Felix Van de Maele is the founder and CEO of Collibra which delivers the only end to end data intelligence platform to accelerate digital business transformation. The company has raised over $300 million from top tier investors such as Index Ventures, Battery Ventures, ICONIQ Capital, Dawn Capital, CapitalG, Newion, Durable Capital Partners, and Brustart to name a few.
In this episode you will learn:
- How investor demands change between funding rounds
- Why investors are seldom in a rush
- Why they said no to selling their company
- The Amazonification of data
- The differences for founders in Europe versus NYC, and how to be prepared to scale into the US
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Felix Van de Maele:
As Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Felix Van de Maele has led Collibra from idea to more than nine years of record growth and industry leadership.
Collibra is the data governance solution of choice for global Fortune 500 companies spanning industries such as financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and more. Under Felix Van de Maele leadership, Collibra has secured a $50M Series C, and most recently $58M Series D round led by premier VC firms including ICONIQ Capital and Battery Ventures, bringing the total funding for Collibra to over $133 million.
Prior to co-founding Collibra, Felix Van de Maele served as a researcher at the Semantics Technology and Applications Research Laboratory (STARLab) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, where Felix Van de Maele focused on ontology-focused crawlers for the semantic web and semantic data integration.
Felix Van de Maele holds a Master’s in Computer Science and Software Engineering from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and a master in General Management from the Vlerick Business School. In 2017, Felix Van de Maele was named by DataNews as the ICT personality of the year.
Connect with Felix Van de Maele:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have an entrepreneur from Europe that came here to go after the American Dream and to establish himself in the U.S. I think that he has done so with a bang. So, without further ado, I’d like to welcome our guest today. Felix Van De Maele, welcome to the show.
Felix Van De Maele: Alejandro, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Alejandro: Originally born in Belgium. How was life growing up there?
Felix Van De Maele: It was good. I was born in a small town called Ostend on the coast of Belgium. It was great growing up and being at the beach every day. It was a good place to grow up.
Alejandro: So, definitely a good place to grow up, but a weird place to get into computers having the beach so close to you. So how did you get into computers and then end up studying computer science?
Felix Van De Maele: Yeah, it was interesting. It’s a memory that I’ll never forget. The first time we actually got internet connection in our city, I got it right away. I built a website, and published it online, and thought that was such a powerful feeling to be able to publish something that’s now accessible to the whole world. It was incredibly powerful. It was very early. I was maybe ten years old or so. It was incredibly powerful, and I’ve been passionate about the internet and computers ever since, and then ultimately decided to study computer science.
Alejandro: And that gave you the opportunity to travel the world. So, what did you learn from going to a place like Argentina?
Felix Van De Maele: Yeah, exactly. I studied computer science in Brussels, which was great. It was only four years, so I thought, “Four years isn’t enough.” I wanted to see the world, so I decided to do another Master’s specifically in software engineering. Then I studied for six months in France, which was great. Then I had to write my Master’s thesis, and I had the option to go to Southern America, so it was Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil. Argentina sounded really great, so I went to La Plata, which is a city close to Buenos Aires, and I stayed there for five months. I wrote my Master’s thesis, which ultimately became the source of Collibra and where I first had the idea of starting the company. It was an amazing experience to study abroad. I can highly recommend it.
Alejandro: Talking about the research, that research definitely led you and was the segue to starting Collibra, but you decided before launching it to do another Master’s Degree. Is that right?
