Why joining a start-up was the right path for me: Allan Teng

Why Allan Teng joined Workato

Thinking of joining a startup full-time, but not sure if it’s the right option for you? Allan Teng joined Workato as an intern in 2014 and is now the Founder and Managing Director of Workato Asia-Pacific & Japan. He is all too familiar with the thrills and perils of building a company from scratch. Having contributed to Workato’s growth from dark horse to unicorn rocketship, we pick his brain on how he found purpose and fulfillment building a team in Asia Pacific, from the ground up.

What brought you to Workato as an intern?

When I was looking for an overseas internship via the National University of Singapore’s Overseas College (NOC) programme, I was approached by Vijay Tella and Gautham Viswanathan, the co-founders of Workato. Back then, I knew nothing about the enterprise integration and automation space, and Workato didn’t even have a proper website that I could refer to! After chatting with Vijay and Gautham about their rich backgrounds in the technology sector and their vision for Workato, I was inspired by the potential of transforming the future of work with a team of world-class experts. Hence, I took a leap of faith, and interned with them at Silicon Valley for an entire year.

What was it like interning at a startup that barely anyone knew about?

When people talk about Silicon Valley, the luxurious facilities that MNCs like Apple and Google have naturally come to mind. On the other hand, my first day as a Workato intern was spent assembling furniture that Vijay had bought from IKEA for our new office space!

Being a Workato intern in the early days meant being a jack of many trades. For the longest time, calls made to the Workato company phone were routed to my personal mobile number, and I became the first point of contact for all queries from business development, sales, marketing, to customer support. But that simultaneous exposure to multiple aspects of the company’s business operations taught me a lot, and I am grateful for it.

Picture of Allan Teng sitting at a desk

That sounds really tough for an internship! What kept you going during that one year, and why did you stay on full-time afterwards?

I was entrusted with work that I knew was crucial to the company’s day-to-day operations — be it pitching the Workato platform to prospective customers, or processing payment for customers who decided to come onboard. Workato gave me responsibilities that other employers might have given only to full-time staff, and I’m proud to say that this trust continues to be placed in the interns that join us today. This culture of trust is the foundation of our people policy here at Workato and continues to empower and enable our employees to thrive.

When my internship ended, Workato had made some significant strides forward in the technology space, but it was clear that the company still had a long way to go. It felt like I had helped to plant a sprout, but had yet to see it blossom into a tree. Hence, when the opportunity to stay on full-time arose, I grabbed it.

Taking on a role at a startup is tough because of the sheer demands of building the company’s foundations from scratch. How did you make it sustainable for yourself?

Actually, the fondest memories that I have of Workato are the in-between moments that I shared with my colleagues when we first started the Singapore office in 2015. Back then, we were still servicing the US market, so we were effectively working from 10pm to 6am. Every now and then, someone would randomly organise a chit chat huddle, or air fry chicken nuggets for everyone else. And when work ended at 6am, we went for breakfast together.

A picture with the Workato team in Singapore

The camaraderie that we built through sharing these in-between moments together made me look forward to going to work, no matter how tired I was. It’s important to work hard, but it’s equally important to have colleagues with whom you enjoy being around! While the company has made massive strides since — we’ve doubled our headcount and expanded into the APAC and Japan regions — we still work hard to sustain this camaraderie and ethos of care that kept us going in the company’s early days.

7 years on, you are now the Managing Director for the APJ region. How has hustling in those early years influenced your leadership style?

As a leader, how much you know matters less than whether you are able to empower your team to contribute to the table as equals, because my teammates are more knowledgeable and capable in many things that I’m not.

A picture of Workato employees at a holiday party

Although the Workato family is now exponentially larger than when I first joined, one thing that has never changed is the culture of collaboration. When the staff size grows, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working in silos, or taking top-down orders unquestioningly. I love that here at Workato, we communicate openly when we disagree on something—and it’s through these disagreements that we discover more about each other’s beliefs, and even ourselves. It is this culture of openness, honesty, and trust that makes Workato an empowering place to work at.

What advice do you have for people considering starting their careers at a startup?

Inevitably, there will be uncertainties working at a startup. Will the pay and benefits be commensurate with the amount of effort I have to put in? Will I be stretched too thin from being a jack of multiple trades, and burn out while on the job? Those are valid concerns, but there are two questions that I feel give a clear sense of direction amidst all the other grey areas. Firstly, does the company sell a product or service that you believe in? Secondly, will you be working with leaders who care for their colleagues, and know what they are doing?

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then I think it’s worth taking that leap of faith. The beautiful thing about joining a startup is that job scopes and career progression paths are highly fluid and can be negotiated a lot more easily. If anything, I’m glad that I wore multiple hats during Workato’s early years, because it has helped me finetune what I’m good at and passionate about contributing to, and what I can and should entrust my team with.

Interested in joining the Workato team? Check out our open positions!