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Balancing the Grind with Sarah Nolet, General Partner at Tenacious Ventures

Sarah Nolet is the General Partner at Tenacious Ventures, a venture firm investing in entrepreneurs who are transforming the agrifood supply chain.

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

I’m from Silicon Valley, California. Both of my parents are chemical engineers and worked in the semiconductor industry, so I grew up in the world of high tech & startups. My focus for most of my childhood, though, was on sports.

We also spent time backpacking, so I always had an interest in the outdoors and the environment, but I didn’t think it could be a career. I went to the other side of the US for college where I dual-majored in computer science and engineering psychology, and then I started my career in the defense industry. I loved science and the complex systems, but ultimately wasn’t passionate about the industry. 

I fell into agriculture after going on holiday to South America where I was living on farms, attempting to be a hippie (it didn’t work). I decided to stay for nearly a year, though, travelling around and learning from farmers. I was hooked on agriculture and excited about the potential of technology and new business models to improve our food system. 

I’ve spent the last nearly 10 years focused on early-stage innovation and sustainability in agriculture, including a master’s degree at MIT focused on sustainable value chains and corporate innovation in agriculture.

Six years ago we moved to Australia where I founded first an advisory business, Agthentic, and then co-founded an accelerator business, Farmers2Founders.

As I saw the early-stage ecosystem growing- as in, more deal flow and more capital with interest to invest- it was clear that there was a gap: we needed a dedicated venture firm to back the remarkable startups. In 2019, my business partner, Matthew Pryor, and I formed Tenacious Ventures to fill that gap. 

Today, we are a venture firm partnering with agtech operators who are unlocking world-changing impact at the intersection of digitally native agriculture and climate solutions.

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

I really focus on optimising for energy levels, which means I like being up early in the morning to start work and get the most important job of the day done while I’m at my best.

It also means I can take a break in the middle of the day for sport- which is now beach volleyball (from soccer and track, which I played in college). So that might look like:

  • 5 something wake up 
  • 6am walk to coffee shop and work for ~2 hours 
  • 8am workout / training
  • 10 am – noon internal meetings 
  • Noon – 2pm external meetings
  • Afternoon – focused work time, internal office hours, a walk & coffee break, etc. 
  • Dinner and hang out with my other half sometime around 7pm
  • Bed by 9pm. I try not to sign back online after I sign off, though if we’re juggling time zones or urgent priorities, sometimes it’s unavoidable. 

This of course assumes I’m working at the home office. Many weeks I’m on the road speaking at conferences, attending meetings, meeting startups, and visiting farms!  

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

Yes! We are a natively remote organisation, and we often work across time zones as well.

To us, this means a small set of internal standing meetings (“cuddles” for “chat + huddle”) and regularly scheduled commitments, a culture of transparency, trust, and personal responsibility, investing in systems and processes for async communication, all amidst an appreciation that everyone has different preferences for how they work and what else is happening their lives. 

We also experiment with new ways to find balance, such as walking meetings or getting the team together once a quarter (covid permitting) for planning, co-location to work on priorities, and social time. 

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

As you can probably tell from my schedule above, I really like working. I deeply believe in what we do, so it doesn’t feel like a burden to me to work.

That said, I also play sports at a competitive level and that requires time and effort. I appreciate that we’ve built a company where taking two hours “off” in the “middle” of the day is 100% ok, and I know I wouldn’t be at my best while at the desk if I wasn’t able to achieve other goals in my life. 

And of course, time to rest and rejuvenate is also important. For me, that’s time in nature, often hiking as deep in the woods as possible, near a lake or river.

One thing I am working on is building in more time for reading, reflection, and writing. Though we produce a lot of content, I am excited about building in habits to help me take the time to reflect and share my learnings with my team and others. 

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

For a while I was really resistant to reading books on my phone, wanting to minimise screen time. But I realised that I really like reading, and ultimately gave in to having books on my phone. I’m so happy I did as I’ve read a bunch of amazing fiction and non-fiction this past year that I doubt I would have otherwise. 

I also have a new business coach that I LOVE. Some people are worried about getting a coach, afraid that it’s a sign of weakness. Yet, we don’t think about it that way in sports- of course athletes need coaches. I’m a big fan of coaches, therapists, and advisors- they’re all different and all incredibly powerful as part of a support system for entrepreneurs.  

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

In the agtech world, Upstream Insights and Prime Future are my favourite newsletters. 

For podcasts, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t promote ours: Agtech…So What?  

I also regularly listen to Acquired, 20VC, People I Mostly Admire, Up First, and a rotating range of agriculture, agtech, and climate podcasts depending on the episode. 

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

I love my ReMarkable tablet- as someone who has to write to think, but doesn’t want to carry around (and then run out of space in) a physical notebook, it’s been a great addition to my life. 

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

Sara Blakely and Hillary Clinton come to mind, also anyone who creates a lot of high value content such as Tim Urban, Ryan Holiday, Sam Harris, etc. 

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

COVID has helped us as leaders, employees, and humans to realise that the traditional 9-5pm is not the only, yet alone the “best,” way to work. I really hope we continue to innovate and challenge the model to find ways of working that enable us to thrive in all aspects of our lives.

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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.