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A Day in the Life: HOP Ventures and Populate's Kirsti Grant

A Day in the Life: HOP Ventures and Populate's Kirsti Grant

Kirsti Grant is a people and culture advisor at HOP Ventures and the co-founder and CEO of Populate. She shares how she gets through the day, how she organises her time and how she handles the madness of business.

What time do you wake up?

It’ll change from day to day but I have two settings – 5.30am and 6.30am. I go for the earlier option when things are feeling extra intense and I need to feel a bit more organised for the day ahead.

What kind of work do you do?

It varies but there are two main areas of work for me:

1) Co-founder and CEO of Populate – this can include anything from customer sales and support or discussing product direction and finances.
2) People and culture advisor – Through our consulting company HOP Ventures I work with a few different tech companies, but a lot of my time is spent at Auror, where I’m working on hiring amazing people and working with the team on building a great company where people love to work.

What’s the ideal way to start your day?

It really doesn’t matter, as long as I’ve had a good night sleep! Sleep is everything.

Do you have any morning rituals?

I have a habit of immediately checking my Fitbit app to see how I slept. After that I’ll always have a quick check of my email and calendar to see if anything has come up overnight that I need to factor into my day. Coffee usually happens pretty early along with my High Dose Vit-C, L-Theanine for helping my brain focus and Turmeric for my joints. Then it’s off to work, wherever work may be that day. 

How soon do you begin doing work-related things each morning, such as checking phone or emails?

Within seconds of waking up. Working globally means that sometimes things can happen overnight that I need to deal with so by getting across it early I feel like I can adapt accordingly. I’ll do a quick triage of emails but won’t often respond or act on anything until later.

What’s your media consumption or interaction like – which podcasts, radio, videos, books, magazines, and new sites do you read or listen to?

Audiobooks have been a total game changer for me. I tend to listen to non-fiction content relating to People, Teams, Culture and Leadership or sometimes I try and soak up something extra smart, like my latest purchase - The Age of Living Machines by the former President of MIT, Susan Hockfield. I’ll need to keep you posted on how I go with that one.

Podcasts are another thing – usually start-up related – Masters of Scale, a16z, This Week in Startups, Kara Swishers Recode Decode etc.

Twitter is my main form of news. I figure if it’s important I’ll see it on there so I don’t tend to go to traditional news sites. Twitter will often drive me to great sites like Idealog (of course), The Spinoff and The Newsroom for local news and opinion which I really enjoy.

I’m also a big fan of Denizen. I love the food scene here in Auckland so it’s a good way of staying on top of where I should be eating.

And then there’s Instagram, whether it’s fashion and beauty, architecture (we’ve just bought a piece of land and will be building in the next year) or just my friends and their antics it ticks all the boxes for me.

What do you think is unique about the way you approach your work?

If I think about what is unique about my approach to doing a people and culture role in a tech company I think it’s my broader interest and experience in business and tech vs just “HR”. I don’t really 'stay in my lane' and I’m not afraid to share my perspective. I’m not always right which is totally fine – I’m drawn to companies that truly value different perspectives to help make more informed decisions.

What responsibility do you have in a typical day? What takes up most of your time?

I spend a lot of time recruiting for the companies I work with. Having the right people in the right job at the right time is essential for a companies success so I feel a lot of responsibility to help get this right. It’s not just about getting people in the door though, my responsibility then switches to ensuring that once someone is hired they want to stay and that we’re providing great experiences and opportunities for them. Aside from the above, it’s really just the usual self-employed financial responsibilities.

Where do your best ideas come from?

All over the show! I’m a bit of a sponge, I’ll pick up bits from everywhere and then customise and apply to whatever it is I’m working on and the team I’m working with. I have so many random and at times un-decipherable notes on my phone.

What does inspiration look like for you?

Anything that brings people joy. I soak up those moments where people are really happy at work and I try to find ways to replicate it for a wider group of people.

What has been the most transformational business practice you’ve implemented at your work?

This isn’t something that I alone have implemented but something I believe is truly transformational in a company is a clear strategy, a strong set of values or guiding principles (where there are countless stories of them being more than just words on the wall) to align with and work to, huge amounts of trust in one another, honest communication and a strong aptitude for adapting to and dealing with change. It sounds so simple, in a paragraph but it’s surprisingly rare and the companies who get all of these right are the ones that have strong, natural company cultures and are built for long term high performance.

What social or environmental issues inform the work you do, as well as what you’re aiming to do with your company’s overall vision?

Building diverse and inclusive teams is really important to me and obviously an important topic for all businesses, not just those in Tech. There’s a lot that comes into this but when I think about why we built Populate and HOP it all came down to building great, lasting companies with happy employees. I don’t have all the answers but it’s all those micro decisions we make in any given day that can contribute to people feeling a sense of belonging in a company, regardless of age, gender, race or any other ways someone might identify.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your day?

I don’t even know how to choose. It’s always been really important for me to love my work so as a result I get a kick out of pretty much everything. Outside of work, my favourite part of any day is when I’m eating, especially with people I love. And when I walk out of a pilates class and I feel at least an inch taller.

What about the least enjoyable?

Sometimes I have to do hard things and have hard conversations, relating to people and their work. It’s important to do, not just for the person but for their team and the company but it’s still really hard. I have a “no surprises” principle but I don’t always get it right.

