Supporting exceptional people to create the best tech startups
13 March 2020
Antler is a global early-stage VC that enables and invests in the world’s most exceptional people building the defining technology companies of tomorrow.
To do this, Antler focuses on helping startups from the earliest stage, working with individuals to form strong teams around high potential business models. With access to a top tier network of advisors, experts and investors worldwide, founders who get accepted to work with Antler are able to rapidly launch and scale their businesses leveraging the Antler platform with offices across six continents and several startup hubs such as London, New York and Singapore.
Concentric is proud to be part of this network since Antler’s inception. More recently we have cemented this partnership by participating in Antler’s funding round.
We recently spoke to Fridtjof Berge, co-founder and COO at Antler, about the company’s plans for growth, how it helps founders build the best tech startups from the ground up, and why the Nordics have such a good track record in producing great people in tech.
Describe the market as you see it: why is there a need for global investors like Antler that support founders from the earliest stage?
At Antler, we handpick exceptional people and help them from the earliest phases in building a technology startup. There are lots of investors who are focused on companies that need capital to scale. We focus on getting the startups off the ground in the best way possible, in addition to investing in them as they scale. To do this, we facilitate the right co-founders to meet and start working together, and help them avoid the typical mistakes of early-stage startups. We believe too many great ideas are stuck inside people’s heads and we want to ensure the best people focus on building new companies that can grow and provide positive contributions to the world.
The startups that we help build are already making a real impact in the world. For example, Sampingan, the largest on-demand workforce in Indonesia that connects businesses and freelancers, has hundreds of thousands of people on its platform and provides additional income to families across the country. Singapore-based Congicept is reducing downtime of robotics solutions across the world with its Human-in-the-loop (HITL) error handling, and Fusedbone – which makes patient-specific implants affordable and accessible out of Amsterdam – has already completed several surgeries using its implants. Out of Sydney, Xailient has developed the world’s fastest and smallest computer vision. These are just some of the 125+ companies that are shaping societies across the world and driving innovation forward. Across our portfolio, there are hundreds of examples of our companies addressing the UN sustainable development goals and as the companies scale, they will have a great impact on the world for many years.
The Nordics have historically produced disproportionately high levels of great people in the tech space – what’s the reason for this, and can it continue?
There are many reasons why the Nordic countries have a strong track record in producing exceptional people in the tech space, including:
- A strong education system The “Nordic model” is world-famous. It includes a comprehensive welfare state and multi-level collective bargaining, with a high percentage of the workforce unionized and a large percentage of the population employed by the public sector.More specifically, the Nordics have benefited from building strong educational foundations. Sweden, for instance, has the highest public expenditure on education relative to GDP (7.1%) in the EU – higher than in both the UK and US [Worldbank]. In addition, from an early age, children are taught to think independently and encouraged to question the way things are done; two behaviors that drive creativity and innovation.
- Consensus culture Nordic countries are consensus cultures. Most organizations lack hierarchy, and employees are empowered to voice ideas and solve problems at all levels of the organization. Collaboration is highly emphasized and valued in the Nordic workplace.
- Global mindset Businesses in the Nordics are born into inherently tiny markets, forcing company leaders to think global from the start and quickly expand beyond the perimeters of their own country.
- High quality of life With generous parental leave and access to childcare, Nordic countries frequently top the lists of the best places to live in the world – making the region an attractive place to move to. This has positively impacted startups’ ability to recruit top experts to their teams and continued to spur growth.
- The snowball effect Success breeds success. This snowball effect that we have seen in the Nordic ecosystems – triggered by the first unicorn status companies emerging, causing a surge in angel investing and serial entrepreneurs – is propelling these ecosystems further at a faster phase.
What are Antler’s plans for growth over the next two years?
Antler is currently in ten cities across six continents and we have built a great platform for exceptional people to build their next company, regardless of their background or geography. Our plans for the next two years will be to continue to build out the way we support people from different professional backgrounds to refine their ideas and build new and innovative businesses.
Recently, we have brought onboard accomplished investors like Schroders, Eduardo Saverin, FinTech Collective and Concentric, which means that we can provide a more valuable network for our startups as they grow their businesses. Continuing to bring on new investors and capital partners is important going forward to improve our value-add to our portfolio companies.
In addition, we’re continuing to improve our technology platform and broaden our partnerships to provide support and services to our portfolio companies as they scale into the later stages in their life cycles.
What’s your approach to sustaining quality in headhunting exceptional people as Antler and its portfolio of companies continue to grow?
The growth of Antler and our portfolio companies increases the quality of the founders that want to work with us. As we increase the reach and recognition of our brand, we get even more high-quality profiles interested in building their next company with Antler. We’ve also seen the share of accepted founders referred by other founders rise by almost 50%, and this number continues to increase. This channel provides very high quality founders, and enables us to attract even more exceptional people over time, as these founders then go on to recommend other founders to the program.
How do you go about incentivizing and maintaining loyalty amongst your people?
We work hard to build a strong culture and a meritocracy where we promote and reward high-performers. It is important that new ideas can be brought up by anyone in the organization and discussed, allowing us to continuously explore how we can better support our portfolio companies.
Tell us about the pitfalls to avoid in your market. For example, how do you avoid becoming a start-up education unit?
There are two closely related pitfalls that very early-stage investment funds risk falling into: first, that they do not build strong teams, and second, that they are forced to focus on short-term revenues rather than longer-term returns. This works as a vicious cycle: less experienced teams are not able to attract the best founders and companies. They are also limited in the amount of capital they can raise, meaning that they’re more likely to lose out on significant fund returns further down the line. The low capital base forces these startups to find other revenue sources than fund management fees. In these cases, many companies find capital through sources that require them to restrict their investment mandate into what the corporates are interested in investing in/supporting.
At Antler, we work with exceptional people to build their next company in the best way possible. The Antler team consists of experienced entrepreneurs and investors, and we bring in very high-caliber people from tech and commercial backgrounds (~3% out of thousands of applicants get accepted to work with Antler) to build their next company. The focus on quality, in both the Antler team and the people that we bring in to build companies with, is at the core of maintaining our model.
How do you ensure and stimulate cooperation across your community?
An important part of Antler is our cooperation across all of our operations. On a daily basis, we share learnings and discuss how we can continuously improve the way we help build, invest in and support exceptional founders and companies. Moreover, we utilize our global presence and wide advisory network to help our companies get the right advice and support, and leverage our offices to help portfolio companies from one location expand into another. Our technology platform also enables portfolio companies to help each other out across industries and geographies. Our ability to move a lot of our collaboration online is a great strength in volatile times, e.g. when travel is more restricted.
The Antler team has a strong culture of collaboration and given that we all believe in the same mission – to enable exceptional founders – supporting portfolio companies from across our community is a key part of the day to day for all our team members.