Balancing the Grind with Ming Xia Ho, Head of Global Community at Draper Startup House

Ming Xia Ho is the Head of Global Community at Draper Startup House, which consists of physical business hubs, education services, venture capital and technology services.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

Sure! The journey has been a winding path but no less exciting. My professional background spans from the hospitality industry. After deciding to move on from hospitality, I dipped my toes in insurtech (insurance technology) for a year. It was interesting to observe how traditional insurance brokerage was at a crossroads with digital transformation across the industry.

The same day I took on a role in insurtech, I volunteered to help out for events at Draper Startup House (previously Tribe Theory). After almost a year of balancing two work commitments and a volunteer social-media role with a Cambodia-based NGO, I decided to join Draper Startup House full-time to help build community, scale up on events and business development at the start of 2020. 

However, just three months in, we were in full swing of the COVID-19 outbreak — the pandemic disrupted the strategy we decided upon at the start of the year during our team offsite in Bali, and meant that we had to continuously find ways to keep our community engaged. We quickly onboarded our largely-offline community online to ensure everyone could keep connected as the world went into a lockdown. Albeit mostly composed of digital nomads, travelling entrepreneurs, and backpacking remote workers, this does not naturally mean they engage well virtually.

It was no easy feat navigating a pivot that has little predictability on the community’s sentiment and how they would respond as most of our community-building efforts were heavily entrenched over in-person events and activities, but we had to move quickly, constantly validate ideas, and keep trying.

Presently, we managed to come out stronger from the COVID-19 storm, despite adversity: having a physical presence across 26 cities and 6 continents around the world, Draper Startup House continues to be a space where the startup community can connect over (both virtually and in-person).

At present, my focus is on building up a global community for entrepreneurs that remains enabling and supportive to our fellow startups, founders, ecosystem partners, and investors. This ranges anything from preliminary work like mapping startup ecosystems, and starting a community from scratch in new regions, to building it up, or scaling up, ensuring it is self-sustaining.

What that looks like could be: being a peer to an aspiring founder and providing feedback on their business plan, going out to build relationships with partners that provide infrastructural support, running events that get people together in Draper Startup House, scaling the community through iterating and refining the community journey and experience, down to supporting internal team members on certain functions and conducting training to get them up-skilled with technology and learnings from the industry.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

It’s never a dull day at Draper Startup House! No two days are the same, and you never know who you are going to meet today.

Tuesday this week for me looked like this:

  • Morning/Afternoon: Sync with teammates across the geographic regions in the day & meetings/calls on potential partnerships and collaborations
  • Late Afternoon: Host Drive lah’s App 2.0 launch event at DSH Singapore
  • Evening: Represent Draper Startup House at Girls in Tech x Microsoft panel about embracing equity for International Women’s Day 2023

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

Day-to-day startup living is perpetually riding in the fast lane, and it can get quite intense and demanding. There are a few things I’ve done to reinstate work-life balance: it begins with setting boundaries.

  • Streamlining the use of communications apps, getting off Whatsapp — While it is a norm at networking events for people to exchange contact and people ask “What’s your WhatsApp?”, I’ve jumped away from using the app because it is really distracting: countless times when I’ve received messages over the weekend (even if an immediate response is not needed) but the headspace that it takes up from one notification can be tremendous and impact the quality of rest. Instead, peers know the relevant platforms to find me: either in person at a Draper Startup House, or online through Slack/Linkedin/Google/etc.
  • Time-boxing and routines — Such as taking walks (grabbing a coffee, going to the hawker centre to grab a bite) to break the habit of sitting down for hours and staring at the screen when I am online chugging work and follow-ups or deliverables. (When in the zone of deep work, this can go on for up to 14 hours.)
  • Act in the moment, carpe diem — there are occasional evenings where I would think: “I have more energy, I can get back to work!” but a passing thought like “I have more energy, I can also go for a run” happens. When it does and the weather aligns, I choose the latter.

Thinking in the big picture, a well-lived life is hard — Work-life balance here can also mean working extremely hard, and playing extremely hard.

I often think, “If I can put in this much rigour for work, so can I for my personal life, too.”

If I’m not using productivity apps like Notion on the weekend for work, I am using it to invest in myself: to up-skill, work on ideas, or start a passion project. If I am hoping offline, I use the (transferable) skills acquired from the entrepreneurial world to see how it is applicable to my interests (people watching, going outdoors, solo travelling, the arts, etc.)

