Written by Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej

July 11, 2023 / 8 min. read

GRILLED by TechBBQ #08:

Interview with Christian Bach,
Co-founder and CCO & CSO of Netlify

At The People's Meeting ("Folkemødet" in Danish) on Bornholm, a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea off the south coast of Sweden, I met with Christian Bach, who is Co-founder, CCO, and CSO of Netlify - a cloud-based software company operating out of San Francisco, USA, that in the recent years has reached unicorn status.

Christian - or "Chris" as he goes by in the States - and I met as he returned to Denmark for a short visit to combine a bit of business with leisure, catching primarily up with family members and old friends.

We discussed his entrepreneurial journey and the company he founded and built with his high-school friend, Mathias Biilmann Christensen - known as "Matt" and the company's CEO and Co-founder - in 2014.

Mathias Biilmann Christensen and Christian Bach know each other from Aurehøj Gymnasium in Denmark's most wealthy municipality, Gentofte, 10 kilometers north of Copenhagen, which consists of several fashionable suburbs like Hellerup and Charlottenlund.

Even though both Copenhagen and Gentofte have a lot of beauty to offer, we couldn't have asked for a more optimal setting for such an in-depth conversation, sitting in the lush backyard garden of Hotel Allinge on the fairytale island of Bornholm, allowing for an undisturbed two-hour chat — one of the longest interviews I've ever been part of.

Figuratively speaking, the word "fairytale" pretty much sums up the duo's fascinating story.

However, as private as the conversation was, we weren't the only people in Hotel Allinge that sunny mid-June afternoon.

A large group of the Danish entrepreneurial startup ecosystem, some 50 people, were gathered for a networking hangout around those days, as the below picture is a testament to.

The startup ecosystem get-together at The People's Meeting was hosted by Danish Chamber of Commerce, Plug & Play and TechBBQ. Photo: Jasmina Pless
The People's Meeting ("Folkemødet" in Danish) has been taken place on Bornholm, a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea off the south coast of Sweden, since 2011.

Short bio of Christian Bach

What is Netlify?

Mathias Biilmann Christensen (left) and Christian Bach (right), two high school friends from Denmark, founded Netlify in 2014. Photo: PR / Netlify

Built A Unicorn In Less Than A Decade - What's Next?

One of the first questions I squeezed in whenever I had the chance was:

»What's next, Christian? You've had a lot of success with Netlify. What are you doing these days?«

Christian Bach didn't take a long time to respond, as if he knew the question would slip through my mouth:

»As you know, I've been working on building Netlify for the last eight years into what it is today. That's a long period. It's made me learn and experience a lot of things. I've also been fortunate enough to meet a bunch of interesting people along the way. As an advisor and board member, I pay it forward by helping many startups and scaleups grow. I also invest in many founders & ventures as I enjoy supporting big dreamers, thinkers, and doers.«

Christian Bach, who always seems to wear a cap as a go-to attire to add a few inches to his already tall being, giggles at times in a friendly and charismatic way while continuing to explain how the Danish power duo managed to overcome all sorts of obstacles to conquer the world by innovating a new way to architect and build web pages.

His characteristic full-grown beard almost tells the story about their journey better than he could possibly do himself verbally. Like a professional athlete who refuses to shave off his beard for good luck, Christian Bach still enjoys the look and is getting known for it.

Conditioned With Hodgkin Lymphoma Cancer

Christian Bach has had plenty of adversity in his life.

Before joining forces with his high-school friend, he was conditioned with stage 3 Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer. A disease that brought a lot of pain to his life, with chemo and radiation treatments.

»It was not the most fun time,« Christian Bach recalls.

The Christmas Holiday of 2013, however, turned things upside down for the two, as Mathias Biilmann Christensen traveled from California to Copenhagen to visit Christian Bach - and after lengthy conversations about the business idea, they decided to do something about it.

Christian Bach, out of treatment, moved to Silicon Valley in the middle of 2015, and launched out of private beta in end of March 2015.

»We both somehow knew that this would be the internet's future. And the idea was a fresh new start to life for me, as the disease made me more conscious about life decisions. So, instead of holding back because of fear, I fully embraced the challenge,« Christian Bach says.

