Michelle Forster is the founder & CEO at myWhānau, a calendar assistant app on a mission to get back time and improve wellbeing for parents.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My career background, prior to myWhānau, was in transforming businesses back into growth. As GM – Marketing at BBQs Galore and as Marketing Manager for Women’s Health at Johnson & Johnson.
I helped both businesses return to growth within 12 months. I was awarded B&T ‘Marketing team of the year’ – runner up behind Woolworths for BBQs Galore and J&J’s top global award: James E Burke Award.
I am now the founder and CEO of online app myWhānau, the first calendar assistant app that helps parents ‘automate’ their family calendar; taking on the role of a virtual personal assistant for family scheduling.
With three kids in school, I would invariably start the day at work managing school communications like forms to complete and I would end the day with the mental gymnastics of working out what is happening tomorrow, the day after, and that weekend. As a result, there were numerous times when school events fell through the cracks.
I always thought there must be an easier way and then I saw an app called Tripit where you can organise all your travel plans. I also noticed Apple was starting to translate dates and put them into your calendar. So, I thought, ‘Why can’t we do this for family schedules and really automate the process?’ It was off the back of this that myWhānau was born.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Most mornings I get up at 6am, wake up my three children and then wake them again 10mins later after they have fallen back asleep. I then drop the children at the train station for 7.15am and then do a 40min home workout. I suffer from chronic pain so it is essential I exercise daily in order to keep myself comfortable.
At 8am, I’m ready to start work and will often work through until 6pm baring an occasion to pick up or drop for one of the kids.
As a founder – no two days are ever the same. One moment I am working on marketing in driving customer acquisition, the next I could be training my team, doing quality assurance, working with software development to improve UX and automation or talking directly with customers – which is my favourite part.
It keeps me on my toes.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
One of the main benefits of being a founder and running a start-up is having the flexibility to design and create a working environment that works for you and your needs as well as your teams. At the moment, myself and my team are all remote – however we do also have an office in Sydney’s CBD so there is the option to work from an office too.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work life balance is incredibly important to me, both as a founder and CEO and as a mum.
It is why I started this company. To help mums that shoulder the disproportionate share of housework and caring. Currently one in two mums state that they are under substantial stress trying to juggle family and work.
The consequences of this are immense. Their health suffers, stress increases for the whole family and their careers can be limited or derailed. My mission is to get parents back 10 hours a week that they spend on housework and to feel a whole lot stressed.
For me, work life balance means carving out time for myself. With a busy job and busy family my ‘me time’ is essential for my mental health, my work and my family. At the moment my ‘me time’ is getting out on my mountain bike a couple of times a week. I love it – it centres me.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
After the year we have all had last year, I overindulged in alcohol. It had become a bit too much of a release and a reward for me. On 1 January this year, I decided I wanted to rebalance and it has now been almost two months since I drank alcohol. I have been pleasantly surprised that it has been easier than I thought it would be. I sleep better now and have more energy.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I really enjoy the podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz as it goes against the grain of the traditional and often popular start-up success stories. For those not familiar with it, the podcast interviews founders of businesses of all sizes who candidly discuss their mistakes and challenges they have faced in businesses and how they overcame it.
My reality of running a start-up is that while it can be the most rewarding job in the world, there are challenges to overcome. I like the podcasts and books that give that real and raw perspective – not just the highlight reel.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I know it is corny but my own app, myWhānau. I love that it has enabled us as a family to share and balance out the mental load of organising us.
Prior to building the app, I had the full responsibility for organising the family’s schedules and kept all the events and tasks for the kids in my head. Which meant I faced frequent questions from all, particularly from my husband on what was happening.
However, through the app, my husband now has full visibility of what is happening with the kids and it is all at his fingertips. He loves being more involved. And I no longer wake up at 3am in the morning realising I had not washed the kids cricket gear or with a niggle that I am missing something.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Hilary Clinton – I have no idea how she stayed calm under all that pressure and how she gave herself permission to have life balance.
When life is going well, I think it is easier to have balance, to make time for yourself, but when things go wrong, or you are under a lot of pressure the first to go is your time, yet this is when you need it most. I think I could learn from her.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Mums care a lot. We want to do right by everyone. We give ourselves fully to our family and work to the extent that we constantly put ourselves, and our needs, last. I believe we need to give ourselves permission to invest in ourselves more. We are not being selfish and our time is worth it.
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