Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Josh Schaefer, Senior Account Executive
Tyk’s super-useful product and rapid growth have seen the company engage with users all around the world. Our remote-first approach has also led us to work with talented individuals in over 70 countries.
So, who are these smart folks who serve Tyk users across the globe and spread the word about our product? Well, that’s the purpose of the Talk to a Tykling interview series – getting to know the people behind the product.
In that spirit, let’s meet Senior Account Executive, Josh Schaefer. We grabbed a virtual coffee with Josh to find out more about him, from the pride of being an individual contributor, to how to work during the lockdown when you’re at home with the (rapidly growing) family.
What do you do at Tyk?
I’m a Senior Account Executive. This role has many titles across different parts of the world, such as commercial/sales rep or account rep, but I’m essentially responsible for managing existing and adding new accounts. I cover all of the United States – I’m Tyk’s first sales rep in the America’s so I juggle a lot of things day to day! I cover everything from start-ups to Fortune 500 enterprises.
On a daily basis, I help prospects who are looking at Tyk. I ensure they have everything they need, whether that’s a trial/proof of concept of the Tyk product, answers to questions, going through demos or anything else. It’s about making sure they get comfortable with the product. There are a lot of different use cases, so there are plenty of questions to answer.
For existing users, it’s about listening to their needs, supporting feature requests, ironing out any bugs and ensuring they have a successful, long-term experience of Tyk. Lots of phone calls and working with engineers and architects at Tyk, coordinating all of our efforts. I think of myself as a quarterback on a football team if you will.
Are you responsible for going out and finding those new prospects?
Yes, absolutely. Luckily with Tyk there are huge numbers of people interested in the product, so there’s no shortage of inbound leads. However, there’s also an element of going out and finding our own opportunities, so I do a lot of that through my own network. Nearly a decade of work in sales and IT has meant I’ve been able to build a pretty big network, so a lot of my focus is on seeing what the people that I know are doing in terms of their API management.
Has the COVID-19 lockdown made your role harder?
It definitely has, in a couple of ways. We do a lot of face-to-face time, so we’re travelling to meet with prospects and customers, as well as attending conferences. So, it’s definitely had an impact there. Sales is partly an emotional process, and you build friendships with your customers. A lot of that is taken away when you can’t be face-to-face.
There’s also the struggle around the fact that most sales folks like to be pretty sociable. I’m based out of our Atlanta office, where team members meet up and collaborate, so not having that contact has made it harder.
From a business perspective, though, COVID-19 may have increased the number of companies looking for our solution. The digital transformation for a lot of companies is happening faster because they’re being forced into it, and they’re going to need a lot more API management support! Many companies are currently evaluating our product specifically because they’re going more digital and need to connect different applications and APIs together.
Is being the first sales rep for the US exciting or challenging?
I think it’s really exciting and challenging – it was one of the biggest reasons that I took the role. I worked for a start-up in the past where I helped build it up before it went on to be sold. I’ve also worked for larger organizations where I felt like more of a number than an individual. I didn’t enjoy that so much.
I like being able to start something from scratch. It definitely feels like the right fit from a company growth perspective. I enjoy the excitement and the unknown of building something.
Tyk had already built an amazing presence in the U.S. without physically being here. They have some great customers already, so it’s a great base to build from.
Please could you give us a one-minute history of your journey to Tyk?
I was born in Greenville, South Carolina, but mostly grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I wanted to try somewhere new for college, so I went to Hampden-Sydney College, a small, private, liberal arts college in Virginia.
I graduated from there with an economics degree but didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was during the 2009 recession, so it was the worst time to be looking for a job. I ended up getting a job in real estate sales. I did that for a year but wasn’t very successful.
I ended up working a few odd jobs – I was a fishing guide, I was a hunting guide, I worked on a farm… Eventually I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where I met my wife and got a job in concrete construction where I worked as a project manager, but I always wanted to get back into sales.
After a few interviews, I landed my first job in IT sales, working for a company selling data center hardware and support. After a few years there, I linked up with an entrepreneur who’s been really successful within the industry. A few of us got together and founded a company that was helping organizations with their data center hardware and support, IT staffing, and cloud consulting. We helped companies move to Amazon Web Services which really took off.
We built that company over the course of six years, during which I did some sales work and some management work. We went from five people to around 150, and then eventually we sold the company. About a year and a half after the acquisition, I realized I wanted to build something again – and that’s when I ran across Tyk.
How did you come across the role at Tyk?
