Talk to a Tykling: Rachna Karwasra, Head of Operations

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Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Rachna Karwasra, Head of Operations

One of Tyk’s values is to make things better. The company works around the world to make things better for other businesses and their end users.

But who is it who makes things better within Tyk? For this week’s Talk to a Tykling interview, we caught up with Head of Operations Rachna Karwasra, to discuss this part of the company ethos and to explore the journey that Tyk has been on over the last few years. And to find out just how long it will be until we can expect to see her on MasterChef!

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m Head of Operations. My role covers diverse things and it is ever-evolving, as we are an enabler department. My main responsibility is to support business operations, and keep the wheels turning. My function supports delivery at all stages of the value chain. 

In my role, success is defined by being relatively invisible – everything should just work. It ranges from fulfilling regulatory requirements to improving cross-team engagement. I also lead projects such as introducing compliance certifications like ISO 9001 and 27001, GDPR in the business and so forth. Most recently, I’m responsible for the organization-wide roll-out and tracking of objectives and key results (OKRs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) under the Chief Operations Officer (COO) function.

With that and being part of a startup that is growing so fast, I have a chance to experience and get stuck into things that I perhaps wouldn’t in a larger organisation. Essentially you have this substantial toolkit of activities that allows you to bring so much excitement and energy to what you do. Working at Tyk definitely adds to the excitement; I have learnt immensely here.

My remit has changed a lot over the past four years. I used to do everything from HR and recruitment to legal and finance. We now have all these specialised functions, so there’s been a bit of work to reshape what I do. Now, my role is to support all of these functions and to take on projects. It keeps changing so much, which is great. The role is so enriching – I love it! There is no standard day.

Where are you based when working remotely?

I’m based in London but with Tyk’s remote-first working culture every Tykling can work from anywhere and that includes my role. My preference would still be to go into the office because I enjoy the social interaction, which I’m really missing! I miss the routine of the office – grabbing a coffee on the way in, going out for lunch… 

Before the pandemic, I went into the office two or three days a week. In my role, people connecting is the key to getting things done, online or face-to-face.

What is something people in your role/industry have to deal with that you want to fix?

In any function of a business, there are dozens of business processes that need to be managed every day. For example, you may go through the same steps each time you generate a report, provide customer support, contact a new client, or release a new version of the product, fix bugs, etc.

If these processes aren’t efficient, it can lead to a lot of problems. We’ve all likely come across the results of inefficient processes in one way or another: unhappy customers, stressed colleagues, missed deadlines, and increased costs are just some of the problems that dysfunctional processes can create.

That’s why it’s so important to improve processes when they are not working well. In my role at Tyk, we undertake various initiatives like: a) adopting industry best practices such as OKRs; and b) taking internal feedback such as the Employee Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Tyk is very proactive in this respect. One of our values is: Make things better! Always try to leave things better than you found them. Nothing is wrong if you’re trying to improve things. The founders are heavily involved in this culture and in what the team is feeling; they’re always trying to do the best for us, which I think is very, very nice.

The other thing I would like to stress is that the world has changed so much in the last year. All of this change both internally and externally can really impact people from a mental health perspective. It’s during these times that it’s even more important to try and find ways to manage your mental health. It’s important to be kind and empathetic to those around you, as everyone is in the same boat. And it’s really important to ask for help when you need it. It could make a world of difference.

What is the background experience that led you to Tyk? 

My family originates from western India and I grew up there, in Jaipur. That’s where I did my schooling and Bachelors in Commerce. I’m a qualified accountant in India and did my MBA degree from the Koç Graduate School of Business, Istanbul where I studied General Management along with an exchange course of Behavioural Economics at Yale University.

After that I joined one of the largest e-retail companies in India focusing on e-commerce reverse logistics. The next stop in the journey was in a marketing function at a UK-based e-commerce organisation preparing business growth opportunities in new emerging markets. As my education and roles show, I enjoy working in various functions of organisations, like finance, operations and marketing. The ops role at Tyk utilizes all these various skills and processes, enabling me to grow my career as a generalist, so it fits very well with my goals and ambitions.

Do you travel as part of your role (pre-pandemic, obviously)? 

No, not as part of my role. Although part of my role is to organise Tyk’s annual retreats. I went on the first one just a month after I joined Tyk – we went to France. I was really impressed to have only been there a few weeks and then be taken to France. 

I organised the next two retreats, one in Greece and one in Thailand. Last year we were planning to go to Bali, before Covid crashed it. We were still optimistic at first – it was scheduled for March, so we just postponed it to July. But here we are, a year later…

What do you like about working at Tyk? 

I love Tyk so much! I’m completing four years here on 3 April. I was the 14th employee and now we are nearing 100 people. It’s been overwhelming to see the company grow and I’ve learned so much in my role. That’s a huge blessing.  

I truly feel empowered to bring change and to own anything I want to own or bring to the table. This is something I really value – you’re empowered to change anything, there aren’t restrictions. There is a huge level of trust and co-ownership. 

I enjoy working with people and the culture is fantastic. There are amazing people in the business. I have been lucky to have the support from the top of the house, specifically James, as COO, in terms of mentoring me and guiding me to learn and thrive – he has an amazing amount of patience!

