First of all, people. Antler is all about backing highly driven individuals. The reason why Antler was started was the fundamental belief that it all comes down to the founders. We put a lot of time and effort into identifying the very best potential founders to join our cohorts. In fact, we only work with the top 3% of the 50,000 entrepreneurs that apply to Antler every year.
At the time of investment, we've worked closely with the founders for more than two months. What's important at this point is not necessarily exactly what they are presenting, but the trajectory they're on. If a founder was to pitch at the investment committee, with a pitch deck that looks more or less the same as they applied with, we would be sceptical, no matter how polished it may be. Whereas, if you barely have a deck, but have great traction and have built that over the past weeks, we'll likely to be more impressed. We don't look at a snapshot at the investment committee, we look at the founder's journey to that point. We look at their speed, their iterations, ability to handle obstacles, tough discussions with co-founders and more.
Next, the product. This is one of my favourite areas. While we know that many startups will pivot, the way a founder thinks around their product, vision and roadmap tells a very important story. A lot of founders are nervous that they can't show user numbers until they've launched a real product. That's wrong. First of all, everyone can build today. You don't need to write a single line of code to put some kind of product in the hands of users. Use Webflow, Bubble, Airtable or other no-code/low-code solutions to get a product from your head or paper onto a digital experience that users can try. Many of the startups at Antler have also simply created WhatsApp groups where they communicate with their users and do most of the work manually to start with. By having a WhatsApp group, a community on Discord or other existing services, you meet the users on a platform where they already spend time. You will get very valuable user feedback and data to present to your investors. Once you know what's important to your customers you can start automating things and build proper products for them.
At Antler we invest very early. When evaluating products we need to look at the product, the roadmap and the vision, rather than user numbers. For SaaS products, we often ask, Will this replace spreadsheets or an entire department? The latter is more interesting. For consumer products, I want to take the product for a spin.
An important part of evaluating products is to look at the direct competition, substitutes and the startup graveyard. I recently wrote an article on How to evaluate a product, from the perspective of an angel investor. It lists a number of considerations that angel investors make when assessing whether they should invest in a startup - many apply to the way Antler approaches due diligence before making an investment decision.
In a recent conversation with a founder preparing to pitch to Antler for investment, they asked how problematic it was if a team is targeting an industry or problem where they don't have prior practical experience.
My answer to this was that sometimes it could be an advantage to target an industry or problem as an outsider. You're not biased to thinking in old ways and can approach it with new ideas and perspectives. If you have a unique insight or belief in a technology that could be applied to a traditional industry, then my advice would be to go for it.
Over the past year, I've seen many innovative SaaS startups going after manufacturing companies for instance, where the founders have no such experience. Other examples are vertical SaaS companies building scheduling tools for dentists or media companies like Substack going into the media industry. For vertical SaaS it's often not so much of a novel product, but the use-case is very targeted to a particular customer group. You don't need to be a dentist to build great scheduling tools for dentists, but it's good with some kind of understanding of their main pain points, daily routines and how they interact with customers today. Overall, I'd say that the most disruptive companies are often started by industry outsiders.
Another question we regularly get asked is whether Antler will invest in a team without a technical founder. While there have been a handful of occasions, I'd say this is the exception to the rule.
For me, it's a red flag if the founders only do a deck and then outsource the product because they don't think they can build. Learn it. Own it yourself. If you don't fully own what you're building it will be slow and expensive to iterate. In the beginning, you need to iterate fast and you want to be fully in control. With all the resources available today (here are 145 great tools), there are no excuses to not build your MVP yourself, no matter if you have a technical background or not.
If you get the opportunity to pitch to Antler, or another investor, make sure you make the most of it by providing insights and evidence that prove your team has the right to build the business, the product is innovative and scalable, and that people are hungry for it. Get these things right, and the right investor at the right time could make all the difference in the success of your startup.
This is an op-ed by Lisa Enckell. All views and opinions expressed are her own and should not be used as investment advice. In making an investment decision, investors must rely on their own examination of the Company and the terms of the Investment including the merits and risks involved.
The benefit of the Antler platform is that we work with founders from Day 1. We help them test and validate their ideas, help them find complementary co-founders. We help them build their business fast by leveraging our global network and foster a relationship with them as a long term supporter and investor in their company. Want to build your next company with Antler? Apply now, and build a defining company of tomorrow.