Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Jessica Bragdon, Co-Founder at Koala Eco

Jessica Bragdon is the co-founder at Koala Eco, a company that makes safe and powerful cleaning, home and body products from natural ingredients and the essential oils of native plants

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

I’m originally from the United States, I grew up in Boston and New Hampshire with my twin sister and younger brother. When we were just out of Northeastern University in Boston, my sister Adrienne and I started up and ran a floral business, designing and making arrangements for nightclubs and restaurants all over Boston.

We sold the business and moved to New York City to attend graduate school at Columbia University, and do a Masters in organisational psychology and business. While in NYC studying, we also worked for the group that started the Maritime Hotel and The Bowery Hotel. Over the years, I’ve been involved in lots of start-ups and business environments.

When I was in New York I met my Australian husband Paul who is a chartered accountant.  We later relocated to Australia, first to Perth, where we had our two sons, and I worked for a while in the non-profit design and cultural sector.

We now live in Sydney, where we feel extremely privileged to be living and working on the land of the Gadigal and Birrabirragal people. In 2017 Paul and I co-founded Koala Eco, a company that makes safe and powerful cleaning, home and body products from natural ingredients and the essential oils of native plants like Lemon Myrtle, Rosemary, and Peppermint.

As directors and co-founders, we are lucky to head up the most wonderful team and are in charge of all the strategic elements of Koala Eco, including our expansion into the US.

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

Sometimes I work from home, but most days I am in the office, which is just a short walk away from where we live. I take Matilda, our Aussie Shepherd, along with me. If it’s a day during the school term, then there’s the school run for our boys Emerson (12) and Arthur (10) to factor in.

On a typical day I have a lot of meetings and email correspondence to take care of, discussing strategy, branding and distribution. We have an internationally based team, so effective online communications are crucial.

We may visit our manufacturers to check on the progress for any new products that we are developing; this can be a lengthy process because we won’t launch until something is entirely right. We also may have a product or PR campaign to factor into our working day.

I’ll also talk at least once to Adrienne, who is based in the States and is looking after our operations there. Koala Eco is expanding fast in the US so we will be making frequent visits there this year.   

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

Work-life balance is so incredibly important, and yet it’s also so challenging to establish and maintain. When your work is a passion project that aligns very closely to your personal values, it is impossible to separate the two completely.

As entrepreneurs, Paul and I also find that we’re always restless for the next big step, and so it can be hard to slow down and remember to celebrate the wins. Celebrating the wins is something I am determined to try to do this year, but I must admit, it will take discipline and effort, because we are both naturally inclined towards pushing for the next level.

We are going to be focusing a lot on Koala Eco’s US expansion, which I am so excited about, because already we’ve been achieving so much traction in the market. It will mean a lot of travel and time invested Stateside, because we need to be there in person.

I think a key priority in trying to maintain some balance—whether we are travelling or not—is some form of daily exercise, outside in nature. Depending on where I am, the ideal thing to do would be an early run, yoga class or beach workout. If that’s not possible, a few minutes to centre myself with a bit of deep breathing and meditation, and better still, if I can find the nearest park and sit under a beautiful tree.   Really good coffee is important too!

While I couldn’t be happier about where Koala Eco is headed, expanding the business will have implications for our energy levels not just as company directors but also as parents. Since starting our family, we’ve lived in cities on both sides of Australia.

Emerson and Arthur have been raised in a multicultural setting, and have established really good relationships with their cousins in the States. The kids are growing up so fast as part of a family spanning two different continents, and I feel this can only be a beneficial thing in encouraging them to expand their horizons.

Koala Eco has been a part of their young lives for a significant amount of time as well, so I hope that’s helped Paul and I, as parents, instil in our sons our love and respect for the environment, so that they can experience it too, and pass it on to any families they may have.

Our priority is to guide Emerson and Arthur through boyhood into being young men who are confident, curious, honourable and generous, and we know that the best chance of achieving that is to be fully present in their lives.

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

Yes, a couple. I’m working hard on practising gratitude: to stop and consciously appreciate things, no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time.  I’ve also added a day of weights into my morning workout routine.

And I try to have the kids with me when I am making time for my weekly Hour in Nature. This is something we started at Koala Eco a couple of years ago: paying our team members to spend two hours in nature each week as part of the work week as an intentional act, not just as part of an exercise routine.

It can be anything from exploring a local botanical garden or just paying attention to the bees in your backyard going about their business while you sit barefoot on the grass. 

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

For podcasts, I love How I Built This, an NPR podcast with Guy Raz, who interviews the innovators and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s best-known companies. It’s utterly addictive listening.

I could choose any of them as a source of encouragement and inspiration. I love Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing. From the first day we launched, Koala Eco has been part of his non-profit One Per Cent for the Planet. 

This environmental group is committed to protecting land, forests, rivers and oceans, and encourages sustainable methods of energy. We donate a percentage of each sale to this charity. I admire Yvon’s company and his vision that combines business but with a bigger environmental picture.

I love reading The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and the Economist to keep up to speed with what’s going on in the world of business and innovation. And for something to bring a bit of poetry and philosophy into my life, and make me think outside the box, I can’t go past the Marginalian e-newsletter.

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

I would like to read an interview by Melanie Perkins, who has achieved incredible growth but maintained strong company values with Canva. I would also be fascinated to read about Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong.

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

With regard to balance, if there’s one thing I could say, it’s that I believe we’re all doing the best we can. When situations get challenging, I try to look at them as an opportunity for personal growth, and try not to think about the world and my place in it in terms of success and failure. That’s a very binary way of thinking, and ultimately self-limiting.

One of the best antidotes to that is being in nature, because we are so blessed to live on a planet with natural environments that can offer us healing and peace in so many ways. Of course, sometimes nature can be terrifying in its power, but perhaps that can be a useful reminder that humans are not in control of everything. Letting go is sometimes a way of restoring a sense of balance.

I’d just encourage everyone to spend as much time in nature as possible. If you’re lucky enough to live near a park or the ocean, go there, every day. And if that’s not possible, grow herbs on a windowsill, put plants around you, our connection to the natural world is one of the most precious things we have, and we need to cherish it.  If we care about something, we want to take care of it. Because in turn, it takes care of us.

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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.