The founders series takes a deep dive into the journey of Antler portfolio company founders and sheds light on the space they are building in. This week, we spoke to Shubham Gupta, Co-Founder of Ivory.
Ivory is an employee engagement platform that harnesses anonymity to create transparency, empower collaboration and capture unheard risks.
I spent over 20 years at Seagate. I was very lucky in my career, as I got promoted and moved roles every 2 years. There was always something new to do and learn- this was extremely enriching and motivating for the first 10-15 years of my career. I started out as an engineer, then got into business development, customer management, product management and product strategy. But there was always this nagging feeling at the back of my head- I wanted to create something more valuable than hard drives. I wanted to make something big.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak in me, so I was constantly doing things on the side: I was a DJ, I ran an events company, I invested in a restaurant and so on. I did all these things, yet that nagging feeling never went away.
Like most people, I had a lot of ideas and got into this mode about 10 years ago, where I started seeing solutions to common problems and would go “OK you can fix it like this, you can fix it like that”. The pressure of money coming in and not being able to quit that job or having enough conviction that I could form a billion-dollar company always stopped me from leaving.
And then one day a friend told me about Antler’s executive program where I could experiment till things worked out, so here I am, with my new startup Ivory. We are in really good shape right now with a high degree of confidence that we can make something big happen and give a voice to the voiceless!
I came into Antler being very fascinated by this challenge within organizations that people were generally unhappy and I wanted to do something about that. As we dug deeper into this and talked to different groups of people, we kind of figured out that one of the biggest reasons why people were unhappy was that they were unable to express themselves in organizations as they feared retribution or judgment. Infact, 81% of people feel that way. That idea gave birth to Ivory, an anonymous corporate discussion platform that allows you to overcome that fear and express ideas, opinions and concerns. Be it about sexual harassment, being overworked or underpaid. You can talk about all of that as well as share ideas that could possibly become really powerful solutions for your company in a very open and honest manner.
I feel it is not important at all. The execution is a lot more important. I think it's good to have a sense of what you are passionate about, what you want to focus on in life, but having a particular idea is not really important.
One of the big things with the Antler program is that you come in and realize that the idea or the preconceived notions you had in your head might not actually be true or maybe twenty other people have already thought about it. The key differentiator is alway the hustle and the ability to get things done.
One of the things I realized at Antler was that having a cofounder was super important. If you're going through a startup journey, the highs are very high, and the lows are very low so you need somebody who can share part of that journey with you especially at your low points.
I think that’s one of the best parts of the Antler program. You meet a lot of people who are in the same frame of mind, who all want to do something, and I was super lucky to meet Jamie who was similarly passionate about areas of improving happiness and letting people express themselves, so we got together and gelled really fast!
One of the other things I got to do at Antler was experimenting – almost like speed dating – where I worked with a lot of different people, spoke with as many as I could, built my network, experimented who the right fit would be and through that process I found Jamie. After 6 weeks we came up with the concept around Ivory and the rest is history.
It was a bit of a challenge -when I came into the program, I had this determination that I wanted to make this work. There were long days that finished at 2:00am sometimes. It took a toll on the friends and family side of my life too, but you’ve got to put in the work, especially in the early stages. It's not going to be smooth-sailing for anybody but if you're determined, the end results will be worth it. Juggling time effectively early in the program is one of the best ways to prove to yourself that you can do it.
Everybody I spoke to has the drive to create a startup and has ideas about what they want to do and that's good! That's just step one. You also need to have resilience and determination to pull through because it's going to be a hard journey.
You have to have some sort of support structure around you.
You have to be adaptable. If you're coming into a program (or the startup world in general) with very fixed notions about how things are going to be, you're not going to be very successful. In your mind, you have to convince yourself that your idea might be completely useless and you might need to pivot 20 times or that you might need to find a co-founder who’s not your perfect match (eg: 60-70% fit) because you’ll never get 100%- just like a marriage.
Once you have these things, everything else falls into place.