Monday, September 01, 2008

Trilogy Connection of Startups

Sometimes I wonder what are the skills one require to "take on the world"? Can there ever be a "school" that can prepare entrepreneurs? Can entrepreneurship be taught? Or is it something that is practiced? Or is it inborn?

Let me try answering these by asking a very different question - why is there a strong connection between (ex)Trilogians and startups? A significant chunk of people leaving Trilogy either join a startup, or start one of their own. There are so many of them now that they can start an OCC of their own!

Since a majority of the folks at Trilogy join straight out of college, this really is their first interaction with the startup world. What is it at Trilogy that inspires so many of them?

Being one of the people who is part of this connection, lemme see if I can unravel this. In some sense, I am the subject of this article too! Pardon me if this seems like a personal rant.

(In case you are wondering, Trilogy is a small enterprise software company started in 1989 in Austin, US. It opened its Bangalore office in 2000. I worked there from 2002 to 2007. Some of the startups started by ex-Trilogians are LifeBlob, Chakpak, ReviewGist, Via, LifeMojo and my own Must See India.)

1. Confidence
Very much like Microsoft and Google, Trilogy encourages its employees to take larger than life roles at a very early age. People grow very fast at Trilogy. You might be surprised to see people as young as 3-4 years of experience taking charge of multi-million dollar accounts. When I went on-site on my first consulting project, my counterpart was surprised to see a 25 yr old manager. In traditional software companies, it takes years to reach to this stage. Not so here.

Handling such a large responsibility so early boosts your confidence. This is one of the first things you'll notice when you talk to any Trilogian - no matter whom you are talking to, person oozes confidence. And this confidence is very vital to make you believe that you can take on the world. The first ingredient of a startup.

2. Learn at your own risk
At Trilogy, there's hardly any hierarchy. There are very few people above you and even less to guide you. Assigning you a task is like throwing somebody to a pool to let him/her learn swimming. That, in my opinion, is the best way anybody can learn the tricks of the trade. It may not be best for the company, sometimes people make mistakes leading to big mess, but a person learns best from experience, especially from their own failures.

Taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them is a crucial part of startup cycle. Only those who are able to embrace this, survive.

3. Master of all trades
Another hallmark of job at Trilogy is that there are no specialists. Every developer is supposed to write their own test cases, be it unit tests, integrated or performance tests. If there's something wrong with the database, go and fix it yourself. You are supposed to write customer documentation on your own for your feature. Everybody knows the full process of a deployment. We actually used to take turns. Every once in a while, we used to assign a person who to checkpointed the source code, fire the build, run all test cases, certify the release, and send release email.

This process produced people who were master at everything and didn't hesitate to get their hands dirty no matter what the task. And this skill is very valuable in startup context. You are your own admin, database specialist, marketing guy, tech guy.

4. Great People, Great Ideas
Trilogy recruitment process was termed as one of the toughest in the industry. In fact, when some of the bigger names (read Amazon, Google) started their operations in India, they used Trilogy as a hunting ground for their recruitment. "Great People" used to be one of the core philosophies at Trilogy.

What this strict recruitment process did was that it created a pool of very smart people. And when you have lots of smart people around you, you learn a lot - even if you are the smartest. Some of the toughest problems in the industry get discussed and ideas flow like water in a river. Solving tough problems becomes a habit. If somebody need any ideas for a startup, get your ears to those corridors.

Also, it was a small company. Revenue per employee at Trilogy was one of the highest in industry. Nobody can afford to sit idle. It had people who got things done - one of the essential traits for anybody involved in a startup.

5. Entrepreneur Spirit
Trilogy had this unique fresher training program called Trilogy University. It was a work-hard-party-hard kind of atmosphere. One of the hallmarks of this was the TU project, where freshers used to come up with ideas around running a new business. They had to think of an idea, pitch it to the CEO, and execute it in 6 weeks time. It was very much like a startup. The whole experience was like a startup school - you learned how to come up with new ideas, evaluate them, pitch it, get customers, make money out of them. Even if many of them didn't went on to become success, you got to learn what works and what not. Now if you pitch your idea to anybody out of this "university", be prepared to answer tough questions!

Successful People, not just Successful Company
In my small career, I got to work in only one company. I never got a reason to change. I loved my life back there, it was so much fun. And perhaps this is one of the reasons it took me so much time to come out and start something of my own! I am glad I did both - got skills that prepared me for my next assignment.

I am sure there are other companies out there which have similar environment. There are more startups coming out of India and they have equally good ideas around making people successful, not just the company. After all, a company can be successful only when its people are successful.


Anonymous said...

I notice that you have talked in the past tense for many of the good qualities of Trilogy. Any particular reason why ? When do you feel that these qualities started disappearing ?

Vikas Rana said...


I am not there for almost a yr now. So, can't really comment on the current state of things too much.

There seem to be an assumption in your comment that *I* believe there has been degradation in the qualities.

While I do believe to some extent - maintaining these qualities are in hands of the senior people and Trilogy / Versata has seen many people leaving in past couple of years.

But on the most part, I think many of these qualities still exist. There are still lots of good people there and the culture doesn't die down fast. So, expect more good things in near future from this great company.

Umang said...

I really like the last point - successful people, not just successful companies. Culture is how you invest in people. And how they invest back in you.

Anonymous said...

Rana, touched on the right things! Excellent write-up. I enjoyed my days at Trilogy a lot. It is an outstanding place with outstanding people. They have the hunger for finding outstanding talent as well as stretching them and keeping them that way.

Ravi Annaswamy

Vijay Rayapati ( said...

Hi Vikas,

Excellent write-up - I was just talking to one of my room-mates and explaining him why so many ex-Trilogian?:) start their own companies and googled for "trilogy startups" & landed at this page :).