Balancing the Grind with Kishan Modi, Chief Product Officer at me&u

Kishan Modi is the Chief Product Officer at me&u, a smart menu that lives inside your pocket, allowing you to order your food and pay your bill.

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

I am the Chief Product Officer at me&u. You’ve probably seen a me&u beacon on a pub table, we are Australia’s leading order and pay platform. We started 4 years ago in Sydney and launched in the UK last year and went live in the US this year.

me&u is rapidly expanding as we continue to place beacons on tables everywhere with the simple goal of making it easy for customers to order and pay! In the last couple of years over 14M Australians have tapped into me&u.

In terms of background – I’ve always been the dude obsessed with food and solving problems! I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left high school, and even after university in London – I had dabbled in a few banking internships and had offers for graduate programs in the UK but decided to come home to Sydney and explore other options.

I landed a gig in management consulting for a few years and worked at A.T.Kearney. I actually had a gap year between accepting my offer in consulting and actually starting and decided to go to Paris and trained to be a basic pastry chef at Le Cordon Bleu (partly for fun and partly because I once had a little dream that one day I might open a chain of pastry shops and sell croissants – who knows maybe one day I will!).

When I was a management consultant, luckily every project that I worked on revolved around F&B across FMCG and Retail from setting up a cheese factory, to the meat and poultry distribution planning. I was the super vocal new starter that would go up to the Partners desks and every time a project came in that had anything to do with F&B I politely requested to be put on it. 

When I left A.T.Kearney I ended up working as a Food Consultant at a boutique firm with some of the coolest foodies in Australia setting up food precincts. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a ‘Food Consultant’ but it is great.

I worked on projects like master planning food courts in shopping centres and working on the Sydney Fish Markets redevelopment (I absolutely loved it – it was all my management consulting skills but with less powerpoint slides! I remember modelling how many dinner plates a food court would need for instance, and how looking at the pricing strategy for a food menu). 

After that I worked with Thr1ve for a bit on a contract role (healthy meals delivered) and then moved to HelloFresh where I ended up leading their Product Innovation team and working with Product and Tech superstars. So I have always been in the food space – weirdly not something that I’ve planned but have just naturally followed what I am passionate about.

Product and tech happened by pure chance actually and I fell into a world at HelloFresh where I became really interested in consumer behaviour and how people ordered on their mobile and laptop screens. Now I am doing similar in putting together the beautiful digital menu experiences at me&u (except now instead of a salad it is usually beers and a schnitzel). 

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

I am a morning person so I usually get up around 5:30am. I try to get my fitness in early in the day (otherwise it won’t happen!) and at the moment I alternate between running with the dog (my furbaby named Otto) and heading to the gym for a HIIT class.

I then usually grab a quick coffee around 7am where I check emails and slack to see if anything urgent has come in overnight – I might have a call with the US team and then I am usually in deep work mode from about 8-10am. Late morning is usually meetings with the team and 1:1s. And then afternoons are either customer, operator, tech partner meetings or workshops with the product and design team.

At the moment I am splitting the work week and working a couple of days from home and a couple from our Sydney office in Surry Hills. When I am in the office I like to walk in – takes me about an hour where I am either on calls, or listening to jazz (or as my team recently called it ‘Kish elevator music’ because it helps me focus and get all my thoughts together). 

Evenings are spent with my partner Paul and our dog Otto. I try to have screen free time for a few hours around dinner. And then I usually end the day with a few emails preparing for the next day, sometimes calls with the UK team and catching up on reading. We have a ‘no screen’ rule once in bed and I try to be in bed by around 10pm.

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

It does indeed. My current role allows for me to be incredibly flexible and very much work from wherever. Last year our CTO and I made the call that as long as we achieve what we need in a three week sprint the Product and Tech squads can very much work when and where they like. 

I am however someone that likes routine. I usually plan where I will be working from for the week on a Sunday (my partner and I sit down and do our schedules – we decide who will cook what night, when each of us will be in the office and working from home and even what days that week we will be walking the dog). 

But the beauty is even when I am working from home, that it can be up the road at my favourite cafe, at times at a pub before or after meeting with key partners or sitting in the backyard with headphones on. 

