Balancing the Grind with Zain Jaffer, Partner at Blue Field Capital

Zain Jaffer is the Partner at Blue Field Capital, which has a $1B+ real estate portfolio with investments including land, apartments, warehouses, hotels, office and senior care facilities.

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

I’ve had a passion for tech and business from a young age. In fact, I started building my first company when I was 14. After completing my formal education in the UK — I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from King’s College London and a Master of Science degree in Technology Entrepreneurship from University College London — I moved to the US where I co-founded a tech startup called Vungle. We saw huge success in this venture, and in 2019, Vungle was acquired by Blackstone for $780 million.

Since then, I’ve channelled my resources into investing. I’m a partner at Blue Field Capital where I invest in real estate and PropTech. I also run a venture capital fund with investments in 20 different startups.

My first-hand experience as a founder really influenced my style as a venture capitalist. So, I’m very active on all of the boards I sit on. Beyond just contributing funding to startups, I also work towards adding value and helping founders successfully scale their companies.

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

I start my day at 7 AM by reading a copy of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal so I know what’s going on in the world. I’ll often have one calendar slot booked early in the day, for meeting with people in Europe or New York.

Then I’ll have a high-carb breakfast and attend to small tasks like responding to emails or taking quick admin calls. I then head to the gym with a personal trainer.

After training, I dedicate my day to any work that requires deep focus or collaboration. My calendar is either booked up for important meetings or blocked for more creative and strategic projects. I do try to keep a relatively light schedule with no more than 3 planned meetings to ensure I don’t spread my time and energy too thin.

My last order of business would sometimes be a late-afternoon call for anyone I’m meeting who’s in Asia as that’s usually the most suitable schedule considering time differences. Otherwise, I try to end the day before 5 PM and squeeze in an evening workout, this time for martial arts training like Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Muay Thai.

I end every day by winding down for dinner and spending time with family.

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

My view of work-life balance has evolved since I transitioned from being a startup founder to an investor. I used to believe that life is defined by what we achieve, so work and life were virtually synonymous for me. Now, I think of work and life as two separate elements that define our well-being.

I maintain my sense of balance in life by having a firm grasp on my personal vision and understanding which relationships, commitments, and activities align with that.

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’ve learned to be extremely selective with meetings.

I only make specific exceptions to this rule: if I’m on the BOD of a startup, or if it’s an employee who needs help, or if it’s someone who needs a confidential reference, then I am available 24/7 and will drop whatever I’m doing to help or meet. My view is that these situations or relationships are where I can be most helpful, so this is an area where I want to invest my time and be 100% available.

For all other types of meetings, I am more critical about deciding to accept or decline. I’m inclined against taking face-to-face appointments, video calls, or even phone calls. Instead, I try to solve things via email or text. Most times it turns out to be a really simple task. For example, a contact might just want an intro to someone I know but wanted to catch up for an hour before feeling it was appropriate to ask for the intro. In this case, I save an hour and only need to send a few emails. And the result: I still get to be helpful!

The thinking behind this is that If I’m not careful, my entire calendar can be filled with meetings from investment companies pitching me their funds, brokers calling about real estate properties for sale, or startups seeking funding. Most of these interactions can be evaluated quickly via email. If there is interest on my side, I ask people for whatever I need, such as a deck or materials to read, so I can decide what to do next. It’s surprising how often people fail to reply or follow up when asked for more details — which in itself helps me avoid an unnecessary meeting with someone who isn’t serious.

This approach to meetings has saved me a lot of time and allows me to make more impact with a less cluttered calendar. I do need to spend more time on handling emails and texts but it’s a good trade-off in my view.

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?

Die with Zero by Bill Perkins. This book makes a sobering case about what it means to live rich, and it posits that we should stop being so obsessed with growing our wealth and instead prioritise living a full life. A key takeaway that stayed with me is that if you only focus on earning more money, you will most likely never be able to spend it purposefully and will defer happiness to the future when you are too old to enjoy it.

The book is provocative in that it suggests you should spend as much of your wealth as possible when you’re younger and only save the bare minimum for retirement. It made me question how I spend my time and reevaluate my life goals to focus more on meaningful experiences.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance you’d like to share with our readers?

For me, living a balanced life is essentially the same as investing wisely. You have to know and understand what matters to you so you can make the right decisions on your investments — not just in terms of your money, but also your time, your energy, and your purpose.

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.