Talk to a Tykling: we get the latest from Gregor McInnes, Customer Success Architect
Tyk provides not just innovative API management solutions but also an outstanding customer experience. Does that happen by accident? Absolutely not! It’s down to a team of committed Tyklings, who are scattered across the world, using their international expertise to ensure that each and every customer gets the best out of Tyk.
In this series of interviews, we find out more about what it takes to be a Tykling. Most recently, we got deep and meaningful with Customer Success Architect Gregor McInnes, who explains how the theory of ego and the authentic self helps him at work. He also tells us about his love of coaching and building teams as well as sharing is coffee roasting skills.
What do you do at Tyk?
I am the Customer Success Architect. I work in the Customer Operations Team. We look after the post-sales success criteria for customers. So, I have a team of Customer Success Engineers who work around the globe, primarily supporting Tyk’s SLA customers, but not exclusively – we work with open source users too.
Some of our customers have very specific use cases that they want to achieve with Tyk and our product. We work with them to define that success and we work as a consulting practice to help them get that over the line. There are lots of variables involved, depending on the environment they’re deploying into and the type of vertical they work in.
Do you have to be quite technical in order to do your role?
Definitely. Our remit is to be the subject matter experts at Tyk. We need to know how Tyk works – how it works with the customer’s environment and how it works with the things that our customers are using it with.
My team members are very technical, but they come from a varied set of backgrounds, so complement each other really well. We’ve got people who come from development backgrounds, people who are infrastructure and environment focussed, Devops Engineers and people who specialise in process, governance and how to deploy this kind of technology into really heavy duty customer environments.
We use that combination of skills to package up the experience for our customers. Whilst we have key success engineers for each of our customer accounts, we pool the team to create the right experience for our customers, based on their requirements.
Please can you give me a two minute potted-history of your background prior to joining Tyk?
I grew up in the very patriotic Scottish town of Bannockburn. We don’t need to go on about it too much but 700 years ago there was a small skirmish with the English, which we won! So, I grew up in the shadow of Stirling Castle and all these historical monuments.
I studied electrical engineering at Heriot-Watt University. I quickly realised that I liked making sparks and loud bangs in the high voltage lab but the actual practicality of being an electrical engineer in the workforce wasn’t something that impassioned me.
I left university, started working with IBM and then worked my way up through the ranks in IT. I’ve done every job in IT, from first-line support right through to where I am now.
I’ve worked as a consultant, too. About 12 years ago, I set up on my own as a consultant contractor and I worked with several different verticals in that time. Before I came over to Tyk I was the Product Owner and lead for deplying the Tyk product into the RBS NatWest Group.
I’m currently using my particular set of skills learned over a long career, a bit like Liam Neeson, to help Tyk get to the next level.
Where do you like to be based when you work?
I’ve built an office at home that’s my space. For this kind of work it’s ideal. It’s separate from the house, so my commute takes 20 seconds! I think that mind-set switch is really key. That’s home, this is work so it gives you that separation.
I do miss the social interaction with people. I started with Tyk in March. So far, I have physically met three Tyklings and all three of them I’d met before I joined Tyk. As far as I’m aware, Tyk just exists in a two-dimensional space!
I’m actually off to London later this week to meet everybody in the office there, then I’m going to Atlanta at the end of the month to meet the team in the US.
I do miss the human aspect of being with other people, but I’m also quite well set up here, in my little bubble.
Will you be travelling more in the future?
I fully expect to. It’s a global remit, so I cover from the west coast of the US all the way through the different time zones to Singapore – they all need to have access to me and I need to support them. There are a lot of our customers where seniority is important to them and every now and then they need to be shown the love by someone with a title!
We’re talking about going to Singapore in the New Year to reach out to those guys, in addition to the US trip this year. Tyk’s expanding, so it’s a fascinating time to be part of this journey, as we open up more locations. The world is our oyster.
Does Tyk approach customer service differently to the way that other organisations do?
We’re taking a slightly different approach to the whole customer experience/customer success side of things. We’re not entirely driven by the bottom line, which is quite a paradigm shift from how most companies approach it. We are really driven by creating a fantastic experience for our customers – it’s not solely focused on driving more revenue.
I am personally very driven by the commercial aspect of things. I’ve run my own consultancy and I come from a long line of self-employed people, so I understand what needs to happen in business and the commercial aspects of it. But when we dovetail that with a fantastic customer experience, there’s a lot less friction in the commercial process. It becomes a lot easier and more natural.
Tyk’s ethos is to try and become the trusted advisor to our customers. That goes beyond the pure Tyk API Gateway experience. We become the people they turn to when they want to know how to do something, like how to move into the Kubernetes space or how to tackle service mesh integration.
We want to be the opinionated trusted advisor to help them on that journey. That’s the value-add that we bring because we understand the pain. A lot of my customer success engineers come from industry or a customer base so they’ve seen the pain in the real world and they know the challenges of being a deployment manager trying to fit the product into the ecosystem.
Of course, there’s always a bottom line and we can’t ignore that aspect – it’s customer success but not customer success at all costs. We’re trying to do this differently. Our net promoter scores are steadily increasing and we’re getting really good feedback from our customers. We’ve shifted aspects to a more proactive stance, so we get a lot more control over that customer experience. We’re growing that capability and experience at Tyk. It’s a really exciting time.
What do you like about working at Tyk?
Tyk allows me to bring to bear all the experience that I’ve put together so far – my technical ability and my leadership capability. I really love building technical teams – putting them together, getting them working together, essentially doing the engineering of the team. I’m really passionate about that. Tyk is expanding so that means building really high-performing teams. That’s what gets me up in the morning.