Felix Van De Maele: Yes, that’s right. At the time, my first thesis was in the area of semantic technologies, which, at the time, was a big thing. I really believed in the power of semantic technology. I remember the goal of my first thesis was around, for me, building a better Google. Now, that didn’t work, but it was ultimately leveraging semantic technologies basically the ability to understand what web pages are about on a semantic level, and then build a better search engine. As interesting as some of those technologies actually used by Google, not any that I made, but the concepts. That was really, really fascinating. In my second thesis, I continued to work closely with that lab at the University of Brussels, where I initially studied, to the focus on data integration, and how do you improve data integration, which was a big problem at the time solved simply by point-to-point integrations. I figured there’s a better way to actually solve it to a shared model, like a hub-and-spoke, just more efficient. So, I did my second Master’s thesis on that topic. I started doing research at the university. I was a part-time researcher. A professor wanted me to start my Ph.D. at the lab, but I ultimately wanted to build things, not necessarily write about it. I’m much more of a builder, so that wasn’t that exciting to me. In my mind, the other option that I had as being a graduate in computer science, I could work in a bank. They need a lot of IT personnel, or I could go into consulting, which a lot of people were doing in my class, which also didn’t sound that incredibly exciting. So, ultimately, I said, “Well, why don’t I start a company?” I remember, in Belgium, at the time, there weren’t a lot of startups, and there weren’t a lot of great examples. But I remember reading a book called Founders at Work. It’s a bit of an old book now, but I highly recommend it. It talks about some of the stories from Silicon Valley, how Adobe was started, and things like that. I was inspired to hear all of these stories, and oh my, I think youth, nativity, and ignorance, I figured, “If they can do it, why shouldn’t I?” And I would just give it a try. That’s how I started with the idea of let’s start a company. Ultimately, that’s where we are today.
Alejandro: That’s amazing, Felix, because I actually had that same experience reading that book from Jessica Livingston, and it was quite an eye-opener. It’s also interesting here because I was born and raised in Europe, as well, and in Europe, when you started the business, we’re talking about 2008. Obviously, Europe has come a long way when it comes to startups. At that point, it was very green. Was it a big culture shock for your parents to hear that one of their children is not going to be a lawyer or a banker or a consultant, as you were saying?
Felix Van De Maele: It’s interesting. My mom’s a lawyer, and my dad’s a doctor. But I always felt supported by them, and I think the risk that I took – I always thought it was relative because I knew that with a degree in computer science, I’m going to get a job. Like, “If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to get a job tomorrow.” You have that safety net, which is valuable. There weren’t a lot of great examples there. I remember at the university, I did another Master’s in General Management, kind of an MBA that we started writing the business plan for Collibra. I remember there was an illuminating event. I talked to people and told them that I wanted to start an enterprise software startup. They basically laughed at me. They said, “Enterprise software is dead. Nobody is investing in enterprise software. Oracle, IBM, SAP, they won that market.” Now, remember, that was 2007. At the time, it was Web 2.0. It was Flickr and picture-sharing. SaaS didn’t even exist. For me, there was just not a chip on my shoulder to say, “I’m going to prove them wrong and not listen.” And here we are, and it’s amazing how much the world has changed over the last ten years.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Tell us about bringing this to life and that process as well. What was that team that had at the beginning? What was that founding team like?
Felix Van De Maele: We were four co-founders, so all of us had studied and done research at the university in Brussels on that same lab around semantic technology. None of us had worked before, so I think that goes against all of the recommendations. We had almost zero working experience, and we didn’t have a problem to solve. We were enamored by the semantic technology and the potential, but we had to figure out what problem we wanted to solve. We didn’t have any industry and practical experience. It’s not a perfect start. You see some of the impact down the line. We were focused on: we want to build a great company. So, we started doing that. We wrote the business plan, version 1, 2, 3, 4 until I think 13 or so. Then, ultimately, in 2008, after a year of preparation, we raised a seed round. We raised about 7 to 800,000 euros, which, at the time, for 23-year-olds people with zero work experience was quite a lot of money. We were able to do that based on the credibility we had coming from the university. We raised that in June 2008 and got started; we quit our jobs. Then in August and September, the financial crisis hit, which was an interesting experience. But, ultimately, for us, I think it was a good thing for two reasons: 1) Where we initially found our product/market fit was with financial services, within the banks, because after the financial crisis, they had to comply to a lot of new regulations. Collibra, at that time, being focused on data governance, was a great fit for what they needed at that time. So, it helped us find our product/market fit. But it also gave us time to mature and understand the problem we wanted to solve and learn. There wasn’t a lot of competitive pressure from the beginning. It did take a long time. From 2008 to 2012 was very difficult; it was survival mode. Ultimately, we found our market, and we were the first to market, and that has been a big part of our success.
Alejandro: For the people that are listening, so that they get it, what ended up being the business model of Collibra?
Felix Van De Maele: We’re an enterprise software company. We now sell data intelligence – at the time, data governance. Ultimately, we helped large companies better understand trust, control, and find the data that they have. Think of it like the Amazonification for data, so we have a data catalog where people can actually shop for data sets. But more so, from a governance perspective, we also helped them make sure that they understand what the quality is and that they comply with regulation, whether it’s privacy regulations or financial reporting regulations.
