How it all began: three moments that needed to happen before Datashift could happen

19 January 2022
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On January 15th 2015, 7 years ago, Datashift was born. Ever since then, the company has been growing quickly. The past seven years have not been without its challenges, but Datashift has managed to survive the delicate “baby stage”, it has lived through the “terrible two’s” and is now well on its way to go through those early teen years successfully. But Datashift’s birth and subsequent successes wouldn’t have happened if other things didn’t happen first in CEO Nico Huybrechts’ life. “There are three moments that were pure luck, but looking back, they were the catalyst for Datashift.”

The first of those particular moments happened while you were travelling in Costa Rica and Panama in 2006. So how does Datashift’s story begin nine years earlier on the other side of the world?

Nico: “Like many others, I travelled around a bit after graduating from university. But I left so quickly for Costa Rica; I missed the university’s fairs on job opportunities. My best friend collected every company leaflet and left them in my student room. When I came back and my landlord, with who I had a good relationship, saw the stack of leaflets, he noticed one from his son-in-law’s company. It was Numius, a consulting company specialised in business intelligence founded by Geert Hallemeesch and Jo Coutuer. He mentioned me to his son-in-law (Jo), and I got an interview. I didn’t expect much of it, to be honest, but I thought ‘I might as well have a chat with this guy, out of respect for my landlord’. That interview went well, and I got offered the job right then and there. I had a good feeling about the company, so I jumped at the chance immediately. What did I have to lose?”

So your job at Numius was your first taste of business intelligence — one of the many specialities of Datashift?

Nico: “Exactly. I took my first steps in BI and data analytics at Numius. The leadership team at Numius believed in me as of day one. From the moment I started working for his company in 2007, he had confidence in me and my work. As a result, I was able to learn fast and take on some great responsibilities at Numius. But at a certain point, around my fourth year at the company, I started to feel that it was time for something else. I had a feeling that I had done everything I could do at Numius, that I gave it my all. So it was time for new challenges.”

Is this another turning point, then? Is this the second moment that needed to happen to get to Datashift?

Nico: “Yes. And it’s another one those ‘Well, what do I have to lose’-moments. I decided to talk to Thierry Cloetens, one of the partners at Numius, about my desire to do something new. He was honest with me and said he understood I wanted to leave. He immediately added an important ‘but’, though. He said, ‘But Nico, we’re working on something behind the scenes. Things are happening. Things that will give you many more opportunities here’. Even though I didn’t know what was coming, I knew I could trust Thierry.

So I stayed, and in 2012 Numius was sold to Deloitte. And Thierry was right: this did give me new opportunities on a whole new level. Working for Numius, I gained experience in data and BI. But working for Deloitte, I got to experience a different style of entrepreneurship. I got a taste of the business side of things — consulting, networking, the power of storytelling. I would never have interviewed for a job at Deloitte on my own – it just didn’t interest me to work for such a big company. But I did learn a lot during my time there. Still, after two years, I thought ‘right, now I’ve really learned all I could learn here, time to move on’. So I did.”

And along came Datashift?

Nico: “Not yet. I started interviewing at other companies first. I think I went to eight job interviews, and seven of them ended in a job offer. But the thing was — and this is the third important moment — I never felt ‘this is it!’. The job offers were good, the people seemed nice, but I didn’t have an overwhelming feeling. And why would I leave an okay job for another okay job? I wanted more than okay – something more thrilling. And that’s when the idea started to form that maybe I should just create my own company – a company based on my ideas of great customer service, a great place to work, with strong values and a clear mission to create impact for clients. I knew I could afford a little less than a year without any income, so I went for it. Datashift was born.”

This idea of ‘just going for it’ seems to run through your veins.

Nico: “Yes, I think that’s the common thread in every one of my career steps. What’s the worst that could happen? Sure, the company could’ve failed after a few months. But then you move on and work somewhere else. At least I tried. I think there would’ve been much more to lose if I never gave Datashift a try. I would’ve gotten a job somewhere that was only okay, where I felt only okay, in an environment and with values that were only okay. For me, that’s simply not fulfilling. At Datashift, we’ve created a world where expertise and custom work are combined with a strong vision of who we are. It’s exactly what I had in mind when we started seven years ago. And the fact that it works, that people respond to that, makes me feel way better than ‘okay’. So it was worth the risk.”

And Datashift is now a healthy, growing seven-year-old.

Nico: “True. Having your own company is like raising a kid. The first few months are all about survival. You feed the baby, change its diapers, only get a few hours of sleep here and there — it’s 24/7. The same is true for a company. As founders, you do all the work at all hours of the day and night. And then you get to the toddler years. You can leave a few tasks to someone else, but you still need to keep a close eye on everything because, you know, toddlers fall or bump their heads easily. When that toddler becomes a kid — in the case of Datashift, the kid is a company with over 50 employees —, you stop holding its hand so often. You can let go a bit more. And now Datashift is on its way to becoming a successful teenager – a phase I’m looking forward to because these are the years you can afford more risks, more challenges, more adventure. Our definitive character will be shaped the coming years which is probably one of the most exciting phases. Looking forward!”