They wrote a list of 20 people they wanted to talk to and test the idea. If less than 10 of these disapproved of the idea, they agreed to return to the drawing board.

As time would show, it didn't happen.

Christian Bach (left) and Mathias Biilmann Christensen (right) enjoying a bit of sun in San Francisco. Photo: PR / Netlify

Netlify pioneered an entire industry

Netlify came early to the idea of separating front-end design and back-end business processes on websites.

It embraced Jamstack and microservices when those technologies were not well understood. It's a fairly common way to build a website today, but it was only sometimes the case when Netlify started in the mid-2010s.

Mathias Biilmann Christensen said to TechCrunch reporter Ron Miller in an article dated back to 2021 that he and Christian Bach, in the early days, had to educate and convince people that the groundbreaking change in website architecture that Netlify was trying to bring about was a real thing.

Today, it's a different story. The architectural shift is already happening at a rapid speed.

»The shift in architecture is real and lasting,« Mathias Biilmann Christen remarked back then.

According to Christian Bach, when Netlify got started, only two firms were offering services within the category of "headless" and "composable jamstack architecture". Today, more than 2.500 companies are offering the exact same. But generally speaking, thousands - if not millions - have applied the building architecture and shifted to a modern way of developing websites.

»So, we have a lot of competitors today, but we were first-movers, and still, to this day, enjoy being the biggest company of our kind,« Christian Bach adds.

In other words, Netlify pioneered the entire industry.

But why did the couple ever start - and what was the vision, is the obvious question?

»We saw a new opportunity for how websites are built. The internet was already under pressure then. So, we thought, why not map everything out there and see how they are connected - and reverse engineer the internet? Because if we somehow could prove that building the internet our way, the web would be much faster, safer, with endless capacity and scalability,« Christian Bach says.

»All it requires is a way in which everything can communicate together - and orchestration.«

Christian Bach, with his characteristic cap and beard, standing in the backyard of Hotel Allinge at the People's Meeting on the island of Bornholm. Photo: Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej

How many uses Netlify worldwide today?

It took the company five years, from 2014 - 2019, to reach 1 million users - and just a year to double that in 2020.

Today, Netlify boasts over 4 million businesses and developers using the platform, although, of course, a substantial amount of users opt-in on the free tier.

The company runs 33 million stores, sites, and apps. And approximately 3.000 new users are added to the platform daily.

About 20 percent of global internet users visit a homepage based on Netlify's platform daily.

One of the biggest companies in the world using Netlify is Unilever, a British multinational fast-moving consumer goods company headquartered in London, England.

Other famous global clients count Nike, MailChimp, and Danone. And in a Danish context, Salling Group that owns Bilka, Føtex, Wupti, Netto, and BR.

Diversity Driven Company: Netlify Employs 40 % Females

Netlify currently employs just below 300 workers.

About four of 10 of these are women or non-binary. As everyone in the tech world knows, that's quite an achievement, as all stats favour male programmers and software developers.

»We know that these numbers can come as a surprise to many. Still, the fact is that it's always been extremely fundamental for us as co-founders to reflect our diverse target audience as an enterprise global company on our team. To us, a diverse team equals an intelligent organisation,« Christian Bach explains and adds:

»We take diversity very seriously - and it's not only good publicity to be on the "correct side" but it's actually a beneficial contributor to our business. Diverse teams are more intelligent - and it shows financially too.«

Christian Bach had a Fireside Chat at The People's Meeting in The 'Danish Tech Startups' tent with my colleague from TechBBQ, Andreas Marco Jensen, our Head of Partnerships. Photo: Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej

More Meetups Equals More Success For All

Forget about San Francisco. Take the entire Bay Area. Here, the startup and tech community have meetups all the time.

Literally, all the time.

That's partly why so much innovation takes place in the region, Christian reflects - and what made them a global company with huge market potential.

»In Denmark, there might be a meetup every month or second, while meetups occur every day in San Francisco and the Bay Area. I get it, Denmark is a small country, but that's just not enough to drive forward innovation,« Christian says and jokingly remarks that he could if he wanted to, »eat free pizza every day in San Francisco«.

