S02E13: Felix Van de Maele, Collibra

In this episode of the Without Borders podcast as part of our series speaking to unicorn leaders, we are joined by the founder and CEO of Collibra, Felix Van de Maele.

After creating the data governance category more than a decade ago, Collibra is now on a mission to make data more human and help people become data literate. Van de Maele reflects on the significant role communications plays in educating the market and standing out from the crowd.

Collibra’s CEO discusses how starting with your communications journey and putting a real focus on it early on will pay dividends and highlights the utter importance of surrounding yourself with a team of experts to be successful.

Listen today to hear why growing Collibra can be compared to a climb and why Van de Maele decided to move the company headquarters from Belgium to New York.

The interview, as ever, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast.


Russ: [00:00:00] Thanks for downloading the latest in our series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR agency Tyto, and their own Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of Unicorn companies to find out about the key issues, pain points and challenges that start-ups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. My name is Russell Goldsmith and my co-host for this series of interviews is Tyto’s founder, Brendon Craigie. And today we are thrilled to be joined online from New York by Felix Van De Maele, Co-Founder and CEO of Collibra, a big data management start-up that raised $112.5m in April 2020 and achieved a $2.3bn valuation. Welcome to the show, Felix. We always like to start by getting our guests to give us a quick introduction to their business. So over to you.

Felix: [00:00:51] Perfect. Thank you, Russell and Brendon. Great to be here. So, like you said, Collibra, we are a data intelligence software company, so a software company and we help typically large organisations, ultimately better find, understand and trust their data. We do that through data intelligence, which really is about connecting data to the right people, to the right insights and to the right reports, and in that sense, help companies with data governance, how do we make sure we can trust and have confidence in our data and our reports. We help them around data cataloguing. How do we help analysts to find the right data faster? Think of it like Amazon for data. And of course, we help them run data privacy as well, round the GDPR regulations, CCPA regulations. We believe as data becomes more and more important and foundational for any large organisation, treating data in the right way and really being compliant to these privacy regulations, which are only going to increase, is really important. And so that’s what we do for large companies across every single industry, from financial services to health care, retail, technology and so on.

Brendon: [00:01:52] Thanks Felix. And when you announced your latest round of funding last year, we noticed that you kind of spoke about how large companies were living in or living with data chaos. And I guess we’re coming up to a year on from then. How has the situation evolved since then and is that still the case? And has the pandemic changed things at all?

Felix: [00:02:15] Yeah, it’s a really good question. And this is something that has gone on for a number of years now. If you think about, we started the company 12 years ago at the very beginning. But over the last 10 years, the importance of data has only increased. The volume of data has only increased. We saw the whole shift towards the Cloud and Big Data, so more volume, more complexity. But on the other hand, the number of people that consume data, produce data, use data to do their work, day to day, has only increased. And that combination of all these factors really has led to that data chaos. Right? And organisations have started to understand that they really need to build that foundation to be able to so to speak tame the chaos and really get to valuable outcomes. And I think at the pandemic, we’ve actually been able to see that play out not just within organisations, but almost in society. If you think about covid-19, we’ve all, I’m sure, looked weekly if not daily to the dashboard to see how things are moving. Are they good, are they bad, how are things changing? And we’ve seen a lot of discussions as well and questions around, are these numbers correctly, can I actually, can we compare how Belgium is doing versus how the US is doing versus how the UK is doing? Can we actually compare those numbers. How are these measured? Are they correct? Can we trust them? So, this whole result about the data chaos and not really having confidence and trust often in the numbers so we can actually make a decision based on them. I think we’ve seen this play out in the mainstream media and in society at large. And so, it’s been interesting to see that reflected what has been going on in organisations for a long time, now publicly. The other thing that we’ve seen is that given that it’s all about helping people ultimately work together and given that we’ve all been forced to work from home, this need for collaboration, I think has only increased the need for a tool, a platform, a system to actually make that easier, because it used to be easy to just meet with people in the hallway, have a meeting to agree and have these discussions. Now that we’re all working from home, this has only increased in importance.

