Thomas Panton is the founder & CEO at Canopey, a place for consumers to buy verified, sustainable products.
Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?
Nearly a decade ago, I started working with the world’s largest independent environmental organisation, Greenpeace UK. Working on the face-to-face teams meant that I had to have a deep understanding of all the campaigns they were working on, from ocean plastic and overfishing to deforestation and the global energy sector. This lit the fire to work in the climate sector and try to offer solutions to the problems we are facing as a species.
During my time at Greenpeace, I became frustrated with the amount of consumer product waste that was left at events and festivals where we were working, so I left to set up my first company, Festovers.
We were the first company in the UK to be paid to collect leftover bulky consumer product waste for repurpose, recycling, and reuse. When the pandemic came, it decimated the industry, so we turned our focus to the source of the problem – what we buy, to begin with. And so we started building Canopey.
Alongside my career, I also continued my journey in other ways. Some of these include studying for an MSc in Climate Change, sitting on the advisory board of Norfolk Chambers of Commerce’s Business Climate Leaders programme and sitting on the advisory board for the Norfolk and Suffolk LSIP.
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
As the founder/CEO of the company, many of my days look very different, but they generally work around the following schedule. Starting my day with some admin and community tasks, whether that be replying to any emails I hadn’t managed to get to the day before, or engaging with the LinkedIn community and building my business and personal brand.
Around 9am my meetings start, and this varies from investor to partnerships, from new vendors to team members. Whilst I’m not taking meetings all day back to back, this tends to be most of my day until around 6/7pm ish. I’ll then start prepping to go home, and once home I’ll finish up with the same as I started with, admin and community tasks.
This is a very top-level structure, and to be honest since we’re an early-stage startup with a super lean team, I find myself more often than not managing a whole bunch of other stuff to from searching and aggregating data for our impact calculator, to running through our accounts and spending and looking where we can be even leaner than we already are. No day is the same at this stage! But we love that fast-paced atmosphere and thrive under the pressures that come with it.
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?
If I’m honest, I’m nowhere near as good at this as I’d like to be but there are a few things which I very rarely skip on, these include prayer times (as a Muslim this is super important to me), and then on Thursdays at 8pm I have a weekly call with my family and we do a quiz together.
It sounds pretty lame, but it’s a great way to check in with my family since I don’t get to see them all that often now that we’re running a start-up. Finally, I make sure that my partner and I get down time together; whether that be a walk in the park or cooking dinner together and watching a film, I value that time when work isn’t the priority.
I think most importantly it’s writing it in the calendar. For me, the best way to make sure I don’t skip out on maintaining some sort of work-life balance is to get it in the work calendar. If it’s not there, it doesn’t exist!
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
I started praying more, a lot of founders will talk about meditation etc, and this is my equivalent. A good way to ground our minds is to take moments to reflect. Otherwise, I think the other changes I’ve made are more on the business side, we changed from cafe hopping in the city to paying for desks in a coworking space. This has made it so much easier to split the work-life mindset. Of course, very rarely do we truly “switch off” but this really helps.
We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?
Here are some great podcasts:
- A really good podcast for founder mental well-being is Startup Therapy Wil Schroter and Ryan Rutan from Startups.com.
- As a startup founder battling imposter syndrome daily, I really enjoyed the seasons of Startup by Gimlet Media which were about Gimlet Media.
- I find TILclimate by MIT really good for breaking down complicated climate science, and giving hope across a pretty depressing subject matter.
I used to be a massive bookworm but often find myself with little time to really sit down and engage with a book nowadays, most of the books I read are pretty specific to my academia. Of course, I could list the classics like Lean Startup, Zero to One, etc., but I actually think a book which gives a lot of really good insight into the mind of angel investors is Angel Think by Phil McSweeney. The reason I mention this book is that it makes the whole investment journey so much easier and instead of eating your time up as you make a whole bunch of silly mistakes, Phil’s book might just help you make your own life easier.
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I think one thing I tell everyone is you never know who’s going through the same thing as you. Or may have been through it in the past! I remember listening to Silicon Valley investment kingpin Chris Sacca talking at Tech BBQ and it really stuck with me that he admits he still gets imposter syndrome.
As a founder we are consistently stressed that people may see through our confidence, probably know more than us, and might look down on us for whatever reason and often this leads to a pretty heavy case of imposter syndrome. For me, remembering that even those at the top of that food chain also feel that same thing really helps me put things in perspective, and hopefully it can help you too!
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