Balancing the Grind with Stefan Zurflüh, Chief Operating Officer at StrideEquity

Stefan Zurflüh is the Chief Operating Officer at StrideEquity, a platform offering an alternative model for investors and emerging companies seeking funding.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

When I started planning my future when I was 15, I explored different industries for an apprenticeship, including commercial and IT roles. However, the idea of being confined to an office from Monday to Friday did not appeal to me. Seeking guidance, I approached a teacher who suggested culinary arts. I hesitated but decided to try it and found myself fascinated by the dynamic, high-pressure, but creative environment. This led me to pursue a career as a chef and dream of building a culinary empire like Gordon Ramsey. However, life took unexpected turns.

During my armed forces service, a friend mentioned that he was studying hotel management. I looked into it and enrolled to gain the knowledge required to achieve my imperial dreams. As part of the program, I had to work as a waiter for six months, which feels like a punishment for most chefs. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it since it allowed me to interact with all sorts of people. Yet, I questioned if I had enough skills to achieve my goals and had also discovered my interest in finance. This led me to pursue a BSc in Business Administration with a focus on Controlling and Accounting.

Towards the end of my studies, I feared once again being confined to a cubicle, so I signed up for an MSc program to enhance my entrepreneurial skills. Simultaneously, I sought a new job and came across a non-profit organisation (NPO). The role I applied for was new and part of an organisation-wide change project. The high uncertainty of the role fascinated me. Luckily I got the gig. I ended up working on all sorts of digital transformation projects and planning a donation-reward-based crowdfunding campaign. So, I had my initial encounter with the world of crowdfunding back in 2016/17. Never would I have thought I would end up in this world back then. 

Afterwards, I fulfilled my promise to travel the world with my partner, stretching our planned year-long trip to over two years. We visited numerous countries and helped various people with their projects, such as restoring yachts, working on a farm and vineyard, setting up and operating a ski rental shop, renovating, and running an Airbnb and learning a lot about beekeeping.

We arrived in Australia on Christmas Day 2019. Perfect in time to experience the bushfires and slightly before the pandemic. I got fortunate and met the right people at the right time, which provided me with the opportunity to up and reskill myself and invaluable mentorship. So, for me the pandemic was great. Towards the end of the pandemic, I decided I needed a change and a new challenge. I got once again lucky and met the Stride team. Throughout our initial conversations, I realised the value and enormous potential of equity crowdfunding for companies and investors. So, I decided to join and became involved in building, branding, and launching the Stride Equity platform. 

We would love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

I wake up at 5:05 am and start my day with stretching and strength exercises. After that, I enjoy my first cup of coffee while catching up on the latest news and blog and social posts. If I am working from home, I begin my tasks between 6:30am and 7:00am. But if I am going to the office, I treat myself to a second cup of coffee on the way and arrive between 7:30am and 8:00am at the office.

My mornings are all about focusing on my daily agenda. I check if any preparations are needed for upcoming meetings, respond to any messages received overnight, and review the tasks left from the previous day. To stay organised and manage my projects effectively, I use a Kanban board, which helps me track progress and prioritise my daily tasks. 

I work closely with our CEO, Maria Halasz, on various projects. These include vetting investment opportunities, conducting thorough research, preparing materials for investment committee meetings, assisting companies with their upcoming crowdfunding campaigns, scoping upcoming features for the Stride Equity platform and much more. We are also actively fundraising for Stride Lead, our venture fund that co-invests with the crowd. 

In short, each day brings new tasks and projects that require my attention, making my work environment dynamic, ever-changing, and challenging. While some may see the workload as overwhelming, I have a secret to share: when I immersed myself in the startup and venture capital community, I discovered my true passion. So, when someone asks me how many hours I work each day, my answer is simple: zero. Because it is not work, it is fun and rewarding, and I love it. 

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

Answering this question is tricky, as the concept of work is quite different for me. My competitive nature and deep curiosity drive me to step out of my comfort zone and push boundaries regularly. All of us can do so much more than we think, but it requires effort and time. Therefore, sometimes I get so absorbed in a task that time flies by without me even realising it. I stay focused on achieving goals or understanding complex ideas.

The exciting part of my job is collaborating with incredibly intelligent and experienced people who inspire me to strive for excellence and learn more. I must admit, though, that in the past, this pursuit has led me to an unhealthy lifestyle. But I have implemented new habits into my daily and weekly routine. Inspired by a speaker at our launch event, I have incorporated the idea of “hard stops” into my schedule on certain evenings, so I can spend quality time with my partner. 

Another important habit is starting the day with exercise. I have also committed to running at least 50 kilometres weekly, without exception. Running is a fantastic way for me to release daily stress, reflect on the day, and think about upcoming projects. I also changed to a healthier diet. 

I also try to set aside either Saturday or Sunday as a completely work-free day. Although I am often drawn to doing something productive during the weekends, like exploring new technologies or working on low-priority tasks, I understand now the importance of relaxation and pursuing personal interests.

I know that my lifestyle may not suit everyone, and it requires a supportive and understanding personal environment. Luckily, I am fortunate to have such an environment.

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Change is constant, and it is essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Sure, I increased my weekly running goal from 25 km to 50km. Furthermore, I implemented “hard stops”. These intentional breaks helped me to become much more focused and efficient. 

I also try to ensure that I have enough sleep and maintain a healthy diet. Now, I am a flexitarian. Long-term, I aim to become a vegan. 

I keep adding new elements to my daily and weekly routines. The trick is only to make one change at a time and allocate enough time to make it a habit before further changes. 

We are always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

Two books that I would suggest reading are Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. 

Atomic Habits highlights how small changes and habit stacking can profoundly affect our lives. It is amazing to see how seemingly minor adjustments can lead to significant results over time as long as you stick to them.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck emphasises the importance of defining what truly matters to us. By focusing on what is genuinely important, we can increase our personal well-being and conserve energy that might otherwise be wasted. It encourages us to take a step back and ask ourselves, “Does it matter? What is the impact of this?” This approach often leads to better outcomes and an acceptance that sometimes shit happens, and that is okay.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you would like to share with our readers?

Many people often have a fixed mindset and feel like impostors, doubting their abilities. While some imposter syndrome is normal and healthy, it becomes a problem when it overwhelms you. As a result, most people underestimate their potential and capabilities. However, shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can lead to incredible personal growth. It is not an easy task, but it is worth it, and with determination, persistence, the right mentorship, and a bit of luck, you can achieve it. 

It is important to remember that time is the most valuable resource in life, and it should not be wasted on pursuits that do not add value to your life. So, while I typically leave it up to the snowflake brigade to toss motivational quotes around, but there’s one that has stuck with me and continues to inspire me during moments of self-doubt:

“The only limit is the one you set yourself.” – Felix Baumgartner

You might think it is just a nice saying, but I think we all can do and achieve much more than we think if we want. Many just quit too early. So, keep pushing and embrace challenges because if I can do it, you can too.

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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.