A tale of two phones: A day in the life of Ankur Sinha, CTO of Remitly
- Ankur Sinha is CTO of Remitly, a fintech company focused on international transfers.
- But for Ankur, being tech-focused doesn’t mean losing sight of the customer – or missing out on family time. With an early start and a steady routine, here’s how he makes it work.
Remitly is a financial services company that focuses on remittances. With its recent expansion to New Zealand and Japan, the company has certainly been keeping busy.
Leading all things technology at the fintech firm is CTO Ankur Sinha.
An engineering veteran with experience both at Microsoft and Google, Sinha has quite the track record in the world of tech.
And he’s no stranger to startup life, either – in 2002, he co-founded a New Delhi-based startup called R A Systems, which built turn-key applications and products for large organizations in India. Ankur served as CTO for the company for over four years.
When it comes to managing a pivotal role in a company as busy as Remitly, Sinha’s philosophy is all about boundaries.
“I found that when you put the right boundaries in place, you will find yourself managing time better because you put those constraints in place,” said Sinha. “And you’ll eventually get better outcomes, even though you’re technically spending less time on work.”
Another secret? Being a higher-up at a company often means getting further and further away from interacting directly with the product. That’s why Ankur starts every morning with a little one-on-one time with the Remitly app.
When he’s not doing that, he’s jumping through meetings, making his way through a good book, or playing a game of cricket or two with his kids.
So, without further ado, here’s a day in his life.
Morning: Alone time, then customer time
My morning starts early. I have two young children, so if I want any time to myself in the morning, I have to start early. So that means waking up at about 5 AM.
I typically end up doing an early morning workout and a quick shower routine. The main thing is not to get into work at all yet.
And then – and this is probably a key part of my day that I love talking about – I spend anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes before my family wakes up getting closer to our customers. So this can be using our products – I use the Remitly app every day, watching our support queues, looking at our product metrics and customer feedback, maybe even looking at partner or competitor products, just to see how we’re doing.
But the benefit of all this is that it keeps me grounded with the customer. And this energizes me for the rest of the day – I get to learn quite a bit.
And then, I would say family time begins when my kids wake up. My wife also works in tech and we both have pretty demanding careers, so we try to share the load. I think she shares more than I do – that’s an acknowledgement on my side. But we try to get our kids ready for school together.
Work then begins at about 8 or 9. In addition to the US, we have engineering teams in Krakow and London, so if we want to get some collaborative time with them, that typically means getting started at about 8 AM.
Workday vibes: from talking future, to talking operations
I would say if I were to describe my day in general, I’d categorize my time in three ways: First, there’s usually a set of conversations that are more strategy and future focused. This includes strategic time for me to think individually – and then obviously with our teams and partners.
These are times when I am typically the one leading. So it requires me to be in the right headspace, it requires me to be in the right frame of mind to be able to engage in those conversations. So, I try to prioritize them early in the day.
The second part, then, is more operational. So, these are things like reviews, metrics, escalations – things that involve making sure that the business and that the product and the engineering side is running healthy on an operational level.
The last and probably most important part of the day is people time. So a lot of it is spent meeting one-on-one with extended teams and partner teams, and talking about anything top of mind for them.
These conversations tend to be split between development and growth conversations – how are people growing? How are people feeling? How are people developing in the company? But also sometimes just quick alignment conversations to help drive decisions or resolve conflicts.
I typically leave work at about 5 PM to go pick up my kids. I’ll then spend some time with them, whether it’s giving them some snacks or playing some sport outside – cricket is a big sport in India, where I’m from, so I love that I get to play that with them.
And then, once they’ve settled in and once we’ve had some outdoor activity and blood running through our veins, I’ll go back to work for a 45 minute slot. That’s usually when I take some time to do some high-focus task.
My day tends to be more indexed on meetings, so that 45-minute afternoon slot can be very helpful in that regard, because it’s very easy, especially in this hybrid world, to extend your day beyond that.
We’re also an early dinner family – we tend to eat at about six or seven-ish, which gives us time to either hang out outside, spend time at home reading books, doing some activities with the kids, and typically trying not to engage in work through the rest of the evening.
I’m also a big reader. I read all kinds of books. When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of fiction – I would say these days I read more self-help and self-learning books. For example, one book I recently read, which has had quite an influence on me, was My Life in Full by Indra Nooyi, which is her autobiography. I really was touched by the things that she went through, and me and my wife had really good conversations that followed up on it. I think it led to some good changes to our lifestyle. I am currently reading the book, Atomic Habits.
One thing that’s worked really well for me in the hybrid work model is having a work phone and a personal phone. My personal phone typically will not have any work setup on it. And my work phone for the most part remains here, which is my room upstairs in our two-story home.
And I try to make sure that I stick to these boundaries. Part of the side effect of having digital devices everywhere is if you see a notification, you’re going to have the urge to check that last email or check that last Slack message. If you don’t have the connectivity, though, I think you’re less likely to do that. This is something I learned when I was at Google: if you just make clear separations like these, it’s a lot easier. Otherwise, I constantly find myself checking in, which is not helpful.
Another thing I try to make sure I do is just have a clear end to my workday. Pre-COVID, let’s say, that clear end to the day would be my commute back home. That was an explicit separation. These days, I try to give myself that same end-of-the-day feel in other ways. Picking up my kids and playing some games with them, for example, becomes an explicit mental break. The same thing goes after my 45-minute focus time: I go back to have dinner, which is an activity that’s got nothing to do with work.
So I think that explicit separation mentally and technologically helps quite a bit.