CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Katy Brown, Co-Founder & CEO at Magic Mountain

Katy Brown is the co-founder & CEO at Magic Mountain, a platform where you can collaborate or compete in team movement challenges with your friends, family or colleagues.

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

I guess you could call me a bit of a career nomad! I started out in management consulting, working in financial services for high-profile clients all over the world, from the UK and Switzerland to New Zealand and the US. I then spent a couple of years working for an investment manager, before co-founding a social enterprise working with charities. It’s all taught me a lot!  

I’m now the co-founder and CEO of Magic Mountain, a health-tech start-up on a mission to give everyone the motivation they need to move. It’s amazing bringing everything I’ve learned to try and help people lead healthier and happier lives. 

I’m also a keynote speaker, talking about purpose, wellbeing and invisible illness. I’m a committee member for a philanthropy charity and a trained crisis volunteer with Shout, the UK’s crisis text service. We support people going through a crisis from suicide, self-harm and abuse to depression and anxiety. 

At heart I’m a hands-on doer who is passionate about wellness, loves making things happen and believes, more than anything else, that we can all achieve more together.   

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

Every day starts with a 7am walk in the park with my dog Lucky. He is easily the best thing that ever happened to my physical and mental wellbeing! Then it’s 15-20 minutes of yoga, which I find really helps relieve any stress and anxiety I’m feeling. I’m usually at my desk by 8am and start by planning my day – I’m a big fan of a ‘to do’ list to focus my mind!  

I manage my time by block booking meetings in the morning or afternoon and keeping them to 20 or 45 minutes, so I don’t lose my day to endless Zoom calls. I can then use the rest of the time to support my team or really focus on getting through what needs to be done. I’ve found it makes me way more productive!  

I block out an hour every day to get active over lunch, heading back to the park with Lucky. These are the healthy boundaries that mean I can thrive and I’m really strict about holding the line. Walking outside is when I dream up my most creative ideas and solve the knottiest problems. Taking a break at lunchtime means I go into the afternoon much more energised too and avoid the mid-afternoon slump! 

I head out for another walk around 5.30/6pm (Lucky is a high energy springer spaniel!) before wrapping up work early-evening. I try really hard to keep evenings, weekends and holidays work-free, though there are inevitably times that doesn’t happen of course.  

I know from experience what happens when you don’t have healthy boundaries, when stress starts to become distress, a negative and destructive force. I know how easy it is to sacrifice your wellbeing for your work. Because of that, I try really hard to have a healthy balance! 

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

We’re a remote-first team, so people can work from anywhere. We’ve currently got team members working from Scotland, England, France, Australia and Thailand! We’re truly flexible and blocking out time to move each day is a must! We trust everyone to get the job done and care about outcomes not inputs. 

Put simply, remote and flexible working makes doing my job possible. For the last 10 years I’ve suffered from chronic migraine, a debilitating and disability condition that leaves me in severe pain most days. Chronic migraine is a thief, stealing your sense of self, your precious moments with friends and family and sometimes even your career. It doesn’t care what’s on your agenda or in your calendar. 

Flexible working means I can manage my chronic health conditions much more effectively, I can do great work without sacrificing my wellbeing. I firmly believe that no one should have to choose between meaningful work and their health. Creating flexible, accessible and truly inclusive workplaces goes a long way to making that possible.  

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

I spent 10 years as a workaholic, regularly sacrificing my wellbeing for my career. I was a classic insecure overachiever with high-functioning anxiety. We are the type of people who often forget that our ultimate ‘duty of care’ is to ourselves. We are the type of people who often don’t know when to stop. 

This left me chronically ill, in severe pain, struggling with depression and anxiety, and propped up on sleeping tablets and caffeine. I coped, I survived, I didn’t thrive. 

I guess this is what can happen when you have no work-life balance! So for me, balance means doing great work in a way that works for me and the life I want to live. It means doing great work without compromising my wellbeing. It means having my priorities in the right order. 

I read about “life-work balance” the other day, which I thought was a great reflection of the shift we’re experiencing with the rise of remote working. People are re-prioritising what is truly important to them. Starting to organise our work around our lives instead of the other way around, not letting our jobs define us and realising there’s more to life than work will lead to deeper purpose, and better balance, across all areas of our life. 

Healthy boundaries and daily habits are how I try to achieve that balance. Most importantly, I’m really strict about holding myself accountable! It’s easy to sacrifice the time you’ve set aside to move when your ‘to do’ list gets too long, or a client wants to squeeze in a meeting. Your healthy boundaries have to be non-negotiable, you can’t compromise on them. If you do, that balance starts to gradually slip away. 

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

It’s more than 12 months ago now, but easily the best thing that changed my life – and my wellbeing – was getting a dog! He gives me all the motivation I need to be active every day and he’s the best companion I could ask for! 

My rules around meetings (that I mentioned earlier) and how I structure my day to ensure I’ve got time to focus have really helped my productivity. They’ve definitely been helpful additions to my routine. 

I’ve also found my morning yoga routine really beneficial. It’s just 15-20 minutes before I start work but it helps relieve any stress and anxiety I might be feeling before getting going with the day! 

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

I always recommend a fantastic podcast called The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish, particularly an episode called The Angel Philosopher where he interviews the brilliant Naval Ravikant.  

It’s worth signing up to Shane’s weekly newsletter called Brain Food too, packed full of thought-provoking insights! 

On books – so many! I’m a real bookworm and while these books aren’t about wellbeing or work, I’d highly recommend these fascinating and insightful reads: 

  • Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling 
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou 
  • A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough  

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

I’m an avid mountain hiker and so wouldn’t be without my Garmin watch. Having a map on your wrist is great! 

It would be remiss of me not to mention Magic Mountain too of course! I love joining team movement challenges on the app, competing or collaborating with friends, family and colleagues to reach our goal. We move together, we move better and we move more. 

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

Still thinking, there are so many people I learn so much from! 

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

There’s still a real hustle culture in start-ups, where working long hours and weekends is apparently ‘what it takes.’ It’s almost a badge of honour, a rite of passage, something to be proud of. Except it isn’t. 

If the dream only works for 16-20 hour days, maybe it isn’t the dream at all. Maybe it’s just the road to burn-out. 

The hustle culture isn’t sustainable and it’s not what success looks like. I’m speaking from experience. Living that life made me chronically ill and it trashed my physical, mental and social well being. 

I now get three walks a day with my dog and I sleep 7-8 hours a night. I spend my weekends in the mountains. I manage my chronic pain while doing great work. I’m more creative and more productive. I actually get more done. 

We’re getting a lot better, but we’ve still got a way to go. I think it’s time we all shifted the dialogue around what it takes to be an entrepreneur and helped people realise that there is another way. A way that involves a better balance between work and life. Our start-ups need to be healthy and sustainable places that genuinely champion wellbeing. 

I think our future selves, our teams, and our investors will thank us for 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.