CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Dylan McDonnell, Co-Founder & CEO of Foodini

Dylan McDonnell is the Co-Founder & CEO of Foodini, a platform that enables consumers to choose restaurants and menu that are based on their dietary choices, allergies, and intolerances.

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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 Co-Founder and CEO of Foodini, a dietitian led app that connects people with dietary needs to restaurants and menu items that can cater for them.

My professional background began in the legal sphere, I completed a law degree at University College Cork, followed by a masters in International European Business and Law at Trinity College Dublin.

I trained and qualified at international corporate law firm Matheson in Dublin, specialising in Asset Management and Investment Funds. I then moved in-house with multi-national company Mercer, where I ended up leading the legal team in relation to all investments matters for Australia. 

When Covid hit and I found myself with some unexpected spare time, I set about trying to solve the global problem of dining out with dietary needs (I am a coeliac) – culminating in Foodini. 

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

It always looks a little bit different, that’s for sure! It’s what keeps it interesting.

The zero inbox rule is very important for me in order to stay on top of things. This is all very admin-y, but this process means I can focus my energy on what matters most throughout the day, without getting distracted by other noise.

In the bulk of each day, I’ll likely be in a combination of coordinating with our sales, customer success, operations and development teams. On the other side of the fence, I’ll be speaking directly with our customers and understanding the key feedback and trends which we need to consider as part of our product planning.

I do attempt to have some consistency in routines set up around work though. So here’s what that looks like:

  • Wake up around 7/7:30 and try to get out for a quick walk.
  • Start the day with standup meetings for different teams/business functions.
  • Work until around 12:30. This is mostly deeper working and fewer calls.
  • Gym (when able) around 12.15.
  • Quick break for lunch and then back to work.
  • Work from 1.30 – 7:30.
  • Then sometimes casual sports or drinks/dinner with friends. Otherwise, dinner at home.
  • Some light night emails/Slack before bed.
  • Get to sleep around 11 or 12.

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

For me, work life balance means making sure I prioritise my family, friends and my physical and mental wellbeing, while at that same team kicking goals with work and keeping the momentum up.

As all startup owners will know, completely disengaging is extremely difficult, and I find that some part of my mind is nearly always considering some work element. However I am lucky in that I am very passionate about Foodini’s mission as it is something that impacts me personally, and so I rarely feel drained or dispassionate, even after a long working day or week.

I am a big believer in working smarter not harder where possible, and so it is crucial to find ways to automate systems and processes to make teams and workflows as efficient as possible. Our team also works from home 2 days a week, and this flexible approach gives back some time from commuting which works very well for us and provides some balance.

It is also very important to block off time in my diary for the gym, sports and any social events – otherwise these can have a habit of not materialising. Sports and travel are two things I love when time permits, although not having the time to watch Manchester United games these days is a blessing in disguise. 

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

As mentioned before, booking time in my diary for fitness and social related events and making myself stick to them (emergencies aside) has been a game changer for my physical and mental wellbeing. I went through a period of working 18 hour days with little to no exercise, and this was both unhealthy and unsustainable. 

Trying to get a round or two of golf in a month has also been great – a mix of hours outdoors, exercise and socialising with friends. Living in Sydney, Australia, I am also blessed with some amazing golf courses and great weather so it is great to take advantage when time permits.

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

Fiction – when trying to unwind:

  • The Name of the Wind (Trilogy) – Patrick Rothfuss
  • Fall of Giants (Century Trilogy) – Ken Follett

Work related / inspiring:

  • Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
  • The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
  • Start With Why – Simon Sinek

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

Barack Obama – inspiring character who managed to juggle the worlds biggest job as well as a great family, although I imagine Michelle deserves a lot of the credit!

Bill Gates – one of the most successful business people of all time. 

Melanie Perkins – Canva got over 100 no’s from VCs before they got a yes. One of my favourite companies.

Ryan Reynolds – Actor, comedian, businessman, football club owner, family man. How?! 

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

Nothing worthwhile in life is easy, hard work and sacrifice is required. 

But if you are smart about it, you can still make sure you stay happy, healthy and find time to spend with your loved ones – it just requires organisation and planning.

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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.