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Balancing the Grind with Ryan Burke, Chief Revenue Officer at Qatalog

Ryan Burke is the Chief Revenue Officer at Qatalog, a London-based startup creating a a modern productivity and collaboration hub for remote teams and knowledge workers.

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

Sure, I’m currently Chief Revenue Officer of Qatalog – a productivity and collaboration workhub.

Previously I spent more than five years at InVision, a design collaboration platform. I started when there were only around 30 people, built out the go-to-market teams and then moved to London to build out the international team.

InVision was remote from day 1, long before Covid, so I have a lot of experience in the distributed model–and some of the issues that it can uncover. That goes to why I’m so excited about what we’re doing at Qatalog – providing visibility and enabling collaboration across disparate people, teams and tools.

We’re still early in the journey, but I’ve felt the pain we’re solving personally, and it’s going to be a game changer in organizing the noise in today’s workplace. 

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

I’ve tried to become more of a creature of habit, but it’s hard with two kiddos running around during homeschooling. I typically start my with a cup of coffee and then try to do some level of exercise – a jog, crunches, anything to get the blood flowing.

Then write in my daily journal. I started this over a year ago, and it has really helped to keep me centered and thoughtful. I write down the things I’m going to focus on that day, three things I’m grateful for, a positive experience, and a note of thanks to someone. It has helped me set the tone of my day in a positive way. 

After that I try to do one piece of learning. Whether it’s a chapter in a book, a blog article or a podcast, I try to spend a few minutes to gain one new piece of knowledge every day.

Then I get to work. I start my day – no surprise – in Qatalog. I don’t want this to be a shill, but it’s a great place to see what everyone is working on and where projects across the organization stand. Helps me understand where I need to focus my time without having to bounce around Slack, email or all of the tabs and tools I have.  

As with every early stage company I try to talk to at least one (potential) customer a day. At minimum. Hear some of the issues they have, the tools they use, and get their feedback on what we’re doing at Qatalog.

Especially at a startup in a new market, it’s incredibly invigorating to talk to customers about the problems we’re trying to solve. I have always told my team: if you’re ever having a down day or questioning things there is no better medicine than talking to folks in the market you’re addressing. 

Throw in meetings, interviews (we’re hiring aggressively – now that is a shill), and a few breaks to wrestle with the kiddos, and that’s a pretty typical day!

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

Yes, we are fully distributed and approaching that challenge for other companies. In today’s world it’s less about a work/life balance and more about work/life integration – in a good way.

I am integrating my time with myself, my family, learning guitar, etc with my work. As with most startups, there are no distinct ‘on’ hours, and working across a team with so many time zones, there are always opportunities to create things outside of ‘normal’ working hours.

Some of my favorite times to focus on work is after the kiddos go down, putting some music on, and cranking out the work. 

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

So much of what we do with our remote work is integrating our work life with our personal. As part of this, I try to extend some of my routines to include my family.

One thing we’ve introduced is getting everyone to say “one nice thing” they did for someone else that day. It’s been a lot more challenging in quarantine, but encouraging everyone to have something to share over dinner about what we’re doing for others has been a nice way to set the tone for being more thoughtful.

The kids have really embraced it, and when they are in school they would always get excited to tell me something they did – holding the door for a teacher, helping a classmate, etc. I wish my boys would include a nice thing they did for each other every now and then, but I’ll take what I can get. 

I also invested in a Leadership Coach a little over a year ago. I was somewhat skeptical, and my company wasn’t willing to pay for it, but I decided it was worth the investment to explore and paid out of my own pocket.

It ended up being such a rewarding experience to bounce ideas off of someone external, and get their guidance on how to look at things, and ultimately prioritize. I worked with Celeste Halliday and highly recommend her. Regardless of your level, or experience, I can’t say enough about how helpful it was to ground me and refocus my thinking on certain things. 

One quick example: In a remote world it’s sometimes hard to build trusting relationships. You lose tone, context at times and things can fester and spiral. An effective technique I learned was to ‘audit’ my own relationships across the management team.

When I identified relationships that could be improved, I proactively reached out to ‘reset’ things. People really responded to a simple notion of resetting things, they appreciated when I asked how they liked to be communicated with, and were happy to engage on what they wanted to see from me.

In a few cases, it completely changed the nature of our relationships. It was a huge lesson for me to realize just how much difference a few minutes can make; people really just appreciate someone taking time to invest in a relationship. 

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

There is so much out there now from successful people: getting up at 4 am, cold showers, exercise, meditation, you name it – someone swears by it. To me, it’s more valuable to hear from folks in similar situations, product led companies in growth stages, building go-to-market strategies, etc. 

On a broader scale, I like my 5-Bullet Friday  from Tim Ferris, and everytime I see Gary Vaynerchuck I take a look. It’s concise, real, and even when he’s talking about baseball cards, wine or sports, there is usually a relevant take away.

For books, I typically keep one work related and one fiction book going at the same time. I love the Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath, and have integrated this into our family. My kids and friends laugh at me always trying to ‘create moments’ but I think it’s a rewarding way to look at life – creating those special moments that we will remember.

There are so many times my kids or friends complain about an activity I suggest, but I remind them of the importance of creating that moment together. It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s also very effective in getting folks to do things with me that may be outside their comfort zone. 

Right now I’m reading The One Thing. At a fast moving startup like Qatalog, there are always so many things to do and I’m trying to improve my focus on getting one thing accomplished before I get scattered in too many directions. 

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

It’s not revolutionary, but my Kindle is a life saver. I’m not the best sleeper, and having my Kindle as an easy way to bang out a few pages when I wake up without waking up my wife to turn the light on. It has been incredibly effective for me and has drastically increased the velocity of my reading – I easily read a couple of books a week, often more. 

In terms of work, we were big users of Bonus.ly at InVision. It is a great tool to provide those mico rewards, virtual high fives and pats on the back, that you can’t get in a distributed world. While providing some financial benefits as well. 

Other than that, NFL Redzone – can’t imagine life without it.

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

Building on the above, I’m more interested in folks that are in similar situations. People in leadership at early stage cos, in early markets.

I know the challenges and the time constraints, and it’s more interesting to hear from them vs. the billionaires who make no mistake have a great perspective on things, it’s just not as relevant to my context. 

I love reading about other product led companies like Atlassian, Slack or newer companies earlier on their journey. I think Blake Bartlett at Openview does a great job sharing interesting snippets of product led companies in his weekly podcast and blogs.

David Cancel’s podcast Seeking Wisdom is an entertaining resource that is typically relevant to the challenges I’m facing, with a lot of familiar faces I like to hear from.  

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

In our new distributed world, it’s easy to address collaboration and communication through the incredible array of software we now have available. The place you really need to focus on is the culture, and more specifically trust.

We miss those in person interactions that have previously enabled us to show some vulnerability, that empowers and establishes trust. You need to make time and create avenues to show that vulnerability with people, on your team, in your company, and in your personal lives. 

And assume the best in people. So much gets lost with respect to tone in Slack, email or other channels. You need to have a positive mindset and assume the best intent (even if you’re not traditionally an optimist) because it’s something that can quickly deteriorate a culture if people are not coming from a position of positive.

Set the example internally, lead from the front, and embrace and hold people accountable through behavioral expectations whether that’s values, principles or whatever you want to call them. It’s easy to expect people to assume the best, but they need the guardrails to set and manage those expectations. Don’t underestimate that. 

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.