The voice of experience
When I first heard of Tyk, a quick read on their site told me they started remotely out of necessity. They probably had to learn the ropes fast, I thought. Connecting with their head of marketing Paul Cooper, our first call was exciting and hopeful. What do you want to achieve with this project? This would be done in person? Our team is located globally but our COO is in London… and that’s how it all started.
The back and forth worried me a little since I was going to be speaking with their COO James Hirst, not Paul. Did I prepare enough? Who was James? Hindsight is 20/20, I think we got along just fine although speaking to someone for 1.5 hours straight does the trick.
I met them at a space they keep for their customer success staff who may need or want to take calls in a quieter setting. It took me 10 minutes to walk over from where I was staying in East London. There’s a weird wind tunnel turning onto their street, but I never figured out why it’s 10x windier down that specific street.
Open-source is in their veins
Lessons learned from remote out of necessity
From James’s experience, he’s got some advice for people who are trying to start their companies remotely, things he wished somebody had told him 4+ years ago.
1) The leadership team has to set/lead by example or else it is hard, employees won’t adopt.
“One of the things that we got right just by necessity and circumstances, we were remote ourselves as founders. I think if the founders are not operating remotely, but everyone else is, then that is not going to work and is not going to scale because you end up with a two-tier system where there’s the office where the decisions get made, and then there’s everybody else. And that isn’t healthy. The fact that our CEO, the chap who wrote the software and saw the opportunity is in Auckland, many hours remote from any of his colleagues, really sets the agenda. If you yourself don’t see the benefit of being remote and wouldn’t operate remotely, I would consider why you would want everyone else doing it, so that’d be my starting point.“
2) Asynchronous communication should’ve been adopted waaaay earlier.
3) He’s not afraid to admit that they’re still looking for better ways to maintain healthy work-life integrations.
A common problem is the unique takes on shutting off. James doesn’t have the answers to this one. In fact, I don’t think anyone really does; albeit the generic takes of what one should do to turn off. “We work 24/7, 365... or the company does because people are in every time zone. And we have some very motivated, very committed people who are doing really great things within the business. And it’s really difficult to find a way to contribute and enthusiastically when you want to contribute, but also to log out of that and shut off and get your own time.”
They’ve spoken to many people, they’ve spent time with GitHub, with smaller companies who are all remote… James’s conclusion? “It does seem to be a part of modern life, the information overload, on the fact you’ve got a device in your pocket.”
Tyk gets asked all the time: if you are a globally distributed team, does it take twice as long for things to be approved or decisions to be finalized? Factoring in wait times for the appropriate players to be awake for approval, having to go up and down the line of command? Nope. James disagrees with that.
The key thing for Tyk is practicing radical responsibility. Making sure people have the comfort, knowledge, and confidence that if they go ahead make a decision themselves, there isn’t going to be a court-martial afterward.
Reflecting on my conversation with James, I felt like I fell down a rabbit hole about the foundational aspects of being a good leader and how that is recognized even quicker in a remote setting. I got the sense that Tyk’s priority of making sure that everyone who worked there knew they were on a leveled playing field. I picked away at a leader’s brain, someone who’d just spent the last 4 years growing their start-up from 3 people to 70+, dispersed across the globe. I felt like we could’ve spent all day talking about his lessons learned and things he’d do differently if given a chance to step back in time and replay his journey with Tyk. Things he could’ve scaled faster if he’d known, problems that could’ve been solved before becoming too chaotic. I felt like I was armed with enough information to start my own company right then and there.
On top of that, I appreciated their commitment to the open-source community and their promise to listen to what their users need. Leading by example isn’t all based on actions and words; you have to stop and listen to what others are saying, whether it’s from an employee or a customer.
The most telling of advice is his belief in radical responsibility. This should be the case for any company, remote or not. It sticks out more in globally distributed teams sprawling across multiple time zones, but that’s how leaders also show trust for their colleagues and build up a solid foundation/relationship with their team. Radical responsibility brings out the leader in us all.