Alejandro: Understood. Obviously, for you, this experience, especially during the early days – you were talking about how the first four years were all about survival. I’m sure that you learned quite a bit about how to or how not to spend your money before you hit product/market fit. What can you tell us about this?
Felix Van De Maele: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a Dutch saying, a Belgium saying and I’ll try to translate to English: we flipped every euro that we had twice or four times before we spend it, so we were very, very, extremely frugal as we traveled to the U.S. for some of our customers or prospects who were in the U.S. We shared the cheapest hotel rooms that you can imagine and not great circumstances. I think a lot of entrepreneurs go through that. We were extremely frugal because we had to last four years with the 800,000 euros that we raised in the beginning in our seed round with very little revenue coming in. I remember in 2010 or 2011, we had about two months of money left in the bank, so if nothing came in, we would have been bankrupt after two months. The founders had already cut our own salary, just to survive and not have to fire anybody. Basically, the only people that we had are a few engineers, so it was critical that we kept them. We were working on a deal on a potential customer in the Belgium government. It was a public tender, like a public government company, and we were competing with IBM, that much we knew. We had to go to that public tender, and as part of that process, we had to put a price on our solution, and it was a public calculation who would win that process. Ultimately, what happened is that we won that deal against IBM predominantly because we were 1,000 euros cheaper than IBM. We had no idea what IBM was going to come into, but if we wouldn’t have won that deal, there was a high likelihood that Collibra wouldn’t exist today. It’s interesting to realize how some of these small moments have a big impact. I remember that weekend we were waiting for the results to come back whether we had won or not. I couldn’t do anything that weekend. I was almost paralyzed – a combination of fear and anxiety and stress and not knowing what to do or what would I do if Collibra doesn’t work? So, going through all of these emotions is something in the early stage as an entrepreneur. But that’s something that I’ll never forget.
Alejandro: How did you learn how to be with those emotions because sometimes getting out of your own way and getting out of your own head is the way to push forward.
Felix Van De Maele: It’s a great question, and I think it’s so important, even today, with everything going on right now, and I talk about it a lot with the team. It’s building that resilience – things are going to go wrong significantly. What makes it extra hard as an entrepreneur is that you project forward. If you have a good day, you think you’re going to conquer the world, and you’re ecstatic. If you have a bad day, you project forward, and you think, “This is going to go nowhere. What am I doing?” There are so many extremes between those emotions from ecstatic to panic, and you constantly switch between those. I think that actually makes the entrepreneur journey a really hard journey. But how do you deal with that? Building that resilience is important. The way I work, I’m stressed at work, so to speak, so I need calm and tranquility outside of work as family and friends are important. Something that I’ve thought about a lot is what’s the silver bullet based on my experience. I think every journey is unique, but having that growth mindset and every no is a reason to learn and a reason to understand the why behind everything. That’s my mindset, and I always want to understand the why and understand how I’m getting [15:08]. You always push yourself out of your comfort zone. So in that sense, having that growth mindset is extremely important as an entrepreneur.
Alejandro: And that was a mindset that served you well when raising your Series A. A Series A of a million, which back then was – now, you’re seeing Series A’s that go up to 100 million, which is insane, but obviously, back then, it was a different scene. What would you say was the hardest part about raising that Series A?
Felix Van De Maele: It was definitely the hardest round. In the seed round, basically, you sell the dream; you sell promises. There’s not much to show, so people either believe you or not. It’s all about you and the confidence that you get from people. That makes the seed round hard, but also not super hard. Once you get to Series A, you have to prove something. You need the product to work, and you need to show customers. You can’t just sell the dream anymore – at least, at that time, it was a lot harder to sell the dream. That was a really difficult round for us to raise, also because we were running out money. Again, we had a few months of runway left, and being with your back against the wall is never a great position to negotiate. I heard afterward from the investors, who is still on our board and who is a great friend now, as we were negotiating, he knew that we didn’t have a lot of money left, but he was surprised how calm I stayed during those negotiations. I made a promise to myself that I never want to be in acquisition again. So ever since, for our Series B to now, we’re at Series E that we raised a couple of months ago, we always raised money when we didn’t need it. It’s easier said than done, but it’s definitely something I would recommend everybody to do. But that made the Series A very, very hard.
