Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Harri Thomas, Co-Founder of Elephants

Harri Thomas is the Co-Founder of Elephants, an app that combines the best parts of chat and goal apps to help people bond over shared interests and achieve their goals in a fun and collaborative way.

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

My specialty is talking to people and figuring out what they need, and then working with product teams to build and refine products that meet those needs. 

I’m now using this skill set at Elephants – an app that helps people achieve their goals.

I started my career in a consumer research consultancy, helping big companies crack new markets and launch new products. This was followed by Co-Founding Respondent, a venture backed marketplace that connects researchers and research participants. After leaving Respondent, I went to work for Facebook.

Despite the massive number of users I was working for at Facebook, I couldn’t shake the feeling that an idea I had centred around sharing goals was more important, and more impactful. So I left FB at the start of 2022, and co-founded Elephants.  

I grew up on a sheep farm outside of Melbourne, and my work has taken me to New York, Portland and now I live with my wife, daughter and two dogs in London.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but it all feels like it’s been in preparation for what I’m doing now; it’s funny how things work out!  

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

I’ve found out the hard way that if I don’t find time for my health and my family, my work suffers. So now I make sure those things are part of my daily routine. 

What that looks like is waking up between 6 and 630. There’s no need for alarm clocks in our house, because my daughter – who’s now 9 months old – makes sure to let us know she’s awake and ready for breakfast! My wife and I then take turns to feed her and keep her occupied, while the other one catches up on daily newsletters and enjoys a coffee. 

After coffee it’s time to take my dog Murphy for a run. Murphy’s not a bad running partner, but he does tend to make quite a few stops along the way, which makes most runs feel more like fartlek training than a casual jog!

Then it’s into work. 

Elephants is currently in Closed Beta, so I’m talking to early users, and then working to mock up design changes in Figma – albeit very poorly. Luckily for me, my Co-Founder Vito, who was previously a Product Manager at Google and has experience starting his own companies as well, is now incredibly proficient at interpreting my designs and turning them into workable products. 

We’re very aligned on the need to make big decisions quickly, build, ship, learn and iterate, so there’s not too much finessing going on just yet. But it’s a great cadence, and something I missed working at a big company like Facebook. 

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

Yes; Elephants is entirely remote. Vito lives in Rome, and I’m in London. We try to keep our meetings to a minimum – but there’s always a pitter patter of ideas going back and forth across Slack.

We’re also big on catching up in person, and try to travel every couple of months for a few days to hash things out over a long walk or a meal. 

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

For me, work life balance isn’t a single goal; I think of it as a collection of goals. 

If there’s something that I think should be a part of what work-life balance looks like for me, I set a goal for it. I have a health related goal. I also have a relationship goal, a volunteering goal, a career goal and a hobby goal. I set my goals quarterly, and check in on them weekly. If I’m successful in achieving most of my goals for any particular quarter, I feel like I’m pretty close to achieving my version of work-life balance.

One of the reasons I like using goals this way is because they help me cut down a list of 1,000 to-do’s into a much more manageable list of five or six things. Once I have that short list, I then find it much easier to allocate my time and energy to things I value, instead of just being busy all the time. 

The other thing I like about using goals this way is that they act like a meter, helping me understand if I’ve over-indexed in one area or another. For instance, if my career goal is going really well for one quarter, but the goals in other categories are suffering – it’s a signal I need to think about how to prioritise my time to allocate some energy towards those other areas. 

With that being said, I don’t think you need to be in perfect balance across all the categories all  the time. There are naturally going to be periods where you’re lopsided, but knowing you’re lopsided is a helpful first step. 

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

With a new baby in the household we’ve had just about every routine and habit upended! But it’s been a great reset, and I’ve learned to juggle things with a more unpredictable schedule. 

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

So many. At the moment I’m really loving anything to do with ‘slow productivity’. Slow productivity is all about making fewer, better things. It’s about deciding what’s important to you, and then going after them with conviction. A couple of books I like on the topic are Christensen Allworth and Dillon’s How Will You Measure Your Life? and recently, Oliver Burkemans Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

I’m also into all things tech, and love long form journalism and deep dives. For this I listen to the Acquired Podcast, read Packy McCormacks ‘Not Boring’ newsletter and subscribe to Ben Thompson’s Stratechery. All really good stuff. 

The other one I’d like to add is my favourite book of all time, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. Funnily enough, I don’t particularly like any of Hemingway’s other books, but he blew it out of the water with this one, and I always get something new out of it. Five stars. 

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

Yes – Elephants

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

Cal Newport. He’s the author of Deep Work, and is popularising the ‘slow productivity’ movement. Notoriously, he’s barely on social media, which, given his area of interest, probably isn’t all that surprising! 

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

Sharing goals has so many positive consequences, but barely anyone does it. Yet. 

So I’ll end with a request: open WhatsApp. Select a group, set a group goal, and see what happens. If you have a goal related story, want to sign up for our beta, or are interested in what we’re building, please feel free to get in touch! Harri at elephantsapp dot com.

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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.