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Celebrating Six Years of Trifacta; Reflecting on the Power of Data

April 19, 2018

It’s been six years since Sean Kandel, Jeff Heer and I got together to sign the papers of incorporation for Trifacta. The time has absolutely flown by. Our growing team at Trifacta has accomplished a tremendous amount. But it’s also been a long journey full of changes for us, the company, and the industry as a whole.

From the beginning, we had big goals—we wanted to build a vibrant, long-lived company that would radically improve the way people work with data. None of us knew exactly what that would look or feel like. But we had gotten lots of advice and encouragement from successful friends and industry leaders like Pat Hanrahan and Dave Goldberg who agreed that we had the seeds of something special. Flash forward several years, and we’ve learned so much together with team Trifacta. How to build a company and products that matter to our users. How to explain to the world the significance and urgency of wrangling data. And my favorite lesson: how to continue being a force multiplier for the curiosity, passion and success of our users and each other, even as we grow. It’s been a phenomenal trip so far, and it’s getting more and more exciting as it goes.

Still, it’s a strange time in the data industry. Last week, as we watched elderly senators interview Mark Zuckerberg, it felt especially strange. But the conversation cut to the core of our modern world and civil society. Make no mistake—data is power. Which means that power tools for data like Trifacta are extra powerful. We know this from experience. Our customers use data and our software to do everything from overseeing financial markets, to helping candidates win elections, to containing the spread of HIV/AIDS, to selling crunchy snacks. So many diverse, very human activities! Few of these endeavors—few human endeavors—are unalloyed good. And neither is the tech industry, or even the once-boring data management corner of tech.

So for me, part of marking Trifacta’s success is to realize we have an emerging role to play in a real and increasingly complicated world. Our whole team remains optimistic that technology—and the culture of innovation that gives birth to companies like Trifacta—will play a huge role for good in the world, even as we know it can also be used to cause harm. This dual potential has been true of technology since the dawn of fire. But the particular shape of data technology and its risk/reward profile is still emerging, and society at large needs to better understand what’s possible.

I’m reminded of the conversation I had at a Trifacta “fireside chat” session last fall with one of our original Trifacta advisors and former Chief Data Scientist for the United States government, DJ Patil. He spoke of the way that data—especially clean, well-vetted data—is the key to intellectual honesty in political discourse. Honesty about things like the environment; like policing practice; like opioid usage. He spoke of the fact that every time they added a technologist or a data person to a project they got disproportionate improvements in the end result. DJ was also brutally honest about the problems and challenges with data, with government, and with data in government. But he shared his fundamental optimism that science, technology, and rationality can be coupled to open and honest processes to make the world a better place. For me, DJ’s feedback from his time in government was an inspiring antidote to concerns that the tech world is somehow a malevolent bubble that is separate from the rest of society. We can engage. And we do engage. And I believe that what we will, on balance, make the world better.

I remain deeply proud of what we do and where we’re going. As we grow and thrive as a company, here’s to a Trifacta that faces the world head on with clear eyes, engages in the hard conversations in our industry, and continues to help customers do inspiring and meaningful things in the world.