Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Chris Walch, COO & Co-Founder of LifeScore

Chris Walch is the COO & Co-Founder of LifeScore, a platform for musical composition that generates original, bespoke, adaptive music in real time.

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

Over the years, I’ve come to realise that I am a very purpose and values driven person. I need, in a Darwinistic survival way, to do work that I believe will directly create changes that I hope to see in the world – to leave it better than I found it. To be able to have the freedom to pursue that is my definition of success.

Before I owned that, I measured my success against society’s normal standards of job status, salary, white house and a picket fence. By my early 30s I was very successful by society’s standards. I was a senior associate at Latham & Watkins LLP, a global law firm that has been ranked the #1 law firm by the AM Law 100, where I represented a broad client base of Fortune 500 companies, private equity funds, investment banks and high net worth individuals in a wide range of matters, including, leveraged finance, commercial acquisitions and dispositions, cross-border transactions, development projects, mergers and acquisitions, project finance, corporate banking and secured high yield transactions.

While I really enjoyed the team I worked with, I knew (and felt it physically)that this work was not my purpose and what I valued lived in the periphery and was not central to my life. I decided to leave the firm with no real plan other than knowing I wanted to live in the mountains and that I would allow myself the mind space to be completely curious about anything that interested me. I purchased a trailer and travelled for 6 months to every ski town in the western US, up through Canada and Alaska that I thought I might want to live in. I settled in Bozeman, MT where I picked up ski instructing again and volunteered at TEDx conferences and entrepreneurship conferences – one of which is where I met my future co-founders.

I am now the co-founder and COO of LifeScore, with an all-star founding team composed of Philip Sheppard, prolific Hollywood film composer, Tom Gruber, inventor of Siri and world renowned expert in AI, and Ian Drew, ex ARM executive.

We created a fully remote, global company whose mission is to soundtrack your life by creating high quality, functional music that is real time adaptive on demand. In the world of computer-based music, LifeScore is recognized by industry experts for the quality of the music produced and was named in 2021 as UK’s No. 1 MediaTech Innovator

I led the LifeScore team on our debut project with Twitch for their live, original content, Emmy and Webby award winning show Artificial Next. LifeScore provided an adaptive musical score for the live streaming performance, where the audience helped shape the story as it was performed. The Artificial / LifeScore collaboration took the experiment to the musical dimension.

It was the first time in history that the audience helped shape a musical score, in real time, to a live fictional performance. I also led the LifeScore project team responsible for working with Bentley Motors to create the world’s first prototype of a vehicle composing a musical score in real time. Bentley and LifeScore created algorithms that allow vehicle inputs (such as engine RPM and acceleration) to influence the musical composition in real time, and constantly adapt depending on the driving situation.

As Bentley describes it, this true driver-vehicle-music synchronisation is an industry first. Every journey results in a real time user experience that is deeply personalised. The signals from the vehicle create a unique sonic soundscape that responds to how and where the vehicle is being driven and under what conditions. Rather than listening to music to distract from travel, the vehicle is now able to compose an instrumental soundtrack to engage with the journey.

In 2018, I founded Women of Winter, a grassroots community organisation whose mission is to inspire women and girls to get outside, to be courageous and to embrace and boldly pursue their dreams by carving their own paths in the mountains and in life. Women of Winter’s efforts focus on areas in snow sports where women are largely underrepresented, or more appropriately said, historically excluded.

In 2020, Women of Winter provided 8 women with scholarships to an Avalanche Level 1 Course and provided tuition support to a female ski patroller to attend National Avalanche School. In 2021, Women of Winter provided 6 BIPOC women with a full set of ski gear from industry sponsors and scholarships for a 4-day Professional Ski Instructors Association (PSIA) Level 1 Ski Instructor Course and Exam.

In 2022, we partnered with PSIA to expand Women of Winter’s BIPOC scholarship program nationwide to provide 30 scholarships over 5 events at 4 resorts. As the lone BIPOC women on my founding team at LifeScore and the rare BIPOC women on the mountain (and the lone BIPOC woman in my ski school), it is a constant and cognizant goal of mine to reach back down the ladder and pull other historically excluded minorities up with me. 

