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Balancing the Grind with Mohan Belani, Co-Founder & CEO at e27

Mohan Belani is the co-founder & CEO at e27, a startup and tech ecosystem platform focusing on providing tools to entrepreneurs to help them build and grow their businesses.

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

My tech life really kicked off when I was 17 and had 6 months of holiday while waiting for school to start. I started a service, they call them side hustles now, building gaming rigs for friends.

That led to helping people set up computer systems, networking them etc. and I had to drop that when I went to the Army. I subsequently went to the NUS Overseas College in Silicon Valley in 2006 where I was the first employee of a marketing startup.

I worked at a few more startups in Singapore (LittleLives in the edutech space and mig33 in the mobile social networking space). I started a gaming company called Gokil Games, and while I was fund raising for that, I felt drawn back to ecosystem building and decided to work with my co-founder, Thaddeus Koh, and build e27 as a tech ecosystem platform.

While building e27, I started investing from 2013 onwards starting with early stage funds and then more direct investments in startups. At e27, I’ve worked on events, business development, partnerships, product management etc.

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

I try to keep my days structured, though it doesn’t always work out according to plan. I usually plan my weeks on a Sunday night or Monday morning where I have a clear sense of what I need to do in the week, the meetings I need to have and the objectives we need to complete, as per our OKRs.

The day typically starts with the morning huddles and clearing of emails (I do this once in the morning and a couple of times in the afternoon). I try to time box and pre schedule most things e.g. LinkedIn posts, check in with team mates, etc.

I also believe in setting aside time for deep work, so there are a few periods where I turn off all notifications and just focus. There are sporadic conversations or calls with team members, clients/partners or just people in the industry.

The later part of the day is usually reserved for external meetings. I’ve started doing more face to face meetings, just because it’s a good excuse to get out, but also because the discussions really energise me. I don’t advocate working past 7, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

I believe it’s important to set aside time for physical exercise and mental development, whether it’s learning or taking courses or reading. Post 7pm is where I spend quality time learning and exercising.

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

e27 has been a partially remote company for quite awhile now as more than half of our teams have been based outside of Singapore. Pre-COVID, we had a physical team and Singapore, and the rest were distributed all across APAC.

Remote working means that we are not tied to any physical location to be effective contributors to the company. I personally didn’t move to another country and work full remote, but I believe our current set up would easily allow it.

The flexibility part is something very useful for me. I believe in structured flexibility and over communication. It’s important to have some inflexible parts of the week e.g. fixed times for huddles, but in order to be truly flexible, I believe over communication what I’m doing or when I’m not available.

I don’t think it’s realistic to have a set work/rest time. Sometimes it feels better to rest in the earlier part of the day and sometimes it feels better to have a mid day gym session. I like the flexibility of planning my time and owning that. I also appreciate the spontaneous moments to meet people or not work at all and do something different.

I think freedom to take bits of time off here and there helps in coming back more energised and inspired. And while all of this is done, over communication helps in keeping your teams informed.

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

Work life balance is realising that what you do outside of work is just as important as what you do during work. It’s about holistic growth is oneself where the growth isn’t only directed as one’s job/profession.

This requires a mindset shift, not just free time. For me, it means investing my time into areas that allow me to grow across multiple factors. It doesn’t simply mean that I work less and play more. It means that I actively schedule time, outside of work, to grow.

My weekly planning really helps me to do this, as I have a good sense of where I’m setting my time in the upcoming week. I have a clear plan on exercise sessions I aim to do, social events I aim to be a part of and other growth areas I want to invest my time in.

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

I revise my routines and habits on a quarterly basis. I usually make tweaks and small changes, as the general themes of my life remain more or less constant. I do a yearly plan, which spans the following areas: finance, intellectual, physical, family, career, spiritual, social.

Every year, I look at big changes to make in these key areas and I map out what I’d like to do for the year. I set a monthly reminder to myself to always revisit it. The big changes happen yearly, the small tweaks happen quarterly.

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

The books that I feel have been a great read are:

  • Neither Civil Nor Servant: The Philip Yeo Story
  • How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence
  • Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone
  • Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success
  • Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy
  • AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

In terms of podcasts, I listen to random ones here and there and the few I follow are:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show
  • The Knowledge Project
  • Acquired

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

I won’t say that I can’t live without anything, but I am a very regular user of the following products:

  • Bialetti Moka pot
  • Apple Watch
  • AirPods Pro
  • Macbook Pro
  • WhatsApp
  • On running shoes and apparels

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

Barack Obama.

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

I believe the real asset we should be in pursuit of protecting and growing is time, not money. The ability to control that and deploy that asset to different areas is true freedom. The ability to have full control of one’s life, leads to real balance to life.

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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.