Brendon: [00:04:16] And have you found, we’ve spoken to different Unicorn leaders and some have found that the last year has been challenging in terms of doing business, but a lot of them have actually found it’s led to kind of increased demand for their technology. How is the environment worked for you, this past 12 months or so, you know, since the pandemic?

Felix: [00:04:37] Yeah, I’d say both. I think at the beginning of the pandemic, let’s say March, April, May, there was a lot of uncertainty. And so, everyone, including ourselves, we’ve almost paused a little bit to say, OK, how is this going to play out? There were at the time, we had no idea how bad it was going to get or how good or OK it was going to be. I think what we’ve seen in the second half of the year that’s actually been not as bad as we thought it was going to be. And so, in the beginning, we definitely saw a pause, we were just waiting to see what was going to happen, let’s make sure we are conservative enough. But then through the second half of the year, we’ve seen really business kick up and again, the thing that has really happened through this pandemic is that the shift or digital transformation, I’m sure you’ve heard of before, has only been accelerated, right? All of the e-commerce has shifted totally to the web, to digital. So, everything has kind of shifted to digital and we really believe that data is at the foundation of this shift of digital. Ultimately, if you think about these digital companies, they are inherently all data companies. And so, in that sense, the need to have that foundation around data, really being able to get to outcomes with data faster, be able to trust data, make decisions around data, has only increased in importance. And we’ve seen that translate in our business as well, where first half of the year I’d say a little uncertainty and let’s wait and see. Second half of the year we’ve really seen that reaccelerate and that’s what we expect for ’21 as well.

Brendon: [00:05:59] That’s really exciting. I was doing a little bit of homework and I was thinking back to the term ‘Big Data’, it’s kind of been around for a while. Apparently, someone coined the term in 2005. You know, we’re still at the beginning of 2021, what’s kind of next frontier in this whole area of Big Data, because it feels like we’ve been talking about it for a long time, what do you think the real need is in 2021?

Felix: [00:06:26] Yeah, indeed like over the last 15 years, we’ve seen this enormous shift in data and up until now, I think to focus to your point, has been a lot about big data. It’s a lot about the volumes of data, complexity of data. The more data is better. And that has been the focus. And we’ve seen a lot of innovations technically as well. Or rather, how do we store that data? How do we capture that data? How do we process that data at this kind of new volumes at scale that we haven’t seen before? The move to cloud, we’ve seen a lot of advancements there. I think what people are now realizing that just having more data is not necessarily the answer. And the analogy I use is like having a haystack and the haystack represents the amount of data you have. So, we’ve grown that haystack enormously and the needle, that piece of data, that data set that you actually need to make real impact, make a decision, get some insights… it’s just that small. Right? And so, in a way, we’ve made it harder and more difficult to find that needle in that haystack. And so, I think that’s been an interesting evolution. And so, what we’re starting to see now is that just having better technology to process more data than ever before is important. But it’s not enough. Right? And so, building that foundation around data where it’s easy for people to find the right data, it’s easy for people to trust that data that is correct, it’s easy for people to work together on data, it’s easy for people to treat data correctly from a privacy and security perspective, is becoming more and more important. And you’ve seen the trend where people are building these data lakes, which, again, it was all about the volume of data and they quickly became data swamps. Right, you couldn’t find anything anymore and so that realisation is really is really important. And even if you’re going to put it more on a philosophical level, we used to talk about data being the new oil. Right? And I really don’t like that phrase. I think it’s limiting. I think it’s about looking at data as a resource. And we at Collibra, we actually believe that data is much more than that. We don’t think it’s necessarily a resource. It’s almost a human emotion that’s about sharing information. It’s not something new, it’s something that humanity has done forever. So, we really think about data and much more about creating a shared language that can bring people closer together, can actually help people understand each other much better. And so, the thing we’ve seen as well around data over the last couple of years is that in the news, there’s been a lot of negative connotations around data. If you look at big tech, Facebook, Amazon, Google, how they treat data, how they kind of manipulate data, where it’s a negative thing, I think what we want to do at Collibra is really make data more human, so everybody truly understands what data can do for them, help people become data literate. And that’s why we talk about this concept of a data citizen, right, where you have a right as a citizen. We also have responsibilities. So, we believe everyone should have the right to have easy access to trustworthy data, because I think in this shift of digital transformation it’s going to be important for everybody to have that through their job. And that power of democratising that access, I think is really important. But on the other hand, that balance as a citizen, you also have responsibilities. And so, having the right responsibilities around treating that data right from a privacy and security perspective is just as important. And so that’s really how we believe that over the last 15 years, the shift towards big data is all about volume and technology, towards data now being something much more human, it’s all about collaboration, it’s all about trust, it’s all about confidence as an important shift that we’re seeing.

