How Antler India is changing the early-stage investment landscape

In this week’s 100x Entrepreneur podcast, Rajiv Srivatsa and Nitin Sharma, Partners at Antler India, talk about the first principles approach and the infrastructure they are building to help founders at pre-seed stage succeed.
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Singapore-headquartered Antler is one of the largest and fastest growing early-stage investment platforms in the world. 

Started by Magnus Grimeland, a classmate of Mark Zuckerberg, Antler has been present in 20 countries for the last five years and started its India operations last year. 

Antler was set up with the vision of being an institution that impacts the first 12 months of a founder's journey, and stays with them as the startup grows, becomes a unicorn, or even climbs the decacorn ladder.

In a conversation with Siddhartha Ahluwalia, Founder and Host of 100x Entrepreneur, Rajiv Srivatsa, Co-founder of Urban Ladder and Partner at Antler, and Nitin Sharma, seasoned investor and partner at Antler, talk about why they decided to build Antler India and what kind of institutional mindset they bring to the table.

On why Antler will stand out in a market like India, Rajiv says, “While there were a lot of individuals and angels with a massive ecosystem, we did not feel that the institutional help founders really deserved was there. Our 10-year vision of what we wanted to build meant we had to build that institution, that platform, that real machinery, to help founders to get started.”

“Pre-seed stage funding is a stage about the idea, belief, and the founder. The founder just has a concept and no investment deck,” explained Rajiv in an earlier interview.

Antler is currently running a few cohort-based approaches. These include the Antler India residency for aspiring entrepreneurs. The institutional pre-seed platform saw applications from about 2,500 founders. Antler India did around 500 interviews and 73 aspirants are now building their startups. 

“There is a standard package that we offer in terms of the funding amounts and valuations etc. That is truly proprietary in the sense that we are helping people start companies; these companies may not exist unless this programme helps them get started or find co-founders. So that is a huge focus for us. About half our portfolio will be new companies,” Nitin says.

Creating new founders

The Antler India Fellowship is specifically targeted at college students. In the first cohort, 2,500 college students from 700 colleges in 375 cities applied. Eight were selected to be part of the cohort.

The chosen student entrepreneurs gain access to a hands-on programme, facilitated by domain experts and founders, and spanning idea validation, user research, product, engineering and marketing. 

“We don’t just want to enable existing founders, but create new founders. We believe it’s the students of today who will build to address some of the toughest problems affecting us in the spaces of climate change, unlocking human potential, energy efficiency, and upcoming spaces such as metaverse, blockchain, and Web3,” Rajiv says. 

Along with the equity-free grant, the Antler India Fellowship is designed as a safe space for students to ideate, experiment, or even pivot as they build their startups. 

‘We want more and more students to seriously consider the path of entrepreneurship, and help them as they take it,” Rajiv says.

Founders and distraction 

Nitin explains that there is a lot of noise and pressure on the founder after a startup raises a seed round. 

“Venture capital puts a lot of pressure. VC expectations means founders need to artificially grow faster than the business or customer needs can be solved. Frankly, it’s investors who play a big role in distorting that vision for the founder. And again, at some level, you have other stakeholders, and get caught up in games of media, PR, vanity metrics, and comparing yourself to others,” he says.

The best chances of a company succeeding at pre stage is with a founder (or a group of founders) obsessed about a problem, spending hours, months, or even a year on customer research, and digging deep into problems.

“I think we always encourage ambition married with speed of iteration. Because if it takes too long, there’s someone else who is also going to have that smart idea. So I think we look for obsession, speed of iteration, and ambition. There is a lot of capital help from us, from the entire team,” Rajiv says.

To know more, listen to the podcast here

04:44 – Why did they choose to build Antler India? 

12:02 – Why kind of institutional mindset do they bring in? 

16:18 – How do they balance a founder’s optimism and a VC’s pessimism between them?

18:22 – Antler’s India Portfolio over the last 18+ months

23:47 – What’s their approach and the general cheque size? 

29:48 – Learnings from the ups and downs in the Urban Ladder journey

33:28 – Focusing on building around core foundational use cases during times of crisis

38:18 – Keeping founders from falling in love with the product and not the actual problem 

42:12 – Building PeakPerformer and Bookee with Antler

46:47 – How and when do founders get distracted after funding?

50:08 – When do founders have the best chances of succeeding at seed stage?  

Edited by Teja Lele

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