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Balancing the Grind with Marcel Herz, Co-Founder & CEO at Tiliter

Marcel Herz is the co-founder & CEO at Tiliter, a Sydney-based AI tech company that makes computer vision software for retail that identifies products without barcodes.

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

Born and raised in Germany, my background is in mechanical engineering. After I graduated, I decided to make the move to Australia, a place where I had no career plans and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life because Australia has been my second home for the last 8 years.

When I first arrived, I worked in the construction industry while studying for my Masters in Biomedical Engineering and it’s here that I met my 2 co-founders.  We clicked and a couple of years later started Tiliter, a company that provides product recognition for the entire offline and online retail landscape.

As one of the co-founders and CEO I am proud to say that in the pursuit of changing the retail world for the better, we have built some amazing products and a phenomenal team 

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

In the mornings I get up to speed on what has transpired on Salesforce, Slack and checking emails, messages, etc. I usually give myself 1 hour to get through it and respond to anything that needs urgent attention. 

Once that’s out of the way I focus on the company outlook plus meetings with existing and potential new stakeholders. I am a product guy, and I spend a lot of time talking to the teams about features/ decision prioritisation.

One of the most important jobs as CEO is to take responsibility and accountability for the culture, something that can’t be delegated which I take very seriously. I read a lot and listen to people that are 2-3 years further ahead than we are and try to incorporate certain aspects that I feel would set up the company for success.

I try to leave work around 7-8 to have dinner (preferably outside) with my partner and spend some time away from the company. At 10pm I get back to it and check in with our overseas teams in Germany and New York about internal/customer developments. I go to the gym around 11pm and head to sleep sometime before 1am,

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

At Tiliter, we made the call early on to let people work from home. As we have 3 teams (US, Germany and Australia) we have become comfortable with different time zones, remote work and video calls early on in our journey.

Flexibility is important now more than ever and it is where we put a lot of emphasis going forward. This doesn’t mean, people don’t work hard, they are committed to the vision and go the extra mile, but providing a safe and healthy environment where everyone can thrive is most important.

Personally, it would be great to go to the gym and surf whenever I feel like it but if you work 9-9 there’s not much wiggle room to do these kinds of activities. I work long hours nearly every day but I don’t feel exhausted or demotivated but rather energised to achieve great things with Tiliter.

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

As a founder of a company, I hope I am not alone here, it never really feels like work, don’t get me wrong, sometimes you are overwhelmed with the sheer number of tasks and meetings but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade the world for what I get to do. It’s literally the greatest thing I have ever done in my life.

Sometimes, it is hard to switch off if you are out with your partner or friends, however, I try my best to be present, devote quality time to my family and try to speak on other topics besides Tiliter. It helps that my partner and I have a dog, we spend a lot of time outdoors to switch off.

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

After the lockdown in Sydney was lifted, I joined the gym again and I’ve been going 4-5 times a week. I’ve been listening to rap music again during my workout and it’s been enjoyable to track parallels between rap music and start-ups which are incredible and closely linked.

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

Probably a bit of a founder cliché but I enjoy biographies on Steve Jobs, Elon Musk.  For newsletters, I read through a lot of Twitter threads from all different kinds of people in venture, politics, sports and science.

I’ve been listening to Harry Stebings a lot, he’s interviewing some incredible CEOs, investors and other amazing people that work in product, marketing, etc. who share their knowledge and observations over the years. Reid Hoffman is another one of my favourites and his episodes Masters of Scale

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

Closing my health rings on the Apple Watch has become something of an internal battle with myself. I’m competitive to a fault and closing these rings feels pretty good at the end of the day to know that I wasn’t in a sedentary state all day. 

Also, I like to stay up to date with the news from all over the world, so the four apps I’m using a lot are NYT, BBC, ABC and Der Spiegel. I’m overseas right now so I don’t have my guitar with me but I try to get a bit of guitar playing in to take breaks either at the office or at home and it is also a good way for me to think about an issue and zone out.

This can be quite annoying for my partner though because I switch between songs nearly every minute and I don’t have the best singing voice.

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

Elon Musk. I’ve listened to a few podcasts interviews where he talks about it briefly but I would like to know the full story. He seems like the kind of guy I can relate to through his obsession with building great companies and changing the status quo in a big way in whatever he is trying to do.

He posits the question ‘How can you do these remarkable things while still taking the time for family and friends?’ Not sure if he has found the answers yet but I believe he’s got more experience in trying different methods and what is working for him.

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

Take it with a grain of salt, but keep looking for something that makes you happy and where you feel complete. I have worked many different jobs from starting out as a car mechanic to climbing cranes and working as an engineer. However, I never felt like I found my calling. 

Through all these jobs, I couldn’t shake this niggling feeling but when we started our own company I knew what it was, no salary or flexible working arrangements in the world would have made me happy. Starting something from scratch changed everything for me.

Building a great and lasting culture is one of my personal life goals. If you feel like you can build a better culture incorporating work-life balance and have great ideas, please leave the nest and build it. I will support and cheer for you.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.