Whether at her position at Goldman Sachs or as a founder in the Amsterdam startup scene, Christina Caljé always found herself ‘one of the few’ in the room. So besides turning the video distribution platform Autheos into a data-crunching marketing tool, she speaks up for more diversity whenever the opportunity arises. Recently she has been selected for a pan-European Google for Startups Immersion programme for Black founders as the only Dutch representative.
Selected for Google for Startups: Immersion
Amsterdam-based Autheos is a smart video platform for e-commerce. Autheos started as a distribution platform for online videos, but now offers smart tools to provide in-depth analytics and project the exact right moment to pitch the right video to browsing consumers. It gives brands and e-tailers a way of actually knowing where their marketing budget on videos is being spent on, as well as tools to increase their effectiveness.
The startup has its headquarters in Amsterdam where it managed to onboard large, international clients such as Philips, L’óreal and Microsoft. These automatically opened the door to other countries. Besides the Benelux, where Autheos has a majority of clients, Caljé says they are also focussing on the Nordics, UK, France and Germany.
For international expansion, it might help to have a reliable, global partner to rely on. Someone like, let’s say, Google. So getting selected as one of the few for the Google for Startups Immersion: Black Founders programme for European Black founders is a massive deal for Caljé.
‘Access to international network at Google’
Immersion is a 12-week program designed for high-potential startups from Europe, in which Google gives guidance, mentorship and access ‘to help them grow and give them better access to fundraising opportunities while further advancing their leadership skills’. She joins the programme as the only selected founder from the Netherlands and only one of two not from the UK.
“The reason I applied is mainly due to its international scope and the access to an international network within Google, the UK and US. During the past two weeks, the program has already unlocked global resources for us, whether it’s inspiring and candid conversations with Google’s senior-most Black leaders or practical one on one mentoring sessions to accelerate progress towards our stated business goals.”
One of the most critical markets Caljé is currently eyeing, is the US, where she grew up. “The US is interesting for me because of my background, but also because of the maturity of the e-commerce market and brands’ use of video in their marketing strategy.”
But scaling up her business is only part of the reason Caljé is excited to join the Google Immersion programme. The fact that they have pan-European cohorts solely for Black and female founders aims at another goal that is close to Caljé’s heart: increasing diversity in the startup scene.
Melting pot: from East Village to ‘Zuid’
Born and raised in the diverse environment of the East Village in New York, Caljé has been a strong advocate for more leadership roles for minorities. “Growing up there shaped my personal and professional trajectory. A diverse group of people always surrounded me from a young age, so that concept of diversity and how it can shape or limit opportunity has really stuck with me. Professionally I’ve always worked in homogeneous environments, both as a director at Goldman Sachs and in tech.”
“Being ‘one of few’ has the danger of detracting from certain career paths because, at our core, everyone just wants to feel they belong. I’ve certainly had to push through that feeling many times, and it’s why I emphasise the need to increase the representation of minorities and women at leadership levels. Given my leadership path in finance and tech, I’m often tapped to speak to my own experience of being one of the few in the room, which I’m grateful to do. To eventually solve this problem, we need to have both open conversations and a forum to share success stories.”
She’s been a sought after advisor, mentor and speaker and held talks at The Next Web, Founders Summit and Google Cloud Summit, herself, to name a few. Last year, she was chosen for the Inspiring Fifty, calling her one of the most influential women in tech.
When it comes to dealing with ethnic diversity, or the lack thereof, Caljé notices a key difference between the New York she grew up in and the Netherlands she currently lives in: “In the US, it is more a topic of conversation. Here in the Netherlands, the discussion is less mature. The conversation is starting on the political level now, fed by the issue on Zwarte Piet and the Black Lives Matters movement. It is helpful to have this conversation, and even though it leads to conflict, it creates empathy. It is painful, but necessary, to bring progress.”
Female and minority founders in Amsterdam
The trick is now to leverage these political conversations to the business world, says Caljé. “Amsterdam has many large minority communities, but they are still very siloed. The startup world in Amsterdam is pretty small; there’s always this ‘one degree of separation’. Yet there are a lot of isolated pockets with an entrepreneurial mindset in different communities. Some don’t have the knowledge or access to get their startup past the tipping point to get more significant than just this city.”
Despite the initiatives of the likes of Caljé, a large part of Amsterdam startups are currently run by the same type of male founder. Being the melting pot that Amsterdam is, female or minority founders are, well, a minority. For startups that want to increase their diversity, but don’t know where to start, Caljé has a straightforward, achievable first step: “Just pick your head up from work, go out and connect with female or other entrepreneurs”, she says.
Increase diversity by grabbing a beer
“Most founders are very focussed on their own business. They don’t realise the value that a different viewpoint can bring. Startups often face similar trends, opportunities and challenges throughout their maturity lifecycle. Talking with someone from a different country, function or industry about how they tackle these situations can bring you a lot of new perspectives that eventually help you to see your business differently.”
Not knowing anyone is no excuse, by the way. “It may be a bit more complicated to meet new people now, because of COVID,” she acknowledges. “But there’s still great networking opportunities going on in the city. When looking to increase diversity in your startup, I just want to make it super simple. Founders shouldn’t be thinking about their first diversity hire. They should instead think about grabbing a coffee or beer with someone they think is cool, but who doesn’t look like them. I can guarantee, 99 percent of the time you’ll get something out of it for yourself.”