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The life of a tech CEO in a rocket ship startup: interview with Athyna's Bill Kerr

Today we interview Bill Kerr, the CEO of Athyna AI*, the software + agency we use to hire our global team.

He is one of the world’s top experts in remote hiring, and we’re glad to have him for this interview.

By the way, if you want to learn more about how Athyna can help your company, you can inquire here, or just book a call with them using this link (please do not share).

Bill and his dog Ziggy.

Can you share what a typical day in the life of a CEO looks like? From that morning coffee to the end of your day.

My typical day goes something like this.

  • Early Morning:

    • Exercise to get the blood flowing.

    • Coffee and a walk with my dog Ziggy (30-45 minutes).

    • Listen to a podcast or audiobook:

      • Business: My First Million, All-In, Prof G, Acquired.

      • Other genres: comedy, fantasy, etc.

  • Breakfast:

    • Light and quick meal.

    • Egg muffins (high protein to keep satiated, low on carbs and sugars).

    • Smoothie made by my partner.

    • Ready to start work by 9 am.

  • Morning Work:

    • Focus on deep work and key projects.

    • Work intensely until around 12-2 pm.

  • Midday Gym Session:

    • Ride my bike to the gym (20 minutes).

    • Listen to educational content on the ride.

    • Weight-lifting routine:

      • Monday, some Tuesdays, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.

      • 2-hour sessions.

      • Warm-up sets with podcasts.

      • Working sets with rap, metal, or high-energy music.

  • Afternoon Work:

    • Calls with clients, investors.

    • Work on product development.

    • Meetings mostly in the afternoon to maintain energy levels.

  • Evening:

    • Unwind with dinner and one or two episodes of a show.

    • In bed by 10:15 pm to read.

    • Use an outlet timer on the Wi-Fi to cut power at 10 pm (hack from Atomic Habits).

Can you share a particularly challenging moment in your life as a CEO, and how you navigated through said challenge?

One of the most challenging moments was during COVID-19 when we lost 70% of our revenue almost overnight. It was a real test of our resilience. We had to make tough decisions — it was the only time we’ve ever made layoffs, actually. There is no easy way to navigate layoffs, really. You just have to be upfront and honest and be as open-handed with the team as you can be.

Covid almost killed the company before its meteoric rise:

We made the mistake of not doing all of our layoffs in one hit. We had to come back and do a second round a few weeks after the first, but with everything that was going on during COVID in March 2020, we really weren’t to know what was going to happen.

But we got through it and we came out of it stronger, more agile, and with the knowledge that we are hard to kill. I think that knowledge actually goes a long way.

Going back to your post, can you give us some background info on who you are, and what your values are?

I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia, a place known for its beaches and laid-back lifestyle. I was surfing, riding bikes, and generally staying active. I played Australian rules football for 20 years down there. My career up until now has been pretty unconventional, though; I was expelled from school twice, bought my first house at 19, three properties by 22, found myself travelling the world by my mid 20s, then eventually ended up in the startup scene.

I’ve built two startups—a third if you count my newsletter—and now I’m focused on the future of work as CEO of Athyna, to make talent acquisition easier, faster, and fair for everyone.

Values wise, I believe life is too short to hate your days at work. I’m really big on really enjoying your days with the people you work with, having resilience, continuous learning, and acting with integrity.

We all know that balancing work/life relationships is difficult. How do you balance your CEO responsibilities with your personal life?

Honestly, there’s still a lot of work to be done here. I make it a priority to set boundaries and ensure I have quality time with my family and for myself, but balancing work and life is definitely a challenge, especially when you’re building a startup.

I saw an awesome piece of writing from Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix, on his version of success.

The TL;DR is making sure to get time with your loved ones above all else.

It’s something I took a lot of inspiration from actually because I need to set better guardrails for myself.

One thing I have often come back to is a morning routine. When things get really out of hand and you start doing all the wrong things, I just try to win the morning. If you can win the morning by looking after yourself, there is a good chance you’ll win the entire day.

How do you manage writing a fast-growing newsletter as well? How does that work in with Athyna?

Yeah, it’s a juggling act. But one of my core skills, which is also in the job description of every CEO, is communicating. My newsletter allows me to interview and network with successful leaders, learn the strategies of the best through my deep dive pieces and build a big band of allied along the way.

The Chimp Executive Officer.

I think a lot of founders out there are building audiences, followers etc., but not that many are building a base of allies. I really think of it that way. The tagline of the newsletter is ‘helping founders, investors and leaders in tech outperform the competition.’ And the funny thing is, that really goes for me too.

What do you consider your greatest strength as a leader?

