Legends of Tech
A weekly podcast where Chris Georgellis interviews people across the tech industry. From veterans, to hall of famers, day to day tech industry people as well up and comers. Get to know them as individuals, find out what drives them, how they got into tech, and what they see now.
This week's guest: Krishna Zulkarnain, APAC Marketing Manager at Cloudflare.
Welcome everyone to Legends of Tech on Cloudflare TV. I'm joined today by a super legend himself.
He's a killer creative marketeer from SalesRoots. He's worked at awesome brands such as LinkedIn, Google, Viacom and Unilever.
He tells an awesome dad joke so I'm hoping I'll hear one today.
And he's also got a degree in applied science.
Please welcome Krishna. Thank you for having me. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Chris.
How are you doing? Thanks for joining me today, mate. This has been a making for about the last eight weeks because the baby came and I was on paternity leave but now it's really it's a real pleasure to have you on the show, mate.
So thank you so much for your time. Thank you, no worries. Good, mate. So look, like all things, the thing that I'm always curious about is how do people get into the tech sector and more importantly, what's your, you know, I'd love to hear your story and how you actually got into tech and what led you to the technology sector?
My journey, yeah. I took the long way in, by the way. It was not a natural fit, like going straight into tech.
I was never been a techie growing up. I was more, you know, going outside, playing with the maids, playing sports, basketball.
That was my thing. I was just, I used to be a jock kind of a thing. But when I graduated from university, my first job was an old school job.
Like I've been always, I was always been in sales and marketing.
And my first job was a hardcore old school marketing job, which is Unilever, right, which is one of the biggest FMCGs in the world.
So my first job out of uni was as a management trainee.
And I was sent, I was, I grew up in Holland. So I'm Dutch. And then when, then they sent me to Jakarta for my first assignment.
So I was selling shampoos, man.
I was like selling shampoos in the back of a truck, going to the warehouses, loading in my daily, whatever, detergents, shampoos, soaps, and sell it to the wet markets.
That's what, that's, that was my first job, that it was old school. So I learned a lot about distribution networks.
I learned a lot about supply chain, manufacturing, learning from the factories and the hardcore salespeople.
So I started, that's where I started my first gig in marketing.
And I did some, some sales gigs there as well.
Okay. That's great. And how, and how long were you, how long were you at Unilever for?
That was a good five years. So for management trainee to assistant manager to a brand manager, I launched my, my first product that I've launched.
And it was all, of course, all consumer was, was a shampoo brand called Lifebuoy.
I can still remember it. It was, they moved from categories. They used to have a soap and then they went into the, went into the, the, what is it?
The shampoo business.
And then I launched that brand. So it was a good, you know, it was, was a good learning experience.
I learned the fundamentals of marketing. I learned hard work.
I really learned how, that's where my grit comes from. So I was really selling it to the wet markets in Indonesia.
And Unilever also sent me to, to the Philippines to, to stay there and live and learn from their markets as well.
Because they were like the pioneers in, in sachets and small sizes and finding like a profitability in the bottom of the pyramid type of things, because not a lot of people can afford a full bottle of shampoo kind of a thing.
So it was a really, really good learning experience.
But from there, I, I, I, after five years, it was back in the, like, what's really late, like mid nineties, MTV was still a big brand.
Well, it's still like a very aspirational brand where they still play, you know, music videos or music that I understand.
And then they had a great new marketing role open for me.
And I thought, you know what, let me give that a shot. And that's what I actually started gradually to the first person in the, in, in, in television.
And then I moved to Telco and from that Telco was in the Blackberry era.
It was just moving into 3G, Internet is coming up. And that's where I started slowly turning into tech as being, Hey, you know what, this is actually a quite neat industry, right?
When I was in the Telco, I was providing the last mile connectivity.
You get, no, you learn from the engineers, you learn about handphones, you learn about the Internet and how that, all that stuff works.
And that's what I gradually like, Hey, you know what tech, I think is the industry there that I need to explore.
But again, I wasn't actively pursuing it. All of a sudden I got a call, an email from a recruiter saying, you know, Google is making some big investments in the region, especially in Singapore.
And would you like to interview for Google?
That was of course, like if Google was the number one company in the world at that time, I was such a good press, of course, in the forefront of, of, of the tech industry, the innovations.
And then as a professional, you, you heard all those urban legends and myths about all the benefits that you get when you're working at Google, right?
Especially from, you know, going into a background for Unilever and everything, those benefits are like, no, this is out of the world.
