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Balancing the Grind with Elise Hilliam, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of MenuAid

Elise Hilliam is the Co-Founder & Co-CEO of MenuAid, which solves the “what’s for dinner?” dilemma with personalised recipes & a smart shopping list.

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

Kia ora! This path started for me back in 2014 at Otago University where I studied Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Then as all good career stories go, I studied, travelled, went completely rogue and became a receptionist then a construction project manager for 3 years!

It was during my time there that Toby (my co-founder and long-term partner) and I came up with the idea of MenuAid. We started working on MenuAid in January 2021 and then launched in September 2021.

Very quickly we realised that we could help millions of people all over the world and so I resigned from my full-time role! Skip forward a year, I now work alongside Toby as co-CEO where I have a  strong focus on our customers, our recipes and our team.

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

Funnily enough my flatmate asked me this yesterday and I struggled to answer! I think because a lot of the time you stop to come up for air! But I can walk you through today! It’s a Monday morning so I have come in to check through emails and Slack, then I catch up with our team!

To start we gather round and complete the Stuff Quiz, I mostly suggest the wrong answers, general knowledge is not my forte! Then my morning consists of catching up with Jeanneane around customers, Helen around recipes and Toby where we chat about what is going on and what is front-of-mind.

Then this afternoon consists of sushi (a great afternoon when that is involved), finalising the board report and diving into finalising our Churn Prevention Strategy! Every day is different, with every 2nd Monday spent in a kitchen with 3 of us cooking 20 recipes and Charlie photographing them! So right now I’m enjoying the serenity of the office. 

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

Yes absolutely, this is so important for our MenuAid culture. We want to create an office where people want to come in and spend time but also understand that sometimes it is best to just be at home because the dog is unwell or the car needs a warrant, or you just want to be there.

I personally love being in the office as I thrive off energy from our team so Toby and I are here each day, sometimes with our little sidekick Bobbie (the dog). 

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

To me this means not compromising on my hobbies and having good “off” time. This looks like going bouldering 3 evenings a week with my friends, exercising each morning and setting friends and family time as priority on the weekends. Being in a relationship, Toby and I work really hard on ensuring we have a good balance within our relationship and have plenty of fun both inside and outside of MenuAid. 

We also strongly encourage open, transparent communication in our team. If you’re just not feeling it then that is totally normal and we encourage people to take time to themselves. I did this the other week, after the food show all weekend, I was feeling exhausted on Monday.

So I took the afternoon off, went on a coastal walk with the dog and instantly my cup was full! I strongly believe that if we want our employees to feel comfortable doing this, then they need to see leadership upholding those values too, so whilst it was a little bit nerve wracking fessing up that I was exhausted, no-one batted an eyelid and they all were so supportive! I ended the day feeling really proud and supported.

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

Ha, yes! Bouldering! Bouldering sounds like a random activity and I recently saw a Beetoota Advocate article taking the mickey out of “tech startup founders find a passion for bouldering” (so I mustn’t be the only founder into bouldering…), but mockery aside it has been an awesome way for me to learn a new physical and mental skill that forces me to leave the day at the door and is a great distribution between work and home.

It literally is between our office and our house so I love having that time to challenge myself in a completely different way and to also catch up with friends – win-win! 

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

🗞 Bootstrapped NZ by Izzy Biggio is a newsletter that I really look forward to reading! Izzy does a fantastic job at wrapping up the NZ startup ecosystem in a fun tone! 

📚 When I get around to reading, I use it to switch off so currently I am really enjoying Honeybee by Craig Silvey 

🎙 The Female Career and Business is Boring (also worth mentioning OneUp Project for financial education)

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

So boring but Google Calendar and of course MenuAid.

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

I thought about this for a while and someone that came to mind was Hilary Barry. I think for me she came to mind because she always seems to be having fun and doing what she loves.

To me this really symbolises work-life balance because not only is it about having “off” time or doing your hobbies but it is also really important to be enjoying what you’re doing every day. Life’s too short to not be having fun and Hilary Barry seems to be nailing that.

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

Make it a priority. I know people talk about how easy it is to slip away from the balance but when this happens to me I really notice it, at work, at home, and in my head. So you need to make it your priority, be honest with yourself about the balance and make a change before it is too late.

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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.