Alejandro: What does that look like, raising money when you don’t need it?
Felix Van De Maele: Quite literally, when you don’t need it, and don’t underestimate how long it takes to raise money or how long it can take, especially in the beginning. It always takes a lot longer than you would think. The other thing, investors invest in lines and dots, so you have to build those relationships quickly and early as people ultimately build that confidence over time. So, it always takes a lot of time, and you often underestimate how long it takes. Then you run out of time, and of course, the investors know that, so they are incentivized to wait because the longer they wait, the more pressure you’re on. The situation ten years ago, there were very few investors, so you weren’t in a great negotiation position. Nowadays, where the environment is from an investment perspective, it might be very different where there are a lot more investors or demand, so you might as a founder be in a stronger position. But I still think it remains hard, especially in the beginning. Once you started to grow, and you have the numbers, it goes much more like a mathematical exercise, where they see the growth, they see the numbers, they see the market. It’s much clearer, so that makes the growth a lot easier.
Alejandro: How much capital have you guys raised to date, Felix?
Felix Van De Maele: Right now, I think we’ve raised a little over 300 million or so.
Alejandro: Very nice. Between the Series A and the B Round, when you guys were building those relationships and knocking on doors, the VCs were super shocked that you were profitable when they’re all about growth. So, why did you decide to push for that strategy?
Felix Van De Maele: That’s a good question. The Series B round, in a way, was very different than our Series A round because, after our Series A, we continued to grow quickly because we found our product/market fit. But, again, we remained extremely frugal, so we became profitable. We were profitable while still growing over 100%, so more than doubling every year. I remember I started to talk to VCs because we felt we had product/market fit. We had failed to have a really big opportunity. At the time, we actually had some acquisition interest, as well, which at the time you’re 26 or 27 years old, it can still be life-changing, but the way we thought about it was, “How often do you have the opportunity?” where timing and luck play a role, as well, because you have to be in the right place at the right time. We had opportunity now, and we made the decision to go for it, and we tried to build a large successful, independent company. We made that switch, so we decided, “Let’s raise a larger investment round to start scaling and growing aggressively and moving to the U.S. That’s when we decided to raise a Series B round, which was a lot easier given that we were growing so quickly. In that process, I was doing the tour of Sands Hill Road and Silicon Valley, and I remember the reaction of some of those Silicon Valley investors were surprised that we were profitable, and it was almost like a negative. Like the fact that we were profitable in their eyes meant that we didn’t know how to spend more money to grow even quicker, which wasn’t the mindset that we had at all, we had grown up with that frugal mindset coming from Belgium and Europe. But that was interesting to see that contrast.
Alejandro: In this case, in Belgium – great chocolate, great beer – why moving to New York?
Felix Van De Maele: Why moving to New York? It’s where we followed our customers. From the beginning, we were very customer-focused. We were profitable; we just followed our customers. That was the most important thing. We weren’t focused on investors; we were really focused on customers. Like I said, our initial product/market fit, we found with all the large banks – not all the big banks in Belgium, the big banks are in London and in New York. Typically, that’s where they’re concentrated. In [20:46], we could easily do it from Brussels. It’s an hour and a half with the train. But, of course, New York, we couldn’t. We did believe in presence creates opportunity. Just having boots on the ground creates opportunity. It’s so much easier to get things done instead of having to plan, travel, and then it takes a month for you to meet the prospect another time, so we decided to follow our customers and follow where the interest was and decided to set up a small sales office in New York. It’s one of my beliefs that if you move to the U.S. as a small company, one of the founders has to come as well. You can’t just hire a sales manager and then have them do it. One of the founders has to move. So, one of our founders moved to New York, and then the second moved. I basically spent all my time going back and forth between Brussels and New York, and I decided to start scaling and raise a Series B. I decided to move full-time to New York because that’s where the majority of our market was – 70% of our revenue at the time, and it still is. That’s where we ultimately decided to scale the company.