The most important factor for me when joining Tyk was how my role could influence and support the growth of the company. I could visualize my role being critical in setting up the business for the bigger organisation. After four years of working with such an amazing team, I was underestimating the contribution ops play in a tech world – it’s not just about coding 24/7. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, with ops ideally not being seen. I always think that if we’re seen, it means there’s a fire-drill or something isn’t working!

What are your tips for working in a remote-first organisation? 

I think it’s really important to set up a designated workspace. Separate space for yourself to work in, somewhere you can focus on tasks without being distracted and set up with everything you need for a normal working day.

Also, stay in conversation. Contribute regularly to team chats and group discussions so you don’t drop off the radar. Ask about what people are working on and share what’s on your plate. Being physically separated means you miss the ‘water-cooler moments’ so this is a means to keep informed. You can feel lost and so can others. You have to make an extra effort in a remote setup to account for this. 

Fostering relationships ties in with that. Make time for non-work chats as you would in the workplace and use video calling to maintain face-to-face contact.

Be clear in your communication. Speaking in person gives you visual and audio cues that help you communicate. Conversing remotely removes a lot of that extra information so make your communications extra clear and concise. Be very specific in what you’re asking

Ask for support when needed. Speak out when you need assistance, further training or support. Your manager, colleagues and you are part of a team and should be supporting each other, especially remotely.

Lastly, make remote working work for you. Change where you sit, put on music, whatever helps you work. Work smarter, not harder. And enjoy the perks – no commute or uncomfortable shoes, all your home comforts, plus the freedom to do things like going for a run in the middle of the day if you choose to. Make a conscious effort to make it work for you.

What’s a mistake you made early on in your career, and what did you learn from it?

Early in my career, I made the mistake of being too accommodating to others’ positions and not challenging enough from a business value/need perspective. I was almost showing too much deference to others simply because they were in senior roles.

I now understand that I just don’t have to get things done but show thought leadership to achieve the goals set out, as well as enable others to understand the importance of our work. The two skills I have developed to ensure this are influencing and perception management instead of just putting tasks in lists.

This can happen a lot in operations roles because ops is a supporting function. There’s almost an assumption that your own work is less important than that of another function. It can happen very unintentionally and unconsciously. I think it’s important to put your work out there with confidence.

What are the values that drive you?

Be authentic: always treat others the way you’d want to be treated. This is one of my key principles both professionally and personally. It’s how I was brought up. It is a trait I see in some of the most inspiring leaders I have worked for. Being able to show humility and vulnerability, as a leader or even just as an individual, is what connects you and brings people on the journey with you. Just be you – be authentic and be honest. And put yourself in the other person’s shoes or stilettos.

How does Tyk fit with your values?

Everybody here respects each other, even down to the fact that we all work in different time zones. The team is based around the world, so we work asynchronously. You don’t have to wait until it’s somebody else’s daytime before you send a message. Send it whenever you need to, then respect that they will reply when their time zone allows it.

Because it’s a remote culture, we’ve not all met face to face. This means we don’t always know what other people are like. Again, respect is important here. This means you have to establish trust and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s critical. Tyk has a great resource to help with this, called Library of Me. It’s a wiki that has a page per person. The pages are kind of like the “Readme” or “User Manual” but for people. They have real, tangible, useful advice: What’s your preferred communication method? What can others expect in terms of reply times? What things can you help with? It’s all about respecting each other and each other’s values and showing patience.

What are your top three books or podcasts?

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of the greatest books I have ever read. It has led me to see through contemporary simplistic predictions. There are very few books that will change your view of the world and that you will enjoy every bit of it. This is one of them. This book also teaches how luck plays a major role in life and that there are a lot of random things that can happen in life. 2020 was a black swan year. Nobody predicted it and nobody expected it. It proves that we learn from even the worst of the situations.

My second is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It is a coming-of-age story based in pre-war Afghanistan to the modern-day US. The savagery of war and the death of innocence in the lead character is so perfectly described that I felt as if I was there, in that moment. There’s a real rollercoaster of emotions in this book; it deals with some dark themes. While it is fiction, I feel there are thousands of kids and families going through this every day. It shows a need for empathy and compassion for everyone – not just those who are around us.

My last one is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Divakaruni. It is a retelling of an Indian epic called Mahabharata. It is retold from a woman’s perspective. It shows that women can influence the destiny of the nation if they have the will and ambition to do so. It also helped me to understand that what we know might have different aspects to it, so we should explore different perspectives and welcome diverse opinions.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

Nature, movies and cooking – I think in that order! We have such a dearth of options for walks, hikes and biking around London, so that’s how we usually spend our weekends, particularly in the last year. My daughter really enjoys exploring nature and is also really intrigued about history – she can talk about history for hours. It’s nice because she loves our walks and discovering the history behind the locations. 

Netflix is always an evening guilty pleasure. I think I’ve watched everything on Netflix by now!

And cooking! I love to cook. We have a food share channel at Tyk and you can see me posting there at times. We recently had a pancake competition and there were some great entries. Lockdown has definitely improved my cooking skills. Don’t be surprised if you see me on the next MasterChef!