Do you have any side hustles you’re juggling alongside being an entrepreneur?

Not really – I’m pondering having a little side hustle that supports my skills in providing excellent restaurant recommendations.

Do you procrastinate? Is it good or bad?

Yes, usually when it comes to administrative tasks that no-one really sees or cares about but still have to be done. It’s bad because it weighs on my mind heavily but overall I do think there’s such a thing as a healthy level of procrastination. Sometimes I am more creative and will think about things differently when I’ve left something till last minute.

Something I believe is truly transformational in a company is a clear strategy, a strong set of values or guiding principles (where there are countless stories of them being more than just words on the wall) to align with and work to, huge amounts of trust in one another, honest communication and a strong aptitude for adapting to and dealing with change. It sounds so simple, in a paragraph but it’s surprisingly rare and the companies who get all of these right are the ones that have strong, natural company cultures and are built for long term high performance.

What’s your best productivity hack?

For me, it’s being as close to zero inbox as possible. My inboxes are windows into my state of mind so if I’m on top of them it makes me feel super good and on top of life. It also means that I can move onto focusing on completing the separate To Do List. It’s kind of like not being able to work effectively if there’s a mess around me. I’ll just operate better if I’ve cleared a path. One other thing: I turn off all notifications on my phone – social media, messaging apps, email – the works. 

Do you measure your accomplishments or productivity? If so, how?

Not really at a personal level. I think it’s just a feeling I have that I’m pretty tuned into. If something doesn’t feel right or if I don’t feel like I’m making progress I’m pretty quick to jump on it.

What’s your interaction with friends and family throughout the day? Can you be both a successful entrepreneur and a good mother/partner/friend?

I believe that when you have good, strong relationships at home and with friends this has a hugely positive impact on your happiness and performance at work. It’s definitely been true for me. With Lance (future husband and best mate) we’re messaging one another pretty regularly throughout the day. We work together as well so will flick between what we’re having for dinner, the kids and what kind of poop the dog did to something work related or sharing an interesting article. Every day he makes me laugh, teaches me something new and always helps put things into perspective when I’m feeling on edge. Hopefully he’d say something similar about me!

As an extra Mum of two boys, I think I do an okay job. I’m relatively active but I know I could do more. And I could definitely channel some of my work patience into parenting patience…. One thing I really love is that they have two Mums who love them, who they get to see work hard and totally kick ass. When it comes to friends – in the past I was a bit “friends with everyone, close to no-one” but that has changed a lot over the last couple of years as I’ve built much closer relationships with some of the best friends I’ve ever had who balance giving and taking perfectly and help make me a better, more balanced person.

What do you do once you get home? Can you switch off?

What is this 'switch off’ thing you speak of? In my work I feel it’s important to be accessible and responsive for people. During the week I’m on unless I’m asleep or exercising. I switch off when it gets to the weekend. I won’t usually open my laptop over the weekend until the very end when I jump in and just make sure I’ve got a good plan for the week ahead.

What do or don’t you eat or drink to maintain your performance throughout the day?

I mentioned L-Theanine earlier, I take a tablet in the morning with coffee (always a long black) and will sometimes have an Arepa in the afternoon that also contains L-Theanine and stops me from craving sugary treats. I drink about 2L of water each day and no coffee’s in the afternoon!

I have a form of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis which means I need to manage my levels of inflammation and diet is one way of doing this. I recently came off my anti-inflammatories in favour of a no sugar, low carb diet with intermittent fasting (16:8 or 18:6 depending on which day it is). I’ve also reduced alcohol consumption. So far so good! A success metric for me is “days without pain” and I’m making progress and this approach feels like a much more sustainable way of living vs being reliant on medication if I don’t need to be.   

Do you get stressed? If so, how do you manage it? Do you practice any mindfulness or meditation?

I have a pretty high threshold for stress. I’m used to a certain level and can operate pretty effectively under pressure. I also have a pretty high baseline when it comes to anxiety so it’s absolutely something I need to manage effectively. I can tell when it’s getting too much because my inflammation rate will increase and I’ll be in physical pain. When this happens it’s always a wake-up call.

I do a couple of things to help me deal;

  • I watch really trashy TV. It’s something that just helps my brain turn off before I go to sleep. Hopefully it’s not making me dumber…
  • I’ve started having 3 to 4 saunas each week which has been great. If I don’t have someone with me it’s usually some nice quiet time too.
  • A new thing is gardening! We have a lot of work to do up on the land we’ve bought and I’ve found gardening to be really therapeutic. You don’t think about anything except the next handful of weeds you’re going to grab.

What time do you go to sleep? How many hours sleep do you try to get each night? Any special techniques for a good night’s rest?

I have Night Shift set up on my phone to reduce the blue light from 8pm which I absolutely recommend. Then I’m usually lights out, screens off by 10.30pm. I have a goal of getting an average of 8 hours of sleep each night. This is pretty hard when my wake up time is 6.30am so my weekly average is around 7.5 hours since apparently I’m awake for a little over an hour every night. On weekends I catch up with over 8 hours each night. If I need to guarantee a good sleep I’ll take a melatonin which for me works wonders. Sleeping tablets kind of freak me out so I like this more natural option. I’ve always been a really good sleeper and I value that so much. I know it’s not easy for so many people.

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