Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Heath Evans, Co-Founder & CMO of Wilderlands

Heath Evans is the Co-Founder & CMO of Wilderlands, a startup that has created Australia’s first Biological Diversity Unit (BDU).

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

I’m currently the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Wilderlands, a new startup providing the simplest way to start protecting Australia’s biodiversity; one square metre at a time.

Imagine if you could pick a square metre of vulnerable Australian habitat and engage a leading conservation organisation to help you protect it forever; that’s what we’re making possible through the creation of one of the world’s first voluntary biodiversity units. 

Prior to this role I’ve spent the past 15 years working across the sport, not-for-profit, startup, and education sectors, whilst also launching several startups, becoming a Coach of Seth Godin’s altMBA and being a 2021 Scholar of The Marketing Academy.

I’ve worked for major organisations including the University of Melbourne and their innovation precinct Melbourne Connect, the Melbourne Accelerator Program, Blockchain Australia, World Vision Australia, AFL Players’ Association, World Championship Sports Network (WCSN), VicSport and many more.

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

Like working in any startup every day looks slightly different but fortunately throughout my career I’ve been comfortable with both ambiguity and altering priorities which has helped prepare me for this working environment. 

I aim to wake by 6am and like most of the world I have developed a nasty habit of checking my phone to see anything that needs immediate attention across email and twitter, but the reality is most times this is more an instinctive behaviour than a necessary ritual. I hope to ditch this practice over time.

I would be loathe to say I have a strict morning routine as it would be scoffed at by my wife (who is incredibly organised) but overall I do use a number of planning tools such as trello and airtable to determine priorities across both personal and professional life and much of each morning is ensuring what needs to be done lives in these schedules and what is urgent for today is front and centre so my mind can start focusing on that.

Like many fitness enthusiasts I wear a Garmin to track steps and sleep and usually look at these numbers both morning and night to get a sense of how I’ve tracked each day. I also train at a boxing gym either morning or night for a 45 minute session depending on the time of year. 

As a startup Wilderlands has been a hybrid working environment from the beginning and is largely a remote team. We do, however, still see the value in physically working alongside each other often and have embraced the University of Melbourne’s innovation precinct Melbourne Connect as our home at least 2-3 times a week.

On those days I commute via train for around an hour and it’s become a valuable time for learning. Podcasts are my medium of choice and I love to listen to topics outside my immediate knowledge with emerging tech (blockchain, web3, NFT), and health and science my go-to, mixed with marketing, self-help, and startup podcasts to round out my playlists.

As an individual  I’ve never been someone who switches off easily and my passions consume my mind for much of my waking hours. There’s no doubt business is most often at the centre of that focus. 

Whether it be my own work or helping others, it’s certainly meant that a “work-life balance” has proved challenging, but I also don’t think I’ve ever really bought into that idea and rather sought to have work play the role of hobby, passion, purpose, and place of income all in one.

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

I’ve always believed if you’re doing work that matters then it’s worth your time. I’ve focused on finding “work” that pushes my learning as well as being central to my desire to have impact so that the amount of time I commit fulfils both my work ambitions as well as my life goals so it’s always been a blurred line between these worlds for me. 

Working in industries like the AFL I knew that the job was intrusive and the phone could ring anytime from 6am – 9pm and that’s the gig. It does, however, mean you wake up every day with purpose and have the opportunity to spend time in an environment that challenges you and that you’re passionate about. 

Similarly during my time at World Vision and later working with startups and launching an innovation precinct, these are the types of environments that consume you and roles of this scale mean you’re constantly trying to solve challenges that niggle at you long after the office hours are over. Whilst you might not be physically at your workplace it definitely holds much of your mental space, and I don’t mind that.

For me the biggest flaw in the discussion around work-life balance is a sense of an arbitrary number that is acceptable and is often connected to an amount of time spent across both these realms. 

I don’t actually think this is the real danger or risk for professionals, or at least not in my experience.

The risk, I believe, is far more connected to identity and when a person’s perceived worth is too heavily intertwined with their work persona or position it can destroy them when this is taken away. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an 8 hour role or an 80 hour week, this is where I’ve seen the most devastating consequences and left people lost or broken when it’s all taken away.

