Leadership Lessons

Work-life balance is about doing what you love and treating yourself with respect

Valerie Stark (MSc Applied Neuroscience, 2022) is a meditation teacher and a Director at Novomins Nutrition, where she recently launched Women’s Bio-Balance – a new probiotic supplement developed to help support women’s microbiome.

Her career has spanned the worlds of hospitality, yoga and meditation, and online dating apps (she was formerly a Director at Bumble and CEO of Huggle). Here, she shares her philosophy as an entrepreneur.

When did you realise you had an entrepreneurial way of thinking?

I’m sure every entrepreneur has a story or two about their school ventures – the things you get told off for as a kid! For example, when I was in sixth grade, all the girls were into those friendship bracelets. I used to buy those bracelets from the girls in the class below who were really good at making them and sold them for extra cash to the girls in the class above. It was my little business until I got found out by one of the teachers.

How did King’s help you in your career journey?

I decided to study for my MSc in Neuroscience because I wanted to dive deeper into the neuroscience of contemplative practices. As a meditation teacher and a long-time student of meditation, I have always been interested in how the brain works. Working in the online dating space only further spurred my interest – user behaviour is a fascinating thing, and having access to big data showed me how the smallest changes (such as the colour or position of buttons) can make a big difference.

Applying to study at King’s, I knew that this degree might also open new possibilities for me, which is exactly what happened. While researching connections between personality traits and microbiome composition, I got sucked into the world of the microbiome. This interest is what fuelled the creation of our Women’s Bio-Balance product.

What does ‘leadership’ mean to you?

At the early stage of a business, leadership, for me, is non-restrictive guidance. It’s a fine balance between trusting your vision and using your expertise and not letting these two paramount things limit the potential of each individual in your team. At a later stage, true leadership is about building a team that makes you comfortable to delegate all of the key processes. Ideally, if you are a good leader, you should be able to switch off your phone for a week knowing that everything will be taken care of in the best way possible.

Describe your leadership style in three words.

Passionate, authoritative, empathetic.

How do you strike a good work-life balance?

I do get tired and overwhelmed sometimes, of course, but I have learned to spot when I’m becoming less productive, losing my focus and struggling to develop creative solutions. When I hit the wall, I know it’s time to do activities that are beneficial for my mind and body rather than exposing myself to more social stress. People who don’t enjoy their work often view socialising as downtime, but that can turn into a vicious cycle – you are less productive at work because of your lifestyle, and you keep maintaining that lifestyle because you aren’t happy with your work. So, work-life balance, in my opinion, is about doing what you love and treating yourself, your body and your mind with respect.

What is next for you?

Right now, I am at full capacity with meditation teaching and Novomins. I love what I do. We are planning to launch more products for brain care and women’s health and expand into the US. In the future, I’d love to complete a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at King’s. It is very encouraging that mindfulness is becoming a more mainstream approach in clinical settings, and I’d love to be a part of that change.

What advice would you give to students or graduates for success in life after King’s?

Don’t limit yourself by your degree or qualification, especially if you feel that your ideas and passion lie outside your area of expertise. Most team leaders would prefer to hire someone with the right attitude rather than a specific background.