There’s no micro-management or any of that toxic behaviour at Tyk, but being able to get these things in motion and act on the things that I know are right or believe are right is a very empowering environment to be in.
What tips would you give to a new starter in a remote-first organisation?
Ask questions. Part of Tyk’s culture is that there are no stupid questions. That’s really important. Everybody is super-helpful and will help you, as they were helped when they joined. They won’t be condescending. You will be helped, and that ranges right through from documentation and processes to the fundamentals of how these things work.
Tyk has a fantastic, complex product which covers a lot of ground. We don’t expect anyone coming in to be an instant expert. There’s a journey to getting to know Tyk and understand it. And everyone wants to help you get to where you need to be.
So, ask questions, ask more questions and when you think that everybody’s fed up with you asking questions, ask some more questions!
Thinking back to your pre-Tyk career, can you tell us about a mistake you made and what you learnt from it?
Part of the way I build teams is to follow the fail-fast culture. We need to openly discuss when things go wrong. If we’re not failing, then we’re not trying hard enough.
I don’t look back at things as failures, as you learn from every experience. They got me to where I am today and I’m thoroughly happy with what I’m doing, where my career is and the trajectory of it.
Things I’ve done wrong in the past would come from my youthful arrogance as an engineer and thinking that I knew everything and being happy to tell everybody that I knew everything!
One of the biggest lessons I learned was to stop operating from ego, to move out of that arrogance. I used to make sweeping statements about how I was the kind of technical person who could talk to anyone from a front-line support person up to a CEO and be able to explain concepts to them. It was pointed out to me by someone who became my coach and mentor that the first impression I gave was that I needed to be the most technical person in the room. I would make sure that everybody knew that I was a technical guy and they should defer all technical knowledge to me.
And it turned out that I wasn’t actually that good at talking to senior execs who were not that technical.
One of the biggest things I learned was to step back from that ego and actually have more impact and presence by not saying anything and allowing the situation to unfold. The key thing is figuring out when it’s appropriate to weigh in and the message that you give – understanding the difference between operating from that ego-based aspect rather than the authentic self.
That was really empowering. It was a light switch moment that switched me from being a very technical contractor/consultant to someone who could lead teams and do the things I’d been talking about for years.
So, try not to be too full of your own ego, would be my learning. I’d like to say that I was young when I realised this stuff. I was really bad when I was straight out of university and then I got married and my wife managed to beat it out of me, metaphorically speaking! She worked on my arrogant attitude but that work wasn’t tempered with the authentic-self concepts so I stopped doing it. I just kind of coasted in my career.
Then I started learning how to bring it back in in a more targeted way. That’s the difference between the arrogance of youth and just general arrogance. And when I had that flick of the light switch about the ego and the authentic self, and where you need to operate from, it was fantastic. I could talk about it forever. I’d love to say it happened when I was much younger. The reality is that it was four or five years ago but the trajectory change since that point has been exponential.
It sounds like you had a good mentor to help you evolve. Is mentoring something that you do at Tyk?
Yes, I love coaching and mentoring. I do it with a few people. It’s a natural thing to do with my team. I like teaching them my ways! I think it’s helped them out and I do really enjoy that aspect of things.
What are the values that drive you?
I probably should say family, as that’s very important. But it’s something I know I’m not brilliant at and that I’m working on. I give a lot of the best part of me to work, so I’m working on improving the other side of things.
What’s important to me with the people I work with is integrity. I need to have an environment of open honest feedback, both ways. I need to be challenged. If I come up with some fantastically brilliant ideas (I think they are, anyway!), I need my team to challenge me on those. We need to have a proper conversation and discussion about the pros and cons. It doesn’t serve me and it doesn’t serve Tyk if we just barrel on unchallenged with things that come out of my head.
Relationships are really important to me from a challenge point of view. I love figuring them out and how to make them work. I see them as problems to solve. How do I build a relationship with this person, what are the specific triggers and levers we can use to do that?
Over my career there were certain occasions where I’ve seen it as a personal challenge to build a relationship, especially in a toxic environment.
I think building relationships is such an important thing to do for customer success here at Tyk. We need to build relationships quickly, but relationships that stick and that aren’t just veneers. If we’re going to build the trusted advisor status we need to be able to build those relationships with the engineers, the technical people and the people on the customer side that we’re dealing with.
What are your top three books or podcasts?
Everything on my bookshelf is carefully curated and reflects me and my journey, so to pull out three is really tough.
I think anyone joining Tyk should really read The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford. It’s a book about how you manage bottlenecks and process problems in an organisation and turn it into a well-oiled machine.
My second book is Soul Centred Leadership, by Michael Anderson. This is a book that my mentor wrote. I’ve bookmarked it on the ego and authentic self section!
My third book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. It’s an allegorical tale of a search for ‘something’. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it, but it’s a really beautiful story that takes you on a journey. The first time I picked it up, I read it cover to cover without putting it down. It either speaks to you or it doesn’t – and if it doesn’t, then you’re not ready for the message.
What do you like doing when you’re not working?
My wife always says my hobby is having hobbies. I love learning about stuff and self-improvement.
I roast coffee. I’ve got a little coffee roaster in my garage so I’m more than happy to bore anyone senseless about the art of coffee roasting, if they’re interested.
At heart I’m a workaholic and I love a committee. I’m on so many committees and organisations. There’s always something. I’m Vice Chairman of a small Scottish charity for a bleeding disorder, so that takes up a chunk of time. Other than that, it’s walking the dog or ferrying the kids to various activities.