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Founder of Trilogy Speaks About His Career

By Sarah E. Henrickson, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The unparalleled success of Bill Gates, a Harvard drop-out, has always loomed large on the minds of students when re-examining their motivations for staying in school.

The success of Joe Liemandt, who spoke last night at Sever Hall, could easily fill that role as well.

In 1989, Liemandt left during his senior year at Stanford. He went on to found Trilogy, a software firm that currently counts many of the Fortune 500 companies as clients.

During yesterday's talk, Liemandt described his company and offered advice to prospective entrepreneurs.

In his junior year, after taking an advanced computer class, Liemandt and four friends decided to ensure jobs for themselves after college by starting their own company.

They had interviewed at Microsoft, but decided that they "wanted their work to matter, and since [they] were the only people who thought we were good enough, we had to start our own company," Liemandt recalled.

Trilogy makes product line configuration software, which, in simplified terms, allows consumers to type into the Web what they are looking to buy, and then see a compatible product pop up on the screen. It is a software essentially created by Trilogy, the founder said.

He explained that his team decided on a target audience and designed their product to fill a need. He enthusiastically revealed the secret of Trilogy's success: "You must believe in your idea because nobody else agrees with you and everyone thinks you're nuts."

Liemandt shared advice with almost 100 students in attendance on how to begin their own start-up company.

His own team learned the hard way that venture capitalists will only back experience, he said.

When Liemandt and his buddies realized that they would have to raise their own money they decided "to jump into the abyss."

For the next four years the team raised money by consulting and creating an intricate credit card pyramid scheme involving 25 credit cards, and made it through a continuous cycle of "'We'll be done in three months' deadlines."

After Trilogy's first big break, they were told that they were too young, and a larger company rescinded their interest in Liemandt's new software product.

A few months later, the same company returned, saying that no other company was making the same product, and asked if Trilogy would be willing to sell to them.

Liemandt recalled his response: "We will, but the price has tripled."

The company, Silicon Graphics, had no choice but to capitulate.

This was Liemandt's main piece of advice to the crowd: "Build something they have to buy by starting a new market, so that you have no competition and can set your own prices."

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