I had just resigned from my past company. I’d taken a couple of months off around the holidays to relax, which I’d never done before in my life! While I was taking some time off work, one of the guys I had founded the company with mentioned that he had just taken a role at Tyk. We already knew that we liked working together. He told me that he was building out the Americas division of this cool software product called Tyk. I asked him a bunch of questions and it sounded really interesting, so I asked if he was hiring anyone. He said that he was after a salesperson for the United States.
I checked the company and role out and talked to one of the founders of Tyk, who was living here at the time. It sounded like an interesting and fun company, and it all went from there. I’ve been here for six months now, and I feel like I’m starting to get to grips with things!
Do you prefer to work in the office or to work remotely?
The remote-first culture was a big adjustment for me, as traditionally I’ve always worked from an office. I like getting out of the house. I have a stay at home wife, four-year-old daughter, a newborn baby boy, a dog, and lots of distractions, so I enjoy a change of scene and being with like-minded, motivating colleagues!
Initially, when the Tyk office was open here (before the pandemic), not much changed. Obviously with the coronavirus we’ve all been forced to be at home. At first, I really didn’t like it – I felt removed, I wasn’t as motivated, I didn’t have a great workspace… But actually, after working remotely for almost three months, I kind of like it. I’ve got a decent workspace and started to find boundaries between work and family life. It’s nice.
Once this is all over, I’ll still be using the Atlanta Tyk office but will probably take a more balanced approach, working from home some days and from the office others. I like the fact that Tyk gives you the option to choose where and when you work.
One of the coolest parts about Tyk is the freedom that they give you. It’s a unique culture. It’s a cool feeling for a family man like myself, as families don’t always fit with 9-5. At Tyk you can change your hours to fit around everything from doing the school run to watching a class play. I can take time off to do those things and then work once the kids are in bed at night.
Stepping back from Tyk for a moment, is there a particular pain point in the sales industry that you would love to be able to fix?
Yes, actually. I talked to a guy the other week that has started a really cool company that’s currently still in concept stage. It looks at the early stages of the sales process, when a lot of time is invested in sales calls and demos. Both the prospects who are evaluating the product and the solutions architects and engineers invest hours of their time in the process.
That initial process hasn’t really changed in years, so tons of time is still spent on that early sales stage. Automating and digitizing that process is a great idea. It hasn’t really been done yet, but I think it’s going to change – especially by this guy’s company, but there are probably others out there that are going to start doing this as well.
The idea is that the demos will be automated and recorded, so prospects can watch them on their own time. They can watch whenever they want, but the demos will be automatically linked with an account rep and an architect via Slack. Prospects will be able to ask questions and receive personalized responses with everything individualized and customized. Everything’s stored in the CRM as meeting notes and hooked in together.
By the time they’ve finished the demo, they’ve also completed a questionnaire, so you know more about their needs. They’ve also learned more about your product and seen its capabilities. So you’re past that first phase of the sales process before even physically meeting or talking to them. That means that your first meeting is likely to be a deeper technical discussion or to focus on commercial aspects or contracts… so you’re further along in the sales process when you first meet. It works better for everyone and saves a lot of time.
If you think about Tyk, our product is super simple but can be used in a lot of different use cases, so these demos can sometimes take up to two hours. If you have ten of those a week, it’s a significant time commitment.
What do you like most about working at Tyk?
There’s a lot that I like about working at Tyk. The entrepreneurial spirit is one thing. We’re a growing company, but we’re still at the point where everyone has a voice. Everyone can talk to the CEO or COO. Everyone can implement change. It’s possible for every person at Tyk to have so much impact, which is really cool and really powerful to see.
We have such great people. Every company says that they have really awesome, super smart people, but it’s really true at Tyk! Because we’re remote first, we have the ability to hire the best and brightest no matter who they are or where they are. Right now, we have 75 employees based across 25 different countries. It’s a lot of fun. While we don’t get to see each other face-to-face much, we get to interact through video and so forth.
I also love the freedom. Tyk gives you the freedom to progress in any direction that you want to, and that’s powerful to have, especially for someone like me who likes the ability to build and grow and pivot.
The other thing that’s a lot of fun is that there’s never a dull moment! Every day is new and different.
What tips would you give to a new starter when it comes to working in a remote-first organisation?
I would say that once you get past setting up your computer and your various systems, spend as much time as you can face-to-face (via Zoom) with current employees. Tyk does a really good job of this. Show your face and interact. And ask questions. Tyk sets up a lot of meetings for new starters. I would recommend taking that even further and just reaching out to as many people as you can.
