CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Oli Cook, CEO & Co-Founder at ekko

Oli Cook is the CEO & Co-Founder of ekko, a positive and transformative app, debit card and ecosystem.

ekko’s mission is to reframe people’s relationship with climate change and empower them with ways to make an impact that they can see, and feel good about. Becoming your first step to a more sustainable lifestyle.

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

Sure, I’ve spent my career understanding what it is that people really want and need and then building products and services that do just that. I want to offer people a simple, smooth experience that they love; one that they’d be happy to recommend to their friends and family. 

I started my career at a market research agency, learning the difference between asking a customer what they think they want and taking the time to investigate and understand what it is that someone truly needs and then creating propositions and businesses to help them.

For me, the key is in really trying to understand people’s needs, through asking the right questions and actively listening to the answers. It sounds obvious but doesn’t often happen in many cases).

After that, I spent over a decade in big banks, fintechs, and insuretechs, building products and propositions that people love and use every day.

Now, I’m CEO and co-founder of a new fintech company called ekko. Our mission is to reframe people’s relationship with climate change and empower them with ways to make an impact that they can see, and feel good about. We want to be the first step in someone’s journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Our mission is built upon the understanding that the vast, vast majority of us want to do more about our own impact on climate change, but are struggling to find ways and find it all a bit intimidating.

At ekko, we want to help people positively engage with turning the tide on climate change, to understand their very real impact as an individual and to realise that we can all make a material difference through small, everyday changes.

With the ekko app and debit card, we instantly show you the carbon footprint of what you’ve just bought, so you can see your impact. What’s more, every 5 times you tap the card you will save a plastic bottle from entering our oceans and you’ll plant a tree after every 50 taps – they are your trees and your bottles; you can watch your forest grow and the bottle counter go up in your app.

Our customers effortlessly understand their impact on our world and just by using ekko, will plant over 50m trees and save over 500m bottles from entering our oceans over the next 5 years. That’s real impact.

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

It all starts with coffee! I have 2 kids under the age of 5 who wake me up way too early, so I don’t subscribe to the whole ‘must get up at 4.30am and hit the gym, work etc before the world wakes up’ – I’d love to be that person, but I value my sleep too much. Instead, I get up whenever they do (6am on a good day) and get the coffee machine going whilst watching some kids TV.

Generally, I help to look after the kids and take them to school or nursery before starting work at about 8.30am at home. We’re a remote first company and have people all over the world in our team, which is brilliant, it means ekko never stops and when I log on there is normally progress to take a look at or decisions that need to be made. 

From then on, it’s a mix of meetings, emails, working on projects and speaking to interesting people about ekko. 

I try to stop work at around 6 and spend time with my family, with a wrap up after the kids go to bed, before spending time with my wife.

Clearly, not every day works out this way but I’d say I get to this about 70% of the time. 

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 company and only really get together in person to spend time as a team and make those human connections which are a bit harder over Zoom.

It’s in our DNA to be flexible as we built the business during the pandemic and have been that way from day one. That means that our team can work at times that are productive for them; we’re all adults and can manage our own time to meet our personal and business objectives. 

I do really value being in an office together, and we’ve found that on those days we do a different type of work where we are more creative, share views, stories or opinions that help to solve some of the bigger problems we work on. Then, when working remotely we are more productive on our more specific tasks.

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

I’m of the view that work-life balance is about the individual’s needs and how they get that balance right for them. There is no one rule for everyone and organisations and leaders need to give their people the space, guidance and autonomy to find out what’s right for them. 

For me, I enjoy my work and our mission so that means I happily work hard and productively a lot of the time, but I also play sports in the middle of the day once a week, go for daily walks and have no guilt if I want to leave ‘early’ to see friends or family. I also know that pressures and workloads vary throughout the year so sometimes none of this is possible and others it is, and that’s OK.

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

I think there are 2 habits and routines that have stood out as working for me in the last 12 months. Firstly, I play a competitive sport once a week – that’s great as not only is it good exercise but when playing I’m 100% focused on that activity and work just drops out of my mind – it’s a real break and competition has a great way of clearing my head.

Secondly, I don’t talk about work in the hour before bed and try not to think about it either. I found that I was looking at emails, or tomorrow’s diary before going to bed and that put me in the wrong frame of mind. I’m pretty brutal with this and my wife gets frustrated when she asks me a question about the next day and my answer is ‘I’m not talking about work’ – she puts up with me!

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

I’m a podcast person, I learn better by listening to reading. Often when I’m taking a walk I’ll listen to a comedy podcast as a good way of getting a break and recharging – I’m currently working my way through the ‘Off Menu’ podcast by Ed Gamble & James Acaster.

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

My iPhone and iPad. They do the simple things well and help me be productive.

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

I’m interested in learning from people in different environments and am always fascinated by elite sports and the focus needed on physical and mental health to perform at your optimum, so someone from that world would have a really interesting perspective on what works for them.

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

A good bit of advice I had was understanding that I’ll get it wrong a bunch of times and that’s OK. We’re not perfect and work-life balance always needs attention so we’re all just figuring it out the best we can.

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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.