Welcome to From Scratch, my first stab at blogging. Do please go easy on me! I’ve long enjoyed tech and entrepreneurship content, particular shout out to Acquired and Benedict Evans, and have always loved the idea of creating something myself, without necessarily knowing what my angle would be. I’ve also read a lot about the power of writing; how it refines thinking and decision making, and how it’s generally a very effective way of taking stock. Given I’m starting an interesting journey tomorrow with Antler, I thought a weekly reflection might be a helpful way to ease me into writing, hopefully provide some interesting insights into the world of venture building and, ultimately, help me to make the most of the next 10 weeks.
For those unfamiliar, Antler is a global early-stage VC firm that’s been investing in founders since 2017. In the space of just a few short years, it’s set up operations in 17 locations across 5 continents and has invested in some 350+ ventures. Its accelerator or venture development programme, that I’m joining, brings together a diverse group of ~50 people, united in a shared ambition to found and scale a venture that leaves a lasting impact on the world. The cohort contains a nice mix of technical folks and business generalists, and experience from pretty much every industry is covered. Candidates can apply to the programme with, or without, a business idea and we’ve all been encouraged to start tomorrow open minded about potential problem areas to work on. Antler puts a big emphasis on the people, and so the first couple of weeks are all based around getting to know the cohort and finding a co-founder or two to work with. Then working out what to work on together, rather than trying to find somebody to help execute an already fully fleshed-out idea seems to be their preference, and that makes sense. Chemistry is king in founding teams, as this is a long-term game. Once teams have formed, the remaining weeks are spent developing an idea and, for successful teams, that will culminate in receiving investment from Antler to help fund the next stage.
The reluctant entrepreneur
I definitely wasn’t that kid who was buying chewing gum in bulk and then selling for a premium in the playground. It seems everybody needs a story these days, but that’s not me (but of course, there’s plenty of time to dream up that apocryphal story if I need some media coverage down the line!). I dreamed of playing rugby as a kid, not selling things. So why Antler? The honest answer to this question is that, despite having had overwhelmingly positive experiences in my career to date, it’s always felt that that little something has been missing, and for a long time it was hard to pinpoint. I loved school, I loved the learning and I was always excited about what the next week, term or year might bring. I realise this isn’t the case for everybody and I’m very grateful to my parents for having made the sacrifices to provide me with a great education. University was similar but then that excitement dulled as I entered the ‘real world’ and I’m not sure why. I guess I just felt a bit underwhelmed, and that was at a super-fast growth start-up, where the culture was great, working with colleagues I counted as friends.
I’m a recent Oxford MBA and a friend from there, Ben Waterman, who’s founded a FinTech called Strabo (go check it out), recently described entrepreneurship as
“the closest thing the business world has to professional sport”
and that really made me stop and think. Now, Ben’s an infinitely more talented sportsman than I am, he’s an ex-GB middle-distance runner who has won medals, whilst I only managed a couple of years of pro rugby before my body gave up, but I still think it applies to me. I’ve missed the jeopardy of sport, not knowing what the outcome is going to be, not knowing quite how you’re going to perform but knowing you’ve done all you can to prepare and just hoping that your luck is in. The parallels with start-ups are aplenty. Tenacity and grit are non-negotiables, word class talent is of course essential but even that isn’t enough. You need that bit of luck and good fortune and that’s what keeps things interesting and it’s that uncertainty that I’ve been missing. I have no idea if I’ll be a good entrepreneur or whether I’ll be successful at Antler, but I know I need to give it a go. I’m one of those weird blokes who likes quotes and have had Teddy Roosevelt’s brilliant Man in the Arena speech stuck up on my wall next to my desk for the past few months. These next 10 weeks are my opportunity to dare greatly.
I intended this first post to be just a couple of lines, so I apologise about that. In the immortal words of Blaise Pascal, “I didn’t have time to make it shorter”.
Thoughts, comments etc all very much encouraged.
Have a great week all and catch you next weekend for some thoughts on week 1.
Congratulations with the new role Nick. Good luck with the blogs, I’ve given you a follow and look forward to reading your updates.
Nice blog and congratulations on the new role Nick! Looking forward to seeing how your first few weeks go.