Balancing the Grind with Mike, Wayne & Josh from CTO Labs

Fast growing consultancy CTO Labs are specialist M&A Tech advisors and professional services delivery strategists & practitioners. They are known for making complex tech clear.

Since founded by Joshua Hinton & Mike Mengell in 2020, CTO Labs has expanded to a Partner team of 3, with Wayne Te Paa joining earlier this year, and a 30+ (and growing) team of battle-scarred technology pragmatists where 18 years experience is the average and thought leadership is core to the way that that they work.

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


I started working in big tech while I was studying. It was the big Tech brands, including HP, IBM and Unisys that gave me my start. I was asked to do an IT analysis project and I knocked it over in 3 days, which landed me my first real job as an IT administrator in the data centre.

I’ve always had a knack of diving into tech and making sense of it quite quickly. I also started investing in property when I was 18, and it was both tech and investing that helped develop my mindset early on.

A few years later I jumped at the chance to join a major deal pursuit team working towards a large Government contract. It was a great experience and opened my eyes to the bigger picture around strategy, marketing and sales. I spent some time in sales after that including with a smaller management consulting firm where I sold software based financial transformation systems.

I’d been itching for some startup experience though and after a couple of years joined a tech startup and learned a really great lesson about the need for scalable tech when the company folded after just a few months.

I spent the next couple of years as Principal Consultant at Thoughtworks, where I got to know both Mike and Wayne, before leaving to strike out on my own. When I was asked to do some tech M&A advisory work it really cemented my niche and the clients just kept calling. CTO Labs was born. 

Today I am a Partner and Director at CTO Labs, I head the M&A Advisory Practice, Finance and Legal functions and I’m involved in all aspects of growing the business. 


I got my start as a graduate developer, and I followed that path for a while, making my way to a tech lead role for a global software firm where I got an early taste for building and leading teams, which has been a career feature since. 

But it was a later shift into a head of sales role, where I began the strategic work of solving big strategic client problems, something that I really enjoy. But leadership growth was calling and I moved into a Head of Country role for a different organisation with responsibilities across Australia and New Zealand, reporting through to Tel Aviv.

In early 2020 I moved to Thoughtworks, initially in a sales capacity, and then in a portfolio leadership role with responsibility for a large percentage of the country’s revenue and approx 600 people across 4 countries.  My next move was destined to be running a P&L, growing people and a business and for many other reasons CTO Labs was the perfect choice..

I’m a Partner in the business and General Manager. I lead growth in the professional services practice, a business with a significant differentiator with it’s M&A advisory experience, that’s seeing us win against industry heavyweights. My role is also one of bringing leadership and strategy disciplines to a company that is growing and preparing itself for scale.


I’m a straight out nerd. My parents owned a computing firm and it got me into tech early. I wrote my first program at 7 (it was pretty good actually!). I wrote programs from magazines (very 80s), built my first computer, and played network games with my friends before it was a thing. It was my passion early on and still is. I consider myself pretty fortunate that it’s also my career and I love that I get to work up close with some of the companies who are right at the edge of tech change today.

I’ve always worked in tech companies, small and large, initially in the UK and here in Australia. As my career has progressed I learned that not only do I really like solving tech problems for other people, I particularly like doing it as a leader. Sure I could write code for myself, but if I can help 20 people write better code, then I’m having a much bigger impact, and the personal reward for me is so much greater.

The other thing I’ve learned through my career is the importance of finding your people and surrounding yourself with that culture. All work can get challenging at times, and being able to recharge your batteries back at the mothership is really important.

At CTO Labs I’m a Partner and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and I lead technology analysis and delivery across both our tech M&A and professional services clients. I also lead the Human capital functions, shaping the culture of the business and helping to preserve that as we grow. 

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


My routine takes two shapes.  I’m doing a bit of travel at the moment, so a day at home starts at 6:30am with cooking breakfast for my 3 children.  I then either make my way into the city and use the travel time to plan. 