There's no way this is real, right? This is all fantasy.
So you're always curious. The open kitchen, all that sort of stuff, right?
Exactly. The free lunches, all the benefits and the perks and et cetera. So yeah.
So when, when the opportunity came, I, I hadn't had any doubt. I was like, okay, this is, if the number one company in the world touched your shoulder, I said like, would you like to come in and explore an opportunity?
Of course you'll be a fool to, to, to not like, you know, aggressively pursue that.
So I went through the whole interviewing process and that's what I got in.
And that's, that's my first journey into big tech.
And I didn't look back ever since. And this is the industry and the, and the thing in the sector that I'm most comfortable with.
That's brilliant. So look, tell me about, so, you know, from Unilever, it's actually interesting.
I don't know if you've, I've read this book called Plane to Win, and they talk about P&G and how they execute it in the marketplace.
And, you know, I think a lot of the things that happen in that space, I mean, it's, you know, quite an aggressive market and it's probably a good foundation.
And there's some things that I learned from that book that, you know, we've, I've applied into the technology area, but how did you go from, how did you actually find the opportunity at Viacom?
Like what was the, what made you make the switch and how did you go from one completely different business to another?
What, how did you do that?
Yeah. So it was, again, I'm not sure it was a sliding moment, a sliding door moment for me or not, but I was like Unilever, especially in a country like Indonesia, we're the number one advertiser in that country, right?
So as a number one advertiser, I get to meet a lot of people, especially from the agency world and from the broadcast world, right?
Because the broadcasters are doing their TV pitches to us.
They're doing the pitch of new programs and the new shows. And then they come together with my brand agencies to start pitching about the right media mixes and what properties we should get involved in and, you know, what media properties our brand need to be attached with, right?
And one of them, one of them was of course Viacom because with MTV, our Unilever brands are heavy advertisers with that because we have a lot of youth brands that we advertise.
So I get to know the MTV guys quite a bit from a client perspective.
I'm the client and they're the broadcaster.
So then, and of course I was invited in some of those legendary, you know, MTV parties in Bangkok and all that stuff.
So I get to know the guys a little bit better.
And then when they started having a senior role in the ad sales business and they were looking at somebody that built their enterprise or large client base.
So they're like, Hey, why don't we try to hire somebody that was from that sector, from that large client?
So then, so I helped them go after the PNGs of the world, go after the big brands and then make some connections there.
So that's how they offered me the role.
It was just, I remember it was just a discussion with the head of Viacom in Jakarta, one phone call with the head of Viacom in Singapore and that's it.
Right. That's brilliant. And the rest is history. So you go to Viacom and then you make the jump to Google.
Tell me, what was it like joining Google at the time you joined?
Because as we all know, Google's on a massive, or they're still on a massive trajectory.
They're a huge brand. It was the best time of my life.
It was really, really good. Google was a big brand in America, but it wasn't that big of a brand anywhere else.
When I joined here in Google Singapore, I think less than 200 people was there.
So it was less than 200 people.
Right now they're like 5,000, 6 ,000, by the way. So it was like less than 200.
We were in a smaller office somewhere in an older building. So we didn't, it wasn't like the big Google office with all the bells and whistles and playrooms and gyms.
It was even before that era. But I felt a lot of collaboration, camaraderie, especially in this region.
And we haven't launched in Indonesia yet. We haven't launched in Malaysia yet.
So there's a lot of countries we haven't launched officially Google yet.
So then I was part of the ASEAN team that started launching those new markets.
And that was pretty, pretty exciting. It was a really small, close-knit group that did everything.
We were just like a Swiss army knife. We need to scout.
We need to look for connections. Mate, so when I opened up the Indonesian market, I signed the business license for Google, for Indonesia.
It's my name and my signature in the Google license.
Google is opening up in Indonesia. This is the business license.
We need to have an Indonesian. And I was the only Indonesian on the ground.
That would be surreal. I'm writing a piece of paper saying, all right, Google, we're now in Indonesia.
That's amazing. So it was a really good time.
We felt that we all in it together. We felt that we're the one in the market making change happen.
And then connecting to the HQ and the mothership, as we call it, was a big challenge because that, of course, we are very, very small market in a big engine called Google.
So there was a lot of challenges in making sure that you have the right resources and the right level of awareness of what's happening to that sense.
And we're always fighting about resources between us and EMEA and all that stuff.
So there's a lot of challenges, but that was the first taste I have of being in a hyper growth mode and building something from scratch.