»To push the envelope and create proper impact, people of all sorts, especially innovators with a big lust for change, must repeatedly meet, exchange knowledge, and be open to sharing their business ideas.«

Christian believes that - especially the Danes - are very careful with talking openly about their business ideas.

»High tide lifts all boats! What does that mean?« he says, asking a rhetorical question before answering it himself:

»It means that an improved economy will benefit all participants and that the driver for change should be to build something big and impactful in collaboration with other great minds.«

Christian believes that success comes with knowledge sharing, so he encourages everyone passionate about entrepreneurship to attend more meetups and see what happens.

»You might meet your next co-founder and start working on something big,« Christian says and emphasizes:

»It's important to dream. But what's more important is to dream big - and get started today rather than tomorrow on bringing that dream to life. You only live once, so you need to be bold and ambitious and take calculated risks - and ultimately make as much impact as possible.«

Jasmina Pless, Head of Entrepreneurship, Danish Chamber of Commerce, and Jakob Gaard, Senior Manager, Plug and Play Tech Center established the garden event for The People's Meeting at Hotel Allinge in collaboration with TechBBQ, Scandinavia's largest tech Summit. Photo: Jasmina Pless

Netlify Has Received Investments From The Biggest VC's

Netlify has received investments from some of the world's biggest investment funds, such as:

Bessemer Venture Partners
Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z)
EQT Ventures
Kleiner Perkins
Menlo Ventures

According to Crunchbase, the total amount of capital raised by Netlify is $ 212,1 million = ∽ 1,5 billion DKK.

»That's a whole lot of money! Was it not hard to get investors onboard?« I asked.

Without revealing too many details, Christian Bach admits that the investment round that took the most effort was their Seed round.

»Let's just say that it was like an episode on Silicon Valley,« Christian Bach says with reference to the American comedy television series created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky that premiered on HBO on April 6, 2014 - only a year after "Chris" moved to the same part of the world to join "Matt" in founding Netlify.

»Maybe, when we grab a beer someday, I'll be able to share the entire story,« Christian Bach says with a light grin.

»Apart from our Seed round, we've been super privileged about the support from our investors.«

A figure from the Danish Chamber of Commerce that illustrates the number of Danish founded unicorns that have left the country. Netlify was founded in the US in 2014, hence why it's considered as an American company even though the two Co-founders, Christian Bach and Mathias Biilmann Christensen, are Danes.

Denmark: A Unicorn Factory - But Why Do They Leave?

At the latest TechBBQ Summit in 2022 in Copenhagen - the 10th edition - Jasmina Pless, Head of Entrepreneurship at the Danish Chamber of Commerce, dug deep into the data and researched the number of unicorn companies that Denmark has produced over the years - and investigated further with her team of analysts and economists how many have stayed as well as left the country.

The research found that, in total, 16 unicorns have been founded in Denmark. This is an impressive achievement for a country with a population of just 5.9 million people. It's equivalent to 2,7 unicorns per 1 million people.

Denmark has since 2000 been the birthplace of 11 new unicorns. Seven of these have subsequently relocated their headquarters out of Denmark. That is more than 60 percent of the total number of unicorns founded from 2000 - 2022.

Denmark is blessed with free education: hence a well-educated population that culturally has been encouraged to think creatively and critically independently.

This can be one reason for Denmark's high number of unicorns produced per capita.

But many have moved their headquarters to other markets too. Why is that?

Read the full report below - and find out.

What is a unicorn?

According to Dealroom, which is a trusted source for intelligence on high-growth companies, a unicorn in the startup world was first used by VC investor Aileen Lee in 2013 to describe a privately-owned tech company valued at over $1B.

In 2013, a unicorn was a suitably mythical term for a rare breed of startups that could return a fund.

These days unicorns are not just more common; they've crossed over, featuring in mainstream news and political speeches. An important debate continues about the merit of championing unicorns above all else, but what's sure is that the currency of unicorns is here to stay.

Dealroom defines a unicorn as a rapidly scaling company (and tech-enabled) that has reached a $ 1 billion valuation, based on a funding round (unrealized), acquisition, or IPO (realized).

Read more