Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Tristan Cole, Co-Founder & Director of Sempo

Tristan Cole is the co-founder and director of Sempo, a company on a mission to build open ecosystems that connect financially isolated communities with each other and the global economy.

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

I’m the Founder and Director of Sempo, we are a startup that builds more inclusive payments systems for emerging markets and currently facilitate about a million payments per year. Sempo has worked in 7 countries with top international NGOs, such as Oxfam and Red Cross, delivering cash transfer programs and enabling financial inclusion.

At Sempo, I wear many hats, leading product management across our Web App, Mobile App, USSD Gateway and Tap-to-Pay card, business development, sales and compliance.

I started Sempo in 2017 when I was inspired by GiveDirectly and cash transfer programming – where you give people money instead of in-kind aid – it’s more cost-effective, more transparent and ultimately more empowering for people who receive assistance.

I started my career during high-school selling phone accessories on eBay, growing the business to one of the largest eBay suppliers in Australia. This led me to start more direct to consumer eccomerce brands selling a wide range of electronics. I eventually wanted to make changes to my website, so I self-taught programming and then started to freelance as a software developer for a wide range of businesses.

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

I try to get up at 6:30am every day, although sometimes that’s hard if you’re up late the night before! I’ll either go for a run or have tea to kickstart the morning. I then try to set my daily goals early in the morning and usually start work at about 8 am.

My mornings are usually full of calls, as part of our team is based in Canada and US customers. I’ll then try to spend an hour or two before midday answering emails and completing the 5-10 minute tasks back to back. I like to group all my calls together, when possible, to minimize the mental overhead of context switching to deep work.

Finally, I’ll try to have two days a week of “deep work” where I block my calendar off from calls and focus on strategy, writing code, thinking through problems, and anything else that requires proper focus.

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

Yes, Sempo has been 100% remote since 2018, so switching to operating in COVID-19 has less of an impact culturally. One of the challenges was we usually travel to countries we operate in to understand local contexts, work with our customers and communities, and adapt our solution to fit their needs.

We also aren’t just remote, but async-remote as well. This means we try to keep a written record of calls and key decisions. We don’t expect immediate response over slack. We only have about 2-3 hours of internal calls per week, with extra calls where required.

I think async works really well for well-defined software products and for experienced professionals. You’re actually able to get more done on a day-to-day basis and have a much wider talent pool as you can hire globally in any timezone. 

We still try to meet up once per year for a team strategy session that is good for more fluid conversation and team culture!

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

A high performing career requires a healthy life. For me, this means prioritizing exercise, social activity (friends/family) and making sure I eat well.

I think Jeff Bezo’s view on this is accurate, “work life balance doesn’t exist, it’s actually a circle”. Bezo’s said, “If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy, and if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy.”

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

I’ve started going to the gym regularly. I think feeling physically strong helps me feel mentally strong. This is also a side effect of having ongoing knee issues from too much running and needing to strengthen my lower body to help with these issues.

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

  • Books: The Price of Tomorrow and Shoe Dog were two books I read last year that I really enjoyed
  • Podcasts: Tales from the Crypt
  • Newsletters: Daily TechMeme summaries, The Pomp Letter (weekly is free)

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

Dashlane: A good password manager has really improved my personal security online and makes it easy to save and manage passwords.

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

Anthony Pompiliano. 

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

You’re going to spend 80,000+ hours working. Finding something you enjoy doing is probably a good idea.

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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.