Three Minute Squiz With… Annie O’Rourke

Annie O’Rourke is a former political adviser who traded in the corridors of power for a life in Byron Bay before it was uber-cool. Ten years on, she runs a successful communications business and AI startup. And points for honesty – she’s the first Squizer to admit she listens to The Squiz Today podcast unclad. And we don’t think she’s the only one… Please welcome Annie to the Three Minute Squiz. 

How and where do you Squiz?
Nude (not as creepy as it sounds)… while I’m having a shower. Love the podcast.

Tell us how you ended up in Byron Bay and what you’re up to there?
After working in Canberra for a long time I made a conscious decision to change my life completely. I always loved Byron and found a gorgeous property for sale in the hills of Bangalow late one night while waiting (and waiting) for the PM to come out of a meeting. The property sung “here you will write the great Australian novel, grow your own food, meditate, learn a craft and become super good at yoga”. I flew up on the Saturday and bought it on the spot then flew home.

Some friends described it as `blowing up my life’. But now 10 years on, I couldn’t be happier despite the fact I still don’t grow veggies, sew my own clothes or do a perfect downward dog. And I’ve given up the solo peaceful Bangalow hills for a busy beach house with my partner and two boys and a constant and very welcome stream of visitors.

The transition from political staffer to entrepreneur isn’t necessarily a natural one. Were you always enterprising?
I’m the youngest of six kids – all of whom are very enterprising so I just had to be. But the best staffers are some of the most enterprising people in Australia! It may not be a hip working hub, but Parliament House is one of the most hard working, agile, creative places in the country. The daily ups and downs and just the cold hard slog is brilliant preparation for starting your own businesses.

Is having your own coffee shop as much fun as it sounds?
Yes and no. My advice to anyone (and I didn’t take any of the excellent advice offered to me – yes, I’m talking to you Lachlan Harris) is do NOT do it if:

1. You have two other busy businesses;
2. You aren’t going to work in it;
3. You have two kids under four;
4. The personal catering is fantastic.

I’ve sold it now and an amazing woman owns it. She is an experienced chef, works in the cafe each day and her kids are old enough to help. I found my toddlers, while enthusiastic, were rubbish at making almond lattes.

Speaking of your other businesses, you run communications agency 89 Degrees East and now an artificial intelligence company, Digital Workforce.
Oh yeah… why have one business when you can have two, right? Well, as it happens they are complementary businesses. The core of 89 Degrees East is to help clients design and manage change – and nothing is going to change how we live, work, relate more than AI. I’m super-excited about the positive impact the conversational economy is going to have on improving government service delivery – in fact, all services – and I love working right now on shaping what that looks like.

What’s your guilty TV-watching secret?
I cry watching sport – any sport. I love a good comeback!

Who would you kill to sit down to dinner with?
Both my parents died many years ago so if I could somehow wave a wand and have one more ‘rorkus’ family dinner and include all our partners and the now 20 grandchildren that would be the best. Yep, I would kill for that.

Your favourite book and writers?
I have very diverse tastes in books all depending on my mood. Over the holidays I read books by Yuval Noah Harari, Shane Warne, Michelle Obama, Trent Dalton and Liane Moriarty. I also love books about maps and cartography – sad but true.

What skill or talents do you not have but wish you did?
Singing in tune and running really fast. I am, however, a fantastic folk dancer so I guess that makes up for my other shortcomings.

What’s your worst and best habit?
Worst by far is that I still drink diet coke – just not every day now. But my best habit is waking up very early before the kids and doing the Byron Lighthouse walk and then have a quick swim in the ocean – even in winter. It’s truly magic.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story we should know about?
We know Trump doesn’t drink, but what’s with all the sniffing when he gives set piece speeches? There must be a supply line story to chase.

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