Interviews / Operations

Balancing the Grind with Sania Kudaibergen, VP Operations at Hokodo

Sania Kudaibergen is the VP Operations at Hokodo, a company that enables businesses to sell more by offering B2B Buy-Now-Pay-Later payment terms at check-out.

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

My career path has taken me through different roles, countries and companies. I started my career as a Financial Analyst in a large multinational company and initially envisioned myself steadily climbing that corporate ladder.

However, I soon realised I enjoyed working on cross-functional problems and didn’t want to specialise in any one field. I also started exploring the world beyond large, structured corporations. I eventually realised that my generalist skill set, interest in technology and desire to move fast could be a good fit for startups.

After studying for an MBA in Singapore, I ultimately transitioned into a general manager role at a fashion e-commerce company in Kazakhstan, my country of origin. This job stretched me far beyond my comfort zone as I went from zero management experience to suddenly being responsible for 300 people. I loved the challenge and the personal growth, and have been working in tech startups ever since.  

Since moving to the UK more than five years ago, I have been in general management and operations focused roles in fast growing startups and scale-ups, primarily in fintech. Currently I’m VP Operations at Hokodo, a B2B payments company which enables online merchants to offer trade credit to their business customers.

I joined a year ago, when there were only a handful of people in Operations and have since built several teams and functions, like Customer Success, Collections and Data and Analytics. My main role is to ensure that we deliver a high level of service and scale our processes, teams, and tools so our operations keep up with revenue growth while becoming more efficient over time.    

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

The morning starts with a quick check-in with the Customer Support team. I work from the office twice a week and try to schedule most of my one-to-one and team meetings for those days. Usually there are several cross-functional meetings throughout the day, for example, to prioritise our tech roadmap or discuss how to use data insights to improve the customer experience.

For lunch, I like to grab something to go (banh mi is a favourite). If I’ve got time before my next meeting, I’ll join my colleagues in our open space lounge / dining area. I try to keep an hour or more free in the afternoon to do some deep work like analysing data on our business performance or designing a training program on giving effective feedback.

After work, I hit the gym three times per week and afterwards either head home for dinner or meet up with my partner and friends. I rarely go out during the week but try to catch a play, art exhibition or event (like “The Moth”) on a regular basis.  

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

To me, work-life balance means doing meaningful, engaging work while also dedicating time and space to the people and activities that matter to me and bring me joy. I find that I go through phases where the balance tips more heavily towards one side or another, especially if I’m starting a new role or project.

While I love working from home, it can be too easy to stay in “work mode” throughout the day and evening. To make sure I keep a healthy balance, I try to put away my laptop at the same time each day and actively engage in an activity I enjoy, like reading or learning to code.

On the week-ends, I like to spend time in nature, either hiking or just going for a walk in the local park. I also train in muay thai, which requires full mental focus (so I don’t get punched in the face), so it makes me completely forget about work while also being a great workout.

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

During covid lockdown, I acquired some unhealthy habits, especially around my weakness – sweets. I love all things chocolate and hazelnut, so I would eat a dozen Ferrero Rochers every evening, usually while watching Netflix and decidedly not working out.

It has taken me the last 12 months to get back into a healthy eating and exercise routine. I still have a sweet tooth but I no longer eat sugar every day, which has made a big difference to my energy levels and general well-being.

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

The podcasts and newsletters I enjoy are usually about insights on human behaviour, like “Hidden Brain” or “The Behavioral Scientist“. For professional development, I love listening to the “Coaching real leaders” podcast by Muriel Wilkins, an executive coach. I coach employees as well as a few private clients myself, and always find so many great insights in every coaching episode with Muriel.

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

I would love to hear about work-life balance from female tech founders and CEOs, like Melanie Perkins (co-founder of Canva) or Reshma Saujani (CEO and Founder of Girls who code), especially those who juggle work with family life and community-building activities.

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

I think how you balance work and “personal time” constantly evolves and changes, depending on which life stage you’re in and what you want to prioritise at any given time. There is no universal answer and you need to figure out what “good” looks like for you specifically, based on your unique circumstances and preferences.

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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.