Brendon: [00:09:49] I think that’s a really refreshing perspective and helps to clarify where we’re at so thank you.

Russ: [00:09:55] Definitely, yeah. I just want to go back to, what I was saying on the introduction, Felix, and that recent investment, well, it’s coming up for a year, I guess now, which was quite a large investment in the business. Did that take you over into the unicorn status and up into the $2billion valuation, you weren’t at a unicorn stage before that? Or is that what took you to?

Felix: [00:10:18] We were the year before, so I think 2019. If I keep track correctly. We became a unicorn and we raised also $100million and then last year 2020 we raised another $112million and that pushed our valuation from $1billion to about $2.3billion.

Russ: [00:10:34] I mean one of the things we’re keen to, I guess, understand on this is that journey to becoming a unicorn but also when you reached that milestone, did it change the perception of the company?

Felix: [00:10:45] That’s a good question, and I often talk about this journey from starting a company from the very beginning where there’s nothing really. And I do think the analogy that I use, I like to think of it almost like a climb. When you’re climbing, of course, you have big ambitions and a big vision, so it’s not like you’re climbing a little hill, you want to climb Mount Everest, so to speak. And so, you can’t just go walk, walk straight up, it comes in stages and phases just like and then, Mount Everest there’s like base camp one and base camp two and you have to acclimate a little bit. And I think a kind of a start up towards that billion-dollar valuation is similar. I never used a valuation as a target. It’s really how you build the business and the result of that is what valuation you get. And we have to be honest as well, depending on where the markets are, the valuation really differs. Like if you would go back 10 years, a company at a similar stage, would have a very different valuation than a company would get today, if you look at the public market multiples that we’re seeing today. So, I really see that as a journey with important kind of milestones and then becoming that billion dollar company, which we did about two and a half years ago, I think was never the target for us, it was never a milestone. Again we don’t think of our valuation as a milestone, just a moment in time and a result of something that you’ve built. The good thing as a high growth company, as a start-up, it is a little bit like a flywheel and like a snowball. And the faster this flight goes, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and of course, the recognition you get as the unicorn allows you to hire more people, hire better talent, which is probably the most important thing that you have to do as a CEO and founder. And so, it gets you more credibility in the market. Like I said, we work with the largest companies in the world and they need to know that we’re going to be here in business for the next five years, the next 10 years, the long-time investments that they make, all of those things become a little easier. And so, in that sense, it’s again, it’s kind of a great way to make a flywheel go a little faster.

Russ: [00:12:43] Felix, we said you’re joining us from New York, but obviously you didn’t start the business in the States, you started it in Belgium. What was it like when you moved yourself over to the States and to carry on driving and building the business?

