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Interviews / Founders

Balancing the Grind with Gordon Tay, Co-Founder of Surer

Gordon Tay is the co-founder of Surer, a cloud-based, web platform that helps all parties in the General Insurance segment automate processes.

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

Prior to co-founding Surer, and going back 10 years, I held roles in startups (back then) like PropertyGuru and Carousell that have now grown to be unicorns today. I joined these companies at a rather early stage, where employee sizes were between 50 – 100.

During both stints, I had the opportunity to interact quite closely with the founders and was hugely inspired by their spirit, drive and more importantly, the lasting impact they were able to create – the property industry for PropertyGuru and the way people buy and sell items at Carousell. 

Was well and truly bitten by the ‘startup bug’ in my time at both companies and developed ambitions to be able to work on my own startup and be able to make as much of an impact as did the founders at PropertyGuru and Carousell.

My co-founder Derren, who was also my college classmate, had spent his entire career in the insurance industry across multiple roles including claims, underwriting and business development. He is our subject matter expert.

In one of our regular catch ups, he started sharing about the many inefficiencies the industry was facing and some pain points he personally thought could be solved with tech – we decided there and then that this was something that would be meaningful to solve for – to elevate and modernise a traditional yet hugely important industry.

We realised we needed someone who had prior experience running a startup from scratch and thus roped in our third co-founder, Renfred. Renfred is also my brother and the timing was just right as he was in the midst of exiting a vendtech startup he had angel invested in and subsequently joined as COO of. 

My current role as co-founder of Surer sees me in charge of product and marketing 

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 involves a mix of jumping on both internal and external calls/meetings, executing on my own marketing role and as product owner, work with the developers to execute on our sprints

As a co-founder of a startup, it is inescapable that you wear multiple hats – this is something my co-founders have had to do as well. Not only multiple hats, we expect to also get our hands dirty and execute along with the team.

This gives us a good view of what is happening on the ground which then becomes valuable insights as we wear the business-building, strategic lens and think more visionary / big picture

My calls/meetings can range from something as broad as engaging with investors to something as focused as working with our team to discuss tactical matters. Similarly, with my role overseeing product and marketing, it could be at a birds’ eye level of planning for the 2-3year out product roadmap to working on product design with the UI/UX folks

Recent work day:

  • 2-3 hours of calls
  • 2-3 hours working on marketing campaign collaterals
  • 1-2 hours on sprint planning with the product and tech team 
  • 1-2 hours project management work with an Insurer partner

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

Yes, my current role allows for remote working for sure – as with all roles within the team! I suppose this is something rather commonplace given the pandemic and the fact we are a tech company and anyone can do awesome work as long as they have their laptops and a good internet connection.

Since we launched Surer right in the midst of the pandemic, our working arrangements have always been a hybrid one i.e. Mondays and Fridays are office days whilst Tuesdays – Thursday we leave it to everyone to decide if they want to work-from-home/anywhere or come in to office

While I did mention that everyone is able to work effectively without having to come into a physical office, we also see that face-to-face interaction does drive greater camaraderie amongst team members which ultimately elevates their sense of belonging and motivation as well. We try to arrange internal meetings on office days as well. We are definitely for flexible, remote working – however, we also see value in physical interactions, thus, a hybrid approach.

Personally, I choose to come into the office daily – I realised that mentally, it does help to keep my private space (i.e. home) private and detached from work.

During the lockdown in Singapore where everyone had to work from home by default, it almost felt like I was working 24/7 because my home was my office and when I wanted to take time out to relax I found myself still thinking about work!

I see a couple of the guys choosing to come into the office on a daily basis as well – some shared a similar reason to mine and some shared it was as simple as coming to office means free aircon (for context, Singapore is hot/humid all year round and does not have 4 seasons)!

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

I feel work-life balance is a state of mind – It is not something that you can structure or quantify

You can physically extract yourself from work and go on a holiday but if your mind is still not disconnected from work, then you are essentially still bearing the burden of that situation.

Similarly, some people love their work so much that they find joy in immersing themselves in what they are doing. Having said that, nothing (regardless work, eating habits, routines etc.), when taken to either extremes, can be healthy.

As such, I believe the ability to achieve work-life balance is really down to the individual – it is having the ability to compartmentalise this and the discipline to know to stop oneself from going to either extremes.

Having said that, I do believe that the company and the culture plays a huge part in helping an individual be able to achieve such. 

How Surer as a company tries to achieve this is to be realistic in terms of timelines we set – be it for the amount of work that goes into a sprint for developers or what we commit to our users and partners.

Of course, when we set realistic timelines and goals, we also do so with the mindset that if the team is able to achieve their goals ahead of time that they would not rest on their laurels – this is where culture comes into play; a culture of trust, support and transparency means team members do not second guess the intentions of one another. Essentially, no toxic thoughts like ‘I think he could have pushed harder but he did not’ or ‘I think she is setting too easy of a goal’.

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

One thing that I started (and thankfully stuck to) was going on hikes/walks in nature parks every weekend with the family

With the pandemic and lack of opportunities for leisure travel, we thought it’ll be a good idea to be a tourist in our own country

Started to realise how therapeutic such an activity could be – just disconnecting myself for a bit from work, immerse myself with nature and just spend good quality time with the family without any distractions

Coincidentally, we just started doing the same at our company as well, knocking off 1.5hours early on Fridays to go for walks with the team!

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

Not really a book / podcast person though I do occasionally listen in on insurtech related conversations on clubhouse

Do love watching biographical documentaries though – always feel there is something to be learnt or be inspired by, looking at another person’s life and learning their story

While many of these would inescapably be historical and based on hindsight, I have learnt that while specific situations may differ, context can be very similar to the era we live in. This then makes things very interesting for me; getting a peek into the thought process of another person can be hugely valuable in my own learning journey, especially if parallels can be drawn.

The most recent documentary I watched and had a strong impression of was ‘Schumacher’ on Netflix. Was rather inspired by Michael Schumacher’s indomitable spirit, his drive for perfection and most importantly appetite to take on challenges.

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

Nothing interesting here and probably similar to many – my smartphone!

It is just mind-blowing how ONE device can really control almost everything you do / need. My parents used to remind me to not ‘forget to bring your wallet and keys when you leave home’ – today, quite literally, all you need is your smartphone – you can pay and unlock the house doors with it. Of course, and needless to say, with the pandemic, scanning in and out of public places!

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

My mum and dad! 

They have been two hugely inspirational figures in my life. They didn’t come from much and like most working-class adults, had to work hard for everything they (and the family) have in life. 

Of course, they are now at a much more comfortable stage in life but how they managed to balance the stress of work, providing for the family and yet be able to find joy in life is just inspiring.

We do not converse much about our own work life when we see each other but it will definitely be interesting to read about their views on such!

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.