I continue to teach skiing in the winters, and I also teach an entrepreneurship course at Montana State University – and somehow there is a lot of overlap in the content of those lessons.

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

I don’t relate to the term “work-life” balance. It implies that on one side of the scale is work and on the other side is the rest of my life and that if I’m adding more to one side, I’m taking away from the other side. 

Instead, my goal is to have a life that is “by design”. I am continuously recalibrating to ensure that whatever I undertake is purposeful and value centric. When my purpose and values are aligned is when I feel the most happy and successful.

My purpose is to do work that directly creates changes that I hope to see in the world and to help women, especially women of colour. My core value is freedom. The freedom to choose and do work that is purposeful, to live in places that inspire me, to do activities and hobbies that nourish my soul, and to spend time with the people I love.

To achieve that goal of a life that is “by design”, I am very protective over my time and strict at scrutinising whether something I take aligns with my purpose and values.

Being a co-founder of my own company and being able to set our company culture is what affords me the freedom to live a life “by design” and I work hard to ensure that the rest of our team can do the same.

We are tireless in repeating our company’s mission, vision and values to our team and are transparent about working when and where best suits them and to protect the time they need to ensure they are living value centric life. We are not afraid to trust our team to make these decisions for themselves because the founders have a heavy role in interviewing and ensuring that we only bring on A-team members that are a value fit and a culture add.

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

I’m a creature of habit and I ensure that I set out times in my calendar for training and practising hobbies that are central to my value system. My time in training and practising my hobbies is how I handle my mental health. I am a much better leader and team player when I nourish that part of me.

I’m up by 6am clearing emails from Europe and heading to the gym by 645am. I won’t book any calls before 815am, and I communicate this to the entire company so they are aware. I must work out before my day starts or I have a terrible day – my brain will not function. My body is clocked to the dopamine infusion, just as someone who has coffee first thing in the morning (I used to be addicted to coffee, but tragically became allergic to it in my mid 30s!). 

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays I have a big block of calls from 830am – 130/2pm, with my teams and clients in Germany, France, UK and across the US. The large block of meetings is not ideal and something I’d like to work on for our teams, but it’s really hard when we have long term client projects that are very complex with multiple teams involved from both our side and the client side.

We still need that consistent connection, but it can lead to burnout. If there is any reason we can cancel a call, I’ll always err on cancelling it to free up my teams’ time. I also don’t schedule recurring calls on Wednesdays and Thursdays to give my team a break and because in the winter I am asynchronous on those days.

I’ll usually make lunch at this point and have my debrief with the rest of the operations team to see how their day is going and what they have on their plate. 

I’ll get back to my desk for about an hour and around 3 or 4pm depending on the day, I get out of the house for a couple hours for my hobbies. I either have voice / piano lessons or horseback riding lessons.

I’m back home around 5 or 6 and I’ll get back online to clear anything that came in while I was out and my team was covering for me. My team is usually offline by this point. Some days I have calls around this time with our clients in Asia.

Around 8pm I’ll make some dinner and afterwards, this is my quiet time to do non-triage work that requires my full focus and attention. It’s very hard for me to do work that requires my full attention like reviewing and revising legal documents, drafting decks, reviewing specs etc during the day.

During the day, I try to be as responsive to my team as possible and ensure I’m not a bottleneck so they can get done what they need and get offline and to their lives and families. I don’t expect my team to work my hours, but I do expect me to be a servant leader to my team because I know that LifeScore’s success is entirely due to their hard work.

Depending on the day, I’m usually heading to bed around midnight. 

In the winter, my schedule becomes a bit busier, as I’m fully asynchronous on Wed and Thurs when I’m teaching skiing. I’m up earlier on those days around 5 am to take any European calls before I’m on the hill at 9 am. I have my phone on me during the day for urgent slack or email messages, and I am back at my computer by 4pm to handle all my LifeScore related work.

