Recruiting DNA

Since coming to Greylock full time in January, I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I did that before, of course — I’ve always spent a lot of time building my network — but in this role it’s significantly more than ever before. So I’ve been talking with tons of entrepreneurs, tons of techies, tons of executives, tons of students — for a variety of reasons, including funding, recruiting for roles here at Greylock, etc.

One of the things I’ve been really, really struck by is how significant the first 4 or 5 years of a person’s career seems to be on how they think and how they approach the world. It’s typically very easy to tell if someone started their career at Google or Apple or Microsoft or Paypal or a bunch of others, even when they’re 15 years into their career and well removed from that first job. You can just see it in the way they approach problems. These are gross simplifications and overgeneralizations, but Googlers tend to think about things in a data and machine learning sort of way. Amazon folk (Amazonians?) tend to think in terms of testing and yield. And other companies that shall remain nameless are notable in that their alumni have absurdly good PowerPoint skills. (Which, sadly, is not actually a positive indicator.)

So like I say, gross oversimplifications and gross generalizations, but you really can tell a lot about where a person started their career by how they act and think about things. (And I guess others have had this insight about organizational imprinting before — here’s an HBS study and here’s what Diego wrote about his early time at HP a few weeks back.)

Since I was in Austin this week, where I started my career at Trilogy, I reflected some on how I was imprinted by being there — and for all the weird, screwed up world views I developed there (and believe me, it was like 90% screwed up world view), the thing that imprinted most is an insane focus on recruiting insanely talented people. As a company, we were relentless about getting the smartest, most driven, most talented people we could. We were a tiny company, but going toe to toe with giants in on campus recruiting, for example — and I think we were probably about the best tech company at recruiting anywhere in the US in the mid-90s.

So thank goodness I went to Trilogy, because that intense focus on recruiting at all levels, getting ridiculously talented people to work with and getting out of their way — that’s something that’s been absolutely critical and foundational for me my whole career. When I tell people I worked at Trilogy, most people today don’t know what that is, even. But I’m very happy to trade off a brand name on the resume for getting recruiting into my DNA in a fundamental way. It changed everything.


  1. Interesting theory regarding the impact of your first employer.

    Looking back on my almost first 5 years now, I can definitely see some trends emerging due to culture and problems encountered. For example my power point usage (creating and viewing) is likely much lower than the industry average.

    I wonder if it’s across the spectrum of industries and jobs for the first job to be so impactful, of if that’s specific to certain industries, or people attracted to certain industries who tend to be of similar mindsets to begin with.

    I guess where I’m going is… the business version of the nature vs. nurture debate.

  2. John-
    I notice this same imprinting affected me, and Elliot Loh (we’ve both blogged about the recruiting angle before). Of course, as soon as you mentioned imprinting that way, it made sense. (As one friend once complained about a trivial example, ‘did everyone at Trilogy learn to say that phrasing “right? right?” ‘ )

    And there are a few pockets where the “Trilogy” brand carries weight. Mainly within the alumni network itself of course, but also, within Austin generally. I’m still surprised people in Austin who were never in tech, or who arrived more recently, are aware of Trilogy. But the affect on the Austin tech and startup landscape has been profound.

    • I’ve run into the same thing, too. If they didn’t work there, they may have been recruited and interviewed there. That experience was enough to create an impression that has lasted over a decade now.

  3. That insane recruiting of talented folks starts at the interview stage. Even in ’98 (when I joined) no one knew who Trilogy was, but it was the smartness and culture of the interviewers and famed interview weekend that sold me.

  4. As a fellow Trilogian + Mozillian, I just wanted to share an experience I had when I was at a16z for the first time. We {Joshua, Paul, myself} were talking about ourselves to Ben and Marc. When I said I was at Trilogy, Ben laughed out loud and exclaimed “oh god, another one?!”.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this with the half dozen or so folks who can relate.

    Also +1 to me for being asleep at the wheel and not noticing this post until now.