This article is part of KrASIA’s partnership with Web Summit. Written by Niamh O’Connor.
We need innovative, scalable companies now more than ever. Early-stage VC Antler is making sure that early-stage companies get the resources they need to succeed. We talked to Magnus Grimeland, founder and CEO of Antler, about the company’s strategy to help build the most effective startup teams.
What problem were you trying to solve when you founded Antler VC?
At Antler, we work with exceptional founders throughout their entrepreneurial journey. We select the top three percent from more than 50,000 applicants per year, and support them with capital, resources, co-founders and expert advice from the earliest stage.
Prior to Antler, I was a co-founder of Zalora, one of Asia’s largest online fashion retailers. While building Zalora, we hired and trained thousands of people, several of whom went on to build great companies, such as GoJek and Shopee. During this time, I was approached by many aspiring entrepreneurs asking the same questions about starting a company. This made me think about helping entrepreneurs on a larger scale.
Antler takes a unique approach to building a startup’s founder team. What is the rationale behind this?
Antler was founded on the fundamental belief that the right founding team is what sets successful businesses apart from those that fail. We leverage our data insights, experience, network, research and a rigorous recruitment process to identify and work with outstanding individuals and build strong complementary teams.
In your opinion, what are the essential elements a startup needs to succeed?
The two most important elements that an early-stage startup needs are:
- A strong co-founding team that shares your values and vision, offers complementary skill sets, and has the grit and drive to build and scale fast-growing startups.
- The conviction that you are solving a real problem. Entrepreneurs need to establish whether there’s a market for the business that they’re building. At Antler, we have a rigorous process for validating business models, and a global advisory network of more than 500 multidisciplinary experts to help founders through this process.
With the right team, a proven need for your product or service, and initial capital to scale your business, the probability of succeeding increases significantly. These areas are what we obsess about getting right at Antler.
Do you think tech startups will play an important role in the global economic recovery from the pandemic?
Absolutely. Innovation and growth through entrepreneurship will help the path to recovery. As I recently said to the founders we work with, ‘In 2019 you had an obligation to succeed for yourself, your investors and your customers; this year, you have an obligation to society as a whole’.
It’s already happening. Last quarter in the US, there was a record number of new company registrations. From the Antler perspective, we’ve built and invested in more than 100 new companies this year alone, and these companies will go on to create potentially tens of thousands of jobs over the next few years.
In the wider economy, a lot of the jobs that have been lost, and the value they created, will not come back. These jobs need to be replaced by new, innovative businesses solving new problems.
What’s the most valuable benefit Antler offers to its startups?
We have built a global platform that provides capital, advice and support through a founder-focused community. We help introduce founders to experts who can help take them to the next level, find and hire talent, and provide mentoring throughout their entrepreneurial journey.
On our platform, we have a global advisory network of 500+ experts across technologies and industries. On top of this, we provide investment from day one, enabling our startups to build a viable product. Towards the end of the six-month programme, we work with the portfolio companies on preparing their fundraising strategy and growth roadmap, and introduce them to our vast global network of investors. We build a long-term relationship with our founders, and stay involved long-term as a partner.
“As I recently said to the founders we work with, ‘In 2019 you had an obligation to succeed for yourself, your investors and your customers; this year, you have an obligation to society as a whole’.”
Antler works from a number of locations globally. What are your main considerations when launching in a new location, such as Nairobi?
One of the most important considerations is access to talent. We also look for a developed, or fast-growing, local tech ecosystem. For example, we’re always keen to ensure that we build a network with local VCs in each locality, who can then become follow-on investors in our portfolio companies as they grow.
In established ecosystems, such as New York and London, there are large communities of VC investors who can assist portfolio companies not only with funding, but also with deep and relevant expertise. Growing ecosystems are exciting too. For example, Nairobi has an impressive tech talent pool, and we are lucky to be working with this thriving ecosystem as its growth continues.
How important is a startup’s environmental, social and governance impact to Antler?
It’s incredibly important. We take ESG impact very seriously within Antler and in our portfolio companies.
Antler has chosen to become a signatory of the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) and to be guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG). The UNPRI is the world’s leading proponent of responsible investing and, as a signatory, Antler follows ESG principles as guidelines for its investment decision-making process.
We implement ESG considerations over three stages. First, during pre-investment due diligence, our investment team assesses each investment opportunity and tags the UN SDG goals fulfilled through each opportunity. Second, once we make investments, we ask our portfolio companies to agree to our ESG principles. Finally, post-investment, once a year, we will ask our portfolio companies about their impact on the environment and society around them, and conduct an ESG-focused training for them.
“In the past, you had to spend a lot of money to create a product. But now, you can build an app in a week, use the cloud, and sell through distribution channels like WhatsApp and Facebook. ”
Diversity and inclusion are very important to Antler. At Antler, 30 percent of our portfolio companies have a female CEO, and more than 38 percent have a female co-founder. We want to work on solving problems that have a positive impact on the world. You can read more about Antler’s thoughts on ESG on our blog.
Within the impact space in particular, have you noticed founders utilising existing technologies – such as Facebook and WhatsApp – to integrate their ideas within existing platforms?
Absolutely. There are great opportunities to leverage existing platforms to improve your distribution and complement your core business function. An example from our portfolio is Appboxo, which is a super app infrastructure platform. The growing appeal of super apps for startups is that you don’t need to be a technological giant to offer additional services. You can use platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and other APIs to tie more products and services into your core platform and offer more benefits to your customers.
In the past, you had to spend a lot of money to create a product. But now, you can build an app in a week, use the cloud, and sell through distribution channels like WhatsApp and Facebook. This means entrepreneurs can spend more capital on their product to give themselves a competitive edge.
Antler will attend Web Summit as part of our investor track from December 2–4. Check out some of the leading angel investors, VCs and LPs that will be joining them.