I think my greatest strength as a leader is my ability to connect with people, inspire people through storytelling, and build a strong company culture.

There’s something in the intersection of brand and culture — it’s a great place to be if you want to be successful.

You want a strong brand so you can attract A-players and a great culture so that when those A-players join, they are motivated to do their best work. If you have that going for you—you can do almost anything.

An employee retreat at Athyna.

What sparked your interest in technology and entrepreneurship, and how has that passion evolved over time?

Well, I think technology is cool. I often go through periods when I think humans are doing it all wrong, but then I come back to the fact that I think we are smart and necessity being the mother of invention, I feel like technology is more important than ever. I was never the kid that was coding in the basement growing up, but I always loved futurism. I loved reading Michu Kaku and hearing Ray Kurzweil talk. Now, I get to play the smallest part in building part of our future.

Entrepreneurship has just always been something that has come naturally to me. I used to buy (or steal) toys at school and resell them to other kids. My first money came from jumping my back fence onto a golf course we lived by. I would find lost golf balls, wash them and sell them back to the golfers.

I guess I have always just liked doing my own thing and being in control of my destiny in a way. And now it really is just building things. I like building things overall. Whether it’s Athyna, or my newsletter, it’s my creative outlet in a way.

What is Athyna?

Athyna is a tool for startup founders and CEOs exploring global hiring but don't have the experience to do it well. We also work with a lot of enterprise that are looking to flex their dev capabilities. Athyna matches candidates from deep talent pools, with AI-precision. Meaning companies can grow their global team—at lightning speed.

What it really looks like though is us working with a Series A startup, or a smaller enterprise, and we find the, finance, business, product and engineering talent. We have a pretty flexible team, so we still do the Executive Assistant role for busy founders and execs, but most of our work is a high more senior than that.

It’s pretty ace actually, our main mission is to democratize job opportunities across the globe, so companies will save up to 70-80% of their hiring costs and the talent does 40-50% better on their end, shrinking the work gap. Think US company hiring Brazilian developers. It’s a win-win, really.

Can you tell us what led you to establish Athyna?

Athyna was born out of my own need to build a team on a tight budget while running my first startup. Once I had kinda nailed building an offshore team, I realized there was a huge opportunity to help other businesses to do the same. My thinking was that this was always going to be the world we were heading to, but COVID accelerated things by maybe 10 years.

People were already hiring offshore pre-COVID, but it was less common. And a lot of it revolved around India, the Philippines, call centres and virtual assistants. Which never made any sense to me. It’s a great time for us to be in business, to be honest. First, people know remote can work.

And second, people want to hire and build remotely. They are sick of competing locally in ultra competitive, sparse talent pools, and/or they are focussed on profitability.

How do you define success? Both personally and professionally.

If you ask me, companies exist for two reasons. To add value to the world in some way by creating something new, or improving something that already exists. And adding value to the shareholders. Success, for me, is about making a positive impact on the world and achieving meaningful goals for myself and the team.

I say myself and the team because employees at Athyna, from intern to executive, all have stock in the company. And it’s not options, it’s RSU stock. They own the stock. So I want to create meaningful outcomes for us all.

Personally, it’s about having a fulfilling life with my family, which at the moment is just my girlfriend and my dog, staying healthy, continuously learning and helping others. I feel like a big part of my future will revolve around helping others be successful.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Any specific hobbies or activities?

In my free time, I love surfing, staying active, and spending time outdoors. Travel is also a big passion of mine; it helps me reset and find new inspiration. I also enjoy reading and weightlifting.

Bill at a CrossFit.

My lifetime goal with weightlifting is to snatch 120kgs and clean & jerk 150.

I am 38, with a partially torn ACL right now and torn discs in my back, but if I had to place a bet, I’d say I’d get there one day. Wish me luck anyway.

If you had to name one characteristic or skill that is required to be a successful entrepreneur, what would that characteristic or skill be?

Resilience. The ability to bounce back from setbacks, learn from failures, and keep pushing forward is essential. Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster, and being able to stay focused and motivated through the ups and downs is crucial.

If I had one more, I would choose empathy. I think the key to being a great leader is to be able to be empathetic. If you can put yourself in the shoes of others and act selflessly when you can, it will go a long way and your team will usually follow your lead.

If you could travel back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

I’d tell my younger self to embrace failure and view it as a learning opportunity. Every setback is a chance to grow and be better. I’d also emphasize the importance of building a strong network and seeking out mentors early on. These relationships can be a great support throughout the journey.

Thank you, Bill, for the great interview.

If you want to learn more about Athyna, especially how they can help your company, click here to receive more information.

*Sponsored by Athyna. We are shareholders in the company.

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