Felix: [00:12:52] Yeah, absolutely. So, we started in 2008 in Brussels in Belgium. But from the very beginning we realised that we couldn’t build a successful company in Belgium, given that the customers we focused on there just weren’t enough. So, we were very internationally focused from the very beginning. And so that’s kind of how it built. We actually found a lot of our product markets fit financial customers in the US and we did adjust to travelling. So, we travelled there for two weeks and then came back and over the phone late nights in Belgium. But that wasn’t really sustainable because we ultimately believe that presence creates opportunity. And so actually, one of our founders, [Stijn] Stan [Christiaens], was the first one to move, I think, in 2013 or 2014. Again, to be close to our customers. And then in 2015, as we started to scale the business, I was going back and forth between Brussels and New York every other week. And so, I was jet lagged like literally the entire time. So, I also realised that wasn’t sustainable anymore as well. And so, we decided to make the move full time to New York and really New York then became our headquarters for the company as well. And you see that often European companies, once they start to scale there’s more talent available as well as in the US, and we saw most of our customers actually in the US. Like I said, our initial product market fit was with financial services. And of course, we could do a lot of it in Brussels, New York is the other big hub. And so that’s really why we ended up in New York and maybe not San Francisco or Boston. We followed our customers not our investors. And so really that’s why we ultimately ended up in New York. And it’s been an interesting move in 2015. It’s interesting because it does require quite a bit of adjusting to scale in the US, but there’s a lot of lessons learned from that. But it was a really important, important decision that we make. And I’m sure we wouldn’t be where we are today if we wouldn’t have made that decision to fundamentally move.

Russ: [00:14:41] And how have you coped personally, I mean, did you travel backwards and forwards quite a bit before the pandemic? And obviously not being able to for the last 12 months, how’s that been?

Felix: [00:14:50] Yeah, it was very, very busy years. And 2015 we moved I think I got married in 2016. And by now we have two little daughters and so I started a family as well. And so, the travelling was still quite, quite heavy. So of course, I go back regularly to Belgium to meet the people there in our office, but also to London, to Paris, to Poland, around. And so, it’s been quite good in that sense. But we really call New York home, and we love it here. We really enjoy it, enjoyed being here for the last five years. And so, it’s been it’s been really good.

Brendon: [00:15:26] That’s really interesting, thanks, Felix. And so, thinking about the past year when we’ve all had to kind of operate with certain constraints, they say that necessity is the mother of invention, have there been kind of things that you’ve seen, that have kind of emerged in this past pandemic period, which have excited you?

Felix: [00:15:45] Yes, it’s really going back to that kind of acceleration of that shift of digital transformation. Everybody had to work from home and so we’ve really seen this shift happening in the next three years was happening in three months, so to speak. So, this massive acceleration, which was, I think, really exciting to see that happening. And again, for us and specifically the acceptance that data is really at the foundation of this, I think there’s been a saying for some time where we say that software is eating the world. I would argue that data is eating the world, very much so. And so, I think the importance of data also has been clearly shown almost on a societal level. I think on the one hand, you had the whole presidential election in the US, so much about data and the importance of data and also sometimes the mistrust of data. Again, the power of data is interesting and also around Covid I think, it’s been interesting to see how fast, how quickly we got to these vaccines. And again, data has been such an important kind of foundational source there. We’ve done what we could do as well from the Collibra’s perspective so we published our covid-19 data catalogue, so really taking into account and capturing all these different data sets wherever they come from and making sure people can easily find them, can trust them with the definitions like how do we actually measure this particular field, again to make it easier for people to do the right analysis based on that data. And we’ve made that publicly available and we’ve got great kind of adoption on that as well, which was exciting to see what we could do in that respect. And from our customers as well, we work with a lot of the largest pharma companies as well and again in that kind of research process, using data in the right way, having people access data faster, a bit more confidence is really impactful. And so, from that perspective it’s been really great to work with our customers on that side as well.

Russ: [00:17:33] Just switching topic for a second, a key part of what we talk about in these discussions with our unicorn leaders is on communications and culture within the business. And so, it’d be great to understand what your approach has been to raising awareness and differentiating yourself in, I guess, what must be a pretty crowded area.