We’ve seen the flexibility we provide the team in Product and Tech see an increase in productivity and innovative thinking. But at the same time – human connection is very important and most teams organise a day per fortnight or so to come together.

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

One of my mentors once told me that life was like a three legged stool – one leg was friends and family, the other love and affection, and the third leg your career. And that the ultimate aim was to keep all of them in check to have a perfectly balanced stool. I actually thought she made it up when she told me but I’ve seen variations of the same analogy on google and I’ve always liked it. 

Family time is incredibly important to me (growing up in a traditional Indian household – family is everything) and ensuring we share a meal around the table over good food with no phones is really important. I know when I fail at work life balance (and it happens occasionally) because you will see me eating dinner at my desk instead of at the dining table.

The line between work and life for me has often been blurry. Even more so in my current role (which I think is common when you are doing something you love and in an industry you are fascinated with).

I often find myself having beers on a weekend with friends at a me&u venue when they will have some of the best ideas about App enhancements and I will find myself shifting into work mode and doing product research in what was meant to be an afternoon switching off.

Overall it has meant a few things to me throughout my career. At the moment it means being in control and being able to manage my time ensuring every leg of the stool gets what it needs. I try to block out parts of my day in my calendar with what I call ‘Paul Time’ and ‘meeting free time’ to ensure it balances out.

I am also someone that thinks more in weeks and not days at times. So if I work super late on a Tuesday for example on a deliverable because I am in the zone I might end up taking half the Friday off and escaping to the mountains for the weekend. And that to me is balance. Paul and I are getting pretty good at weekends away and escaping off the grid to recharge at the end of a busy week.

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

I have become more of a creature of habit and weekly schedules. The middle of the week can still be spontaneous – but Saturday and Sundays are planned and allow me to reset for the week ahead.

Paul and I plan the week as a couple. We have a white board each stuck inside our pantry with each day of the week on it (no joke – like old school whiteboards) where we share what days we are in the office, what days we will be cooking, and who needs to make the next dinner reservation.

We do it every Sunday evening and once done neither of make any changes for the week no matter what if we commit to cooking dinner or walking the dog it is set in stone and we hold each accountable – works really well and ensures we make time for each other (I know when I have failed with balancing the week as Paul will write up ‘you need to give me kisses’ on the whiteboard).

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

I am currently listening to The Startup Podcast by Yaniv Bernstein & Chris Sead and I am really enjoying it.

I weirdly don’t have any favourite books. If you find me with a book it is usually a cookbook, I find it incredibly therapeutic to flick through cookbooks and tag all the recipes that I’d like to try out.

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

I use the remarkable (which is an e-ink writing tablet) that absolutely loves to take notes in meetings and jotting down ideas that I then convert into emails that I send myself. It is fantastic.

In terms of Apps and products I am slowly becoming addicted to using Milkrun and Voly when I am at home – we will be wanting a snack and before you know it one of us is looking at what chocolate to order within 10 mins (genius and so lazy it is perfect). Super interested in seeing how these platforms grow.

And weirdly, our Philips hue lights as in smart lights (which I didn’t even know I needed in life until my partner installed them everywhere around the house). The ability to program when our lights go on and off actually helps manage the day and set boundaries.

We have a rule of no screens in the bedroom (unless it is a Kindle in bed) and our bedroom lights go off automatically at 10pm as a sign to tell us it is time to switch off.

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

Probably Massimo Bottura the Italian Restaurateur and Chef. I think anyone that can be a famous Chef, own multiple award winning restaurants, write books, and have time with the family whilst looking as happy as Massimo usually does must have a few work life balance tricks up their sleeve.

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

Do what feels right and ultimately just ensure you end the week or month smiling. I find balance in a day can be tough, and if you don’t achieve ultimate balance in a 24 hour period go easy on yourself and think in terms of a week!

Some weeks I work crazy hours to get a goal over the line and launch a new product (and the sense of accomplishment in the team when we deliver makes it absolutely worth it) other weeks I switch off at 3pm because I can and decide to make complex dinner for Paul and take Otto on a evening walk to watch the sunset. 

Work life balance needs to be what feels right for you and there is no cookie cutter formula to get it right.

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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.