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Balancing the Grind with Matthew Bright, General Manager, Strategic Partnerships at Open

Matthew Bright is the General Manager, Strategic Partnerships at Open, a company on a mission to offer the fastest insurance at the best price for the world.

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

I’m Matt. Currently I head up the partnerships team at Open. We’re a 6-year old insurtech scale-up backed by AirTree Ventures and a couple of international funds. The company is Australian-made, and currently expanding internationally into the UK and NZ.

I joined Open last November, after the company raised its Series B. Open is in rapid-growth mode, having gone from 30 to over 100 people in 6 months! We have offices in Surry Hills, the Sunshine Coast, Auckland and now London.

On the partnerships side we work with large corporates like Telstra and ahm, lenders such as Plenti, right through to smaller B-Corps (of which we are one ourselves, and pledge 1% to people, planet and purpose). 

I gained a lot of operating experience throughout this recent wave of tech proliferation in Australia. Prior to joining Open, I was at Zip Co, building their Zip Business unit, basically a startup inside Zip during the first two years of the onset of the pandemic.

That was after integrating Zip’s acquisition of the ANZ operations of Spotcap, a global online SME lender that I built the Australian operations of as an early employee, from the co-working space in the early days of Stone & Chalk in 2016 right up to Zip’s purchase in 2019 to build a business lending capability. It’s been a ride to say the least! 

I’m actively involved in the Australian start-up ecosystem and my side hustle is Instant. I mentored and then advised a fantastic pair of teenage founders building a checkout payments startup from June last year and in February this year we announced a $2.2m pre-seed round with tier-one investors (led by Blackbird Ventures).

Instant is in its early growth phase of acquiring merchants now and I advise the company on commercial and go-to-market matters. Between Open as my mainstay and Instant as a side hustle it is like having a teenager and a teething baby both at once! 

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

They tend to differ widely. From formulating new deals to running partner workshops with major corporations, to brand-building for Open by directing video shoots right out to scouting locations for a company event in an exotic location!

I’m in our Surry Hills office a few days a week. We’re above Humble Bakery which is dangerous territory for premium baked goods (!) but great to rub shoulders with people in startup land, including VCs, operators and advisers.

What is brilliant about Open is the focus on a sense of purpose as a B-Corp and our participation in important initiatives for sustainability and the planet. For instance, in March we have a field day at North Head Sanctuary in NSW, where we will take a guided tour of the area and its importance for conservation. 

The beauty of partner-focused roles is the market-facing component, which a little has been lost during recent times and I look forward to returning as the country opens back up. I went to my first in-person conference with InsureTech Australia on the rooftop of the MCA recently and it was fantastic to be out there in-person. 

Personally, health is really important to me and in the morning I try to squeeze in a Pilates reformer class to get moving and set the tone before kicking off the work day – ideally followed by a strong coffee! In the evening my one constant to hold it together is yoga. I like doing yin yoga at night as the long, sustained asanas calm the nervous system down and you have blissful, deep, restorative sleep afterwards. 

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

Open is a flexible employer, with staff being able to work remotely, anywhere. For instance, I’m typing this from my friend’s eco-retreat in Byron Bay, Axonda and I’ve worked out of Habitat, the co-working space up here. 

Otherwise more generally, I do the hybrid thing, working 2-3 days in the office and inbetween days at home. That also extends to exercise and work/life balance.

I find the connected fitness movement is particularly compelling and I typically ride my Peloton bike at home and then go to a studio for other social exercise. In summer I like to sail twilight races to break up the week on a Weds or close it out on a Friday. 

For homework, I’m big on having the right workspace. As a giant at 6’5 I have a stand-up desk at home in my study which I find is great for the spine. As an amateur art collector I’m also big on being around nice imagery and recently bought the title work in George Byrne’s ‘Innervisions’ series to hang on the wall in my study for some soft-pastel inspiration. 

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

Work-life balance to me means a high level of self actualisation in both of those areas of life and maintaining a very healthy sense of self that extends well beyond my professional career. 

Having worked in multiple different versions of intense environments in tech (early-stage startups to scale-ups and a listed unicorn) to a consulting firm, bank and a top-tier corporate law firm, I think you become adept and thriving, surviving and ultimately adapting and putting in the structures that help you. And that has really changed recently.