Russ: [00:17:51] Yes, so it’s not something that kind of came natural to me as I started my first job at a school with a computer science degree. So, it’s something that I had to learn over time and also something that I had to learn why it’s so important as well. Communication, really standing out. And I go back to where we started where we really were able to create data governance as a category as a software category from the very beginning, we actually created that category and really positioned in the market because we believed that it was a really important thing to do. Now, as we grew, we also had to expand that category and again, communication in the market is really important because you have to educate the market, you have to explain your point of view, your perspective. And so, we’ve done it over the last couple of years, expanding from data governance into data intelligence as a broader category, which was a really important concept. But then also internally, as your company grows from 10 people to a thousand people, the focus on internal communication, especially during Covid, where you don’t have the opportunity to meet people in person all the time, only becomes much more important. When we’ve done surveys, I’ve never had people say we want less communication, people always want more, so doing that in the right way has been really important and has been part of my growth as a leader as well to understand how do you best do that? I believe surrounding yourself with the right people, with the right team that you can lean on, I think is really important, almost pushing yourself out of your comfort zone as well. Again, it’s not something that necessarily came naturally to me when I started. But as you do it, as you understand how important it is and it’s something that you have to really lean into. But the other thing that I’ve learned is that authenticity, I think, is the most important thing, because people have to believe you – you are who you are personally, the company is who the company is. And I think that’s something that people follow. So being really authentic in your story, in your beliefs and it goes back to our mission, our vision, our values as a company which has stayed really consistent over the last 10, 12 years, I think has been really something of a great foundation to build up on. And so, some of the things that I’ve learned and picked up over the last 10 years as I have evolved in my role and how we think about the communication.

Russ: [00:20:08] So you mentioned internal communications there, how have you been dealing with that over the last year? I mean, I don’t know if previously you’d spoken individually or to teams or to the company as a whole but, you’re now, as you said, you’re growing rapidly. I’m guessing you’re spread over numerous locations, but everyone’s been working at home or mostly, you know, for the last year, so how have you overcome those challenges? What kind of things have you been doing?

Felix: [00:20:35] Yeah, there’s a number of things and in general, I’ve always been very approachable. I’ve always enjoyed very much connecting directly with people. Now, again, as the company grows, it’s harder to do that, so we need to find leverage, I need to find a way to connect with people in a more effective way. I’ve always really enjoyed visiting our different offices. To your point we have different offices, big office in New York and Belgium and Poland and France and London, really across the world. And a big part of where I spend my time is visiting our different offices. And it was always great to actually connect with the people, you get a sense of the culture, you get a sense of how people are doing. People really appreciate it as well as, and so of course, in the Covid world, that wasn’t possible anymore. So, we had to think of alternatives and how do you connect in a world where everybody is at home, but also where there’s so much uncertainty and so much change, actually connecting and communicating has never been more important. So, we did a number of things. We did a lot of listening sessions with the management team, where we brought people together, five, six, seven, eight people and just listened. What’s going on? What do you care about? What are you concerned about? To really understand what’s going on within our teams, which was really important and very much appreciated by the company. We have regular all hands meetings and pre Covid we did that once a month. We said, OK, it’s important that we do it much more consistently and so we shifted to do that every other week, again, to have much more regular communications with the team.  I’ve started doing something, I started doing a biweekly vlog, like a video blog just internally, where I shared about what’s top of mind for me, what am I thinking of, what the executive team is thinking of, be able to recognise people, recognise great things that we’re doing, again, to have another opportunity for people to connect in that way, not just over, also over video, which is important. And then I did ‘Coffee with Felix’ again, just an opportunity for people to just connect directly about a random topic, people can sign up, it’s not an obligation at all. But just to give people an opportunity to connect directly with me as well, things I used to do when I was visiting our different offices I couldn’t do anymore now. And so, these are a couple of the things that we did last year to make sure people were able to connect and felt that sense of connectivity with everything that we’re doing.

Russ: [00:22:42] That’s brilliant, and do you think I mean, just going back to that culture element that I mentioned, how did you build and introduce the culture to the company? And have you managed to continue that, doing all those different things that you just mentioned over the last year?

Felix: [00:22:58] I think so. I mean, you have to ask the people, right?!

