Yoky’s Entrepreneur Series-Velan Thillairajah, CEO of EAI Technologies: Luck Is When Opportunity Meets Preparedness

Shiyaoyu.comVelan Thillairajah (AKA ‘V’) is the founder and Chief Executive Innovator of EAI Technologies. EAI serves as a collaborative partner for companies like Neustar, First Data, AOL, Verisign, and Cardinal Health in concepting out and/or developing powerful enterprise and consumer engaging applications. He has the creative ability to identify the practical software application product needs for complex workflows within corporate enterprises.

Velan’s education background:

Cornell engineering in 1983, followed by an MBA at the University of Rochester’s SIMON School of Business, where he was featured in Forbes ‘Best and Brightest.’

Associations that he is affiliated with:
Board of Directors – Washington Area CTO Roundtable www.chieftechnologyofficer.org
Board of Directors – Graduate Business Forum (GBF) www.graduatebusinessforum.com

Specialties: Online advertising, Customer Targeting, Logistics, Supply Chain, Social Networks, RFID, Financial/capital markets, Client extranets, Rapid launch of new product offerings, data integration, application development, trading platforms, registration engines, portals, reporting, data visualization, and dashboards.

I met Velan through one of his star employees Sufi Nawaz (the gentleman in pink). Sufi told me that Velan is simply a great man with candor and integrity. Velan was generous with his time and did not hesitate for the opportunity to spread his wisdom.


Q: Tell me about yourself. What makes you different?

A: I don’t think of myself as particularly different from other people, except that I’m very comfortable with people. It may be because of my family’s culture. I was born in Sri Lanka, but I’ve been in the U.S. since I was eight years old. My parents always had people over to our house either informally or for meals.  In the typical American culture, it is frowned upon to just drop by someone’s house unannounced, but it was commonplace during my childhood. So when I was growing up, people would regularly visit our home, consequently from a young age, I got used to and felt at ease interacting with new people as well as folks with diverse backgrounds.

shiyaoyu.comQ: As an entrepreneur, do you deal with people more than technology?

A: Definitely. My company’s focus is on services – developing custom solutions for client’s specific needs which involves spending a lot of time with people. Starting a services company is easier than kicking off a product offering, because we just needed enough work to cover ourselves at the beginning. We also had two very cooperative/flexible angel investors backing us. Today we have a successful story, but it all started by asking friends, “Can I do something for you?”

Q: How old were you when you first started?

A: I was 38.

Q: Why 38?

A: After business school, I started at PWC doing management consulting. Being young and impatient, I jumped for higher pay to a telecom software consulting firm. Very quickly thereafter, the team of 6 people that I worked with was sold to a 2 person shop and we became a very small company of 8 people. Since I was only 24 at the time, I found it to be quite exiting though it gave me the early experience of seeing both the struggles of a small company and the organizational dynamics as we grew to 60+ people and became a multi-million dollar systems integration entity. At that time, I certainly did not have the itch to start my own company–I was too aware of the various challenges, risks and many moving parts!

That company of 8 provided invaluable experience for ten years as I had ten different roles/ jobs within the company, starting on their technical track and ending in business development as a part of the leadership team. Sadly, the time came for me to move on from a place where I had grown tremendously and felt very comfortable. I went to work for a services/consulting firm after I became friendly with the CEO while playing basketball on a regular basis with him. Because of the company’s online and web skills, they were acquired by a larger company to round out its services offering. After the company sold, the CEO having seen the direction of the combined companies, suggested that I consider other possibilities, for my continued career growth since the fruits of the acquisition were not really coming together. I thanked him as he and other mentors have guided me with brutal honesty over the years. So I reached out to a VP at a client, Network Solutions (NSI), that I had strong relationships with. He asked me to drive over and interview that day which turned into a job offer within a few days.

Verisign bought NSI two weeks after I started. I had no idea when I was offered the job. Really an interesting roller coaster ride with drastic stock price/ option valuations and internal company organizational/ political workings. I had limited ability to change things internally as an employee versus being able to drive meaningful change as a hired consultant. Combined with the amount of overhead/ bureaucracy one had to overcome to perform the designated functions, I could already see how challenging this role would be.

dadIt was really my dad who over the years continually encouraged me go out on my own. Though he had worked for companies throughout his career, he had attempted several ventures on the side. Fortunately for me, the past friendly CEO combined with another angel investor, helped me to think about and start my company with available funding and emotional support. His idea was also to be part of the company because he was also frustrated because of the past acquisition. That gave me the push and comfort as I didn’t feel that I could start the company all by myself. They were extremely instrumental in getting us off the ground and guiding us with our formative stages.

Q: Were there any conflicts?

A: I made a fundamental mistake early on. I started the company with a family friend, who had a different understandings about risks involved in starting a company and the financial backing required or the potential risk of the capital being put at stake. Within the first 3 years, this led to a major disagreement over equity/ ownership and a parting of ways. That person’s departure and associated legal issues were agonizing to deal with. In our favor, we had major deliverables to hit for our clients, so the rest of the team really pulled together to make things happen –  us.

leadershipQ: What is your challenge in managing the company?