So that's what excites.
But on the negative side, you know, I can still remember the first time I went to the Googleplex, the first time I met a lot of people here.
And I was just like, so blown away with the level of talent that they have gathered.
Such a smart group, a group of smart people, talented people, driven, self-motivated people.
I've never experienced that in all my previous roles. And I was just astonished of the quality of people that Google managed to assemble.
And I remember for at least three months, I had this sort of imposter syndrome.
Like, do I really belong here?
Like, if I voice my opinion, will they laugh at me? Will they, you know, take my opinion at face value or do they understand it comes with a wealth of experience in Indonesia and all that stuff?
You always have that self-doubt that that was actually for a good quarter or even more so, where I felt like I don't belong here.
I'm an imposter. I hope I'm not going to get fired tomorrow. You know what I mean?
Because it was just like, and then especially when my first trip to San Francisco for Google.
And then, you know, I was just awestruck. I was just like starstruck sometimes because I see those guys that I always see on TV and all the business magazines.
And I saw Sergey. I was just like meeting a rock star. I was just like, that type of feeling was there.
And so that was a big challenge and a big, big adjustment for me.
How did you overcome your imposter syndrome? I mean, you said it took you three months.
Did you have to dig deep? I mean, what techniques did you use?
Because I know you hear a lot of, I've heard of this imposter syndrome. I've suffered it myself at times in my career.
It's not many people talk about it because it's sort of this sort of a new thing that, not new thing, but something that's come up.
How did you overcome the self-doubt during that time? Yeah. So at first I thought I just need to prep more for everything.
So I thought I was doing that the right thing about, I need to prep, I need to prep.
But then I come to a point that I over prep and I'm overthinking and I'm overanalyzing things.
So I threw that away.
I was like, hey, you know what? You just have to trust in yourself and be confident.
And what helps is just for me at least, make sure that you have very quickly small wins under your belt, right?
With having that small wins under your belt, you build not only your own confidence level up, but then you show other people as well that, hey, you know what?
I can deliver. And I've been able to progress using the small wins.
And then you come to a point where you build your reputation and your confidence level, then you're like, hey, you know what?
This is just not a job and we just need to do your job well.
And then you start from there.
So just give it some time. I think at first I was so afraid of it. But then I also, I forgot what book it was.
It was a seminar that I read that was quite common. I just embraced it.
Everybody goes through that. Yeah. That's really good. I mean, it's, you know, I think a lot of those things, I mean, that's really good advice because a lot of people, like, you know, to think about your background and where you came from, you need to leave a icon in Google.
How did you, I guess, how did you transition from, I guess, those different organizations to Google?
I mean, did the skill sets carry across?
Did you have to retrain yourself in a particular area? What was your process to go from, you know, a very, very different business all the way to Google?
What was that process like? Well, I'm not sure it was like a conscious process, but it's just like a gradual process that just happened this way, I guess.
Again, I wasn't actively pursuing Google. I wasn't even knowing they were hiring aggressively and the recruiter just tap out in my shoulder kind of a thing.
But I just quickly recognized that although we come from two different industries, from FMCG, et cetera, that are really universal for me.
From a tech to manufacture things, learning supply chain and learning how to brand products, that is universal, I think.
It's just like they use different terminologies, but the logic is there, right?
It's basically a form of algorithm because it's a dance and it's a choreographed dance.
Every piece needs to go work hand in hand for an idea or a product to exist from an idea to an R&D all the way to the supply chain and the marketing to end in the end consumer hands, right?
It's a dance. It's a choreographed dance that you need to have.
Similarly to the industry that we are in, when we're shipping products, it's also a choreographed dance, right?
The only thing is that we don't have to physically ship.
You can just have it online and that's the beauty of tech where you cut off the middleman, which is the supply chain, right?
You can create something, put it online and somebody can access it directly, right?
And that's why you have to such a fast speed to market, et cetera. And that's why the stakes are higher because you have a direct relationship with your end consumer, right?
Yeah, which is great. And so in terms of, I guess, being two different companies, I mean, how different was the dance in both organizations?
I mean, you've got a very mature Unilever that's been around for years and years and years, and then you've got this young coming in.
What was that like to experience?
The biggest difference was the speed of how you can impact somebody's life.
And until now, that's one of the main reasons I'm in tech, to be honest.
The speed between ideation to actually reaching out your end consumer and changing their lives for the better, right?