Russ: [00:23:01] Well, because I was going to say I mean, I don’t know how many people you’ve recruited over the last 12 months say that haven’t even experienced being in an office, you know, because that’s a key part of understanding the culture is working side by side and coming into the office every day. And of course, I’m guessing you’ve on boarded people that haven’t even experienced that at all.

Felix: [00:23:22] Yes, I don’t know the exact percentage, top of mind, but there’s actually quite a big percentage of people that have joined recently that have never been in the office and have never met anyone in person. Even in my management team, we have a few people that I have never actually seen in person, I don’t know really how tall they are right and it’s kind of strange to think about. But to your point, it just makes it so much more important and going back to culture in the beginning, it comes natural and it’s really part of that kind of initial team, the Founders initial team but as you grow, you have to be much more thoughtful about it. So, we made our cultural values explicit and we reinforce them all the time. A big part, of course, is an interview process to make sure that there’s a great culture fit as well. And for example, one of our values open, direct, and kind, so we are very transparent, very open and very kind and respectful in our communications as well. And that really flows through to kind of what you do, day in, day out. And I think that’s an example of some of the things that we’ve introduced this year to make sure people feel that. But it’s something that you always have to keep working on, you can’t take it for granted… people come and go. You always have to have to work on it, you can always strive to do better as well. You’re never going to be perfect as a company, but also personally. And so, it’s always like a goal that you’re working towards. But keeping that top of mind, everything that we do has been really important.

Brendon: [00:24:42] I think you’re right about needing to always just keep those things fresh and keep trying new things. Thinking more on the external front. I mean, how do you see your role as the external spokesperson for the company? And what have you learned along the way so far?

Felix: [00:24:59] Yes, it’s like I said, it’s not something that came naturally to me from the very beginning, but over time I realised how important it is. I think it’s important externally to put a face to the company, explain why we are here, why what we do is important to customers, to the broader market, to investors. I think that’s a really important aspect. But actually, even internally and I kind of underestimated that external communications, a big part of that, actually helping with internal communication as well. It’s important for people like our employees to see how we are being captured in the media or our external message is actually part of internal communication as well. So, I’ve learned how important it is. And so, it’s a much bigger part of my role versus a couple of years ago. And I expect that only to increase. It’s interesting with last year, of course, during Covid, there was so much going on internally, a lot of change, a lot of uncertainty. I felt the need to make sure we focus on my employees. And I spent a lot of time internally as well. And again, now that that’s shifting, where there’s light at the end of the tunnel, right and we see, the business shifting, it’s going to shift again to be much more kind of externally focused because that’s, of course, very, very important. But again, a part of the reason also is that we see ourselves as a category defining company. Like I said, we did that 10 years ago and we defined data governance category as the first one didn’t really exist. We felt like this is going to become really important, initially, interestingly, tied to the financial crisis in 2008, which initially gave rise to the need for data governance within all the large banks. So, we created that category, and you can only do that by externally explaining that to the market. And now we’ve over the last two years expanded that to data intelligence. And so, again, it’s on us to explain what we mean with data intelligence. Why is that important? Why is it impactful? And again, it’s all about external communication. So, it’s a really big part of the job.

Brendon: [00:26:54] I think you’re right. It’s kind of you’re like the cheerleader for the company aren’t you and I think that if they don’t see you out there, then they’re kind of like, why not? You know, it’s kind of that almost you’re getting recognition for the big business aren’t you and the team externally. It sounds like you formulated a bit of a plan to address that, you know, as in you recognised that as, it was an area that was kind of important to the business and then you formulated a bit of a plan as far as that kind of external role.

Felix: [00:27:20] Absolutely. And I can’t stress how important it is to surround yourself with kind of a great team again in everything that you do. I’m a big believer in what I call growth mindset, understanding what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, and always wanting to learn more and get better and kind of push yourself out of your comfort zone. And that’s how you get better, practice makes perfect and there’s still a lot of practice to be done. But surrounding yourself with a great team that can help you in that can create leverage for you, I think is absolutely critical. And that’s something that I recommend to all kind of founders, CEOs as a company grows. That’s your most important job, surround yourself with people that really are experts and that can help you create leverage. And I think that’s super, super important. So, having a plan in that sense and being really thoughtful and proactive around it is really important.

