CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Heather Morrison, Co-Founder & CEO at Handi

Heather Morrison is the CEO at Handi, a brand creating the first line of sex toys for the disabled community, co-founded with disability consultant and activist Andrew Gurza.

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

For the last decade I’ve worked at ad agencies around the world on big name brands like Kelloggs, P&G, Mazda, Subway, Purina, IKEA and Menulog along with Not-For-Profits like the I Touch Myself and Sydney Cats and Dogs Home.

I was drawn to advertising for its its ability to solve real business problems using creativity and because the industry tends to attract incredibly brilliant, creative and interesting humans. 

Two years ago I took a departure from ad land to learn more about innovation strategy and design thinking, working for a small boutique innovation agency. 

I loved the experience of getting up close and personal with the people that brands serve and its ability to create products, services or business models that people are seeking (whether they know it or not).  

During this journey,  Ive always wanted the opportunity to start my own business, having had a million ideas and executed exactly zero of them.

18 months ago I had a huge light bulb moment. During a discussion with my disabled brother Andrew Gurza, I learned that many people with disabilities are unable to self-pleasure and that there were no toys or aids on the market designed to fit this need, leaving hundreds of millions of people out of touch with their human right to self pleasure.

My current role, is CEO and Co-Founder of Handi, a brand on a mission to put pleasure within reach, starting by creating the first line of sex toys for the disabled community. 

Everything I learned in ad land and innovation has led me to be able to build both the brand and the products. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.   

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

Up until midway through the pandemic I was juggling 4 days a week in an ad agency and every other waking hour working on Handi. When I was stood down from my Strategy Director role, I went nearly full time on Handi (with a few other project based gigs to pay the pesky bills).

As a result, my days are both free in the sense that I am largely my own director of my time, but also jam packed as I juggle between Handi’s needs which are increasing by the day as we progress, and my responsibilities on contracted projects.

As I’m sure many founders will tell you, there is no such thing as a standard day. But here is a flavour of how recent days have looked: 

  • 6.30-7am wake up, quickly check emails that have come in over night 
  • 7am brekkie & catch 30 minutes of doom & gloom news 8am Respond to emails to clear any backlog 
  • 9am form plan for the day via to do list and review of scheduled zoom meetings (so much time on zoom)
  • 9-8pm crank through the to do list and a multitude of zoom meetings,  with a break for lunch, a trip to the gym/run, and dinner before calling it quits around 8-9pm depending on the day.

Each day’s to-do list is different, but as the person driving the ship, you’re across every element of the business and the key decision maker. I’m lucky to work with an incredible team of humans who believe in our mission and have offered their time and talent.

As a result, my time is split between overseeing and helping to direct various projects they’re working on and moving the business forward on tasks like financial forecasting, strategic planning, social posts and execution, partnership conversations, pitch presentations, investors discussions, product development, accounting and talking to just about anyone who is interested in learning more about what we are doing to get the word out there. 

It’s extremely busy, often surprising and at times exhausting. However,  there is something energising about working for yourself, working on something you truly believe will make a difference, and working with a team of people that you love and admire. It keeps you moving forward even when exhaustion or overwhelm hits.   

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

I’m currently the most free Ive ever been from a work perspective. Ive always been a huge advocate of remote working, as I generally get more done when I’m not distracted or distracting in an office setting.

That said, both my project-based work and the work I do on Handi can be done from anywhere I choose – sometimes my office is my lounge area, other days it’s a cafe, and others it’s a little picnic space overlooking the Bondi seascape.

Not bad – but it does mean that traditional work days and hours get blurred and you can easily end up working 12+ hour days on a regular basis. 

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

I learned early on in advertising that it would take every second of my time if I allowed it. I learned the hard way the importance of saying ‘no’ as I neared burn out in my early years.

I don’t know if balance is the right word, but I do seek the freedom and trust to set my own schedule in a way that works for me and that ensures I get the job done.  The old way of ‘bums in seats’ and everyone commuting into the office from 9-5 feels archaic.

Work-life freedom doesn’t mean you work any less. In fact, I definitely work more, but it does mean that you are generally happier being the director of your own time and life. 

The new normal of working from home and blurring the lines between office hours and personal time has been interesting. I’m definitely  guilty of allowing that line to be quite blurry, however, I  make sure to take time out just for me and to allow my brain to switch off.

I  often work on the weekends, but I make a point to get out for a few long walks with pumping loud music – this is often where my best ideas pop into my head, and I exercise every day – whether it be the gym, yoga, a run or a walk, and spend as much time with friends as I can within COVID restrictions.  

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

Ive tried really hard to enforce a no TV and no phone policy right before bed.  I try to read instead of watch TV and have lights out around 10-10.30pm most nights. I’m a morning person so this way I get enough sleep and feel good to go when my internal clock wakes me up at 6.30am.

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

SO many! I listen to podcasts in the morning, so my repertoire tends to sway towards the cultural and business side – I love How I Built This, This World In Start Ups, Radiolab, TED Radio Hour and This American Life are my top listened. 

When I read, it’s usually for some form of escapism and turning my brain off. I tend to steer clear of too many non-fictions or business books. Some of my all time favourites are Shantaram (long but worth it), Boy Eats Universe (magical and wonderfully written), Educated and Becoming. So perhaps I have a hidden penchant for biographies.  

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

I take my Kindle with me everywhere. If it’s not on my kindle, I probably won’t read it. 

Spotify. I’m a music junkie, not having a zillion songs to choose from at my fingertips would break me. And my Vitamix, hilariously, I love to cook and a good blender comes in handy more than you realise.  

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

Elon Musk. I read his biography, but I’d be surprised if that concept even exists to him. And similarly, Barack Obama – having read Michelle Obama’s Becoming, I’d be interested to hear about striking a balance from his perspective.   

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

Work life balance or freedom is unique to everyone. What equals ‘balance’ for one person, will not be the same for the next. Figure out what is important to you in life, and make sure you carve out time for it during the week – even if you love what you do, it’s important to turn off and do things that allow you to be free. Your work and happiness will benefit from it.  

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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.