That speed is unparalleled. In all the other manufacturing, old school supply chain based manufacturing businesses, there's a huge time from when you ideate to have it actually launched and be landing in people's hands, takes a long time.
It could be four quarters in, right? Building the mold, building the products, getting the raw materials in, creating a marketing campaign, all this stuff takes a lot of time to do that.
Us in tech, we don't have that, right?
So the speed of how we do business is one thing. The other thing is in a short amount of time reaching, and I'm talking from a Google perspective, products that changes people's life by the millions instantly, that is what makes me up at night.
And that's what we do in tech. Like in Cloudflare, we protect so many livelihoods.
We protect so many web properties. People are doing businesses on the web.
They have the education online. They have the entertainment online.
There's a lot of things happening online right now, which we make sure never goes down.
We make sure that it's always protected. We make sure that that user experience is always at an optimum level, right?
So that's what we do every day.
And that's what excites me. And at that scale, only the tech industry can do that.
Yeah, that's amazing. So you spent a few years at Google, and then from there, you went to LinkedIn.
What was that like? I mean, you achieved what you achieved at Google.
You went on the massive ride, and then you've gone to pretty much another juggernaut of the tech company.
So what was that like? And how did that path go about?
That was mainly a personal fact. You know, you have a career blueprint.
Everybody has like a career blueprint, or you align yourself to a career that you want, and you make sure that you're actively trying to course your career in a path that you would like, right?
Similar to a career blueprint, I have a family blueprint.
So at that time, I have two kids.
I have lived in Singapore, but then I moved back to open up Google Indonesia.
And I crossed like 10 years in Indonesia. I moved from Holland to Jakarta in early 2000s.
And then in 2010, 2011, I went to Google. So I really felt that raising a family, Jakarta, raising a family can be very challenging.
There's a lot of traffic, there's a lot of uncertainty. So I felt that I felt it was time for me to explore.
I had lived in other countries before, and I loved Singapore, Singapore for the fact of raising a family.
So I was actively going after a role in Singapore.
So at Google, there was a lot of things not going my way in terms of the right moment, the right seniority, or the right role that allows me to move back to Singapore.
But there was always my family blueprint, let's do it, let's do it.
And there was always like, okay, next quarter, let's see if there's a role opening up for you in Singapore, etc.
But that never actually materializes.
But then, again, another sliding door moment, perhaps. A friend of mine in Singapore was contacted by a recruiter saying that, hey, LinkedIn, they want to hire the first marketing manager at LinkedIn in Singapore, would you like to get the job?
And again, she said, I'm very happy with where I'm at right now, the job that she has was great, and exactly what she wants.
But I know this great guy out of Indonesia, that is looking to a job, moving to Singapore, perhaps he's interested.
So based on that referral, the LinkedIn recruiter, based out of Sydney, by the way, gave me a call.
And that's how it all happened. So it was all the boxes, it was based out of Singapore, I can take my family there.
It was my first regional role, by the way, I always worked with the Indonesian market as the expert.
But it was time for me after 10 years working that market, I want to have a regional role.
And it was a regional role. And it's not only regional for ASEAN, it was a regional role for Asia Pacific.
So it hits really, really good boxes, of course.
So that fits and that being LinkedIn, it was just icing on the cake, I guess.
Awesome. So you've gone from, you know, being specialized within Indonesia, now you're looking after all of Asia pack.
What was that like to go? All right, well, now, how do I apply my logic to all these different markets, different countries, different cultures, different everything?
How was, how did you approach that? And what was that like to do?
Yeah, it was, it was, it was quite, I wouldn't say challenging, it was a very interesting process there.
I just quickly realized that, okay, I have this basic set of skills, right, working one market.
And I have deep knowledge in terms of the all aspects of marketing, especially for both B2C and B2B marketing.
But then when I start building my team from scratch at LinkedIn, and working different markets, I just realized and I realized it quickly, by the way.
So that was, it was, it was like a big struggle for me, like to, to, the coin fell really, really quickly there.
It's just to, hey, if you built your team from scratch and you build a team in, in, in those localized markets, you better, you know, hide an expert, making sure they know what they're doing and trust them.
That's a big word, trust. And, and for me, if I'm the hiring manager and I make the call to offer that person a job, it means that they already have my trust.
They don't need to prove their trust to me. So I have from day one, I'm, I'm trusting you because I'm giving you that job, right?
So trust for me is a big thing, because I know that I cannot trust myself to create one marketing plan that is relevant for a city like Bangalore and also a city, Sydney, and also one in Seoul and making sure that all those marketing plans are relevant and in line with the, with the local business cultures and all that stuff, right?