Alejandro: Here is a different environment in the U.S., a different culture, different mindset, different way of building and scaling companies, and also a different way and a different perspective from investors toward those early-stage companies. What were some of the challenges that you experienced when moving here because I’m sure that there are a lot of entrepreneurs that are listening to us now and may be thinking about making that move as well? So, what were some of the challenges in your own journey in moving here?
Felix Van De Maele: You have the administration and challenges around that, and Visa and all that, which was a challenge. From a business perspective, it was hard for us in hiring the right people because nobody knows you. You’re like a no-name, no-brand coming from Belgium, so it’s hard to attract the right people. What I found as a European was that it was hard to assess who would the right people be? Like in the interview and the answers that you get are very different than what I was used to in Belgium. So, we did a lot of wrong hires, which were costly and frustrating, and I felt that was really difficult. That’s why having an investor that’s active in the U.S. – we raised money with Index Ventures who are active in Europe and in the U.S. They were very helpful because they can give you the network, they can introduce you to great recruiters to actually start growing your company in the U.S. I think that was difficult and really valuable. The other thing that I was surprised by, and it’s a combination of the U.S., plus we started to grow and scale the company is how expensive everything is and becomes. When you start growing, you need a lot of support. You need recruiters, and HR, and finance, and legal. Those are a lot of operations, and I was surprised how expensive things became. Plus, of course, New York is much more expensive than Brussels is, so not a good thing. We raised a large Series B round, about 20 million euros, which was a good thing because if you think how long we were able to survive and be successful on two million euros and then how much we started spending and investing once we came to the U.S. was an order of magnitude difference. That was a surprise to me. A word of caution as you move to the U.S. Make sure that you’re ready for it, and then make sure that you also raise enough money because starting to scale here is a lot more expensive.
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Alejandro: Got it. Coming here to the U.S., you are now in full-scale and growth mode, so what does that look like because there’s a big shift that happens when you’re moving from early-stage to growth stage. What does that shift look like?
Felix Van De Maele: Yeah, and it’s a continuous kind of shift. Every year, I talk a lot about the team. Every year you are a different company. If you’re growing at 100%, which we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, every six months to a year, you’re literally a different company. Every year we have to hire almost more people than we had at the start of the year. So, at the end of the year, there are going to be more people that have been with you less than a year than you had more than a year. That puts a lot of pressure on culture, on values, on processes. Your job as a CEO/founder has to evolve, and it goes back to the growth mindset that I talked about. It’s really important in the beginning from a resilience perspective, but your job has to continue to evolve and changing something that quickly isn’t natural to anybody. You’re going through exponential change, exponential growth. We as people are good at understanding linear growth because most things in nature grow linearly. There are very few things that grow exponentially. We always underestimate how quickly it actually goes. So, keeping up with that is a real challenge, and it goes across the whole organization, such from your job as CEO, and you have to adapt and change. If you’re still doing the same things you were doing a year ago, that’s a problem. Putting in the right culture, the right processes, the right values, you don’t want to become a bureaucratic organization, but the way you work when you’re 650 people, which we are today versus 300 versus 150 versus 50 people is different. So, you have to adjust, and you have to get the people in your organization to go with that change and adjust, and that’s really difficult because it’s not something that anybody typically finds easy. “It’s all about change” became one of our values. We embrace and drive change is something we talk about constantly in the organization because we’re constantly going through it, and you don’t just embrace it; you actually have to drive it, which is uncomfortable.
Alejandro: One thing in the changes is the transformation that the company goes through. The other change or transformation is the one that you, yourself, as the CEO/founder, goes through because the company needs different things from you as it grows and matures. In many instances, it outgrows the founder, unfortunately. So, in this case, for you, you’ve been at it with the business for 12 years, which is remarkable. How would you say that your role as the CEO/founder has evolved over the course of time?
