Talk to a Tykling: Adam Cavanagh, VP of Sales for EMEA

Meet the team – getting to know Adam Cavanagh, VP Sales EMEA

Tyk handles billions of transactions for the world’s largest enterprises every day. But our API management business isn’t controlled by some all-powerful robot. It’s made up of people with regular, everyday goals, emotions, distractions and dreams. People like Adam. 

At the tender age of 32, Adam is Vice President of Sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Tyk. In the first instalment of our Tykling interview series, we caught up with Adam over a cuppa to find out what makes him tick. 

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m the Vice President of Sales for EMEA, I run our commercial organisation focused in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa region. That primarily means my team is the most engaged with end users, talking to them about the problems that they face and how our product can solve those issues. It’s not just about selling the product – although that’s part of the role, of course! – but about understanding potential users’ needs and looking at how we can build ways to meet those needs into our roadmap in order to help more people in the near future. 

Do you travel a lot for your work or are your office-based while your team traverses the globe? 

There is travel involved. We service the whole of EMEA meaning we often spend multiple days on-site with customers building PoC’s and hosting workshops, not to mention the multitude of conferences we partner with too.

When I’m not travelling, I’m based out of Tyk’s London office, though with Tyk’s remote-first approach I can work from anywhere. That policy means that I can do my job from all sorts of places – I’ve worked from multiple countries, sitting looking out over the sea and even from the exotic location of my parents’ back garden! 

You mentioned Tyk’s remote-first policy. How does that work in practice? 

The remote-first policy means that working for Tyk can fit beautifully into different people’s lifestyles. Both of our founders have children and they lead by example, putting things like the school run and time dedicated to their kids into their calendars. It’s an incredibly accessible workplace, where people can feel very comfortable both having a life and doing their work. 

One of our values is about working smarter rather than harder (thanks Tim Ferriss!) – it’s about getting your work done in the right way and not just working 9-5. We have an incredibly trusting culture and being able to fit life and work commitments together so seamlessly is one of the benefits of that. You can get on with your job, as long as you do your job! We all have measurables and targets, but there’s plenty of freedom in terms of working hours and locations when it comes to how those are met. 

Tyk exists to help people make, create and build things better. Which particular user issue is important to you personally to fix? 

Tyk’s overall mission is to connect every system in the world. Now, that might not be technically possible, but it is a Moto, an aspiration – dream big. The part that I’m incredibly proud of, and that was a key driver for me in joining Tyk, is that we impact millions of users around the world in a positive way every day. From banking to healthcare to delivering news media, we’re there in the background solving issues that most people won’t ever know existed in the first place, but that make their daily lives run more smoothly. 

I thrive on being a part of that and I’m incredibly proud of Tyk’s role in so many people’s lives. Even though Tyk is a B2B company, our product is essentially a B2B2C enabler. We get to impact the world in a positive way, at scale! 

Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background? What brought you to Tyk? 

I studied media at university, with the ultimate aim of being a film director. However, when it came to the reality of working very long hours and making very little money for the next decade or so, I figured film direction could wait until a little later in life. 

I’ve always been passionate about tech and joined a tech company as soon as I finished uni. I built up my experience across a couple of firms and was fortunate that a combination of hard work and lucky breaks led to my first leadership role at the age of 25, which is quite rare. 

Prior to Tyk, I ran the commercial team for an API websocket provider. My love for APIs was born and now, my fulltime focus at Tyk. 

Where did you grow up?

My parents are from Liverpool and I grew up in a relatively small town called Widnes, which is about 25 minutes from there. Important to note, for the record; I’m not a Liverpool fan! 

I went to university in Lancaster. I always knew I was destined to both live and work in a big city with a lot of travel incorporated into my job.

What is it about working for Tyk that really inspires you?

There are two things, actually. The first is the fact that our product makes the lives of engineers, CTOs and companies around the world better every day, enabling them to give customers what they need in a safe and secure manner. 

The second is the people that I work with here at Tyk and the culture that we have. It’s a culture that has allowed a team of diverse but similar people to come together. We challenge each other’s ideas while all working towards the same goal – it’s about collaborating to make things better rather than just winning! That’s really inspiring, to be in a team-first (rather than me-first) environment on a daily basis and to have the chance to inspire those around me too.

Can you tell us a little about your team?

Of course. My team is based across Europe. It’s an exciting time as we’re doubling the size of the team over the next six months. 

Communication is key to managing a team that’s geographically dispersed, as is structure around what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re achieving it. I try to travel to join team members at least once a quarter in europe.

I try to lead and support in the way I would want to be. I would never ask one of my team to do something that I wouldn’t be prepared to do; nor, do I put my expectations on others. We have clear guiding principles of what’s expected at Tyk and we all work in line with those, which is great. 

What tips would you give to a new Tyk starter when it comes to working in a remote-first organisation?

Immerse yourself in the team culture. Spend time with people at the company whenever the opportunity arises. If you happen to live near one of the Tyk offices (we have three offices in London, Singapore and Atlanta), try and pop in once a week. If not, join our twice-weekly Café Tyk calls. Also, never be scared to speak up or ask for help. 

In terms of actually working remotely, it’s about giving yourself structure. Some people find it easy to work remotely and manage their own time, but others don’t. Have daily, weekly and monthly guidelines that outline what you need to achieve can really help with that.  

