Growth / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Tom Uhlhorn, Head of Growth at Fresh

Tom Uhlhorn is the Head of Growth at Fresh, a company that empowers other companies to directly engage with their shareholders in order to fuel growth.

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

I had a bit of a late start to my career, as I initially wanted to be a music producer for musicians and film and tv. Once I gained exposure to that industry, though, I saw the writing on the wall in terms of the disruption of tech and decided to pursue a more future-proof career, so I studied a part-time masters in Marketing whilst working full time in a sales role for a digital agency.

Within that role, I was put onto a lot of innovation projects and I really loved them, so I quickly found my passion in technology and innovation and combined with studying marketing at night, I quickly sharpened my skills.

Fast forward a few years, I prematurely started a consulting practice – I say prematurely because I was literally 2 years out from uni and thinking I could tell people how it was done. It was initially intended to be “marketing for startups”, as I was really disenfranchised with the marketing industry and how startups were beating marketers at their own games through things like growth hacking, but over the years it evolved into a CX research and strategy practice for the mid-market.

The growth process was brutal, I had to eat a lot of humble pie and go through a lot of stress to survive, but eventually I got to a pretty good place. I ran that for several years before I wound things up at the end of 2021 and joined Fresh as the Head of Growth. 

As Head of Growth, I am responsible for growing the Fresh brand and understanding and trust in our products amongst our target customers. I also oversee our design practice, and have three junior designers reporting to me.

It seems like a bit of a strange overlap in roles, but I actually think it works really well and dovetails into my CX skill set nicely. We have an integrated approach to growth which allows me to leverage the entire marketing mix to our growth strategy, and similarly, the design practice has a strong grounding in the commercial realities of UX.

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

They’re pretty fast. I work from home as I live by the beach but I can tell you I haven’t been seeing much surf lately! Being a startup, I have to switch between strategy, execution, and people management throughout the day, and we have ambitious targets so the amount of work to get through is heavy.

A recent day consists of a management standup to kick things off and ensure that the day’s work can get done and any blockers are removed. I will then have around 3-6 meetings in a typical day as a contributor to a wide range of things, from operational things, to product roadmap discussions, design reviews, and of course growth initiatives.

Then I’ll be on the tools executing on some strategic initiatives – from crafting campaigns for our various category entry points, editing podcast episodes and written articles, I spent a few weeks creating our website in Webflow, arranging sponsorships, or I might be looking at our various analytics sources (Google, Heap, and the various ad campaign networks).

There’s never enough time to do everything that I want to do, so I have a principle of focusing on the thing/s that have leverage (the output is much greater than the input). As we scale, I’ll be able to discharge more off my plate, but for now it’s an exercise of prioritisation and focus. I really hope I can keep that discipline, as it’s helped me realise how much stuff we can do in a day that doesn’t have a bearing on our impact.

Fresh also prioritises a lot of work-life balance stuff so not every day is a fast-paced productivity fest. We have offsites, cooldown weeks, wellness weeks, and plenty of get togethers. For example we recently had a children’s birthday party (but for adults, it’s a vibe) for Friday arvo drinks and an offsite in regional Victoria over a couple of days. It’s nice to have those things to break up the intensity that is working at a startup, and I fly down to Melbourne frequently so I don’t miss out on this stuff.

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

Work-life balance is about not letting work invade my personal space. I love my job and I work hard, but I also leave it “at” work. Routine can help with this, and I do try to exercise most mornings, but I’m not dogmatic about it and I think each to their own when it comes to personal routines.

 I have a partner and a young son, so when I’m not working I’m with them. Literally everyone, from friends and family to the random lady on the bus, tells me that life with your kids goes fast and you need to savour it – nobody has ever said anything different. To me, that gives me a clear signal as to what the priorities are and it helps me switch off from work. When I worked for myself, work was life.

Now, I love it and it’s a vital part of my life, but it’s not everything, and it’s second to the wellbeing and health of my family. Once you embrace that, I think you generate a healthy detachment from your work and, ironically, become a much better worker because you take things less personally and you’re more objective in your process.

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

My last 12 months have been mental – I was living in the UK for a year for the birth of my son and running my business during Australian hours, so I was burnt out. Since coming back I’ve been prioritising sleep, exercise, and swimming in the ocean.

With an 18-month old sometimes that’s tricky, but I try to make at least one of those things happen every day. This is in addition to time with the family – if I’m at home, I’m spending time with my partner and my boy, no compromise on that.

Honestly, I’ve tried bringing new things into my life, like study or other hobbies, but I’m really happy being present and content with my family and my job. I think “hustle culture” appeals to people’s fear of inadequacy, and it can be dressed up as self-betterment but the cost it has on your mental health can be quite high. I’m just chilling by the beach with my family and working at a fast-paced startup, two extremes that give me all the fulfilment I need.

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

Book: My friend Will gave me Range by David Epstein last year, and it was a necessary read for me and affirmed to me that generalists are just as valuable as specialists. Fiction-wise, my favourite book is The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy.

Newsletter: Milk Road is a daily read for me, as is Letter of Intent.

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

The person currently living on the beach, working in emerging technologies whilst having a healthy balanced lifestyle with family and friends. Who is that person? I don’t think I’ll ever know, because they don’t give a shit about tweeting or writing about it, but good for them.

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

Work is important and can be a great source of fulfilment, but it is not your identity.

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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.