Often this is a glance at my Eisenhower Matrix to ensure I am focused on the right things that will move the business forward.  My day can consist of anything from Sales calls, Strategy, Interviews, and General Management activities. 

When I travel I start a typical day at the gym.  My energy levels are through the roof when I have a good session.  I will usually base myself at one of our clients.  My day includes catching up with our key stakeholders, supporting the CTO Labs team onsite.  

Regardless of where I am, my day always tends to start with knowing what goals I’m trying to hit that day, and closes out with a recap of some sorts, getting as many actions off my plate as possible even if it’s a quick 15 minutes.


My ideal day starts with a focus on my own mindset and for me this is getting up and into some exercise early. I try to head to the gym 3-4 times a week, and I travel there with my wife which is an added time of connection for us both.

If it’s a work from home day, I’m at the desk by 9  prioritising work for the day. At the moment I’m using a small portable whiteboard to track it. I’m often trying out new productivity hacks.  

From there I will catch up on internal streams, from the internal operational side of CTO labs (making sure that our people are good, and the client projects are running well) the due diligence work (where i might be running workshops or dissecting investor risk and value) or professional  services work (which might be how a client is progressing, delivering workshops, coaching some people).

My hours are definitely a blend – I try an aspirational 9-5 but that’s more about being really intentional in that timeframe, working hard and making the most of that window and trying to keep the other out of hours work to a minimum.

I do jump off by 6ish because I always have dinner with the family, and I’m really conscious of disconnecting in the evening with some socialising, reading and hobbies as much as I can.


Morning time is my time. I’m usually up by 6:00am, I exercise, I meditate and I have some ‘me time’ before starting the day. 

The first work moment for me is about planning critical tasks for the day and working with our team to ensure we are focused and aligned together as a team, and then the morning is for deep thinking tasks. 

I spend the afternoon connecting with the team and with customers, both in person and virtually. The end of the day is usually early and I connect up later in the evening to close out areas of work left off.

We do have an experience based business model at CTO Labs – with a team average of 18 years – which translates as all of us getting the work done during the day and keeping the out of hours grind to a minimum. 

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


 I see this as about being able to get the important things done at work while also keeping room for other parts in your life like making time for family and friends and social activities and having the downtime you need to recharge.

Sometimes I think it comes down to just trying not to be too ambitious in what you want to get done and also knowing that we can’t work 12 hour days every day. It’s not sustainable and you just aren’t going to be at your most productive if you try. 

One of the things that’s helped me is just having a really clear picture of priorities – the urgent and important things. I use an Eisenhower Matrix. It helps me plan for the important things, and also gives me a way to reflect on where I’m spending my time.


It’s all about mental load for me. I enjoy my work and it fills my cup to do it, but I need to also make sure that I’m available for my kids and my relationship too because if I’m not doing that then I’m not feeling whole and everything starts to suffer. The morning is filling my cup, the evening is family and relationships and that makes my cup complete. 

The key thing I’ve learned over time is that work will be there tomorrow. It’s the moments outside of work that will come and go, and to enjoy them you need to be able to be in the moment with family and with friends. It’s about finding that balance between making sure I’m not overtired at night, and that I can be mindful and in the present moment.


Work Life Balance is very difficult when you’re building a business.  Basically there is enough work and enough vision that I could work 24 hours a day for a year and still not achieve everything.

So the balance is being able to do the important things, and to step away for some key moments – kids doing shows at school or sports events, or to be able to spend some fun time with a family member, that’s the flexibility that most people are looking for.

 I do try to get involved with lots of things that are not work related outside of hours. I often have stuff going on in the evenings, going out for meals and drinks, especially on weekends, so I’m recharging my batteries that way, not just sitting around with the temptation of doing just one more thing. 

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


I bought a piano during lockdown and I tried to form a habit of learning and practising it in the morning, and I loved it. I also play the ukulele. Am I still playing the piano? Not as much, but as a creative person it was a really great reminder for me how important it is that I continue to explore new ways to occupy and nourish that side of my brain through music and art projects. 