Russ: [00:28:05] What would you say has been the biggest communications challenge you’ve faced since you started the business?

Felix: [00:28:10] We haven’t ever been in crisis mode. So, I think there’s not an event like that where it was really difficult communication challenge in that sense. I think from the very beginning, the hardest part, in a way we’re still facing a little bit is explaining what we do in layman’s terms, that people get why it is important. In the beginning, it was all about, people didn’t realise how important data was, so we were talking about data and data governance like, why is this important? Like, why is it even relevant? And so, in that sense, that was our biggest challenge. I think over the last ten years we’ve clearly seen how important data is, so people understand that now. But in explaining what exactly we do, it’s still a challenge because it’s quite abstract and it’s something that large companies deal with every day. But as an individual, it’s easy for me to understand what Instagram does, it’s hard for me to understand what Collibra does and why it is important and how it exactly works. And explaining something that’s abstract and complex in kind of easy-to-understand terms continues to be a challenge. I think we’ve got better at it over time, but it’s still something that’s top of mind and I think important to be able to really explain in a very simple and easy to understand way.

Brendon: [00:29:19] So, I think we’re getting close to the end our questions and things, but thinking about the future, what does the future hold for Collibra? And, you know, do you have any plans that you could maybe share of how you see things shaping up in 2021?

Felix: [00:29:34] Yes, I mean, we’re really excited about ’21, we see a lot of traction in the market, again, around data that this acceleration of digital transformation is fuelling the need for more data, but also a better data foundation. And again, both from a trust and compliance, from a governance perspective, as well as a how do we help analysts find the right data faster so we can actually create better insights faster, but also from a privacy perspective. And so, I think it’s a really exciting time for us because we really see that becoming mainstream. Every organisation is hiring, for example, the Chief Data Officer. And that trend has been ongoing, but only accelerating. And it’s almost a proxy, it shows the importance of data at the highest level of organisations. Boards of directors are really understanding the strategic importance of data in the whole digital transformation. So that continues to be a lot of market pool and market awareness that’s increasing and that’s really exciting for us and it’s going to continue to fuel a lot of our growth. The other interesting thing is that we see a lot of aspects around data coming together. I think the challenge is that as data has become so mainstream, and understandable at how important it is, there’s been so many data companies out there. 10 years ago, we were one of the few and now there is hundreds, if not thousands of data companies and it’s harder to, to your earlier point, rise above the noise, so to speak. And so, we just work around really being able to have that compelling vision, compelling mission. And I think we really are quite unique in our believes and I talked a little bit about our beliefs, around our obligation to humanise data where it’s not a bad thing, it’s a positive thing or our belief that we need to make everyone data literate so we can democratise data. And also, I believe that ultimately data can bring people close together as can that shared language. I think that’s quite a unique and really compelling vision and mission that we have, and we want to continue to push that forward. And so, in ’21 we’re really excited about the growth that we continue to see. It’s clearly an enormous market opportunity. I think we’re really strongly positioned given our history, but also the planning that ran from a product perspective, how uniquely we bring everything together for governance, catalogue, privacy, quality. We recently acquired a data quality company, which is really exciting and it’s a great extension of our platform. So long term, we believe we can build a long-term successful large, independent company. And that’s kind of the journey we’re on, I talked a little bit about that climb that I’ve talked about, we’ve, again the first phase of that plan was to get us from nothing to over a hundred million in revenue. And we’ve done that really successfully. And so, we’ve turned that quarter and now we’re on the second journey in the second leg of the climb so to speak to go from $100million to that next phase. And it’s really exciting and so very much looking forward to what the next years are going to be.

Russ: [00:32:27] Is that the first time you’ve done an acquisition, made an acquisition or have you?