Café Tyk – what’s that? 

On Monday’s & Thursday’s we have a region based Cafe Tyk. Everyone from the company comes together over a cup of coffee and we chat about life – strictly nothing work-related! It’s a great way to connect the team. Everyone gets involved and engages when people ask questions. 

That sounds great. What else does Tyk do to ensure that staff feel connected, both to the company and to each other? 

There are three things that we do that are really cool. One is an annual offsite retreat that lasts for seven days. We try to get everyone in the company to attend if possible. Last year we went to Greece and the year before that it was Thailand. This year, we’re off to Bali. We work for five days and have two days off. The company books out a whole hotel and arranges various activities and workshops. Given the remote-first nature of Tyk, it’s invaluable to be able to come together once a year and be able to look each other in the eye and feel each other out in person. 

Secondly, each team arranges three four-day offsite events per year. Again, it’s a chance to spend time together and get to know each other on a different level. 

Finally, we have local and regional events – office drinks, games, crazy golf, that kind of thing. It’s a nice, relaxed way to bring everyone together. There’s no pressure, it’s just a genuine culture-first approach. Nobody is obliged to join in anything that’s not their cup of tea, but the variety of events means that there’s something for everyone. 

Let’s get personal for a minute. Can you share details of a mistake that you made early on in your career and what you learned from it?

Certainly, I’ve learned not to hold onto my own opinions too strongly. In my early days in a leadership position, I received some 360° feedback that stated, “Don’t ask our opinion if you’ve already made up your mind.” It was great feedback. I learned that if I wanted other people’s opinions, I needed to ask for and listen to them sincerely. Authenticity is now at the forefront of who and what I am as a leader. 

Your role blends management, sales and tech skills. What’s your favourite part of the job? 

The people. Definitely the people. In my younger days, when I began working in sales and account management, my focus was always customer first but making money was my primary goal. Now, I take the most pride in trying to enhance and stimulate people’s growth. I create a 12-month growth & development plan that I work on with each team member. At the end of that year, whether they stay in my team, stay in the company or move on to another venture, there’s no better feeling than knowing you have helped aid the progress they have made both personally or professionally during our time together.

And what’s the part of your job that you like the least?

Ask any commercial sales leader this question and you’ll probably get the same response! Having to poke and prod your team to ensure the CRM is up to date isn’t fun. 

Now that you’re in a management role, do you still get to indulge your passion for tech as part of your work?

Definitely. When you work in a customer-facing role providing the very best technical product, you talk every day about features, infrastructure, best practices and so forth. You need to be able to speak your customers’ language, both to earn their respect and to secure their trust. You can’t expect them to try, use and commit to our product in the long-term without staying very close to the nucleus of our product offering.  

How do you keep your tech skills alive?

I read a lot – tech blogs and tech news sites – plus I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’m also lucky to have access to around 30 incredibly smart engineers across the Tyk team, who I can go to with questions and who will explain in layman’s terms how particular things work and what they mean. I can also lean on the network of contacts that I’ve built up over the years. I have been lucky enough to have worked with truly wonderful, technically competent people whom I trust deeply. 

You mentioned both reading and podcasts. What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts? 

It’s tough to choose just three! Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike, is certainly one of the best books I read last year. It tells a wonderful story about the impact of travel as a young person and how that can go on to impact the way that you do business. 

Principles by Ray Dalio is great but more of a reference that I continue to work through at different phases of my personal growth. And a book that spoke to my drive, persistence and belief was Who is Michael Ovitz? – I read that twice last year. 

In terms of podcasts, I listen to Tim Ferriss regularly. He interviews incredibly successful people across a whole gamut of industries, so there are plenty of insights to be gleaned, with interviewees sharing their knowledge and experience. 

I also listen to a podcast called This Week in Startups, where they interview the founders of startups of all sizes from around the world and drill down into a wealth of subjects, from product growth and tech development to diversity and giving back. 

What are the values that drive you personally?

Authenticity, dependability and honesty are values I hold dear. Without these, no leader survives. 

When you finally prize yourself away from your Tyk work, what will we find you doing? 

Just normal things, really – I’m a very regular human! I got into the habit of going to the gym regularly at a young age and it became a habit that I’ve stuck with. It’s a big part of my daily routine; I fit it in consistently for most of the week. 

Other than that, I enjoy going out for dinner and socialising with friends. I try to read a couple of books per month while also watching far too much sport – I’m a fan of almost everything, even cricket! Only kidding, nobody really likes cricket 😉

I continue to be passionate about film and, most recently, have also begun learning about wine. 

If you weren’t working at Tyk, what would you do?

In a dream world, I would be a football player. In the more realistic version of the world (i.e. the one we actually live in!), I like the idea of giving back to the tech world and the tech community. I would like to be a consultant, but not for huge fees – instead I would work with young startups who are trying to build out their first sales model or hire their first sales people. I already mentor and support a few people in my free time and would love to do more of it. It’s my longer-term plan – my way of paying it forward to the community that has always treated me well. 

Interested in being part of the Tyk team? We’re hiring! Take a look at our current vacancies. Still not quite sure? Keep checking back for more of our meet the team series.