Justin Berkovi is the founder of ProductMagic, a collaborative advisory initiative providing vision, strategy and leadership for founders, C-Suite, teams and product people.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
Sure! We recently lost one of the digital greats, Sir Clive Sinclair and it was the Spectrum computer that cemented my interest in tech and design, nearly 40 years ago!
I’m pretty sure from thereon my path was set in stone and I have been working with teams and building digital products for over 20 years.
After a stint selling hi-end Silicon Graphics workstations to the defence industry I then set out as a product designer (although back then I’m pretty sure everyone was a ‘web designer’).
I cut my teeth within agencies and with my own shop using the Low-Code Macromedia suite of software. In the early 2000s whilst working on some design for Firebox.com I hooked up with Michael Smith and we founded the entertainment company MindCandy.
After that I founded my own Product Agency where I moved between consulting, strategy and design/ We had a wide range of clients such as Deutsche Bank, BBC, VISA as well as advising SMEs on product, digital marketing and growth.
I then headed briefly over to the ed-tech start-up Mrs Wordsmith as a Director before joining the agency Beyond where I worked as a Product Strategist for Google.
In 2019 I joined health-tech start-up Your.MD as CPO where I led the Product team and wider strategy.
This was of course during COVID and presented some unique challenges but we had some incredible people there and were able to win the Illumi award in 2020 from UserTesting.com as well as successfully rebranding the business and launching a new B2C mobile application.
I founded ProductMagic in June this year mainly to do what I love most, working with great people and building great products. I’ve been coaching leaders and product teams, helping two start-ups get going and also some advisory work.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I’m up just before 6 daily and head to my local gym – I’ve always loved training and that has become a part of my life. I’ll then head back to my place in Muswell Hill (North London) where I’m working from at the moment.
It’s an incredible spot with 360 views of North London and beyond and has been a godsend during the WFH era that COVID has ushered in. I have a pretty regimented diet and after breakfast I’ll jump on ZOOM calls with some of the clients I’m working with.
Recently I’ve been very hands-on with a men’s health company – we’re trying to establish a new direction for the company via a series of experiments. The challenge is to get just enough data to get a steer on what we might start building.
Another very different project that has kept me busy is helping a fairly established non-profit build and scale their Product team. It’s great meeting such talented people – the quality of work and minds out there never ceases to amaze me.
Part of my week also involves helping a nutrition tracking app get off the ground – it’s extremely exciting being there at the start of their journey.
In truth I’m always working but I have two adorable children who are morphing into teenagers (12/13). I’m making sure I can capture those last moments with them before they have zero interest in their parents!
Working from home allows me to apportion the right time of day to the right task. I’ll often find it easier to work at night when the outside world is a little quieter. To relax I love films (a hobby of mine also), make music (a previous career) and I still design bits and pieces.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Since COVID I think the entire work / remote landscape has changed. I had experience of remote working and ran remote teams for many years In the past. Whilst it’s nothing new for me it presents unique challenges to leaders and workers alike now.
We found at Healthily for example, that over 95% of the staff did not want to return to the office and preferred to work remotely or come in occasionally. What is important when you’re running teams is to be there for your people and do not assume that everyone has access to the same bandwidth, space and so on.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
It means loving what I’m doing – which I make sure I do. It does also mean switching off occasionally. Even a day or two away can have a huge positive impact on your mind. I make sure that I spend time with my kids, cooking, getting fresh air, and visiting the coast. All of these things are important.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Good question! I think many people have changed something or many things over the past year or two. I walk everywhere now, I stopped drinking alcohol a year ago, I got into drip coffee and cut down massively on my espresso machine .
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
There are some great podcasts out there such as vc:20, Design Better from Invision, 16 Minutes News by a16z. I used to love the Jake and Jonathan podcast (previously Product Breakfast Club) – always raised a chuckle and I highly recommend listening to all of the episodes.
I’ve been re-reading some old greats The Fearless Organization, Obviously Awesome‘ amongst many. Something I really loved was Sasha Sagan’s For Small Creatures Such as We – which was one of my favourites from last year.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
AirPods Pro, Sage Barista Express, Sony A7siii, Spotify, Ableton Live, Figma.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I would have loved to have seen into the mind of Steve Jobs and how he felt towards the end of his life on this question.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Give your all to everything – work and life, and you’ll be rewarded in many ways that you often never imagined. We have a finite time here, grab what you can! But be kind to others, make time for yourself and step away from screens if you can.
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