Felix Van De Maele: Yeah, very much so, and also, again, based on my single experience and something I truly believe in, probably one of the hardest years I had to go through is around 2015, where we had to evolve through what I call a founder-driven company to an executive-driven company. Of course, founder DNA remains extremely important, but you have to bring in more senior executives, more senior leaders that have seen some of that journey before to help you scale. If you can’t do it, there’s no way you can keep up with the growth, and you’re going to become the bottleneck, and that’s a problem. As you, the CEO, become the bottleneck of the growth, frankly, you’re not doing justice to your employees, to your customers, and to your shareholders. So, you have to be willing, and it’s a really hard transition personally because you have to make some really difficult decisions. You’re changing the company. You’re saying goodbye to things you don’t want to say goodbye to. But you have to transition from that founder-focused company to a professional executive-focused company, and that’s extremely important. So, one of the pivotal things that we did when I started in 2015 was hire my first management team, my first executive team, and bring in the right talent. The first hire that I made is still one of my best hires, which is the Chief People Officer, so I recommend everyone to do earlier than they think they need it because it can be such a big help as you transition your company from that found-driven face to executive-driven face. Then, hire a CFO, hire a Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Product Officer, with people that have seen the scale before is extremely important. I think one of your most important jobs as a founder/CEO is to build a team around you because if you don’t, then you’re going to struggle, and you’re going to become the bottleneck, and that’s a problem.
Alejandro: I understand. In this case, Felix, for you, you guys just raised a Series F, literally announced in April, which is remarkable in the middle of the crazy pandemic. We’ve never seen something like this. Not even my parents or grandparents have seen something like this. But you were able to announce this round, which is incredible when things were drying up on the investors and then trying to adjust to the new normality, the Zoom thing, video conference. So, how do you successfully operate a company during a crisis of this nature?
Felix Van De Maele: It’s not easy. A lot of things change. I think all the rounds are a great example of raising money when you don’t need it. We started the discussion in January when we didn’t need it. Ultimately, we were really happy that we did. I think the things that you need and in good times; you need even more so in bad times. We’ve been through some very troubling times over the last couple of months. It goes back to communication is extremely important. People want to know how things are going. I think you need to be honest and authentic. I really believe authenticity is one of the most important things that you have. As a founder, I know that you have an unfair advantage because it gives you the moral authority given a founder, but it only works if people see that you are being authentic. That’s extremely important, and it’s important that you communicate the good things, it’s important that you communicate the bad things even if that’s a lot harder. Communication is important. Something we found ourselves leaning even much more on are our values and our culture and using those as the guide as you make tough decisions, which you have to make in an environment like this – always coming back to our values and our culture. Is it the right thing based on our culture? That’s really powerful, and it helps keep everybody together. Then, going back to resilience and talk about how do you deal with all of this. There’s work, but there’s also life, and there’s life beyond the work. And be empathetic about what people go through, I think is really important, as well. It’s a different environment that’s leaning on the foundation that you’ve built over the years. Hopefully, they’re really strong. I think it worked well for us.
Alejandro: Now, during this time, you’ve been able to see the process of bringing that data to understand and have better workflows and things of that nature. I think during a pandemic like this, it’s essential to be able to optimize certain things of the operations. So, what are some of the challenges that you see companies facing when it comes to data?
Felix Van De Maele: There were massive challenges before because we’ve seen the explosion in data, not just in the volume of data, but also the amount of people that actually consume data, produce data, work with data, need data, and that’s what we’re focused on because there’s a lot of chaos, and you need to make it easier for people to get access to trusted data. That’s what we do. You see it even more so now in the pandemic when you look at all the reporting, and the questions around how many cases were there? How do we count the cases? Is that the same across countries, and how do we compare those data points. It all goes back to trust and trust in data, which is really what we focus on. That was important in 2008 in the financial crisis and a big problem, and it’s important in this crisis as well, so always going back to that trust and data is critical. That not only reinforces the need for data governance and data intelligence is what we do. The other thing we’ve seen is that at acceleration, there was digital transformation. People now understand. Everybody’s working remotely, and it’s accelerating that shift toward digital transformation. Digital transformation is built upon data. Data is the foundation for artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, all of that is basically built on data. If you don’t have that great foundation, it becomes problematic. For us, ultimately, I believe it’s a good thing. Obviously, a lot of companies are going through very difficult times, and we’re also very supportive of our customers in that context, but data has only become much more important even while it was already very important before.
Alejandro: With the customers that you see, what are the typical ways in which they’re using data to tackle challenges?
