Melanie Kansil is the Co-Founder & CEO of Alyte, a social fitness app transforming the way individuals connect and share healthy experiences together.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m the CEO & Co-founder of Alyte, a start-up with a vision of making it easy to share healthy experiences online – starting with fitness. I found my way into entrepreneurship through a windy road in corporations and the start-up world, but with a thorough line of passion for improving how things work, and for consumer brands with meaning and authenticity.
I started my career in management consulting at McKinsey in New York – having decided during uni that I didn’t want to be a Physicist (I studied Physics for my undergraduate degree). I loved problem-solving and I loved working with clients at McKinsey, but after doing my MBA at Stanford, and a few years back at the firm in Sydney, I realised that I wanted to be on the ‘doing’ side rather than the advising side.
So I started my first company, Customer Underground, which focused on making it easier for consumers to share feedback about and to businesses. I went through the highs and lows of the start-up journey and tried to remain sane while also having two children under two and a husband commuting to Melbourne – it was a crazy time!
I then went back into corporate with a range of executive roles – heading up strategy & investments at Nine Entertainment Co, road service at the NRMA, and then as Chief Commercial Officer at The a2 Milk Company. But the itch to start something that has a big impact hadn’t been scratched – so here I am again. We’re out to do no less than grow human health & happiness!
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
It would be easy for my days to feel crazy, but I try to keep enough ‘space’ to maintain my energy and sense of joy. On any given day, once the kids are up, fed and out of the house to school, I start with a workout with a friend on Alyte, then kick off the workday with our daily team stand-up. Today I did a pilates session with a friend I met at a leadership program at Stanford a few years back – she’s now in Dallas, so it was great to catch up (and workout).
The working day itself varies a lot – meetings with the team, advisors, investors, as well as focused work time. I generally wrap-up around 6:30/7pm, and then cook – for me, cooking is a meditation of sorts, and a mental break and buffer before family time. We usually have dinner as a family and then there might be a half-hour of TV before putting the kids, and myself, to bed. We’re currently re-watching Seinfeld from the beginning – so much fun to see it again!
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 that allows for a lot of flexibility for the whole team. We are very intentional about our time together, with a week a month to ‘hothouse’ – this means we have creative time together to solve problems as well as have fun together as a team.
The rest of the time, I’m generally in our office 2-3 days per week which makes it possible to flex around work commitments, meetings, as well as the rest of life – not to mention the benefit of a little extra time when working from home.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I focus on balancing energy – physical, mental, and emotional. And specifically balancing this across what’s important to me in work, family, health, and friendships.
I’ve become better over the years at understanding what gives me energy – things like exchanging ideas with teammates, learning something new, a walk in the sunshine, time on the sofa with the family, quiet time alone reading. And understanding and what depletes it. I’ve also realised how essential sleep and exercise are to my health and energy levels – this should have been obvious to me earlier in life!
I try to listen to what I need on a particular day, and if I have something that will require energy, I make sure I’ve built up a reserve. Some specific little ways I do this might be taking a short morning walk before work down the road to get a coffee at my local café, planning what I feel like eating for dinner and then making it, or booking an afternoon stretch class on Alyte.
I also try to minimise things that deplete my reserves, like driving in Sydney traffic. To offset this, I try to walk and take public transport whenever I can and listen to a podcast, so this feels like personal time. Some people think I’m a bit nuts as I’m happy to go out of my way and take longer if I can get somewhere by bus or train.
For my family, I love spending time together. In terms of our daily routine, we have clearly defined family time around dinner and the bedtime routine. I love reading to my kids and chatting before bed – it’s how we connect daily. And with the hubby, we have a Monday date night to make sure we get time for just the two of us.
Of course, there are plenty of times when these routines fall in a heap and things get a bit manic, but I try to continually improve and remember to re-centre.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
The big change for me in the past year is developing a daily exercise habit – and this has all been due to Alyte! I used to struggle to do anything more than one exercise session a week – weekdays were just too crazy to get to a studio class, and I just don’t like running or the gym, nor do I have the discipline to use a solo fitness app.
What’s made the difference is that now I just set an appointment with a friend – I plan my week on Sunday to see what’s happening, when I can fit in 30-45min and then book in a friend for each day. While I’m very able to flake out on myself, I won’t flake on a friend! And I feel so much stronger, healthier and less stressed with a daily exercise habit. I don’t try to be a hero – I just try to find a window almost every day (even if only 15min) and book in a buddy for a sesh with Alyte.
Another routine I started last year is Friday Nacho Night – every Friday I make nachos and we watch a movie together as a family. It’s the best way to wind down from the week!
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I love reading and I love podcasts, so there are way more favourites than I could possibly mention! I mix up my time between things that are business-related and things that are purely for interest or enjoyment. On the business front, the book Hooked by Nir Eyal is a recent excellent read – offering practical insight into building products that are habit-forming (for good!), and I also love the How I Built This podcast.
For learning other things and enjoyment, Shameless, Planet Money, and The Sporkful are some of my favourite regular podcasts, and I love a good murder mystery or fantasy/sci fi book. My husband got me a book subscription from Heywood Hill, and this has been the best gift ever – each month, a book specially picked for me arrives; it’s like getting a monthly Christmas gift!
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Alyte, of course! Seriously – it’s been essential to my developing and keeping a regular exercise routine, and I’ve been able to spend more time with friends and family overseas by ‘killing two birds with one stone’ and sharing a workout or stretching together. Beyond this, it’s really just my phone, earpods, and maybe Candy Crush – is that too embarrassing?
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’m not particularly interested in specific leaders or celebrities on this topic – instead, I’m interested in hearing the truth from anyone, whether they’re well-known or not. I love to hear from people who are open about how they balance work and life – and open about when things go wrong. And are specific – I want to know the techniques! I like to ask friends, I love discussions in a group, and I love reading interviews where people are genuine and authentic.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
For me, what’s most helpful at the highest level is being clear about ‘why’ is most important to me and investing my energy there – and then ensuring I find enough ways to build my energy. And being honest with myself. I know I am not going to be great at housekeeping, or personal admin, or a million other things, so I try to accept that and be kind to myself. Easier said than done!
Before you go…
If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.
Join our community and never miss a conversation about work, life & balance – subscribe to our newsletter.