CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Alok Kulkarni, CEO & Co-Founder of Cyara

Alok Kulkarni is the CEO and Co-Founder of Melbourne-founded company Cyara, a CX Assurance platform provider that accelerates the delivery of flawless customer journeys across digital and voice channels while reducing the risk of customer-facing defects.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m the CEO and co-founder of Australian-based customer experience (CX) assurance platform provider, Cyara. Cyara was founded with a vision to improve customer experience. We help companies, including Telstra, eBay and ANZ Bank, build and maintain their CX systems more efficiently with automated testing and monitoring. 

Cyara was launched in Melbourne in 2006. I remain here as CEO, however ​​our headquarters is now in Silicon Valley and we have more than 250 staff around the world.

I love being a CEO but I’m also an engineer at heart, having held various roles at National Australia Bank, NEC, Lincolne Scott, and Boral Building Technologies. At Genesys, I was Director, Solutions Engineering, where I led the team that architected contact centre solutions for the Asia Pacific market.

In 1996 I landed a job with a Japanese software development company and met Luan Tran. We were both passionate about engineering and formed a partnership. In our spare time we built a medical practice management software system before pivoting to hotel management software – but we made mistakes along the way and both ventures failed. 

In 2006 we struck on the idea for a “digital mystery shopper” that tests customer communication platforms, such as call centres and AI chat systems, using software and tailored algorithms. Rather than leaving customers frustrated because an automated system doesn’t work, we would test it digitally and quickly find and address faults. Cyara was born. It was an exciting moment because the idea was original and, unlike previous ventures, we knew our market inside-out. 

Cyara forged an early lead in the contact centre testing market, which Forrester estimates will reach US $6.5 billion by 2024. I’m relieved to say our determination to keep trying paid off! 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

A typical day for me begins around 5.30am with meditation. Doing this helps keep me focused for the rest of the day.

I start work at 7am. There’s limited overlap between US and Australia time zones so starting early means I can get that all important time in with the North America team. We do group and 1:1 video meetings and then I kick off my day with the Australia team at 9am.

I generally don’t have breakfast as I practise intermittent fasting. I prepare my lunch in advance but tend to have it on the go. I’m always available on emails as I collaborate with teams across India, Europe and the US.

Meetings are busy and sometimes back-to-back. I try to stay focused and compress everything in a period of time so I can pick my son up from the train station on his way back from school around 3.40pm. Slowing down the pace of work late afternoon is key to balancing out a busy start to the day and transitioning into family-time. 

Family is extremely important to me so I make sure we spend quality time together every evening, whether it’s eating dinner, watching TV or playing a board game. 

Regular exercise helps me stay fit both mentally and physically so I head to the gym around 8.30pm before getting my rest in from 10.30pm.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I’m proud to say Cyara had flexible and remote working arrangements in place many years before the pandemic struck. So when work from home orders came in, there was little we needed to do. 

We’ve worked hard to bring a global team together, providing ample opportunities for people across cities, countries and continents to communicate with each other. I regularly run small audience town halls and all-hands meetings to make sure I’m not the one left out of the loop! We’ve also just started to meet again face to face, bringing our regional teams together to build those social bonds. 

Establishing an overlap during business hours across time zones allows teams to meet with one another regularly without scheduling calls at unsociable hours, which can compromise work-life balance. 

Without the added pressure of commuting to and from the office, I can also be more involved with the family and do things like cook dinner, which I really value.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

In the past I wore multitasking as a “badge of honour”, but in reality I wasn’t being present around my family and things were actually taking me longer. 

There’s always so much to do but to really achieve work-life balance you have to decide what’s important to you and be determined enough to say no to things that don’t make the cut. 

Building a business comes at a cost but you can’t let that cost be your family. Something else has got to give. So while I love sport, reading fiction and playing games, these activities have taken a backseat. 

‘Bucket’ five things you want to do each day, decide how much time you want to spend on them and then say no to the rest. This way, you can ensure what you do, you’ll do well. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I started having more one-on-one “walking” meetings with team members. Video calling can make you sedentary for long periods of time so going back to audio-only means I can walk while I work. It’s a good way to take a breather, get in some exercise and help break up the monotony of back-to-back meetings.

Asynchronous messaging has become a preferred use of communication. It’s a non-invasive way to keep in touch with my team. I can let people know what I want to meet with them in advance and vice versa, without the expectation of an immediate response or conversation. 

Good meeting hygiene has also become paramount. I’m the first to try and reduce meetings from 60 minutes down to the 30 minutes where possible and, if a meeting finishes early, no one is held hostage! 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I read and listen to anything I can learn from.

Podcasts on leadership, business and technology include Peter Diamandis, Brené Brown, Tim Ferris, Reid Hoffman (Masters of Scale) and Tom Bilyeu (Impact Theory).

I also read a lot of books on self-help, health and mindfulness as well as books on business and building companies. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Apps like Signal are perfect for messaging while Gmail, LinkedIn, MindNode and Apple Notes help me with my day-to-day work. I also rely on the Apple Reminders app to keep me on track. 

On a fitness level, I can’t do without the Apple Fitness and Insight Timer apps, which help with health and meditation. 

In my downtime I also use a journaling app called DayOne, as well as a chess app which helps me de-stress.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be? 

I think Simon Sinek has a great approach to work-life balance, but in general you have to find what works best for you. I try to aim for 8 hours’ work, 8 hours’ family time or recreation, and 8 hours’ rest. I don’t always achieve it, but having that goal is important.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Life is busy and there’s always so much to do, but there are only 24 hours in a day. Never underestimate how vital sleep is to rest, grow and rejuvenate. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.