Felix: [00:32:31] It’s our second acquisition. Last year, year before, we acquired a small company around data lineage. And that’s all about how do we help and understand how data actually flows to your organisation. If you look at data and reports, how do we know where they actually came from? And that’s important, again, to kind of trust, trust those numbers. And so that’s an acquisition we did a year and a half ago. And now recently last month, we did an acquisition around data quality, which is, again, a great expansion of our platform,

Russ: [00:32:57] Because I was just going to ask, because that’s another interesting, it goes back to that question about culture, isn’t it? Because you’re now bringing in a new team from a different business. That’s another challenge.

Felix: [00:33:08] Absolutely. The first acquisition, they were relatively small, but the first acquisition has been really successful. Again, it’s a team that we knew for a while and so we knew they were going to be a really good culture fit. And that’s proven to be the case. That’s great. And now the team around data quality that we acquired, again, we were I think at that stage, the most important thing you’re acquiring, so to speak, is really the team, their knowledge, expertise, but also the culture fit and how well they’re going to fit in the organisation. And so, we felt really, really good about that sense from the very beginning. And so really exciting to have to have that team join us on our mission. And I mean, there’s been a lot of excitement internally as well as externally. So, we’re very excited about the prospects of that acquisition.

Russ: [00:33:53] Great. Felix, we’ve got one final question for you. It’s something we’ve asked all our unicorn leaders that we’ve interviewed so far and that is, if you were to go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give yourself about communications? And also, what steps would you encourage yourself to take for you and the business to excel in communications?

Felix: [00:34:14] It’s a good question and I think the realisation that communications is important earlier, starting earlier, surrounding yourself with people that can help you with that earlier. It’s so important, especially like as if you’re creating and defining a new category, communication is so important. And maybe it’s a bit of kind of either my personality where we come from in Belgium, like I moved to the US, communication comes much more natural here and a little bit of almost like boasting and being proud of everything that we’re doing. Whereas I think in Belgium and myself, I think we’ve been a little too humble maybe. But I think it is really important to communicate to the market what you’re doing, why it is important, what progress you’re making. So just realising that a little sooner, I would say getting help with that maybe a little sooner. And I think that would be my recommendation from that perspective, if I would be able to go back in time.

Russ: [00:35:06] Felix Van De Maele, thank you so much for taking the time to join us online and chat with us today, it’s been brilliant. Thank you.

Felix: [00:35:11] Thanks for having me.

Russ: [00:35:15] Thought’s on today’s chat, Brendon?

Brendon: [00:35:16] I really enjoyed that. Couple of things really stuck out for me from what Felix said. What he said at the end about starting with your communications journey very early on and putting a real focus on it early on. And the fact that that will pay dividends was I think a valuable lesson for that he shared for himself, which I think other companies would benefit from. And then I think something that he said, which hasn’t been said quite as much by other people is the importance of surrounding yourself with experts, with great people that can help you with your communications journey and share their advice if it’s not something you’re, you know, a natural at, which is understandable because you can’t be brilliant at everything. So, I thought those two points really stood out for me.

Russ: [00:36:05] Good stuff. Well, that’s actually it for this latest episode in the series with Tyto. If you want to find out more about Collibra, then their website is simply Collibra.com. We’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat, and you can share them on our Facebook page, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter feeds or in the comments on the YouTube version of this podcast. Those are all linked from the top of our website at csuitepodcast.com, where you’ll also find all our previous shows and supporting show notes plus links to where you can subscribe for automatic downloads of each episode via the likes of Spotify and Apple. And if you’ve liked what you heard, please do give us a positive rating and review. We’re, of course, available on all podcast apps, just search for the csuite podcast and hit subscribe. And also, please do subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto, all the details for that are on their website. And so just head to TytoPR and click on the podcast link in the top nav bar. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of this series, please do get in touch via the contact form on the website at csuitepodcast.com. Plus, of course, anyone can get in touch too, with any feedback you may have. And finally, if you want to reach me via Twitter using @russgoldsmith or you can find me on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye.

Without Borders PR Podcast by Tyto

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