Coaches / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Jonathan Chak, Serial Entrepreneur, Startup Coach & Entrepreneurship Educator

Jonathan Chak is an entrepreneur who has started multiple businesses in various industries, a growth hacker and a startup coach, born in Hong Kong and raised in Sydney Australia.

He also has experience working with the Australian Government in grant funding and coached 100+ startup founders at UNSW.

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

I started entrepreneuring during my early years of university as a freelance graphic designer, creating business cards, flyers and menus for small businesses.

In the early 2000, every client started asking me to build their websites, so I started a web design/development company with a partner who possesses technical skills, and have built hundreds of websites and apps for companies including McDonalds and Fujitsu.

We did that for about 7 years, and I got sick of building things for clients. So decided to venture into our own startups. And in the last 10 years, I have built 5 other startups from scratch, including an on-demand print quotation platform, an eCommerce business, cross-border logistics, voice-based Q&A app and even a cafe in Hong Kong.

In 2018, I started helping other entrepreneurs with their startup journey, and I joined the Australian NSW State government in helping entrepreneurs access government grant funding, namely the MVP Grant.

Stayed there for 18 months, and then I moved onto becoming a coach at the University of New South Wales, where I have coached over 100 founders to date. I am also the program manager for the FFWD HUB where we deliver entrepreneurship education to aspiring student entrepreneurs.

Currently I am working on two new businesses, one providing a virtual laboratory for high school physics and chemistry students and the other in saving food preparation time for busy working couples.

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

Pre Covid-19 or during Covid-19?

I have a very structured calendar where I have designed and allocated blocks of time to attend to different matters. I wake up at 08:00, go out, buy coffee, come back and cook and eat breakfast with my wife and son.

And because it’s homeschooling recently, I have to attend my son’s marking the roll online at 09:00, then make sure he understands what he needs to do for the morning session of school before I head to do my own work.

Between 09:30 to 12:30, I will work on any consulting or self-employed projects, and recently of course there are a lot of Zoom meetings and checking-in with my son to make sure he is doing fine in between. Then I cook lunch for myself and my son at 12:30 and have lunch until 13:30. And I might watch some Youtube videos or listen to podcasts together with my son while we are having lunch.

In the afternoon, depending on the day, I might have allocated hours specifically for UNSW coaching. I have a dedicated calendar where founders can book in those specific time slots. For days that I am not doing coaching, I will be working on my various business ideas or projects during this time. And at 15:15, I will go out for a run with my son and do some exercise.

Dinner starts at 18:30 and lasts for an hour, this is the time I catch up with my wife and share any highlights of the day from each other. Again, depending on the day, sometimes I might be teaching my son piano after dinner at 19:30, or I might be doing coaching between 19:30 to 21:30. For the nights I’m not doing coaching, I will be reading a bedtime story to my son.

And between 21:30 to 23:00, I have allocated time to work on anything that I need extra quiet time (Yes, the son is now asleep, it’s easier to do certain things). For example, filming and recording videos or podcasts. And on the last Thursday of every month, I will attend to personal finance and work on analysis and reporting for the household. I’ll take a shower at 23:00 and watch a bit of TV or read a book until 00:00, then it’s finally bedtime.

That’s a typical weekday and I do a bit of coaching on Saturday mornings too.

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

As you can tell from the description of my schedule, I have designed my life with a lot of flexibility. The work and projects that I take on, must fit into my life schedule, but not the other way around (many people I know fit their life around work schedules instead).

For a good portion of my life, I have been doing work remotely, at home, in cafes, shared offices etc. and I am very used to remote collaboration. I believe that being able to do work anywhere is the first step to taking control of your life.

This conversation is brought to you by Jhola, your personal management system — Simplify, Prioritize and Achieve work-life alignment.

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

I don’t believe in work-life balance. There is only one thing – living!

Work is only one part of your life, which is no different to, say, “taking a shower”, you just fit it into your schedule. In my opinion, the craving for work-life balance only exists when you have a job that you hate.

I treat my life as a series of experiments, where I test out a lot of different assumptions along the way. If you don’t try, you will never know or understand. From my experience, we cannot get rid of things that we hate immediately, we have to slowly design and nudge our way forward.

Let’s say, if the job you hate is taking up 70% of your life, obviously you can’t quit right away, because we still have to put food on the table, right? But you can start to engage with meaningful work outside of the 70%, and slowly nudge it into 65%, then 50%, then 30% etc. We transform our life through time, but not jumping 100 miles at once.

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?

  • Be assertive and demand others to fit into your schedule rather than fitting into other people’s schedules
  • Learn to say “NO” to most things
  • Focus on meaning and purpose rather than materialistic means
  • Share your knowledge and beliefs with others unconditionally and learn more about yourself through the process of teaching
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep being curious about life
  • Spend time building relationships and not expecting anything in return

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

My all-time favourites:

Two more books which are on my to-read list:

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

Have clarity on the top 2 things you must complete the next day before your go to sleep.

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

Steve Jobs.

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

Continue to explore and understand who you are and who you are becoming, you will never have to worry about work-life balance again.

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This conversation is brought to you by Jhola, your personal management system — Simplify, Prioritize and Achieve work-life alignment.

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.