Balancing the Grind with Desmond John, Ecosystem Lead at Hatch Quarter

Desmond John is the Ecosystem Lead at Hatch Quarter, a global innovation hub and startup incubator based in Melbourne.

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

When finishing high school, my only ‘career ambition’ was to travel. After a uni deferral and several odd jobs, I saved enough to spend ‘Gap Year No. 2’ frugally foraging through Europe for 8 months, opening an entirely new perspective on life, work and purpose.

I returned to Melbourne with the lens of a tourist and I was inspired to showcase my city to visitors with the same enthusiasm as those who welcomed me to their culture.

This led to a variety of jobs in Tourism from Melbourne City Tour Guide to Hostel Worker, from Bus Tour Operator to Language Exchange Host. I developed an enthusiasm for industry engagement which opened me to a wider fascination for business, economics, Australian industry and in particular, I was inspired by the innovation from high-growth ventures, which I’d later learn were known as startups.

With an evolving fascination for startups, it wasn’t until a friend’s Fashion Tech startup, ZILIO, needed to raise capital, that I made my first investment in a startup (via a SAFE note).

While working at the Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (VCCI), supporting Victorian businesses through the pandemic & recession, my enthusiasm for startup investments & startup communities accelerated, this eventually an opportunity at Birchal, Australia’s number 1 CSF platform (who I was able to invest into via their CSF round) while also landing an opportunity to be a Community Ambassador at The Community Collective.

These combinations of experiences have led me to my current role, Ecosystem Lead at Hatch Quarter, an innovation hub helping startups from idea to going global.

In my role, I’m able to leverage all of my professional experiences from tourism to business support, from Startup investing to community building, all of which have helped me in my journey to make a bigger impact in the Startup Ecosystem.

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

I start the day with some health and wellness practices I developed over the years. I start with a cold shower, breath work (both inspired by Wim Hof), followed by a meditation practice.

I do some yoga stretches and I walk with my dog, Indie, to the Hatch Quarter Spaces in central Melbourne. I spend the first part of the day auditing tasks and following up with emails and recent meetings. Then in the second half of the day, I work on some of our major projects for 2023 (stay tuned!). 

After work, I try to attend anywhere from 1-4 industry events during the week (depending on their relevance). I love connecting with the industry in person and making meaningful professional connections. This industry engagement typically opens new opportunities and determines my first tasks for the next day (following up!).

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

Although work can become the priority, I constantly try to remind myself that self-care, health and wellness are the foundations for a healthy work-life balance. One boundary I always try to set is to leave work by 5pm, although this won’t always eventuate, this is essential to creating stillness outside the office.

Going into a ‘Flow State’ outside of work, really helps me create a balance between work and life. Personally, I can access this by either walking my dog around Melbourne, watering/maintaining my collection of plants (I have over 75 in my apartment!), talking to people (socially or at an industry event) and anyone who knows me well might know that my number one flow state comes from dancing. All of these bring me back to the moment and get me energised to go to work the next day.

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

The 2021 lockdowns opened space for a deep focus on health and wellness. I discovered the benefits of intermittent fasting, cold exposure and breath work and a deep fascination with stoicism philosophy. 

These things helped me discover energy I didn’t think I had while Stoicism helped me with some major breakthroughs with some Anxiety challenges I had for decades.

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

There are two books by Keith Ferazzi that I always go back to when stuck:

  • Never Eat Alone – This completely changed my perspective on Networking (often associated with ego and transactional connections). I can summarise the book in one quote by Keith “Forget about what I want, I just want you to be successful”. 
  • Leading Without Authority – Similarly, this helped me realise that you don’t need to be in a leadership position, to be a leader. We are always looking for people to take initiative and people are excited for you to show up and lead, even if no one gives you permission. 

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

Yuval Noah Harari, one of my favourite authors (Sapiens and Homo Deus) is a University Professor and one of the most sought-after authors, somehow finds the time to meditate for 2 hours a day on top of a yearly 2-month Vipassana meditation retreat. My stance on prioritising health and wellness above was largely inspired by Yuval and I’d love to hear him answer these questions.

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

I’d only suggest staying curious and following your enthusiasm. Whatever task you have at hand, do everything in front of you with all of your passion because the world doesn’t need more people to simply ‘do’ or ‘grind’, the world needs more people who come alive through their creative and professional pursuits.

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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.