When I travelled a lot for work I found I did my best thinking in-between destinations mid-air. Then during lockdown I found it was breaking my days up doing the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. 

Now I find it is sailing, an activity far bigger than yourself that requires absolute presence and cooperative teamwork navigating the harbour or ocean. I learned to sail later in life in my thirties down at the CYCA in Darling Point by crewing on the former Commodore of the club’s yacht and then did a formal course next door at Pacific Sailing School.

During the second lockdown I was really fortunate that sailing was classed as a 2-person recreational activity and I got to do 1-on-1 lessons with Wendy Tuck, a master skipper, mostly with the harbour to ourselves (once in a lifetime), and I learned a lot.

Beyond work, I think that it is really important to have side projects that give you a sense of purpose, give back, connect you to the community and ultimately cultivate other skills.

Personally, I’m closely involved with The University of Sydney’s Business School as the Vice President of the Business Alumni Network committee, as a mentor in the Dalyell Scholar Program, a guest lecturer and the creator of the ‘Unconventional Careers’ video series.

I find that helping students navigate their studies and the bridge between academia and industry is personally-rewarding and a great vehicle for a couple of decades of crystallised experience. 

It’s also great to have hobbies and sometimes they become border-line vocational. It got seriously into food and wine in recent years after all of the client and partner wining and dining over the years and then channelled it from a personal interest into a qualification.

Last year I sat the Wine Spirits and Education Trust’s Level 1 in wine and next up I’m prepping for Level II and a few of the cooking courses at master butchery Victor Churchill. 

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

Having done really intense phases of startups and tech companies I had put a few routines in place already, with a pretty rigorous hot yoga and reformer pilates schedule that provides a fitness foundation and fosters resilience.

During lockdown I followed that online to keep in shape and handle the always-on onslaught of Slack messages and Zoom calls. Disabling notifications on my phone other than calls and messages has been brilliant for mental health. 

Late last year I was feeling really tired and got into doing weekly infra-red saunas at Nimbus in Bondi Junction, which I am a huge fan of for the waves of euphoria and calm that it brings. Nirvana! 

When we came out of lockdown I did a few HIIT classes on the rooftop at Paramount House in Surry Hills and would love to get back there for the social side and great workouts. Having crossed 40, cross fit offsets my sweet tooth! 

The one unexpected surprise that I am loving at the moment is gardening! I live in a terrace with a charming little garden courtyard and I’m loving planting herbs, plants and weeding. I think we’ve all strayed a bit far from our agrarian roots and there is something deeply calming about tending to a backyard plot amidst the busyness of city life.

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

‘Balancing the Grind’, obviously! I’m big into tech podcasts like the venture funds’ a16z and Greylock and I really like Guy Raz’s ‘How I Built This’. 

I tend to tune into particular themes. Recently on a long road trip I binged on happiness-focused podcasts including Arthur C Brooks’ How to Build a Happy Life for The Atlantic, Laurie Santos’ The Happiness Lab and Dacher Keltner’s ‘The Science of Happiness’ and had a lot of takeaways for small tweaks on life-orientation to build a happier life, Highly recommend. 

In terms of books, right now I’m reading Bill Hayes’ Sweat: a History of Exercise, which I’m finding super-interesting.  

Slightly left of centre, but the series that I am particularly proud of personally is the Unconventional Careers series, which I started with The University of Sydney, showcasing graduates and people involved in the faculty who took the road less travelled in their career in fields as diverse as online fashion retail, gin and whisky production, venture capital and climate investing. 

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

Not really. I tend to be very analog in a lot of ways beyond work. Most of my phone notifications are switched off and I prefer reading physical books to a Kindle or iPad. It’s great to switch off and not be wired 24/7. 

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

I find it really interesting reading about people’s particular challenges and unique personal circumstances and how that has influenced their work-life balance.

I’ve just started reading gallerist Tim Olsen’s Son of the Brush and how his role as son of a prominent Australian artist (John Olsen) and the shadow cast from that hung over his life, moving towards Tim forging his own identity and charting his own course in life.

These human interest pieces are fascinating in understanding how individuals are wired and structure their lives to thrive.  

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

I think ultimately just how important it is to achieve the trifecta on your own terms. You only have one life (unless you’re an ardant Buddhist!) and it’s pretty important to balance it and achieve a combination of fulfilment and contentment. 

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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.