CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Stefan Vetter, Founder of Wortspiel & Friendly

Stefan Vetter is the founder at digital marketing agency Wortspiel and marTech start-up Friendly, helping companies do better marketing.

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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 the founder and CEO at the Swiss digital marketing agency Wortspiel and the MarTech start-up Friendly.

I founded Wortspiel five years ago as a pure remote company. Today we have grown to a team of 12 people in Switzerland, Germany and Bulgaria and help major Swiss and international companies like WordPress, Migros and Swisscom to do better marketing.

At the beginning of this year I founded Friendly. At Friendly we identify the best open source marketing tools and provide them in simple subscriptions with excellent customer service and secure hosting.

In March and April I launched my first two products: Friendly Analytics, a privacy friendly Google Analytics alternative, and Friendly Automate, an SME friendly HubSpot alternative.

Before Friendly and Wortspiel I worked in agencies and startups for several years.

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

My workday usually starts at 9 am. As a remote worker, my commute to work is usually only a few meters – from the kitchen to the laptop.

Sometimes the working day starts with a (mostly virtual) meeting. Otherwise I go through my e-mails and decide which ones I answer immediately and which ones I answer later. This takes about 15 minutes.

Afterwards I try to work as focused as possible on my tasks. Sometimes these are very creative tasks, like developing new services and products. However, on many days I also have routine tasks such as billing, accounting or server maintenance.

I make 1-2 more breaks for e-mails, mostly after lunch and before finishing up.

I usually work until about 6:00. If I don’t reach my daily goal, I often continue to work 1-3 hours in the evening. Currently I have a six-day week rather than a five-day week.

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

Yes, and I’m very grateful for that. Before I started my own agency, I was employed by agencies for a long time.

All these agencies offered digital services. At the same time, they felt it was necessary for all employees to work in one office at the same time.

I questioned this – and saw many examples of companies that handled this differently, for example Buffer and Automattic (WordPress).

This desire for more (spatial) freedom was a trigger to set up one’s own business and do things differently.

At Wortspiel we have been working independently of time and place since our foundation in 2015 – with success. Our team has since grown to 12 employees and we help clients like WordPress, Swiss Post and Jungfrau Railways to improve their marketing.

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

As an entrepreneur I find it difficult to separate work and life. What is work, what is life? 

When I meet a friend who also happens to be a client of mine, is that life? If I develop a new feature for one of our products over the weekend, which I enjoy, is that work?

Generally speaking, for me work-life balance means feeling healthy and alive. 

When I get stomach aches, I notice that the mental strain is too much. That’s how I can tell when my stress level is too high.

I then try to do as many of the things that are good for me and make me feel more alive – time with family and friends, sports, sun, music, travel, art, etc.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I’m very inspired by a quote from the book Deep Work, which I found in a blog post by Steph Smith:

If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. [If I instead get interrupted a lot] what replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time… there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons.”

Cal Newport

I come from a time when hard drives were “defragmented”. Data was written closer together and empty spaces were increased. That increased performance.

The same can be applied to calendars. I would like to encourage you: which dates from your calendar can you move closer together to get longer, undisturbed time? Which appointments could you do without completely?

In this way, this year you might not “only” write e-mails, but create a piece of art you can be proud of.

I let myself be distracted from everyday business for a long time. For me, the Coronavirus – as terrible as the consequences are for many people – had a positive effect.

All of a sudden, whole days in my calendar became free due to cancelled workshops, meetings, conferences and trips.

I could use this time to develop products. This has multiplied my productivity during this time.

I want to keep up this trend – and I’m fighting to ensure that my calendar doesn’t fill up as well after this crisis as it did before.

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

Two books that have influenced me a lot lately are Company of One by Paul Jarvis and Small Giants by Bo Burlingham.

Both books are about how companies can become better instead of bigger.

Customers typically don’t ask a business to grow or expand. If growth isn’t what’s best for them, maybe it should be reconsidered.

Paul Jarvis

Examples of companies that have chosen not to grow as fast as possible and have opted for exceptional quality and service are Basecamp, Buffer and Paul Jarvis’ own company, Fathom Analytics.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

There is no number one thing for me – there are two.

One is a goal. What’s really important and urgent? What is my priority for the day?

As Paul Jarvis aptly points out in the book mentioned above, until the 1950s “priority” was used almost exclusively in the singular, not the plural.

The other thing is to create the right conditions to achieve the goal. Do I sleep enough, do I eat well, do I have a quiet workplace, enough undisturbed time etc.?

If both are given – goals and good conditions – I can use the day well.

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

I like to read from people who walk the talk and create great work cultures in their companies.

My examples include Joel Gascoigne (Buffer), Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (both Basecamp), Haraldur Thorleifsson (ueno), Sahil Lavingia (Gumroad) and Paul Jarvis.

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

I would take the liberty of quoting German design legend Dieter Rams. His motto is: “Less, but better.”

For me, this motto applies not only to design, but also to work and life as a whole.

Every opportunity you can take advantage of takes away some of your time and energy. Is it worth it? Should you say no more often?

The more often you say no to unimportant things, the more time you have to achieve great things.

Less, but better.

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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.