myself for deep thinking and execution, blocking time to be with my family and the simplest of all – creating lists on a notepad. Often small habits like these can be really impactful. 

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

I need to be my best self in order to execute in the best way possible and this involves being mentally and physically fit.

I am busy and so getting to a gym or studio for exercise is tough. But it’s also so important to me. I’ve swapped the gym for at-home workouts which is a game-changer on time management.

Folklore gives us access to additional paid leave (without the frowns!) and so I am excited to take some extra time this year to be with my family. 

This year I’ve also started professional coaching with Carole Issa, supported by Folklore. This has become extremely valuable to me in understanding my strengths and areas for change in order to be the leader I aspire to be.

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

  • I like listening to the Aussie podcast “Lady Startup Stories” (a MamaMia podcast) to hear about female entrepreneurs building businesses from the ground up. 
  • I love Brene Brown’s advice and so “Dare to Lead” is one that I always go to. 
  • On a personal note I really enjoy listening to crime podcasts and so love “Casefiles”.
  • If you’re getting into VC (especially in an operational capacity), the book The Business of Venture Capital is a great read for a high level download on the industry I now call home.
  • I have a number of newsletters that hit my inbox every morning – Crunchbase, Cut Through Ventures, Letter of Intent, The Milk Road and Boostrapped NZ. They are all relevant to the industry I operate in so love digesting them daily.

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

  • My Apple Watch keeps me on track with my day – the buzzing ahead of meetings allows me to stay on time. 
  • Bodylove Mamas app – which has been built by local pilates guru Ali Handley and is a go-to for me when I have a small window for a workout (along with the Peloton).
  • MomsOnCall Scheduler – for anyone who has kids, you will appreciate that they are their own individuals with their own way of doing things. But to create some consistency in our house, I find this app extremely useful. 

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

There are a few women in my orbit who are extremely impressive – balancing work, family and individual pursuits and thriving in all (of course with some bad days in the mix).

For me, it’s about surrounding myself with these women, rather than reading an interview from someone who I don’t know intimately. This is my advice – find those people who inspire you to be better and surround yourself with them. 

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

I do my very best to compartmentalise. When I am at work – I show up, I am consistent and I give my best professional self. Regardless how broken my sleep was due to an unsettled bub the night before, I show up at full capacity. I work with an incredible team and that makes my life easy and enjoyable.

When I am at home, spending quality time with my kids is essential and I make sure I do just that. It takes some training, but it allows me to operate to 100 when I am wearing different hats. 

It doesn’t always work, there are set-backs and the road can be bumpy at times, but I keep going. I know I want to thrive in my career and family life, and I truly believe that if I set myself up well for each day, and surround myself with the right people, that I can have both.  

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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.