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Interviews / Founders

Balancing the Grind with Will Brown, Co-Founder at Driva

Will Brown is the co-founder of start-up Driva, an online car loan marketplace he launched with Scott Montarello.

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

I studied Finance and Economics at university in Western Australia, but coursework wasn’t particularly involved (the degree was only 3 years long). I have always been interested in start-ups, and my co-founder at Driva and I started the WA branch of a not-for-profit consulting society in our uni days back in 2016. 

After my Bachelors Degree, I dropped out of my Economics Thesis and worked at Uber’s Perth Office in their Driva Growth team. While the company had tens of thousands of employees at that point, they hadn’t been in the Perth market for long and they still weren’t regulated – so in a lot of ways it felt like a start-up.

It was a great experience and whet my appetite for being involved in the running of a business and working in product. But there was a big part of me still that wanted to tick off a university bucket list item – working in investment banking.

At the start of 2018 I moved to Sydney to work at Goldman Sachs – and covered financial institutions (e.g. big 4 banks and large insurers). I also got some exposure to Fintech (e.g. Afterpay and Brighte). While I knew pretty quickly investment banking wasn’t for me, it did give me great exposure to the lending space and I got to cover a number of businesses that had large car loan portfolios.

This is why when my co-founder Scott, who was also working largely in financial services, approached me about doing the start-up we had always promised ourselves we would do – all our ideas were in Fintech.

Like most founders, my role is fairly broad. But with the luxury of a co-founder we’ve been able to divide and conquer, which means I focus mainly on product (what features should we build?), marketing (how can we effectively acquire customers by buying traffic?) and partnerships (what other businesses might want to use our product?).

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

My favourite and most productive working time is right after I wake up. This means immediately post coffee (large almond cap) and pre-breakfast I’m most productive – which is about 15 minutes after I wake up. I’ll use this time to power through higher priority work or something that I didn’t finish the day before. I’ll also use it to refine my priorities for the day and finalise my “to-do” list.

At around 9am daily stand-ups start. We do a very brief one with the leadership team where everyone sends their priorities for the day in bullet point format ahead of time. I then have product and marketing team stand-ups. Now that the product team is really mature, I rarely join these stand-ups allowing me time to focus on marketing which is a fairly new team within Driva.

As much as I try to avoid it, at the moment my schedule has been super meeting heavy. I’ll try to schedule meetings in blocks so that I can separate my day into chunks of meetings followed by chunks of focus time. But more recently I’ve found myself stuck in back-to-back meetings for several hours in a row.

Between these meetings and calls / Slack exchanges with people across product and marketing teams, I’ll often find it’ll be 4pm before I get a chance to get stuck into more focus time. This makes the hours between 4pm and 6.30pm (when I usually run out of steam) important.

At around 6.30 I’ll try to get into the gym, and then if it’s my night to cook I’ll be on HelloFresh duty (my housemate and I rotate!). I also use this block to get some piano practice in.

At around 9.30 I’ll jump back online to tidy up emails or close out any outstanding pieces of work. Post 10pm I’m incapable of doing any meaningful work, and it’s pretty shortly after this that it lights out!

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

Like most businesses these days, it does. We’re based in Sydney but have five people in Melbourne and one in Perth and everyone has been working from home for most of this year.

We still encourage people into the office ~1-2 days per week now that we’re coming out of lockdown. We’re a strong believer in the cultural benefits this has especially at an early stage (we’re still only 30 people).

But I do enjoy my work from home days – I save about an hour on commuting (30 minutes each way), generally feel more organised and eat healthier. It’s also a lot quieter at home than it is in our current office set up. This definitely has its benefits on days that aren’t meeting heavy (more focus time). Plus no need to book meeting rooms!

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

Work-life balance to me is about being “doing well” in multiple facets of life. This means spending time doing things that you care about, as well as you can. 

Doing something well for me just means to the best of your ability and with intent. You don’t have to actually be gifted. To try and do things well, I think you should only have 3-4 key things in your life at any one time. For me at the moment that’s work, friends, piano and exercise.

I definitely go through phases where the intensity of focus shifts across these 4 areas depending on what’s in the calendar. For example, for the two marathons I ran this year, I was exercising more and going out less. When I have a piano exam coming up, I’m practicing more and working less. When lockdown in Sydney ended, my focus shifted to friends and I went out a lot more!

So in summary, I try to do things I enjoy, and do them as well as I can (which means not spreading yourself too thinly).

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

I definitely go to bed earlier – which I think is a function of being more tired at the end of the day.

I’m getting better at not obsessing every day about how the business is performing. This means not constantly checking our reporting to see if we are going to have a good day or a bad day. This has also meant trying to focus on inputs all the time and outputs only some of the time.

One bad habit that seems to have accelerated this year is my phone usage. It’s always on do-not-disturb, but I’m frequently checking for notifications, or having short bouts of scrolling instagram or the news. I think this is one of my worst habits but I haven’t dedicated enough time to try and break it yet. 

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

I think I average two paper books a year – so I’m not the best person to ask about books.

But I do listen to two podcasts religiously every day:

  1. The Daily by the New York Times (US politics – if you’re into that)
  2. Squiz shortcuts (Australian daily news briefing)

I love listening to them on lunch breaks or while I’m drifting off to sleep.

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

My widescreen computer monitor – I am literally incapable of getting any proper work done on a laptop.

I also recently discovered a grocery delivery app called Milk Run that I use about once a week. Affordable groceries on demand that are always delivered within 10 minutes. Great if you run out of something (think toilet paper).

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

POTUS (Joe Biden!) Politics aside, his daily routine must be insane. It’s made even more impressive by his age and the fact that he has remained physically fit (which seems to be an exception amongst politicians). Would love to see what goes on behind the scenes.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.