Luckily, we are getting bigger but not huge, so you can get to know everyone. You learn different perspectives from every single person, no matter which role they’re in. So, I would recommend informational interviews with all of the employees to get you started.
The other best way is to sit in on as many calls as possible with customers and prospects. You can read all you want while settling in, but nothing is better than real-time interactions with the people who are using the product or thinking about using it. Shadowing these calls can be incredibly helpful.
Essentially, it’s about immersing yourself in the culture and the people, and then getting out on the frontlines and being part of customer and prospect calls to feel like you’re a part of something.
Can you share details of a mistake that you made early on in your career and what you learned from it?
One mistake I made was getting into management too early. I did IT sales for about four years and was still in my late 20s. The progression in most jobs is that you’re an individual contributor and then you go into management and you work your way up the ladder. But there’s nothing wrong with being an individual contributor.
In fact, from a sales perspective there are a lot of very successful lifelong individual contributors without climbing that management hierarchy. But out of naivety and immaturity, I decided to go headfirst into management. I had seven people on my team, but it was too early for me and I wasn’t mature enough yet. Even after four years of selling IT, I needed more time under my belt to understand all the ins and outs.
Not only did I not have any prior management experience, but I also hadn’t invested a lot in learning about management. So, I failed! A lot of my team either quit or went in different directions. It didn’t go well, and I ended up going back to being an individual contributor, where I was much happier. I had missed being on the frontlines and working directly with customers.
It was a mistake in the sense that I believed the assumption that if you do well as an individual contributor, you must be a good manager, but that’s not always the case. There’s a lot to be said for giving people accolades for just performing really well in the role they’re in. It was a good learning experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and may give management another try someday. I just wish someone had told me earlier on that there’s great pride and success to be had in being an individual contributor! And that’s across all roles, from marketing to engineering to architecture. You can still be super successful without moving into management.
That’s another good thing about Tyk – we’re a flatter organization without too much hierarchy or middle management. I believe that the longer you can keep a structure flat, the better. It makes an organization more agile, there’s less waste, and you can really celebrate the successes of all of the individuals who make up the company.
What are the values that drive you? What’s important to you?
There are a lot of values that drive me. On a day-to-day basis, I really like social interaction and interacting with people who value honesty and just being genuinely nice, along with courtesy and curiosity. I find that the more people can be curious and learn about each other, the better off we all are.
Being hard working is definitely another important value for me. I grew up around hard working individuals. I saw my Dad come from nothing to be successful and create a family and make things comfortable. I believe you can overcome all manner of faults if you’re prepared to put the hard work in.
Honesty is important to me too. Being brutally honest with your customers, your prospects, your family, your friends… Holding back is never good, so the more open you can be, the better. It’s about being honest and nice!
What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts?
It’s tough to narrow it down to just three! One good book I read is The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. It’s a great book about starting companies and how there really isn’t a success playbook. It’s about his experiences, what he learned, and the things he had to deal with. I really like that book from a business perspective.
From a fun perspective, I love anything by Pat Conroy. I think he’s a great writer, and some of his books like The Great Santini or The Lords of Discipline are really entertaining fiction.
In the podcast realm, lately I’ve been listening to a new podcast from a company called Pink Bike that I like. I’m into mountain biking and I love being outdoors, in the woods with nature. Pink Bike puts out YouTube videos, podcasts, and news articles centered around mountain biking. The podcast is really funny. Anyone interested in mountain biking should really check it out.
When you’re not working, what will we find you doing?
As I said before I have a growing family—a wife, a four-year-old daughter, a newborn son, and a dog—plus extended family around, so family time takes up a lot of my time, and I love that. When I’m not working or with family, however, I love the outdoors! I do a lot of mountain biking, fishing, hiking, kayaking, hunting and camping – anything related to being outdoors. Occasionally I play golf, though I’m not very good at it. I also love to cook.
Although some of the parks have been closed during the lockdown, here in the States we’re encouraged to spend time outside, provided we remain socially distant. Some of my favourite activities—mountain biking, fishing, hunting—are easy to do while social distancing, as long as you can find woods or mountains or other areas to do them in. They’re great ways to take your mind off things, get away from it all, and recharge.
It’s been a little harder not being able to see my friends when spending time outdoors, and you can’t go everywhere you want to, but there are still a lot of outlets. I’ve been using different parks, and I’m fortunate enough to have a big backyard as I live in the outskirts of Atlanta. I have a good bit of land with woods and a creek, so I can hike and bike in my own backyard. We took the whole family out there last night and had a pretend campout. We took out the tent and roasted marshmallows – it was a good, fun evening.