There's no way I can do that.
So realizing that if LinkedIn expect me to be the one that driving strategy for all those markets, then by far, I'm not the right person to do that because I don't have that knowledge.
But if I hire somebody to do that from day one, they have my trust.
So I just need to move out of the way and let them handle their own portfolio or their own business unit, right?
And that's how I run until today. That's how I run my stuff.
Super important. I think that's something that a lot of people forget.
They think they have, have the answer for everything, especially being in those leadership roles, but you're spot on and you've got to get the right people that understand that particular, that have that skillset to do that.
And, you know, you raise a good point, just get out of the way, trust them.
You've hired them for a reason and let them run. If you don't trust them, why hire them?
You're the hiring manager, right? And all you need to do is make sure that they are set up for success, right?
So then you, but the biggest challenge, I guess for me is to hold back my urges or my instinct to step in.
That's the only thing, like me as a personality, I'm more of a problem solver, right?
That's how I'm built.
That's how my thinking is. And your first reaction is, okay, let me come in and fix things, right?
That's just my personality. And my wife hates it for it, but it's a different story.
I don't need you to fix this. I just want you to. I think we have the same issue.
You're not here to solve a problem for me. You're there to listen.
Okay. Yeah. Okay. All right. But I thought you called me. If you try this.
We're digressing. Yeah.
But that's the biggest thing, especially like, you know, stepping in, I think it's the biggest mistake.
All I can offer is that, hey, you know, I'll offer them the advice based on my experience.
These are the follow-up steps that perhaps would lead you to a more, a better outcome, but they just have to do it themselves.
That's brilliant. That's brilliant. Hey, we've got a few minutes to go.
There's one, there's a couple of things I still want to ask you. And I'm probably going to have to ask you, we're going to have to probably do a part two of this call because there's so many things that we haven't covered, but in terms of advice, so, you know, like all things you said, you didn't go through a traditional route, but you had a plan sort of in terms of where you wanted to go.
What's your advice to, I guess, either people that are starting off in the career or even people that are in a position where they're like, you know what, I'm not sure whether or not I should make a change or do certain things.
What sort of words of wisdom do you have that you can pass on to the community?
Yeah, sure. I guess there's a couple of advices that people that are of high importance for me gave me and it's still stuck in my head.
Following your, what you just mentioned about advice or people who want to make that switch or want to go over, I think one of the earliest advices was the CEO of Unilever Indonesia of all people.
And I was still a management trainee and he gave me a piece of advice that really stuck with me.
He said that us joining Unilever, it's a bit of a privilege where it means that you have choices in life and not a lot of people in the world has choices, right?
And that's a privilege that you are granted or that you have in your life that you're actually one of the few people in the world, especially in the context of Indonesia, India, and all the other developing countries, in that context is that we are very select few, should be privileged not to have choices.
And he actually said this when I was a management trainee.
He said, if you have a bad day at work, everybody has a bad day, right?
It happens. But if you have a bad day for five consecutive days, a week, or perhaps two weeks of bad days, be aware that you have a choice and perhaps this is not the right path for you.
So my point is saying, if you think that you're doing a switch and you're not comfortable in the role, and it's more for a long time, then be aware that you have choices.
And why do you put yourself into this and just go, perhaps this is not a path.
That's really, really good advice.
And this is not a knock on capabilities. It's just everybody has a different path.
But you should upgrade that you have that choice and pursue the path that you go after.
So yeah, that's probably the advice that I can give.
And the other advice is actually one of my uncles was an entrepreneur. And I was also like, I was in university, didn't know what I want to go and what job I want to do.
And his best advice is for me that Chris, the only thing is, if you want to go for a job, you want to go for a role, you want to go for a career, the only advice that I can give you is whatever you do, be a professional.
So you can be if you want to be a CEO, go for a CEO, you want to go into marketing, go if you want to be a janitor, you want to be a food delivery guy, whatever you want to be, you want to go in the restaurant, whatever you do, just make sure that you're professional, you know, show up with integrity, show up with honesty and be kind to people and you'll do well.
So you should be a professional at it.
So that's why I always try to live by. Krishna, great, great way to cap off the session.
I just wanted to thank you dearly for being part of the show. I've learned so much about you today.
I'm sure the rest of the people have learned as well.
So mate, hopefully we can have another session. Thank you so much for your time.
Viewers, thank you again for joining us and see you next time.