Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Daniel Dippold, Founder & Managing Director at EWOR

Daniel Dippold is a mathematician and entrepreneur. He’s the founder of EWOR, an entrepreneurship university and accelerator supporting people to launch ventures “pre-idea”.

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

Sure! I’m Daniel and I love mathematics, machine learning, and business. I studied at St. Gallen, ETH, HKUST, and University of Cambridge and my first success was a technology that measured emotional intelligence based on sound waves. 

I then built another machine learning venture called NEWNOW Group as founder and CTO which builds machine learning products for Deutsche Bank, Eon, Philips, and other big companies. We have a focus on tech solutions with a sustainable impact. I was fortunate enough to learn a lot from my founding partners such as the former Motorola CMO, Procter & Gamble DACH CFO, and T-Mobile / SAB Miller CMO.

Moreover, Sigma Squared Society e.V. is a non-profit I built which spun-off of another community. We support entrepreneurs who are 25 or younger on all continents in roughly 30 countries, some of whom have built unicorn companies to date.

My current focus is dedicated to EWOR, which is a blend of two things: An intense education program (like a master’s degree) and an accelerator. We support people pre-idea, i.e. we help them to both find a problem worth solving and build a venture around it. To date, some of our students have raised millions of €s and it seems like the brand is becoming a little more recognised – but only in specific circles yet. My vision with EWOR is to create an entrepreneurship university so that every student builds a company and runs their own venture. 

Lastly, I like to support and invest in founders and have a strong bias towards tech and impact-driven founders who radiate strong energy.

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

My days look very different – depending on the year and the day of the week. Firstly, since I mostly build early-stage companies and initiatives, my tasks and responsibilities change a lot as the venture develops.

For example, I would start with a focus on programming and product at the beginning of a venture, then switch to a focus on sales and, after a year or two, probably switch my leadership style and focus most of my energy on enabling employees. 

Secondly, I have very different themes during the week. For example, Mondays are my call days. I try to do most of my weekly calls on Mondays and I sometimes end up having over 25 calls from 6am to midnight.

This allows me to have much more freedom during the rest of the week and is in my opinion absolutely worth the hassle. The reason is that there are so many ‘switching costs’ between calls. I can’t be as productive in the 30 minutes between two calls as in 30 minutes on a day on which I don’t have any calls.

On Tuesdays, I focus on following up on all the promises I’ve made during my calls on Mondays, on managing the company, and our students. Wednesdays are my no phone days: I’ll leave the house without my phone and turn off all notifications on my laptop.

It is tough to establish such a rhythm but by now, everyone knows that I won’t be available on most Wednesdays. I use this time to do a lot of thinking and get ‘deep work’ done. On a Wednesday, I might easily produce 1000 LOC or write a 20-25 page report that day – not because I consider myself above average productive but because there is no distraction for a full day.

Moreover, I can sleep in whenever I’ve drained too much of my energy during Monday and Tuesday. Especially when this is the case, having a moment to recharge mid-week is fantastic. I’ve learned over the years that I am mostly introverted and, even though I really love to be around people, I get most of my energy when being with myself.

Therefore, I also try to minimise social contact these days. From Thursday to Saturday, anything can happen depending on whatever needs to be prioritised in light of my quarterly and yearly goals. 

Every day, I try to have at least one hour of ‘calming down’ time in the evening where I spend time with my girlfriend, read an interesting book, or play a game.

To give you one concrete example: Last Wednesday, I got up at 7, went for a run, had a shower, and started to build a new financial model for the company, which took me 3 hours straight.

I then did a bunch of smaller tasks and then spent another 2 hours until lunch to produce videos for our learning platform. In the afternoon, I had to work myself through a bunch of contracts which needed my full attention. Then, for the rest of the evening, I reviewed the work of my team and offered my perspective. 

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

I don’t believe in work-life balance as such. To me, work-life balance suggests that the two concepts “work” and “live” are mutually exclusive.

A bunch of examples demonstrate that this is not the case: When I read a book after working hours that I enjoy reading but teaches me a relevant skill about work, is this work or leisure? When I go on holidays with employees or friends of mine and chat about work because I like to, is this work or leisure? When I write an article about a topic I love, such as statistics, is this work or leisure?

Some people write for fun, others write as a profession. Calling something a profession usually means that you earn money with it but not that it drains your energy and needs to be balanced out by something abstract called ‘life’.

To me, it’s not like work is draining all my energy and life is giving me energy back. Instead, there are lots of work-related things giving me energy and lots of life-related things draining my energy.

The two categories are interwoven. The more your passion and profession overlap, the closer work and life become. Therefore, it makes much more sense to me to focus on balancing energy-draining and energy-generating activities.