I know the dangers first hand, despite never fully falling victim to the extent that many do.

There’s been moments in my career where my worth was definitely overly connected to the role or company I was working with and it’s at that point you need a reality check. Whether you’re an athlete, a rockstar, a startup founder, or simply an office clerk who lives for their work – it can happen really quickly and if you don’t know how to recognise the signs when you’re enmeshed it can be a long fall when the bubble bursts.

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

In saying all of this, the past 12 months have required a complete rethink of the way I’ve spent the past 15 years of my career.

I became very unwell last year following covid and other complications post vaccine which meant I had to work really hard to shift the environment I was working on and create boundaries because my body was definitely burnt out and my health required drastic change.

I’d always prided myself on responding quickly and being always on, but had to learn that this was no longer possible and realised how much this had become part of my identity as ridiculous as that sounds.

I also had to become comfortable with knowing there were boundaries to my capability and capacity and to maximise both of these outputs I needed to heal and nurture my health more than I had in the past which was both frustrating, hard to accept, but also humbling. It certainly gave me greater empathy for others who’ve been through similar realities. 

I also faced the reality that I needed to push through significant pain and discomfort to get fit and healthy and went back to playing football which I’ve always loved and had given up because “it was time”.

I had missed playing enormously so decided to ignore the social norms around when you’re too old and just give it a shot. Again I wasn’t playing to the level I’d like but it helped shift my expectations around what competitive sport needs to be and focus more on the enjoyment of movement and being out there.

I’ve also really gained a deeper appreciation for meditation and stillness although I am a long way off even the basic level of mastery and think this will be a lifelong effort to embed this into my daily routines.

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

Finite and Infinite Games by J.P Carse is one of the most important books I’ve read which speaks to two games we are surrounded by in life – a finite game played for the purpose of winning and an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

It reinforced to me what type of game I wanted to play in life and that the generous long (infinite) game is not only a fulfilling way to live but hugely beneficial for long term happiness and contentment.

Good to Great by Jim Collins is a classic business book and teaches a number of fundamental principles every entrepreneur should know and continues to prove just as after decades. 

Sapiens by Yuval Harari was a book I read at a silent retreat and left a huge impact on me. It provides a reminder of how small and insignificant our lives are in the context of eternity but also why as humans we have incredible nature strengths and advantages we should lean into, particularly around our desire to connect to others and work together

Linchpin by Seth Godin details what it means to make yourself indispensable and irreplaceable in a workplace and is a book I regularly revisit and any young person thinking of how they can leave their legacy should explore. 

Masters of Scale as a podcast by Reid Hoffman is critical for anyone launching or running a business and not only brings together the best talent to share how they began their startups, but also has a beautiful ability to feel like two friends talking because of the reputation of Reid and the respect his guests have for him.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is a fun one on originality and helps you realise everything great is inspired (“stolen”) from somewhere else and that’s ok, so steal away and start building on the shoulders of the brilliant minds who come before you to create something new that matters. 

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

As a Seth Godin devotee I’m in awe of both his ability to say no to so many things as well as his consistency to show up daily and write over 8000 blog posts over 20 years.

That takes both enormous discipline as well as such clarity around where you will spend your waking moments. 

Having heard him speak on this topic I enjoy the way he moves past inspiration and passion and rather focuses on the practice of showing up daily because that’s what a professional does – it’s definitely a mindset and lived practice I respect and want to embrace more.

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

Too often in my career I waited until I was “ready” to take the leap and I wish I’d understood that this order was wrong. You’re never truly ready and if you are then it’s too late for that role and you should be looking for your next opportunity.

I would encourage people to say yes to everything early in their career and be curious and courageous enough to learn as they go as it will help sharpen your focus on where your strengths lie as well as build a breadth of potential pathways for later in life.

I also think the biggest thing I’ve learned through these questions is that work-life balance as a measure of time is easy to correct, but when your identity is too intertwined or dependent on your status in a workplace then that is dangerous and what I believe the real risk is and what should be spoken about more. 

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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.