It's the journey, not the destination: This founder shares the 'life-changing experience' she had at Antler, despite not gaining investment

"I have evolved into a better version of myself... I am so proud that I took the leap to launch my own business. I worked hard for something that I am passionate about and enjoyed every second of it."

Author

I never knew living an entrepreneur’s life is so much fun until I joined Antler 10 weeks back. For the first time in life, I got a chance to build a business from scratch that I believe will have an impact on the world. A week back, as part of Antler’s inaugural Sydney cohort, Open Utility, an energy tech startup that Dan Linsell and I cofounded, got a chance to pitch to venture capitalists but failed to secure the $100,000 pre-seed investment.

But am I considering this as a failure? Of course not! In fact, this has truly been a life-changing experience for me. Over the two months, I have achieved so much -- new skills, strengths, 70+ extraordinary individuals as friends and a strong support system -- and I have evolved into a better version of myself.

"What matters more to me... is the journey, not the destination. I am so proud that I took the leap to launch my own business. I worked hard for something that I am passionate about and enjoyed every second of it. "

— ASWATHI THANDASSERY

What matters more to me this time is the journey, not the destination. I am so proud that I took the leap to launch my own business. I worked hard for something that I am passionate about and enjoyed every second of it. Something worth celebrating!

I have been living my dream life as an entrepreneur for two months as part of Antler program which enables talented and determined individuals to build the next wave of tech startups. I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the 71 founders for the inaugural cohort in Australia and started my roller coaster ride 10 weeks back. I met, exchanged ideas, learned from and mentored by 70+ amazing personalities who are experts in deep-tech and building and scaling businesses. Together, we built 31 tech startups and around 50% got the pre-seed investment. We have been mentored by industry experts and dedicated coaches throughout the program to ensure that nothing prevents us from building our own successful startups. Over the last 70 days, I listened to 100+ amazing ideas, understood some of the problems in the world (especially in Australia) and was part of solving a few of them.

Antler believes in bringing the best talent together and providing them with a support system to bring the best out of them. There were masterclasses, design sprints, idea sharing sessions, hackathons, group discussions and various team-building activities which gave us a chance to understand each other better to form one of the basic building blocks of a successful start-up, a strong team. The best scenario would be to work with as many people as possible at these sprints until you form your ideal team. The ideal team would have people with complementary skill sets who are passionate about a particular idea. The ideal team would have product-founder fit, product-market fit, and founder-value fit. Once you find someone ticking all these checkboxes, you are all set to build your dream with your team.

There is no set time or pressure to select your partners or idea, you are free to explore all the options that are available to you during this 2-month period. You are always free to break-up after forming a team because what you might be signing up for is a long-term commitment and you must love everything about it to enjoy working for it. On an average, at Antler, people break-up 2.5 times before they form the ideal team. In other words, you must be brutally honest to yourself and others around you to make this work.

My first team was a space startup. We tried to build a small satellite system that might drastically change how onboard satellite data processing is done. I loved the idea to the core and worked passionately to build it. During this time, I met some amazing people in the Australian Space sector, as well as from other parts of the world as part of idea validation. We had a few small ups, downs and traction. I learned some new tech stuffs which the "rocket scientist" didn’t know in her previous life and it was all fun and going well!

However, by the end of the fifth week, I suddenly realised that I would not be happy in the future if I went ahead with this project and I decided to break-up with the team. But it was not a great time for a break-up. Already, 75% of the cohort had formed teams and the cohort had just two weeks left before the investment committee. On the face of it, it looked impossible for me to find a new team and idea that I loved and pitch it for investment in two weeks. But it was Antler after all, and all the people around you just want you to succeed. With the great support network that I had, I started working on a brand-new idea on the day after my break-up and started the roller coaster ride with Dan Linsell. For me, it was these two weeks that was the absolute highlight of the Antler program! We had an almost impossible goal to achieve in two weeks and even though, we couldn’t achieve the final target -- the pre-seed -- we both came out of our comfort zone, pushed our limits, hustled and achieved something that we will be proud of in our whole life.

Aswathi Thandassery and her co-founder Dan Linsell hold Open Utility sign in front of Antler background
Aswathi Thandassery (L) and her co-founder Dan Linsell (R).

Open Utility was Dan Linsell’s brainchild. Our idea was to centralise and secure the smart meter electricity data through Open Utility platform. There are so many pain points around accessing your own smart meter data in Australia and because of that, the data is locked and almost useless right now. Once I understood the pain points of accessing my own energy data, I fell in love with the problem and the solution we proposed. We realised there is a big gap in the market in this area which needs to be filled. But we just had two weeks to validate our hypothesis. Given that the Energy industry in Australia is a complex and slow pace environment to navigate, we knew we would have to vigilantly use the time we had.

We had four groups of stakeholders to deal with and get buy-in from. There are 20 distribution network service providers, 80 energy retailers, 15-meter data providers in Australia and speaking to them in two weeks seemed a herculean task. But we almost got there! Thanks to our personal contacts, Antler network and of course, LinkedIn and Google, we spoke to around 100 humans in just a week. We pitched our product to 18 network providers, 15 retailers, 3-meter data providers, regulatory authorities, many potential customers, mentors and advisors and a lot of them were happy to help. We also became experts in random emailing and cold calling in those two weeks.

In the end, we had acquired three customers and were in positive conversations with three major network providers in Australia. I couldn’t believe we achieved so much in such a short time. Believe me, Antler is a true startup generator, and if it weren't for Antler, we would never have reached this stage.

In what is a small instance to highlight the power of Antler network: one of our industry mentors introduced us to ten people in his network three minutes after our first meeting with him. Eight of them responded with meeting invites within half an hour and later a few of them became our strong advocates. This is just one example. In reality, we had many more similar experiences in those eight weeks.

We couldn’t have achieved this without a strong team either. Antler stresses about co-founders having complementary skill sets in a team and has some beautiful frameworks to help you find the right person who complements you. We did skill mappings, discussed our personalities, motives and even answered a ‘difficult-questions’ survey with our prospective co-founders. With those frameworks, you only a few days to form the right team. And the right team will fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

All throughout my life, I had an affinity towards people who think like me and behave like me. But the Antler experience taught me the value of diversity. For example, Dan and I have different personalities, skill sets, and cultural backgrounds. We had little in common except the passion for the Open Utility idea. But we enjoyed learning from each other, challenging each other’s perspectives and worked together as a great team and even became great friends. If it was outside Antler, I doubt this would ever had happened -- that’s one of the beauties of Antler program. It brings together a group of strangers from different parts of the world and makes them best friends in just two months, all while churning out a few future unicorns on the way.

Looking back, I had a village to build my startup. I will miss the journey that I have been going through with these amazing people. There were nights I could not sleep because I was super excited. There were nights I slept like a baby because I was super tired. Again, there were nights I could not sleep because I hit major a roadblock, but every morning was the same. I jumped out of bed eager to solve at least one of the problems in the world and change people’s lives. Thank you so much to the Antler family for an absolutely thrilling and rewarding experience over the last two months!

I'm looking forward to the next adventure in life now. Onwards and upwards!

This article was written by Aswathi Thandassery, a former entrepreneur at Antler.

This article has been lightly edited for clarity.

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