Talk to a Tykling: Emma Kriskinans, Global Marketing Director

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Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Emma Kriskinans, Global Marketing Director

Tyk exists to make things better. It does so by scouring the planet and building an international team of intellectually curious individuals who see things a little differently.

Emma Kriskinans, Tyk’s Global Marketing Director, is one such individual. We caught up with Emma over Zoom (how else, these days?) to find out about everything from purposeful change to leading a global marketing team – as well as what she’s been doing to fill the travel-shaped hole the pandemic has created in her life.

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m the Global Marketing Director at Tyk, and I lead our marketing team. I was the first marketing hire four years ago. Since then we’ve built a truly global team based across the USA, Europe and Singapore.

We’re responsible for driving awareness and adoption of Tyk, as well as product revenue. To do this we work closely with Tyklings from all other parts of the business – namely Sales, Product, People, Customer Operations, and our Board. We also work across all different marketing channels. It’s a very sociable, strategic juggling act: every day is different and that’s one reason I love the role.

Tyk is a really quirky brand that stands out – visually but also in how we work and treat our users. Evolving the brand as we grow and expand into different regions around the world is a huge challenge but really exciting. We’ve always been purposefully different (that is – not just for the sake of it) and staying true to that is very important to me.

Has the pandemic had much of an impact on your marketing activities?

It’s put an end to our in-person events for the moment. We used to do a lot of workshops and community meet-ups – it was one of the first things we ever did when I joined Tyk, so it’s been a real shame to curtail these. I miss them, as well as attending and presenting at conferences, which was a great way to get out and meet people who know and love Tyk.

Instead, we’ve taken the opportunity to make plenty of things virtual. We have some virtual GraphQL and API Management hangouts now, which are always well-attended and very sociable. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can get back out and meet some of the API community face-to-face when it’s safer.

Other than events, not too much has changed. As we were already a remote-first organisation, we were in a good position to immediately adapt to the constraints of the pandemic, and we have a network of trusted suppliers who also, on the whole, work remotely.

I think it’s safe to say that one thing we’ve all missed at Tyk has been our annual retreat. It means that there are people within the marketing team that I’ve still not met in person! I used to travel to one of our offices each quarter, but obviously I’ve not been able to do that since the pandemic began.

Where do you like to work, under normal circumstances?

I prefer to spend my time working from co-working spaces or coffeeshops (Covid aside), but I have a lot of phone calls and Zoom calls, which can make that tricky. I tend to use different environments for different tasks; I like to mix things up, ideally.

I worked from our Singapore office quite a bit when I lived there and then remotely from Spain, where I live now. I lived as a digital nomad for a year, which even included call participation directly from the beach a couple of times. It’s definitely one of the benefits of Tyk’s approach.

Is there a particular pain point in the marketing industry that you would like to fix?

One that I think many of my marketing peers will understand: attribution. Understanding what led someone to your product, and why, is still extremely difficult. There are so many tools today that can give you insights. However, often they still mask the true reason as to why that specific person chose that specific time, and way, to get in touch with you.

For example, maybe we can tell that someone Googled us and clicked on our site, then filled in a form: but what made them decide, that day, to search for us? What was the motivation or the problem behind that decision? Often that’s more insightful than just the literal ‘on paper’ journey we can see from the tools. 

To plug the gaps, we spend a lot of time talking to our users to find the reasons sitting behind the digital data. But of course, that can’t give you all the answers either – often people don’t register the real motivation, they don’t remember it or don’t feel comfortable sharing it. It’s a great place to start though, and another way to find out additional feedback around Tyk along the way. 

Why marketing?

I studied English Literature at university but knew that I wanted to move into a business field afterwards, despite getting a lot of questions about my supposedly inevitable career as a journalist or a teacher. What really stood out to me about marketing and communications was that it’s a nice mix of strategic problem solving and creativity. That’s what I still really like about it to this day.

After graduating I worked at a couple of FTSE 250 corporates in London where I really cut my teeth. My first role was in a business which had a really entrepreneurial culture where you were encouraged to try new things, and gained exposure to senior parts of the business very early on. Not only did I learn the ropes marketing-wise, but I also learnt a lot about stakeholder management, presentations and P&Ls. It was a fantastic first role to have. 

After 5 years client-side I decided I needed a new challenge so did an about-face, taking the jump over to a digital consultancy. Working agency-side was such a huge learning curve. I went from being terrified about doing a 10 minute slot at a Board meeting in my previous roles to doing a whole one hour pitch with a day’s notice. I learnt so much there. I also met our COO, James Hirst, whilst there, who is now my boss at Tyk.

You mentioned you’ve lived in Singapore and worked for Tyk there. What led you to Tyk in the first place?

I went over to Singapore with the digital agency and ended up staying out there for four years. About two years after moving there, James approached me about the opportunity at Tyk. It sounded really exciting and I knew I had to be involved – it was too good to turn down! 

You’ve worked in quite a range of environments. What is it that you like about working at Tyk?

The most exciting thing for me about working at Tyk is that you can come to work every day and create something from the ground up. That really appeals to me. I’m not an entrepreneur but I think I have a streak of it in me from having grown up around my family’s businesses.

Being given a problem to run with is something I’ve enjoyed in previous positions and Tyk’s culture really enables that to flourish. It’s really rewarding. The growth of our bottom line, our marketing team, US expansion and our position as Visionaries in the Gartner Magic Quadrant… these are all things that we’ve built, as a team, from nothing. There aren’t a lot of positions or places where you can do that.

