“We Just Knew He Would Be a Great Chief Executive”
Position: Co-Founder and CEO of DataFox
Home: San Francisco, Calif
Education: Undergraduate degree from Tilburg University in The Netherlands and MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business
Family: Fiancee, Meron Alon
Career: Prior to DataFox, Janmaat spent three years as a growth equity analyst with Goldman Sachs.
Favorite books: “Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton. “It might not be my favorite book, but I like it because it shows just how serendipitous the founder’s journey can be,” Janmaat said. “It puts my mind at ease when I realize that we don’t always plan everything perfectly. Sometimes you just have to rely on a little optimism and coincidence for your company to make progress.”
Interests: Sports, including running. He also recently took up golf. “But I guess that makes me a very late adopter because the rest of the world is moving away from the game,” he said.
Fun Fact No. 1: Janmaat is 6-foot-6.
Fun Fact No. 2: He speaks four languages — English and Dutch fluently and “survival” Spanish and German.
Fun Fact No. 3: He is obsessed with the Dutch national soccer team. “It has given me more lows than highs over the last decade,” Janmaat said. “They’ve out-performed relative to the small population so impressively and raised hopes to such a high degree. But unfortunately those hopes have been dashed time and time again.”
When four co-founders launched DataFox in 2013, it was obvious to each of them what roles they should play at their startup.
Mike Dorsey would be the product manager and run the business operations. Ben Trombley was the clear choice to oversee engineering. Alden Timme, with his background in machine learning and artificial intelligence, would serve as the chief data scientist.
And CEO? There wasn’t any doubt that it would be Bastiaan Janmaat.
“Ben, Alden and I never even talked about it,” Dorsey said. “We just knew he would be a great chief executive. Bastiaan has a strong presence, but he also has an enormous sense of humility and great people skills. That’s not a naturally occurring combination of traits, but he has them all.”
DataFox has made big strides in just three years as an intelligence and insights platform that primarily helps customers identify new business opportunities. While the co-founders are a quartet of equals, Janmaat is the public face of the growing company.
Janmaat had hoped that he would one day be in this position. He began his business career as an investment banking analyst, and part of that job entailed meeting with entrepreneurs. He often would find himself feeling slightly envious.
“I quickly figured out that I wanted to be on their side of the table, not mine,” recalled Janmaat, 31. “So I always wanted to see if that would be something for me and be in their shoes.”
It’s safe to say those shoes fit.
Think of Janmaat as a citizen of the world.
The son of Dutch parents, he was born in Japan and grew up in Singapore. He studied in The Netherlands, Hong Kong and Spain. Then he worked in England before eventually coming to the Bay Area.
“I feel very fortunate that I’ve had such a different set of experiences on my way here,” Janmaat said. “But this really is the center of the universe. Silicon Valley is such a melting pot of people coming from all around the world who want to be part of building something new. More than any other place I’ve lived, this has such an incredible diversity of backgrounds.”
His father worked for consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. (“He was selling diapers in Japan,” joked Janmaat, explaining why he was born there.) Moving around with his family meant that he attended international schools and learned to adapt to new environments.
The number of stamps on his passport would only grow as he got older. Janmaat earned a business degree at Tilburg University in The Netherlands before settling into a comfortable role as a growth equity analyst in Goldman Sachs’ Special Situations Group in London.
But something that his father always had told him lingered in the back of his mind.
“Even when I was very young, he would say that one of his biggest regrets was not taking the opportunity to go study in the United States,” Janmaat said. “He thought the education at business schools here was unparalleled. He really pounded that idea into me. So I began looking around for some study opportunities. I knew I was drawn to starting a business, and what better place than the Bay Area?”
It was at Stanford, where Janmaat was getting his MBA, that the DataFox story would begin. Janmaat was the co-president of the Stanford GSB Entrepreneur Club. He met Dorsey, who had started a nonprofit to help budding founders meet one another. The two learned that they had shared backgrounds in banking and investment analysis.
“Both of us had been charged with wrangling huge data sets,” Janmaat said. “It was Mike who originally suggested a software solution that would unearth insights that we used to do manually. It immediately clicked for me and we set out to build that solution.”
Dorsey, who was studying both business and engineering, knew two guys with Stanford pedigrees who could do that building: Trombley and Timme.
“I had felt first-hand how painful it was to keep track of companies that you wanted to partner with, invest in, or just pay attention to as competitors,” Dorsey said. “So I talked to Ben and Alden and said, ‘Over in the business world, there are people who spend a lot of money to fat-finger data into spreadsheets. Can you believe it? We can do this with algorithms.’ That was the kickoff point.”
Added Janmaat of the four coming together: “It was love at first sight.”
The original vision was strictly as a tool for financial businesses. But they quickly realized that natural language processing and artificial intelligence presented intriguing possibilities in other industries — particularly sales and marketing.
“There are millions of younger, private companies in the world, and it’s really hard to find good data about those businesses,” Janmaat explained. “We grab information from company websites, public filings, press releases, blog posts and social media. Then we weave all that content together into a much more illuminating picture. We leverage an enormous database so we can point you in exactly the right direction.”
Getting four entrepreneurs heading in the same direction potentially could be tricky. But it has never been a problem at DataFox. Egos are checked at the door. Dorsey said you will never hear anyone bragging about their ability.
That’s especially the case with Janmaat.
“What I like most about him is that he’s super-humble,” Dorsey said. “He has this incredible empathy that allows him to relate to everyone. He has lived and thrived in all of these different places and learned to build a rapport with every kind of person. It really is a tremendous gift.”
“But you will never squeeze it out of him to admit any of that,” he added.
Dorsey knows his friend well. Janmaat will only reluctantly agree that his international upbringing — constantly fitting in among new people — helps him in his CEO role.
“I guess that’s a plausible theory,” he said, laughing. “Maybe I just don’t know any better. I do feel at my best when I’m meeting new people from different backgrounds. I’m just drawn to bringing people together and helping them to become better.”
That actually sounds very much like what DataFox does.
About the Author
Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.Follow on Twitter