For example, I want to spend most of my day doing something I love which forces me to find a profession I love – that is entrepreneurship for me. Of course, there will always be things that have to be done while being energy drainers at the same time, but I try to keep them to a minimum and get most of them out of my way as the week begins. 

To me, good energy management is knowing these energy drainers and generators. This requires a deep level of self-reflection, constant experimentation, and the resilience to break mental borders and be disciplined about your self-experimentation. I believe that carefully observing patterns of energy drainage and generation in my life have led to a lifestyle full of joy.

Another framework I use to evaluate my life is called “Ikigai”. To find your Ikigai, you need to find the overlap among what a) you love doing, b) you’re good at doing, c) you get paid for doing and d) the world needs.

Once you’ve found this sweet spot, my feeling is that work-life balance becomes a misleading term. Work will be life and the other way round. There will only be a choice among things you love. When I spend more time with my girlfriend, this is not an escape from work.

This is just another thing I love doing – so much that I do it despite the enjoyment I get from work, sports, reading, and so on. I also believe that after I found my Ikigai, my relationships, both romantic and those with my friends, changed.

I was not actively looking for a relationship during that time and therefore met a person, my current girlfriend, who made me so unbelievably happy that I decided to ask her out next to all the things I enjoy doing. If I had been in an unhappy or desperate situation instead, I would have probably attracted a different type of relationship – one that is much more focused on escaping from my work. 

In my opinion, the key to achieving this is tough decision making. Jim Collins said “good is the enemy of great” and even though this quote has been misinterpreted so often, I believe in its core message.

In order to achieve an outstanding lifestyle full of joy and accomplishment, we need to escape routines that are “good enough” and be bold enough to replace them with other routines that might be either worse or better until we have accumulated enough knowledge to improve our routines on all dimensions. This sometimes means taking a step back – and this makes it so hard. 

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

Yes, I have reintroduced the no-phone day I just mentioned, which I initially only did while studying. I subjectively concluded that it is a myth, especially among founders, that you need to be available every single day. If you have an awesome team, being away for a day is, if anything, a good thing.

Moreover, I started reflecting more consistently: Yearly, quarterly, weekly, and daily. All those routines look different. My daily reflections are rather short and focused on learning & organisation, while my yearly reflections get very philosophical and go for one entire week analysing all data I’ve generated over the year.

All of them entail elements of breathwork and mindfulness, helping me to physiologically reduce cortisol levels and achieve mental clarity to synthesise lots of operational signals into high level strategic and visionary patterns.

After I broke my leg heavily during a parkour session, I finally got back to doing lots of sports. I always did lots of sports but comparing this sudden switch after 1,5 years of sports deprivation gave me a clear picture of how much more productive I am with sports in my life.  

I stopped setting 5 year and 10 year goals. I have the feeling that these are limiting instead of enabling. Every year, I widen my horizon and am able to see things I wasn’t able to see before. Expanding my horizon helps me to expand my goals in terms of creativity, vision of what is possible, understanding better what I want, and understanding better which impact I can have on the world. Setting a 10-year goal now on my limited vision is, in my opinion, limiting rather than enabling. 

Lastly, I reduced my daily learning routines in terms of reading and doing online courses. The reason for that was that I concluded that my encyclopaedic knowledge rose quite a lot while the skills I needed to put knowledge to use stagnated. I therefore decided to get additional coaching and mentoring in the skill areas I like to improve on and focus on learning ‘on the job’ instead of learning by reading, watching & listening (which is rather passive than active). 

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

I recommend Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse without any reservation. It offers a dualistic view on life, in that everything can be understood from a finite or infinite perspective. Depending on your mode of thinking – either finite or infinite – the outcomes will be starkly different in light of personal happiness, love (in any form), company building or participating in society.

I also recommend Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness which offers a great statistical perspective on life. Taleb shows how intuitive thinking can be awfully wrong, especially when someone is not trained in statistics.

He shares many examples of when randomness appeals to us as meaningful patterns and in a way different to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow which is mostly psychological, he offers a set of general statistical rules and principles to live by. Taleb’s school of thinking definitely had a great impact on my personal decision making. 

Lastly, I can recommend On Truth – a short philosophical piece by Harry G. Frankfurt focuses on the question whether there is objective truth in life and why thinking about absolute truth matters.

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

If “anyone” includes “any historical person”, I’d love to hear Marcus Aurelius’ perspectives. He was in a constant fight between doing what he loves and having to fulfil his duties being arguably the most powerful man on earth. Reading an interview with him focusing on the parts he did not answer in his writings, for example how he goes about his energy management, would be fantastic.

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

To me, mentally abandoning the concept of work-life balance helped me find what most people would call work-life balance. I hope that my ruminations on energy management, self-reflection, and experimentation have offered a new perspective to some and am, of course, always happy to discuss the concept via LinkedIn.

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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.