Felix Van De Maele: It’s ultimately an abstract as how do you get to outcomes faster? It depends on what the customer wants to do. We have a lot of customers in banking, financial services, and health care, so there’s a lot of compliance, like reporting that they need to provide to regulators to show that they have their business under control. So if they can do that faster, more efficiently, more effectively, that makes a massive difference. So, we help them do that because ultimately those numbers in the reports come from a whole different set of data points, databases, and it’s actually incredibly complex to bring that all together and come up with a number that everybody can trust and stand behind. That’s something that we help our customers with. Now, with privacy, as data has become much more important, how do we make sure that we have the right privacy controls in place so that our customers or companies are consumers of that data, can trust that data as being treated correctly. Again, you need to understand what data you have, where it is, who’s using it, are they using it for the right reasons, and as a company, how do you manage and coordinate all of that? That’s something that we help our customers with. The other thing is that digital transformation. It’s all about getting better customer insights, getting better product insights, moving to the Cloud, investing in AI, machine learning, it’s all based on data sets. So, how do you make sure people have easy access to that data? The way we think about it is as the Amazonification of data. So just like you show up on Amazon for products, and the next day they deliver it to your door, we want to have the same experience from a data perspective. If I need a data set, I can just shop for it in my data catalog, and it gets delivered to me in an easy and trustworthy way, and it makes my life a lot easier.
Alejandro: Imagine, Felix, that today you go to bed, and you have a tremendous snooze. You sleep for literally five years, and you wake up in a world where the vision of Collibra is fully realized. What does that world look like?
Felix Van De Maele: That’s a great question. I think ultimately, we want to become that data marketplace where we almost become the brokerage of data. If I’m a consumer of data, I put a request on that marketplace and say, “I want to do this analysis. I need that type of data. Please give it to me.” So, as a producer, if I have access to data, I can actually make it available on the marketplace. It’s almost become that brokerage between consumers and producers of data where we leverage AI And machine learning to automatically stitch data together and truly build that data marketplace in a way that’s trustworthy, compliant, privacy-aware, privacy by design, all these things that are incredibly important. That, I would say, is what we call truly data intelligence. That’s the big vision.
Alejandro: And to accomplish that, and to get this rocket ship to go to the right place, you need a great team. How many people do you have right now as part of the team?
Felix Van De Maele: Right now, we have about 650 people.
Alejandro: Wow. So, how do you think about culture because I’m sure that for all these people, first the culture, you are the one as the founder that establishes it, and then people are getting inspired and live by it? What does the culture for Collibra look like?
Felix Van De Maele: We codified our culture in 2014 when we started to grow quickly. It has to be authentic. It has to be coming from the founders, but also more broadly to the team that you have at that time. We did a lot of surveys, worked with the team to come up with the six values that we have. One of them is “One Collibra.” We all work together, collaborate, and we share success, and we share failure. It’s a big value that we have. We’re the customer’s champion. We’re very customer-oriented. Like I said, we were that from the beginning. We followed our customers; we didn’t follow investors. It’s still a big value that we have in Collibra. We are open, direct, and kind. Again, an important value that we have is about being respectful. We also want to be very open and direct about what’s working and what’s not working, but always in a kind and respectful way. It’s not an excuse to be an ***, so to speak. That’s a really important value, as well. And it’s important that you codify that, that you live and breathe those values, and if you ask around, you really feel that these are real values at the company and people care about them a lot.
Alejandro: Absolutely. Now, it’s been quite a ride with Collibra, Felix. I’m sure that you’ve had your fair amount of successes and failures that you’ve been able to learn from and to reflect and push forward from. If you had the opportunity to go back in time, perhaps to that time where you were still in school and thinking about launching something, knowing what you know now, what would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to that younger Felix before launching a business?
Felix Van De Maele: It’s a good question. I ultimately think I would do much differently. There are a lot of small things I would do differently, but they’re technical things. There’s also not just one silver bullet for success. It’s just too complex, and every story is unique. I think trusting in yourself and having that growth mindset, wanting to understand, building that resilience, putting yourself out of your comfort zone, and trusting that things will work out, not automatically, but through a lot of hard work is ultimately the most important thing because it prepares you for whatever comes at you, and you never know what’s going to come at you, and it keeps changing every day. Look at what we’re going through now. So, having the right mindset is, ultimately, the most important.
Alejandro: Very nice. For the people that are listening, Felix, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Felix Van De Maele: Email is probably the easiest. It’s [email protected]. I’m happy to email.
Alejandro: Amazing. Well, Felix, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Felix Van De Maele: Happy to. Thank you so much.
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