Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Irvin Tan, Head of the APAC Commercial Team
Tyk’s remote-first policy allows the entire team to carve out a working lifestyle that fits their individual needs and commitments. That can mean anything from time to exercise to time for the school-run. It’s a benefit that our Talk to a Tykling interview series has highlighted the value of time and again.
We recently caught up with Irvin Tan, Head of the APAC Commercial Team, to ask him about his life both in and outside Tyk. Our Zoom call covered subjects ranging from travel to team management, as well as why running is about mental strength as much as physical ability.
What do you do at Tyk? What does your day to day role look like?
I’m the head of the APAC commercial team. Day to day, my duties including reaching out to prospects and assisting customers and partners. I also manage a small team.
We work closely with other departments, such as the marketing and product teams, and also with the support team, handling any escalated issues.
Do you travel as part of your role?
Prior to Covid, I was probably travelling about 20% of the year. Thankfully, most of our prospects are easily able to trial the product themselves. We can then assist via virtual meetings – and were doing that before.
Most of the travel (under normal circumstances) is for things like conferences and marketing events. I also meet existing customers, ensuring they’re comfortable and happy using the product.
Has your role been made more complicated by not being able to travel, or has it been easy to find workarounds?
In general, customers are very comfortable with working remotely. There are some exceptions in certain countries and sectors. We can usually rely on our partners “on the ground.”
For example, we have partners in India, where we work with the public sector. The same applies in Korea. It’s particularly helpful for overcoming language barriers.
As Tyk is a default remote company, you have the freedom to work from anywhere. Where do you most like to work from?
I’m very flexible and quite adaptable. Before I worked at Tyk, I was based in an office, but as sales people we don’t normally spend much time in one anyway. I can happily work in coffeeshops – especially when travelling. Sometimes, I’ve worked in taxis too! I’m really not fussy. As long as I’m online and the environment isn’t too noisy, I can work.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
I’ve been in tech for about 20 years, starting off as a developer. I then became a pre-sales engineer before moving into sales.
Sales isn’t always the easiest job, but I get a lot of satisfaction both from making customers happy and performing better than the competition. It’s very fulfilling when you can build trust to the point that the customer becomes your friend.
You’ve been in tech for a long time. Can you give us a quick history of what led you to Tyk?
I’ve now been at Tyk for three years. Before that I always worked at global/multinational companies – firms with thousands of employees.
Having been through that, I was really keen to try working with a start-up company, and to experience the differences. That was a big part of what led me here.
How did you initially find out about the opportunity?
I found the role while searching through jobs on LinkedIn.
What do you most like about working at Tyk?
The company gives all employees the autonomy to make decisions – this means ownership and responsibility.
Having unlimited holiday is obviously a big attraction – so is the ability to work remotely. The company is strong on trust, and there’s no micromanagement. As long as we own and take responsibility of our tasks, it doesn’t matter if we work eight hours straight, or take a two-hour break for parenting.
It’s all up to you – and that’s great. It helps you build your own discipline and character.
Obviously if you’re the kind of person who prefers somebody to line up every task and monitor you, it may not be such a great fit.
How does the experience compare with other companies you’ve worked for?
My previous role wasn’t remote, but there were some similarities in terms of flexibility and managing our own time. It certainly helped me mould my character into somebody suitable for Tyk. I felt I had the right experience to adapt quickly to working in this way.
Moving to Tyk didn’t feel like a huge change, but the unlimited holiday did; you don’t see many companies providing that! I often tell my friends that when you log into the HR system, you don’t see a number of holiday days left – there’s an infinity sign instead.
What advice would you give to somebody working for a remote first organisation for the first time?
I strongly believe that for remote working to be effective, there must be open communication. Check in regularly with colleagues – perhaps every two days. Loneliness can be a factor, especially if you’re working in a country with no other employees.
Trust is very important. I need to know that people will do things they say they will do – from sending a proposal to a client to checking details with enough time to spare.
You mentioned the risk of loneliness when working remotely. What does Tyk have in place to help you connect with your colleagues?
Typically, we have a Zoom catch-up once or twice every week. On top of that we organise events, which can be virtual events. As an example, last December we organised food donations with foodbanks, and distributed food in some local neighbourhoods. That was followed by a team dinner. It was a great initiative, and a team bonding opportunity.
Would you be happy to share something that you’ve learned over the years as a manager?
I’ve learned a lot about the importance of balancing how much freedom you give your team with their level of experience. Mistakes sometimes only have small implications, but sometimes they can be much bigger. I’ve learned from it when I’ve not got that balance quite right.
What are the values that drive you personally? What’s important to you?
Honesty is very important – especially in sales. It’s important to be transparent with your team too, as holding things back can cause problems.
Also, it’s crucial to do the right thing and not take shortcuts. You need to find the root cause of problems and not just seek to quickly close them down.
And – of course – it’s really important to work as a team.
What are your top three books and podcasts? They don’t have to be work related!
I’m not somebody who likes reading a lot. Although I do like to read up on competitors! It’s good to be able to answer if a prospect asks me, “What’s the difference between Tyk and this product?”
I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts either! But I do enjoy listening to conversational radio programs. I listen to that kind of thing when driving my son to and from school.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I do a lot of running. I go running every other day and cover around 60km every week. I started this as a teenager. There haven’t really been many events due to Covid, but I used to do a few each year before. I prefer to run alone rather than in a group.
Running gives me a great feeling of freedom. You can change a route when you’re bored with it. It’s as much about mental strength and perseverance as anything physical. It teaches you the same kind of persistence that you need in sales!
Running also taught me to appreciate the wonderful resource that is water. When you’re running, nothing tastes so sweet!