Balancing the Grind with Rachael Neumann, Founding Partner at Flying Fox Ventures

Rachael Neumann is the Founding Partner at Flying Fox Ventures, an Australian-based VC firm investing in early-stage companies based in Australia and New Zealand.

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

I’m the founding partner of Flying Fox Ventures. Previously, I was the Head of Startups for AWS in ANZ, Managing Director of Eventbrite, ANZ and a bunch of other stuff too

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

My day is bookended by my kids: I start every day getting them off to school and finish most days picking them up from school and shuttling them to after school activities or hanging out with them.

That means the time in between has to be super productive and efficiently spent. My work day varies by the days of the week: start of the week usually focuses on internal business management and top of funnel activities: meeting great founders and seeking our next investment. 

Middle of the week is spent on due diligence and nurturing opportunities through the investment process, and the end of the week is largely dedicated to our portfolio founders. 

Fridays are almost exclusively set aside for our founders – working through their challenges, planning their next fundraise, or supporting them operationally on things like hiring and product strategy. As a managing partner of Flying Fox, I need to balance both my role as an investor and a portfolio manager.  

To make 10-15 investments a year, it means we need to have a look at over 1000 companies during that time. At least half of my work week is spent reviewing decks, talking to founders, and diving deep into new industries and products to better understand the opportunities in front of us. 

When we green light an investment, we run the end-to-end process, which involves company, product and industry due diligence, capturing the clarity of our thinking and investment thesis in a memo for our investors and giving them a chance to meet the founders over zoom, and then legal and compliance steps to complete the deal. 

We’re also very hands-on with our portfolio companies, so spend a good deal of time diving deep into their challenges and opportunities, connecting them with resources, and others who can help, and ensuring they stay on track to succeed. 

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

Our team is fully distributed, so we use tools to keep our communication and work in sync at all times: Slack is our ‘always on’ communication tool, Affinity is our shared inbox and deal flow management tool, Google Docs is where we co-create comms, investment trackers, and deal memos in real-time, Notion is our shared space with our investors and founders, Airtable is where all of our data lives, and we’ve built out custom tools like an Investor Portal that allows our investors to self-service details around all of the investments they’ve made with us. We work under a value of radical transparency – both internally and externally – so we depend on tools that provide open access and real-time information.

We adhere to a fully flexible work model as well, which is based on a deep level of trust and a focus on outputs rather than inputs.  This means that we trust all team members 1) clearly understand what they are responsible for delivering; 2) the prioritisation of those deliverables; and 3) will meet those expectations and fully communicate if there is a change to the plan. 

Both Kylie (Frazer, the other founding partner) have full lives that require flexibility in when and how we deliver; we have never seen the quality or quantity of our output be hampered by then ‘when’ or the ‘how’ we get it done.

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

This one is hard to define and if I could define it, the definition would change and shift at different times of my life, times of the year, etc.  What it boils down to for me, is answering the question of “Am I being the best _____” I could be right now, and thinking blank is often filled in with spouse, parent, investor, team mate, friend, family member, community member…and probably in that order. 

When time and energy is finite, you’re always borrowing from one bucket of your life to fill another. The key is knowing when you’ve taken too much from one bucket and you circle back to fill it back up. I’m never going to keep all the buckets at the same level at the same time. But being able to take stock, know which bucket is suffering, and then having the ability to remediate is key.

Often this means explicitly saying out loud what is most important right now and communicating that clearly with others, like to my wife “hey – work is really intense right now and requires extra attention right now. Can I take time away from you / family right now to focus on that and can I count on you to help fill the gaps I leave?” or  to Kylie “I’m really depleted right now and not at my best. I’m going to take a week off with my family and need to be 100% offline. Can I count on you to hold down the fort while I’m away?”

I’m extremely lucky that I have people in my life who help me stay accountable when I’m off balance and support me while I’m off fixing it.

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

I say NO a lot more!  I try to stay really focused on the most important things for our business, our founders, and our investors and say No to anything that doesn’t serve those stakeholders in a meaningful way. 

Our Operations Manager, Jera, helps us all to stay focused and sometimes even acts as a gatekeeper to ensure that things that divert our time and attention away from what’s most important stays out of our line of sight.

We started moving first meetings with founders to zoom during COVID, which previously would have been IRL chats over coffee. Now that we’re open again, we’ve stuck with the zoom calls. It means that we get to pack a lot more founder meetings into our week because we don’t lose time on travel, it means that we can record the calls to share with one another (within Flying Fox and in our investors) to better assess the opportunity, and we can take and share notes more efficiently. 

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

PODCASTS: I love the Acquired podcast for deep dive learning from my industry, The Daily from the NYT to stay abreast on current events, and We Can Do Hard Things to keep growing and developing as a human.

I follow a bunch of VCs from around the world on Twitter to keep a finger on the pulse of my industry globally (in addition to frequent check ins with my peers around the world)

BOOKS: I’m obsessed with Decision Making science and always seek to improve my own decision making, so faves here are Thinking, Fast and Slow and Decisive.  I also read a lot of fiction and am part of a book club that meets monthly.  I need to balance my left and right brain with lots of fiction and art – it keeps me balanced, creative, curious, and in awe of humanity.

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

This is an obvious one but my phone. Being flexible and remote means I can connect on the go with Slack, Affinity, Notion, etc.  All the tools in the palm of my hand.  Other products are really just the software tools I’ve already mentioned that support remote and flexible work in real time.

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

Anyone who is an active practitioner in their craft AND also writes books / content about their craft as a thought leader. I would like to be able to be both but only seem to  have the time and headspace to be deep in or or be introspective and reflective, but then not doing the work at the same time.  How do people do both?

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

It’s an individual sport.  Balance means something different to everyone, on different days, and different months, and at different times of their lives.  What has worked for me was not learning and copying what people do, but rather what questions they ask themselves to determine what matters most and why, and then what structures they put in place to help them uphold 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.