From Co-Founder to COO to CTO: the many phases of scaling a unicorn from the CTO of Collibra

Boats in the image representing Collibra journey while scaling.

If my years working with some of the fastest growing companies have taught me anything, it’s that we all have to wear a lot of hats at our companies before we reach the growth stage. Every founder starts by learning the ins and outs of each side of their business. And only when they’ve achieved even the slightest bit of growth can they start to truly mold their role.

This was exactly the experience of Stijn “Stan” Christians, Co-Founder and CTO of Collibra. Stijn joined us on the ScaleUp Valley podcast this week. It was a very special episode in which Christians, the Co-Founder of one unicorn, expounded upon scaling Collibra in a discussion with Pedro Torres, the Engineering Director of another unicorn – Talkdesk. A two unicorn show!

If you’d like to know what I took from this episode feel free to read my highlights here. Otherwise, check out the whole episode of the ScaleUp Valley podcast to get key insights into how Collibra has scaled up their business from just four people to over three hundred.

It’s all about going where you need to be

When Collibra started back in June 2008, it was just four founders who found a market in data governance. They started the business in Belgium while studying for their phDs. Christians admitted that, for the most part during this period, they didn’t know what they were doing.

But they recognized how important data is and how much companies were struggling to manage it as an asset. With so much time spent on searching for one’s data, they knew there was a need for their product.

For Christians, he was designated the title of Chief Operating Officer during, what he calls, the first phase of Collibra. This role was very field focused and required that he build up his tasks as he went along.

But soon, the team saw that they weren’t able to captivate the US market, which they found to be much more unified and less fragmented than their home in Europe. It was that moment that Christian realized it was time to start scaling out and make a move.

According to Christians, “Moving to New York, this was all about going where you need to be.” The move made sense not only personally, to not have to travel as often, but also because it helped the company attract and maintain clients.

Shifting roles to help the scaling business

The move wasn’t easy though. Christians arrived as the sole employee in the New York branch, quickly hiring on two more. “It was a difficult first year,” he admitted.

But as Collibra started scaling, they managed to hire on people who fulfilled the roles of his original position as COO. What was his next move?

“You’re always trying to ask: how can I help with the business? So then my role shifted to CTO,” he said. Building up a new role, in a new office, brought new challenges, but Christians has managed to navigate his way through uncharted waters for the past 11 years – and is ready to do it for 11 more.

That’s not all from this episode of the podcast, so take some time to listen to the full recording. If you want to know more about ScaleUp Valley initiatives, calendar and purpose, join our community by subscribing to the ScaleUp Valley newsletter. Then, keep listening and keep scaling!