Balancing the Grind with Vicky Featherston, Co-Founder at HAL Systems

Vicky Featherston is the Co-Founder and Head of Strategy & Operations at HAL Systems, a company developing an energy efficient climate control solution for commercial buildings.

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

For over a decade, I ran a small consultancy in the building and design industry called Two Feathers with Julian (co-founder at HAL Systems).  I looked after the design projects in that business, and my specialisation was exhibition design projects where I worked with cultural institutions, like Arts Centre Melbourne, State Library of Victoria, and Heide Museum of Modern Art.  I’ve designed and produced shows on all sorts of interesting topics from music and photography, to science and design history.

Currently, I’m the Co-founder of climate-tech startup HAL Systems, where we are developing an energy efficient climate control solution for commercial buildings. We use transparent physics-based AI to generate predictions on how best to control a building’s HVAC systems to save energy while keeping people comfortable.  

It’s been a whirlwind this year so far – securing funding, building a team, developing our technology, and working with our partners towards installing HAL in pilot buildings. As a female founder, I’m absolutely thrilled to have received support from The Alice Anderson Fund, and keen to bring light to the gender disparity in investment in female-led startups.

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

My day starts with getting the kids ready for school, while also getting myself ready, so it can be a bit of a mad scramble.  Once the kids are off, then coffee is my first port of call!  We have a great Italian espresso machine which makes fabulous coffee, but can be a bit temperamental!

The HAL office is located at Featherston House, which is also where we live and have HAL running, so it’s very comfortable!  We’re very lucky to be able to dedicate 2 platforms to the office, which looks out onto a bushy landscape with large towering gum trees.  Our team is hybrid, so when they’re in the office, we’ll have lunch together.  I like to not always talk shop, but that’s not always possible, as life in a startup is exciting, but can be all encompassing!

Meetings are often online, but I also like to offer to host meetings here – which are always great, as people get to see the space where HAL first originated and meet the team in person.  I often have a walk along the Darebin Creek in the late afternoon.  Being outside in nature is great for improving your serotonin levels, which is especially helpful for founders of fast moving startups!

Evenings are with the kids – having dinner and chilling out with them. Connecting and laughing with them is always a great counter-balance to any stressors from the day.

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

Because my work and life are so intertwined, I try to be fairly focused and efficient during work hours.  This way I have a better chance of being able to switch off properly outside work time.  I also find it helpful with productivity to have regular breaks during the day, even if it’s just a stretch or standing outside for 5 minutes.

I think it’s also great to switch things up sometimes, like work at a different desk / location, go outside if you can, or walk a different route.  We’re creatures of habit, so it’s easy to fall into a rut, where one day blurs into another.  Trying new approaches can help you see things in a new light.

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?

There’s been a lot of change this year for me.  Ever since we secured our seed funding, there’s been a flurry of changes and activities, which has been thrilling but also overwhelming at times.  So I’ve been trying to make sure I have healthy strategies to deal with all the changes. 

So that includes physical activity, talking to others, listening to really good music, and allowing yourself to let your hair down sometimes.  I particularly find going on a walk with a friend really helpful – your mind and thoughts can flow, and being in nature helps you gain perspective.

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?

I’m a big fan of podcasts.  I often listen to them when I’m doing mundane tasks like laundry.  I like podcasts that look at the intersection between economics and psychology, so series like Freakonomics, No Stupid Questions and Hidden Brain

I also find podcasts by The Economist and Planet Money are great at keeping abreast of broad geo-political economic trends, as well as being super interesting. I wish I had more time for books!  Right now I’m trying to read Influence by Robert Cialdini, and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

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 your perspective is very influential.  If you only ever see your own problems, and compare yourself with others similar to you, it’s easy to be unhappy and unappreciative.  So if you can get outside yourself and see the bigger picture, that broader perspective can help you see what really matters to you.  

And I find if you can notice and enjoy the little things in your day-to-day life, like colours in the afternoon sky, a baby’s smile, a funny piece of graffiti, the veins of a leaf, interesting light patterns – appreciating these overlooked things can make daily life more rewarding.  So if you see me standing outside looking up at the sky and the trees, you’ll know why!

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.