(Evince Analytics, Inc. co-founders Michael Brinn and Tom Codella discuss the history of the company.)
Where did the two of you first meet?
Brinn: Back in 2003, a friend of mine from the University of Virginia suggested that I would be a good fit for this company he was working at, called TASC. Tom happened to be the hiring manager, and he set up the interview.
Codella: Yes. As I recall, we had sushi.
Brinn: And as Tom said at the time, "Your friend vouched for your technical skills. I just need to know if I can work with you." Which, fast forwarding ten years, I think the answer was, "Yes."
What did you do together at TASC?
Codella: I started out as Brinn's manager, and we worked on a number of projects together. But, more importantly, in the summer of 2004, I said, "Hey, do you want to go to law school with me?"
Brinn: It sounded like a good idea to me, so I agreed. It was then that we started talking all the time, on a level different from manager-employee.
Codella: Then, four years later, as we were close to finishing our law school experience, TASC assigned me to a unique project, working for a very energetic customer who wanted to do really interesting things with data analysis. This contract happened to have an opening for another smart, creative, self-motivated person. I suggested to the project manager and the customer that Brinn would be the ideal choice, and they gave that plan their approval.
For a year, we worked together directly on this project. Unfortunately, as that year wound down, it came about that this particular contract would undergo major changes. The upshot was, we personally would no longer be able to continue working it if we were still at TASC.
Was that the motivation for launching Evince Analytics?
Brinn: Mainly. Ever since my senior year of college, I was interested in learning about what it would take to run my own company, and going to law school was intended to be preparation for doing that eventually. My plan was, work for a big company for a while, see how they do things, and then start my own company.
However, you could say that the idea for this specific company came about on a highway outside of Albuquerque. Tom and I both wanted to continue to work on this project, since we genuinely liked what we were working on--for the first time in years, at least in my case. But due to the situation with the contract, something would have to change dramatically for that to happen. Around that time, we were on a trip to New Mexico, to visit a colleague. While we were in the rental car, Tom and I started talking about, "What can we do in order to keep working on this task? How can we keep this going? What are our options?" It was Tom who first suggested starting a company as one possibility.
Codella: Also, we had just finished law school, so we were thoroughly prepared to address the legal requirements for starting up a company. That part of it was pretty straightforward. Plus, I had already been involved in startups prior to this, so I already knew a lot about what it would take to get it running, the logistics of it, and what kind of benefits and pitfalls there might be.
What sorts of benefits and pitfalls?
Codella: Obviously you have a lot more say in the way your company functions when you are the founder of it. Also, the size of your company makes a difference, in terms of the way you can operate. For instance, a smaller company is much more conducive to interacting with and supporting customers in a personal manner, which is how we would prefer to do those things. You are also able to seek out the work that specifically interests you, and bring on board only those employees you specifically trust and get along with and who have the right skills for what needs doing.
I have seen startups that, although they were successful, very quickly became corporate, all about finding the next customer, all about the bottom line, all about squeezing every dollar possible out of every engagement. Ultimately, a company like that will take on work that it didn't really want to become involved with, simply because there is more money that can be made by doing so. That environment can be stressful, particularly if it conflicts with the philosophy you had in mind at the company's outset.
Other startups put far more emphasis on what the customers need and what the employees are doing, and serve both of those parties extremely well...but in doing so, they don't pay enough attention to the business side of things, and forget to value simple things like the long-term survival of the company. These companies are great to be involved with while they last, but ultimately...they don't.
Brinn: For us, long term success comes first. Get the right employees, keep them happy, and get the right work. Not sticking to those principles is risking long-term failure. We aren't in this just to make a quick buck. We want to work for a company we enjoy, for the long term.
Codella: We've never had the "we must grow exponentially" mindset. We still don't.
What did each of you see in the other that convinced you he would be a good business partner?
Codella: Mike is very organized. I can get along with him well. He's much better at executing than I am. That's a lot, right there. Long before Evince, I would always go to Mike for second opinions on anything I had doubts about. If there's something I can't get done, I know I can always go to Mike, and it'll always get done.
Brinn: Tom is a visionary. He's the idea guy, and I'm the get it done guy. We absolutely complement one another. Our roles within the company more or less sorted themselves out based on these obvious differences in our strengths.
Why is Evince necessary?
Codella: For our customer, it was necessary, because the capability would have been lost. For me personally, because I wanted to operate in a particular way that only a small startup would allow. For employees, it's because it's a place they want to come to work.
Brinn: For us to keep doing the work we liked doing...it wasn't the ONLY path, but it was one of only a few paths, and there's something to be said for doing the work you like while also being in control of your own destiny.
Codella: I don't know of another analytics company that, either technically or culturally, does things the way we do. Or even tries to.
We don't want money to be the reason we do what we do. If we aren't engaged in the tasks we take on, we won't be happy to come to the office and get at it every day, and the money earned from doing those jobs will not be compensation enough for having given up that engagement.
Brinn: We want to do this work in a way that we enjoy doing it. We want to get good people who want, and deserve, good salaries. We want to build a team we want to work with, and that the customer wants to work with. We have to work for this company too, as the founders.
Is your definition of success just survival as a company?
Codella: Yes, but on our terms. We want to prove that you can have this attitude as a company, and succeed. Following our philosophy, and sustaining this company, for ourselves and our employees, is what I would consider a complete success.
Brinn: Because that means we have a job with a company we want to work for. Doing good work for good customers with good employees.