A: We focus on productivity. Managing people is about understanding individuals and helping them maximize their effectiveness. I am an old-school guy. I come in early and stay late. But I have to work with individuals ranging in age from 23 to 50 with very varying work styles. Effective management means adapting to those individuals–so long as they are still productive and effective.

Q: Any regrets in managing people?

A: We have been fortunate and now have thirty people, but we have had some setbacks. Two of my employees after having learned on the job/ been groomed and introduced to a long standing client, chose to accept jobs with them. My rule is that I do not stand in the way of someone else’s happiness, but these decisions have sometimes been costly for the company.

Q: How do you hire?

A: We spend a lot of time networking offline and online to socialize about EAI. This generates anywhere from 75 to 150 submissions a month from potential candidates. We have been very selective in our hiring especially from a culture/ people fit as well as technical from the beginning – key differentiator for us.

Q: What about H1B workers or candidates needing sponsorship?

A: We don’t care. We are looking for good people, period. It is a very competitive market and we are very selective.  When we find good people, we don’t let visas issues get in the way. We work with a small law firm downtown that is excellent and helps the H1b process go smoothly. Several of the folks that started here as H1bs are now proud permanent residents or U.S. citizens.

luck prepareQ: Do you think you are good at preparation?

A: As a company, you need to make money to stay alive. That means delivering value that someone will pay for. There is no magic bullet. It is all about consistency and persistence.

We believe that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. It is a very simple model.

Over time, you will make mistakes. If you learn from them, then you will start to understand what needs to happen. Too many people focus on time management. It is not really about time management, it is about sticking our nose at the right places. If you don’t talk to your customer for a couple days, you will miss what is happening in your customer’s world, and you may miss the opportunity or signal for change on your project.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: I try to be proactive, so I am not driven by immediate events. I like to organize breakfast meetings early in the morning like 7 AM. I’m fresh in the morning, so I try to hit my harder things right off the bat. I try to interact with my employees and customers in a 1 on 1 way if possible. I think through how I need to arm my folks so they are focused on the proper immediate actions and follow up on contracts, and make sure projects are happening and on budget.

mentorQ: Tell me about a mentor who has inspired you?

A: One mentor is that CEO I mentioned, who became one of my angel investors. He is incredibly driven, insightful, and smart, but still a nice guy. He was working full time for IBM while going to graduate school. He has started his third company, after growing his second to 150 people and selling it to large well-known consulting firm.

Another is my senior advisor. I have known him for 25 years so he is my best friend.  Very early in my career, he was instrumental in shaping my business development, sales and tactical thinking.  From 2006 he has been a paid senior advisor. I really appreciate his candor. Everyone else may tell me I’m doing a great job, but I can expect an honest/critical assessment from my advisor on where I need to improve and focus – never easy to hear but important word to heed.

Q: What is your vision for the firm for the next 5 to 10 years?vision

A: We do not have any crazy plans. We have no debt and no external pressure, so we are able to be proactive about meeting market demands and our clients’ needs. We are a small company, but we have been fortunate to have a positive impact at Fortune 500 companies.

Q: Do you do any gala, networking event for your clients?

A: At the end of the day, our clients are not looking for free goodies. I view our clients as friends/ trusted partners.  They are look and appreciate value and good work. By keeping to our word and delivering, we have established trust through providing those services resulting in a nice long term relationship. Our sales model is very simple–our customers trust us enough to refer us to prospective customers or take us with them to their new place of work. That is our “trusted social network” in action.

Q: Did you do any other business development?

A: One has to be selective with so many networking events to choose from.  Based on companies or projects we are interested in, we target relationship building exercises both online and offline.  In addition, I recently hired someone to assist with business development and focus on the blocking of tackling of relationship building.

companyQ: What would happen if I was not at the company?

A: The company has several very strong areas, including technical skills and product/ project management. Since I have driven most of the initial sales interactions, those areas would be more challenged without me. Our current clients would continue with the project streams to be well served since we have really good folks that understand their business taking care of them from a technical as well as account management/delivery perspective.

Q: What is one piece of advice do you have for international students?

A: I am a relationships guy. It is extremely important to create and manage relationships. If you can go to school in the U.S., it will be very beneficial, both in learning practical skills and American business culture, and for networking opportunities (in school and afterward). While you’re in school, start looking at potential companies. Look for ways to build relationships there before you actually need them. Get the paid subscription on LinkedIn and begin building relationships. Always be yourselfbuilding a relationship has to be genuine/real – learn about the other person.  This is the easiest way to connect with that person as well know whether they are able to be a good partner for you.

big family

Liked it? Shared it? Check out my interview with another successful entrepreneur, Oanh Henry

Yoky’s Entrepreneur Series: Seeing the Real Me —–Life and Business Advice from Oanh Henry, CEO of Allegra Fairfax



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Privacy Policy