Six years of Datashift, three lessons learned

3 February 2021
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Datashift’s story started on January 15th, 2015. From the get-go, it was clear we wanted to do great things with Datashift. But building a company from the ground up is never a straight line. There are bumps in the road, highs, and lows, but most importantly: lessons learned. As we celebrate six years of Datashift, I'd like to take a look back and share exactly some of those lessons.

1. Don’t overestimate the value of a plan

When you have your own business, it’s vital to have a solid plan about your vision, corporate culture, and strategies. But it’s equally important not to hold onto that plan too much.

A plan is a good starting point, it’s a conversation starter, but it shouldn’t be set in stone.

You have to give yourself space and flexibility to deal with the unexpected—both the good and the bad. If you follow your plan down to the last detail, you won’t be able to react as well as you should to some of the biggest challenges or toughest decisions. ‘But the plan says this or that’, is not always the best answer to handle a changing situation. It would be regrettable to miss a great opportunity because of that same way of thinking.

When Datashift started, we focused on Business Intelligence initially but were planning on taking on data science and engineering projects real soon. Data governance was way down our to-do list. However, a chance encounter with the people behind Collibra, a data governance tool, made us change our minds. We had had such a great conversation with them; it felt like a ‘now or never moment’ to work with Collibra. We changed our initial plan, focused on data governance first, and moved data science and engineering a little down the line. We now have twenty Datashift consultants who specialize in Collibra technology. Looking back on this decision, it was the best one we could’ve made.

This is not the only moment in Datashift’s history where we deviated from our initial plan - because an opportunity knocked on the door, because a tough decision had to be made, or because an international health crisis forced us to take different actions. But time and time again, we trusted our gut and successfully steered our company in new directions. Of course, these moments of change are made easier when you have a group of employees who understand the importance of being flexible and who gladly ride the waves together as a team. As a company leader, the best decision you can make is to stay true to yourself and the vision you have for your organization; It’ll be easier to do the right thing when something unexpected happens.

2. Don't be reckless

Being an entrepreneur means you take certain risks. But it doesn’t automatically mean that those risks should be irresponsible or, worse, reckless. Especially when it comes to people. The past six years of Datashift have made it clear how important it is to care for one another. When it comes to our employees, we take each and everyone’s characteristics into account. We don’t push someone who is already at their limits, but we might push a little harder when we notice someone can handle extra challenges. It all depends on the context, situation, and person.

We handle our clients with the same respect and dignity. We strive for long term partnerships and take care of the people we work with and for. It’s essential to understand the person behind the title or the business to get such a strong relationship. So, we’re not reckless with people - but we’re not pushovers either, so we don’t accept people being reckless with us. At Datashift, we have zero tolerance for those who don’t treat us with the same attitude. When we’re recruiting people for a new job or meeting up with a new client, we always make sure they’re a good fit with our company by listening carefully to their story and intentions. If it doesn’t match, no big deal, but we won’t be working together. We’ve learned the hard way that wrong collaborations only lead to chaos.

So don’t be afraid to protect your team by respectfully dismissing someone who doesn’t match your company’s philosophy.

But as the company’s CEO, my aversion to recklessness isn’t just limited to people - it’s an excellent attitude to have in business in general. When it comes to making deals or deciding your growth strategy, you might have to take a risk here and there. But it should always be a calculated risk. And don’t let anyone fool you: being a careful entrepreneur doesn’t mean you’re not an actual entrepreneur. These days, entrepreneurship is all too much defined by big ideas and even bigger risks. But if you want to build a sustainable - excuse the buzz word - business, one that survives long after you’re gone, avoiding reckless people or decisions and using some common sense instead might be the best answer.

3. Don't pretend

Life’s not all sunshine and rainbows - neither is having your own business. And you know what? That’s okay. People like to put on a mask for the outside world - and social media kind of pushes us to do so. We only show the best side of ourselves, our lives, our business. But most of it is merely an illusion; we’re putting ourselves on our own pedestal. But there aren’t that many people that care about you or your business as much as you do. So why would you pretend? Be authentic, be yourself, follow your instincts - and mostly: don’t let anyone make you believe that their story or their piece of advice is the pinnacle of everything.

I think we could all use some more humility. As the CEO and founder of Datashift, I’m happy with where we’re at with the company. In those six years, we’ve grown a lot, and we continue to do so. But I would never toot my own horn because I didn’t do it all by myself. We have great people who’ve put in so much work over the years. Some of them have also taken risks. Take Nathalie, for example; she gave up her job at Deloitte to become Datashift’s second employee. She took a risk because all I could tell her at the time was that we wanted to do great things. But she believed in Datashift and gave it a shot. How incredible is that?

So no, as entrepreneurs, we never do it all by ourselves. I wouldn’t trust those who claim they do.

Those with the loudest voice are not always the ones doing the best things. In my six years at Datashift, I’ve seen other companies come to market with a lot of noise, and I’ve seen those same companies disappear quietly. Pretending to be the big shot leads to nowhere; it only puts more pressure on yourself when you try to live up to your own mirage. There’s a great line in Baz Luhrmann’s song ‘Everybody’s free,’ it goes: “The race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself.” My sentiments exactly. Enough with the pressure. The only thing we as humans have to achieve is to say ‘it’s been good’ at the end of our life. Everything else doesn’t really matter in the long run, does it?

That's it folks.