The company we keep

A long time ago, I met a man, and that man was well spoken, well known, well-heeled, and more importantly, very charismatic.

This man started a company, and because of all of the above, that man hired many of my old coworkers with promises of high salaries, new Macbooks, and free iPhones. And of course a whole bunch of startup perks that sounded awesome, and sure to make their peers green with envy. Don’t get me wrong, this man had a vision, he had drive and ambition, and most importantly – he had good intentions…

Fast forward a year later to Christmas Eve, that same man fired his entire staff – literally walked into the office, said “we’re out of money” and told them all to get out. He shut off the lights and shuttered the company. Just like that, 30-something folks were unemployed for Christmas.

When that happened, I knew that if I were ever lucky enough to start a company – it would be built on sustainability, and care for the human condition. 

A few years later, I had that very opportunity, and we founded Tyk.

We founded Tyk with the direct intention of ensuring the business was sustainable and would grow responsibly. Every developer we hired would be matched with a scaled growth in sales capacity. We wouldn’t tip into either extreme – too many developers you build an awesome product but can’t sell it. Too many sales-people and you generate strong demand for vapourware. 

So we were careful, we bootstrapped, and counted every penny.

Then we got cocky. 

At one point in Tyk’s early history we hit a very serious financial bottleneck – we were very close to running out of cash to pay wages. It was a serious mistake on our part in terms of planning and foresight. 

A large customer churned, and at the same time our pipeline had shrunk because of a pricing change we made, we were facing a storm of our own making.

We had not taken any funding at this point, so we were running on fuel poured in by founders, credit card debt, and pure revenue – the margins were… thin.

During those few months, we faced many agonising meetings where we were looking at our staff list, wondering who would be the first victim of the company shrinking. Of us not planning well enough. I can’t really explain how truly disappointed I was in myself for having let things get this far.

In the end, we didn’t need to make any redundancies – we took on an equity-backed loan, we went through a chunk of our customer list on grandfathered pricing packages and got them to upgrade at a discount if they paid early or annually, and all the founders took a significant haircut in terms of salary. We kept the lights on, and we kept the doors open. 

This isn’t an uplifting story, and I’m not trying to make us look like heroes – we f*cked up. We didn’t see this coming, and we didn’t prepare for the risks of the situation. With hindsight, it’s all so damned clear, and we were the ones who were supposed to be responsible!

The experience – the horror – of potentially being that guy that fired a chunk of the company to keep the party going, was something I will never forget, an unfortunate lesson, hard learned. 

Fast forward some years and we receive some interesting advice: “fire the lowest-performing 20% of your company every year, it will improve your overall performance and efficiency. Do this even if you’re performing well to continue optimising.

Absolutely savage.

I think I’m telling this story because I want to be transparent about what Tyk is as a company to work for. Many firms will try and make you believe it, but we live it – at Tyk, we have your back.

The company we want to build is one that encourages risk, that invests in performance and culture. We’ve looked into the abyss, it looked back, and we told it to f*ck off. We believe we achieve a higher performing company by building trust, by nurturing development, by investing in and raising everyone, not cutting them loose.

We want our teams to succeed, both at Tyk, and after they leave. One of our core values is to leave things better than we found them. We introduced a bespoke coaching program for anyone in the company to help steer and build their career plan. We continually invest in the training needed to get the job done, and we make a clear distinction between where work stops and life starts. 

It is possible to have a company that actually, genuinely, and with a full heart, gives a shit about their employees. That’s the company we are striving to build – we’re not perfect, but we’re a damn sight closer to it than your average startup. The kind of culture that we have built at Tyk isn’t something you can design or workshop – it has to come from every single member of the company, it has to radiate in the DNA of those that make up the greater whole. 

I think the proudest I’ve ever been, is when some of our career moms released this blog post about how they work at Tyk. As someone whose own mother was the main breadwinner of the family, it affected me way more than I had expected it to, because there was suddenly some real validation for the fact that we had done the right thing, that we had built something to be really proud of. Not just a great API management product, but a company full of great people, who are helping us build a better way to do business.