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Progress is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Constant check-in with self

It is easy to get carried away with work, especially when in the zone when work is fun, or finishing up on tasks or unlocking new discoveries brings fulfilment. But along the way, I try to ask myself: “What is one thing you’ve done for yourself today?” to make sure that what I spend a hefty amount of time on still aligns with my personal mission and growth journey.

Create opportunities for learning, personal development, playtime

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; If responsibilities and tasks weigh too heavy, or a routine becomes overwhelming — I recalibrate by stepping out from the immediate surroundings, setting aside time (literally sending a calendar invite to myself) to do something fun that shifts the focus to my personal life: could be taking up a lesson on HTML, going for a hike, visiting a part of Singapore I have not been to in a while, or purchasing air tickets for a short trip out to recharge and catch up with friends along the way.

Leveraging productivity tools to manage life

A lifestyle change in the past year, I’ve leveraged on using productivity tools like Notion, Google Calendar, and Telegram channel, to help me manage my personal life (just as if it were a tech solution for streamlining work). In particular, towards journaling thoughts and feelings, wins and roadblocks in life. This stems from the fundamental question of “How big of a pain point are you solving?”

As Head of Global Community at Draper Startup House, everything around my day-to-day is to understand, strategise, and execute, what “enablement” for the ecosystem entails (we are on a mission to enable one million entrepreneurs by 2030). 

This means engaging with the various communities involved to make the mission a reality: the entrepreneurs who come through the doors of Draper Startup House that we interact with daily, our team across 26 locations around the world, ecosystem partners, investors, portfolio companies, and more. It is always problem-solving mode and discovering what vehicle/steps to take would be a good fit for each stakeholder at the various stages of development in the startup ecosystem.

Learning from work to constantly ideate and validate, I use these skills just as much on my personal journey of growth and seeking happiness while appreciating the present. If I’m unhappy or discontented with circumstances, I try to find a resolution to it. If I’m feeling unproductive, I revisit the use of my time and see what I can do to make it right.

It is always a work in progress — growing to be a better human being, rather than simply letting passing thoughts go by unheard, remain as figments, or unrealised potential.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey toward balance?

One newsletter that I open without fail for the last 3+ years.

  • 3-2-1 Thursday by James Clear (check this out) Love this one because it actually has nothing to do with the news. The content is bite-sized, relevant to the entrepreneur world and personal life, and is a great source of food for thought and generating ideas.

Perceiving balance as equilibrium commitment towards the growth of an organisation and personal development, How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen has given me the question “What job did you hire the milkshake for?” as a north star on conscious decision-making.

While originally drawn out with an analogy of a milkshake company who customises its drinks to the demographic of their audience according to the time of day, Clayton’s question raises a broader question about utility. It brings relevance to almost any situation as you define the variables: “milkshake” and “hire”.

On being brave and living life on one’s terms, Wild by Cheryl Strayed 

This is a non-fiction autobiography by Cheryl Strayed, who went to hike the PCT alone in the 80s as a means to restart her life after having it fall apart. The narrative is empowering because it reinforces agency in one’s life — what it means to take ownership of the circumstance, trudge forth courageously, the narrative we tell ourselves, and its ability to empower.

On a separate note, it continuously inspires me to be fearless in my pursuits on the path less unconventional: solo female travel, women in STEM/entrepreneurship/venture capital. What is challenging is just as exhilarating, and if not, more rewarding while reinforcing one’s identity.

Plenty of books to recommend — you can find the full list here!

p.s. Fun fact: I almost never listen to podcasts.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Final words, each relating to the future.

  1. “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is a lie. I’m surrounded by passionate founders, enthusiastic startup ecosystem builders, and dedicated impact-driven investors — almost 80% eat, sleep, poop, and think about entrepreneurship and the survivability of their businesses in the early stages of starting up. While it may be true that their livelihoods are a lot more enjoyable, it is no less easy: the journey can be fun, but it requires just as much hard work, blood, sweat, and tears for anything to take off and succeed. One key factor that makes or breaks is who you choose to surround yourself with — they define your environment and your potential. But they are an everyday reminder showing me: the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
  2. No journey of growth has ever been within one’s comfort zone. The future is equitable — and it begins with you giving yourself permission to grow. Once you have agency and choices, opportunities are there for you to seize. Surround yourself with people, and environments that build you up. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help, or even, ride on the shoulders of giants.
  3. If you ever feel trapped, are you “confined”, or “constrained”? Confined connotes being physically grounded at present, while constrained indicates having a shortage of resources. The solution for the former would be to take a step out or redefine the parameters, and for the latter, believe that the future is crowdsourcing and you will never be a day short of resources.

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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.