Winter is also when Women of Winter ramps up and I teach at the University on Monday evenings. The only way I can do all of this is by surrounding myself with a strong team that I’ve coached and delegated a lot out to. I am extremely grateful for them every day. 

My schedule may seem completely crazy and out of balance to a lot of people, but to me it is completely by design. I may work the same or sometimes longer hours than I did at the law firm, but the difference now is that everything in my life is intentional. I feel so lucky to be able to do work that is purposeful and to also have the freedom to do everything I value.

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

Pre-Covid and when remote work wasn’t en vogue yet, I had attempted to dabble with it while I was still at the law firm. In BigLaw firms you are working all the time and that meant bringing your laptop everywhere you went.

When I left the office for the night or went on vacation my laptop came with me. Thankfully (or maybe not thankfully) we had state of the art technology at the time that allowed us to VPN in and answer our CISCO phones from our laptop (with huge headsets), completely mimicking our desk setup so clients or other attorneys wouldn’t realise if you were working from the office of home.

Realising that all the work I did could be done anywhere with my laptop and a cell phone, and being senior enough at the time, I would work for a week from Mammoth, CA where I had a shared ski condo and then a week in LA. 

At the time I was very upset at the law firm for denying my request to work completely remotely in Mammoth. But life has a way of working out and nothing new can start if something else doesn’t end. LifeScore is fully remote and has been since day 1. As a founding team, we wanted to hire the best talent and for that talent to live where they feel is the best environment for them. Our team consists of 25 employees and contractors across almost 10 states in the US, the UK, France and Germany.

It was very important to me to have a remote company because I strongly value being able to spend time with my family who lives in Hawaii. I go home for 3 weeks in the spring and 3 weeks in the fall and will work from there. This is something I would never have been able to consistently do at the law firm.

My mom and dad also travel to conferences quite a bit for work and I enjoy being able to meet them and will fly out and work from where they are. To help my team know when they should expect responses from me, I’ll put my current time zone in my slack status. We are very open about our team being able to do the same without asking for permission.

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

I used to sit during my long morning block of calls, which was terrible for my back and would leave me feeling so lazy and tired. In the last few months, I began standing on my Indo board instead. It’s a new challenge I’ve set for myself to try to do 6hrs straight (which is usually how long my morning calls last), and I feel a lot stronger, and my stability has really improved which has helped my horseback riding and skiing so much.

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

I love the IDEO newsletter and the book Creative Confidence by its founders. It helped me realise that even though I wasn’t an artistic person, I am still inherently creative as all humans are.

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

This is probably very old school at this point, but I can’t live without my calendar on my phone. I run 3 different calendars: one for LifeScore, one for Women of Winter and my personal calendar. 

Our company also uses Slack to communicate with our internal teams, as well as our contractors and clients. I use the Google Calendar app in slack to automatically update my status, so my team knows if I’ll be delayed in responding to them. We also love the SlackConnect feature as it allows for real time (and asynchronous) communication with our clients and this results in a much more collaborative relationship. 

Our company also uses Click Up to manage our OKRs and all projects across all departments. It is a really powerful tool that provides for asynchronous transparency, which is especially important for a global remote company.

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

I recently watched J Lo’s documentary on Netflix and I was so impressed by the number of different projects she was able to handle at the same time over a career that has spanned decades with much criticism.

I would love to read anything by a woman of colour who didn’t have family or a built-in network in her industry and is a multi-hyphenate living her life and driving her career on her terms – Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Cheryl Campos of Republic, Miriam Rivera of Ulu Ventures, Beyonce, Rihanna.

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

A friend of mine, Sharon Lee, who was training to be an executive coach, was the first person to tell me to map out what I valued most in life. When I did that, it created a filter to what I said yes and no to in my life. If it served my value-centric life, I said yes, if it pushed my values to the side, I said no.

Everyone’s values are unique to them and so I don’t think there is a steadfast rule that can be applied to everyone like work 4 days a week. I think if we are lucky enough to be able to create a life where our values are central to it instead of existing at the periphery, then whatever that life looks like will be happier and more fulfilled.

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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.