CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Liyen Tan, Founder & CEO at Hawkr

Liyen Tan is the founder & CEO at Hawkr, a Malaysian-based marketplace for homemade food delivery.

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

I graduated from UC San Diego in June 2020. Since it was the height of the pandemic, I did not have a proper graduation. I had been waiting for 4 years for my family to fly 8000 miles to watch me graduate but oh well.

To top it off, I also lost my job offer secured after my internship in my third year. I sold my belongings and booked a one way ticket to the Bay Area in California in hopes of finding something there. It was during those trying times I started to miss the comforts of home; homemade Malaysian food would have made the world a difference.

That was when I founded Hawkr, a marketplace for homemade food delivery. We aggregate the most delicious homemade food made by home cooks in your neighbourhood and deliver them straight to your doorstep! That’s what Hawkr is all about.

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

I wake up anytime between 7am-8.30am. I typically get ready within 15 minutes of waking up. No makeup, only the bare minimum skincare routine. I only own a handful of clothes so I don’t spend time choosing what to wear.

My go-to are shorts and a simple t-shirt to brave the Malaysian weather. I don’t eat breakfast because I practise intermittent fasting. You can read that as “I’m broke and I’m just trying to save money,”. In general, I try to make as few decisions as possible in the morning to avoid decision-fatigue.

I know it sounds cliche but no two days are alike as a startup founder. For the sake of this question, I’ll talk about what my Mondays look like since my Mondays are the most consistent. I should also preface that my entire company works remotely. I then start my workday by doing silent, deep work until at least 10.30am.

This usually involves going through my to-do list, answering emails, analysing data, coming up with bets to execute for the week, and basically anything that involves building processes. 10.30am is when I hop onto Slack or to hang out with the rest of my team.

On Mondays, this is when we usually have sprint meetings to plan the course of the week. We usually keep this fun and cheerful because no one likes a gloomy Monday. This week, my team and I joked about having an ice cream truck tracker on our app which will notify users when the truck is nearby.

The notification sound should also play the iconic ice cream truck song. The rest of the Monday is usually spent on with the team. We usually stay muted as we go about our tasks but we’re all one unmute button away to discuss and debug if anyone gets stuck on a particular task. It’s always a great feeling to watch teammates trying to help each other.

Personally, I typically end my workday at 6.30pm and head off to dinner. I don’t cook because, why cook when you have all the amazing options at your fingertips from your own platform? After dinner, I get back to work and this is when I work on things that require my creative juices to flow such as design.

Sometimes, my teammates show up on Slack or on Gather after dinner as well. Every Hawkr employee works flexible hours so they are free to work anytime they want, however long they want. The only requirement is that they complete their tasks to the best of their ability.

Some of the most memorable and heated discussions with my team happen at night because the majority of us are night owls. I also spend some weekday evenings and the weekend manning Hawkr’s customer service chat. My biggest fear is to lose touch with customers.

I try my best to wind down by 12am so I can head to bed by 1am. This usually involves reading or watching YouTube. My nighttime routine always ends with planning for the next day. I am quite an anxious person so I prefer starting my mornings with a clear picture of what I am going to work on.

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

Frankly, my work-life balance has a lot of room for improvement. However, I try my best to constantly tell myself that rest is necessary and that I am bigger than my startup’s achievements and failures. I enjoy playing video games, cooking, dancing, and singing.

I used to be heavily involved in performing arts as a child all the way up until my college years. Whenever I can, I try to attend dance classes because it is purely one hour of the week where I can tell myself nothing else in this world matters.

It is one hour of forgetting I have a startup to run. On the other hand, it’s also an avenue to exercise the creative part of my brain which is undeniably important as a founder. To me, that’s the best type of work-life balance.

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

Absolutely. I stopped pushing myself way beyond the brink of burnout. This means not working if I fall sick and taking one day out of the week off.

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

If you’re in Southeast Asia and want in on the tech scene, I highly recommend subscribing to the BackScoop newsletter. I love listening to any startup-related podcast and don’t have a particular favourite. In terms of non-startup-related podcasts, Sam Harris’s Making Sense podcast takes the cake.

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

Any entrepreneur really. I’d love to learn from fellow founders and how they manage their work-life balance.

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

I am grateful to have the opportunity to build a startup like this. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope to see a world where people are working on things they find fulfilling and truly enjoy because life is short.

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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.