I am trying to read more and it comes back to my interest in always learning, how to build good businesses, how to be more productive, and I do find that the quality of information that you read in a book is higher than you get from a video or short article. Disappearing into a bit of nonfiction is pretty good too. 


I started colour coding my Google calendar so I can understand the balance between my important/urgent/thinking time.  If my calendar for the week has too much “blue”  I know I am responding to the urgent things and not making progress on long term goals. 

Not enough grey and I am not creating enough thinking time meaning I am likely to get run down.  This has been a game changer to me!  I am a visual person and so visualising the balance/effectiveness of  my time is incredibly helpful. 

Around 3 or 4 years ago I started using OKRs and I see that sort of framework as really powerful in taking personal and business performance up a notch – where you have to really think about the outcome you are trying to achieve and also think about how you are going to achieve that outcome. The greatest benefit is the focus from having a clearly defined north star.  You can now recognise the work you can stop/eliminate and where to prioritise your precious time. 

Keeping fitness in my routine is non-negotiable – it helps keep my mind sharp and be able to get through the challenging times when there are some late nights and pressured situations.


I used to be a lot more erratic in my work day, starting early, finishing late and having little routine or structure. I am now a lot more focussed and diligent with my time.  Having a clear morning routine and planning out my day has been an important part of that. 

Also now if I’m thinking about something to do, I do it NOW. I’m really intentional with a bias to action and if I can take a moment to drop in something small and get it done, then I do that. 

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


I really enjoy the a16z podcast and like to binge out on some true crime. I’m also a sucker for cold cases.


I love the book – Built to Last by Jim Collins, it’s one of my favourites. These days I am more of a Blinkist consumer and prefer to get the 5 or 6 take-aways while walking my dogs!  


My favourite newsletter is TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) which gives you what’s happened today in the world of tech and science, and always some really useful nuggets as well. There’s also a cyber  version. I’m reading Atomic Habits right now and that’s pretty good.

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


I have a soft spot for Bill Gates because I used to work at Microsoft and, for a former ‘richest person in the world’ he seems remarkably well adjusted and I’m inspired by his philanthropic endeavours. I did recently hear an interview with Trevor Noah, he is a very busy chap but he starts every day with a 10 minute dance. That is an aspirational target for me, to bring in more happiness into any situation.


I’d like to read what Ray Dalio has to say – he’s really good at translating complex economic theory into lay terms that can be easily understood. He takes emotions out of things and makes decisions with less information, and moving past insecurity and just being totally rational about them.  I’d be interested in understanding how this plays out in his personal and working life.


Immediately I think of politicians here because I find it really hard to imagine how someone like Jacinda Ardern who is a working mother and a successful Prime Minister can ever have time to sleep let alone manage work life balance! I’m really impressed that they can always seem to be ‘on’ but still manage their personal lives too.

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


One thing that jumps to mind straight away is something deeply personal to me, if your work has shifted such that you are working from home and you have an overlap with home and work environment, be mindful not to protect your work environment at the expense of your family environment.

My son Jack for instance always comes and gives me a hug when he gets home – and just because I may now be on a work call when he does it, it hasn’t stopped it happening. There’s a lot to be learned about that – it comes down to making your family, and yourself, a priority. 


My personal mantra is one of convenience. If things are convenient and structured well to enable good habits and good things then you will end up doing them – the harder it is to do the right thing, the less you will end up doing it, so don’t buy loads of junk food from Woolies and you probably won’t eat poorly. I’ve even moved nearer to the gym to make it easier to go as I know how important it is to my mental and physical health.

Also I like the idea of being a reflection of your five closest friends – you average those people out then you become that as a person, which for me also sets up a nice aspirational sense that you can focus on the changes you are looking for by adjust that framework, and nurture the relationships that take you in the direction you want to go and who you want to be. It applies in business as much as it does in life. 


It takes a while to find a balance, and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it!

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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.