Founders / Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Evan Marshall, Co-Founder & CTO of Plain Jane

Evan Marshall is a software engineer and co-founder of Plain Jane, a CBD company based in Oregon, where he is currently the Chief Technology Officer.

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

I’m Evan. I graduated from MIT in 2015 with a degree in computer science. After college, I went to work for a startup in San Francisco named Rev. I really enjoyed my time at Rev, eventually getting to lead my own engineering team during my last year there.

As part of that job, I led engineering for and really got some exposure to the process of launching a new product from scratch and growing it into a useful tool.

I started Plain Jane after quitting in early 2018. Now, I’m the CTO and Lindsey Holthaus is my business partner and CEO. Plain Jane sells CBD flower products including hemp cigarettes, joints, and blunts.

Just like there is THC flower, there’s also CBD flower as well. Our goal is to make these CBD products more accessible and affordable. Within 2 years of founding, we now sell more than $325K/month of our own products.

In my current role, it’s kind of hard to say what I do. I do everything from managing our website, our sales channels, our customer support team and various levels of business development. There’s not exactly a lot of coding anymore in my current role. My job is really to fill in the gaps and keep the company focused on growth opportunities.

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

Every day is completely different. Usually, I wake up around 8 am and start to respond to emails while in bed.

I have a list of projects that I try to focus on but before I get too far, I’m usually interrupted by some fire. A fire can be anything. It can be a problem in our production facility. It can be a problem with an employee. It can be a potential change in regulations.

One day last week we had a break-in at our manufacturing facility. Luckily the alarm scared the intruder away but I spent the rest of the day personally upgrading our camera system to record passing cars and pedestrians as we didn’t get anything useful from the cameras facing outside.

When not dealing with surprises, I like to focus on working on projects that I believe will help expand the business. It can be exploring a new sales channel, optimizing some existing processes or just reading a lot from experts in the space.

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

I strongly believe in remote work but many of the jobs in my business can only be done in person. We have a farm and a separate manufacturing facility. I tend to split my time between working remotely and living near our physical operations.

When first spinning things up, I didn’t leave Southern Oregon for 4 months. Now, we have onsite managers and camera systems to help us manage the operation remotely.

Most of my job is done on a computer now. This transition has made a world of difference for my mental health. To start Plain Jane, I completely upended my life from the San Francisco Bay Area to move to rural Southern Oregon.

Now I get to spend much more of my time back with my girlfriend, friends, and family in California.

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

As an entrepreneur, I’m always on call. Whether it’s taking a call with your lawyer at 9 pm at night or waking up at 6 am to make a meeting with an East Coast customer, a new business requires lots of unpredictable time commitments.

The traditional idea of achieving balance by “disconnecting” from work isn’t really possible for me. Instead, I look at it in terms of my needs and whether or not they’re being met.

Number one is my physical needs, primarily sleep and exercise. I won’t be useful to anyone if I’m tired or full of anxiety. I have no problem with canceling a meeting or otherwise interrupting my day to take a nap. I take a lot of naps. At least one every other day.

I also make sure to meet my emotional needs as well. Especially early on in the company, it was easy to let situations overwhelm me. I spent so much time just worrying. Not doing anything, just being anxious. I try to spend as little time as possible in a bad headspace now. It gives me the energy and mindset to be there for my company and the people I care about.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

Getting enough sleep is paramount. Often times, people will brag about how tired they are as a measure of their hard work. At MIT, pulling an allnighter was seen as a badge of honor, proving how dedicated you were.

Life is a marathon of sprints. Being tired is like being thirsty. Generally, your body does a pretty good job of letting you know when you need it. Prepare for the long term, not just the next item on your infinite todo list.

Along with sleep, I really enjoy garbage time. Garbage time is the time where I cannot point to any accomplishment or task getting done. I value my wasted time enormously.

Often times, I think many people try to segment their day in as many productive pieces as possible. I always try to give myself some time during the day to do nothing and to be useless.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. About the creation of Nike, Phil’s story stands in stark contrast to the usual dogmatic vision of creating a company. Nike took a really long time. Like years went by without much progress being made.

I really like the message that our work accumulates over time instead of life being a race where you’re either ahead or behind. Running your own race in life is a philosophy I try very hard to adhere to.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

My number one job is to manage myself. To keep me physically and emotionally healthy. Not happy or content, but healthy in a way where I feel able to tackle tasks that I need to get done.

That means getting enough sleep and exercise. It also means spending time with friends and family. In my opinion, work is the output of how you treat yourself. If you’re a waiter at a restaurant trying to keep everyone’s water glass full, you can only do that if your pitcher is full.

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

Lebron James and Sheryl Sanberg.

Both of these people live incredibly stressful and high profile lives while raising their families with dedication. I’d want to learn more about how they always seem engaged and on point.

People like these two seem to have a limitless store of emotional energy. It must come from having a balance that replenishes and restores them.

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

Maybe this is just me, but when I’m happy I tend to focus on the moment and when I’m feeling down, I tend to extrapolate. In other words, when things aren’t going well, my brain wants to me spiral and think of all the things that have gone wrong.

On the flip side, when everything’s great, I tend to ignore everything else and just try to live in that awesome moment. I consciously try to fight these natural impulses.

When I’m depressed, I try to focus on little things I can do to improve how I’m feeling. When I’m engaged, I try to step back and ask myself how to leverage the positivity to make it more sustainable in my life.

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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.