It was just the other day that I was commenting on how not that long ago I was personally hosting every one of our meetups. I ate a lot of pizza. Nowadays, we have virtual events in the calendar that I don’t even know about, because our team is empowered to go forth and do great things themselves. That was, on the face of it, a very small thing that made me stop and realise how far we’ve come.

The other thing that I love about working at Tyk is the lack of office politics. It’s all about coming together to solve a problem and find a solution to make things better. It’s not some chest-thumping display – we work together to reach our goals. That’s really important to me.

What are your tips for someone who has never worked remotely to get the best out of being in a remote-first organisation?

I’m quite extroverted, so it’s easy for me to say, but you really need to take control of your own destiny and reach out to people. There’s a whole company’s worth of people out there to talk to and to answer your questions, so get stuck in!

So many Tyklings say that one of the best things about working here is that everyone is always happy to help – but that’s a two-way process. You have to be prepared to put your hand up and ask questions.

The best thing to do – not just at Tyk, but at any remote-first company, is to figure out who the top three people are that you need to reach out to. Who will you be working with most? Who do you need to influence? Whose budget are you spending and who cares about the impact of what you’re spending it on? They may all be very busy people, but it’s important to make the effort to have a chat with them and ask how they see your role fitting into the bigger picture. It’s important to get to know the people in your team, as well.

Remote working can be intimidating at times, particularly when you’re putting yourself out there on a Slack channel with people that you’ve not met. It’s a bit like having to step into the middle of a dance-off circle! But the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more you get out of the remote working arrangement.

Another key point is to always assume best intent, in every communication. And finally, to be really mindful of time zones! It’s such a small point but when you put a time in an email or a Slack message, be clear which time zone you’re talking about. Depending on where your colleagues are based, you can lose a day by not specifying which time zone you meant for a deadline! When teams manage working across time zones well, it can even result in almost 24/7 coverage on a key project– it just needs a bit of thought.

That’s also something I think about carefully if I have to give out some constructive criticism or discuss a contentious issue. Raising it first thing after someone wakes up or last thing on a Friday isn’t ideal, so timings are definitely something to be mindful of.

What are the values that drive you?

Integrity and honesty. I’m a very open person – I don’t really mind what people know about me. I don’t mind if others aren’t comfortable being that open with me; that’s completely their prerogative. But I do expect people to be honest. I can’t stand dishonesty. Honesty in action is important to me – so turning up when you say you will and doing what you commit to doing. Integrity and honesty are important in any role, but particularly so when you work remotely. You have to show up in your own way. If you don’t, you can hold other people back and stop them achieving what they need to.

In my team, I strive to create an environment where people feel safe and supported. I believe that’s when people do their best work. But that requires integrity on the part of those you’re trusting – it’s a fine balance!

I think this integrity extends to Tyk’s branding and marketing. We are purposefully different, not just different for the sake of it. It gives our marketing work meaning knowing that, at the heart of it, we’re really trying to make things better, whether for our users, our colleagues or for the world as a whole! That might sound trite, but we mean it: the people who use and work on Tyk are real, intelligent human beings working on mission-critical, transformational, super cool – and sometimes outright mind boggling – projects.

We love that Tyk is a part of that and we don’t want to ever forget that, so we try to think about why we should do things differently. That could mean trying to help people get a better work/life balance or trying to work with our customers in a fairer or more supportive way. It’s a very creative, but human approach.

Self-direction and achievement are important to me too. I like the way that, at Tyk, we are trusted so much to get on with our jobs. I wouldn’t be living in Spain – a dream of mine – if it wasn’t for that approach. You have to be self-directed and quite motivated by achievement to make that arrangement work, as well as being good at managing your own time. You also have to find your own incentives. Right now, I’ve got a doughnut in front of me – that’s my incentive for today!

What are your favourite books and/or podcasts?

One of my favourite podcasts is How to Fail by Elizabeth Day. I love that podcast. She’s on the money with the idea that everybody has failures and that it’s those failures – and the hard times in your life – that teach you the most. I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. Her book’s really good as well.

My most recommended book – and this is very niche – is Love’s Executioner by the psychotherapist Irvin Yalom. It’s a book of case studies of people he has worked with but what’s a bit unusual is that he psychoanalyses himself along with his patients, examining his own fears and how they are stoked by the patients that he’s talking to. I discovered it in my early twenties and I’ve recommended it to so many people since then because it shows how normal it is to have difficult times in life, and how even those who we look to to be ‘in control’ or to help, are facing their own struggles too. And obviously the communication part of it appeals to me – empathy is critical to building effective teams and creating great marketing.

If you work in, or with, another culture(s), I also really recommend the The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. Though it does veer towards generalisation at times, I still found it really helpful in understanding different value systems around the world and how to work effectively across them. I wish I’d read it before working in Singapore! It’s very relevant for working with teams based across the world.

Is there a book that you’ve read again and again over the years?

Little Women. It’s quite sentimental but I think you can read it at different stages of your life and take away something quite different from it. It’s got these really strong female characters and they’re not written about in the context of the men in their lives. That was quite revolutionary at the time. In some ways, it still is!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Well, generally I love to travel, but that’s been off the cards for the past year! Pandemic aside, this time has been a great opportunity to pick up old hobbies that fell by the wayside over the years.

I’ve started doing creative writing, which is something I used to do when I was younger, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m also desperate to crack Spanish, not least because I live in Spain! But I’m getting there – I’ve dreamt in Spanish twice in the last week, which I’ve heard is a good sign. Now I just need to be as fluent when I’m awake…