Founder Series: How three founders navigated lockdown - Mast
Meet Mast! Joy, Rob and Henry all joined Antler UK two weeks before the UK government announced the lockdown. Apart from informal discussions they had never brainstormed together in our offices. Everything happened remotely and they've never looked back!
Rob, the CPO, studied Economics at Warwick University and began his career at Barclays in the Mortgage team and then in Corporate Banking. Joy, the CEO, studied Business and Corporate Finance in Switzerland and then worked nearly 8 years in trading at Amber Capital. He did a bit of real estate private equity consulting and then founded his own startup in healthtech. Henry, the CTO, has a background in biochemistry. He briefly flirted with lab research and then worked in pharmaceutical PR. He decided to change careers, and worked at various tech and fintech companies as a full stack software developer for 6 years.
Mast is building software to enable mortgage lenders to improve their operational efficiency and make it easier and faster to get to an offer.
How did the Mast team come together?
Joy: When Antler started I decided that I would have a 1-to-1 with all 70 entrepreneurs. I wanted to explore all of my options but in reality, it was not practically possible. I spoke to Rob on Day 3 and we clicked very quickly, however, I was mainly looking for a technical co-founder. I also liked Henry because he was one of the few technical people who were interested in fintech and knew the industry well. After lockdown began we kept in touch regularly. One day the three of us spoke and we started working on Rob's idea and I knew it was right. I've never looked back!
Henry: Rob and I met very early on and got on well. After lockdown started I wondered what I was doing. I could have been part of two teams. One went ahead without me (I dithered for too long) and the other team imploded. I was left on my own with no team. I had thought about teaming up with Joy or Rob separately but not as a team of three.
Rob: I had the mindset that I was going to be a CEO and I'll find a tech person. I made an Excel sheet of all the potential technical co-founders and worked my way through speaking to all of them. When we went into lockdown it came to the point where I only had two people left on my list who weren't in a team that I had some good chemistry with. I started hassling them both incessantly. I had a separate call with Joy just as a catch up and he floated the idea of working as a team of three and it suddenly clicked. If we did something in the mortgage space I should drop my ambitions to be CEO and focus on the product.
What surprises you the most about your co-founders?
Joy: Nothing surprises me about Rob and Henry. I chose them because I can see what type of people they are and the dynamic and potential of the team. We couldn't have had a better start!
Henry: I'm comfortable with both of them. Having only hung out for the last 4 months...
Rob: You know what you get with Joy. It's just great. Henry is very clear and calm. Very funny when you're least expecting it!
What's the biggest thing your co-founders have already taught you?
Rob: Just how quickly we can move. Henry has really impressed us with how quickly we can incorporate new features, whatever we throw at him seems to be feasible. Sometimes there's a fear that our plan might not work out, but the team is so strong I'm comfortable knowing that we can handle and adapt.
Henry: Adversity is not so bad. I'm OK with the calls that don't go so well because we are in it together.
Joy: In my previous business, I always felt our founding team was not aligned. Whereas here we are set to get through thunderstorms. We have complementary personalities and skill sets. When I work with them I feel accountable, in a good way. I want us to build something great.
What advice would you share with future Antler entrepreneurs?
Henry: Antler enables you to accelerate an idea in a risk free environment. It's a useful experience for everyone even if you don't receive investment in the end. Figure out your priorities. No one will tell you what to do with your team. Learn what you can. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't wait for the perfect team to show up and don't be afraid to commit to something. Build a team and leave if it doesn't work.
Rob: I wanted to start a business with my friend but the timing was never right. The thought of finding a co-founder just seemed impossible. I was looking at small business ideas I could run on my own but I wanted something bigger. I needed to meet the people who would make it bigger. With Antler, I could do this for 10 weeks and I had the safety net of being able to pay my rent.
At Antler, you have to be very confident in making decisions very quickly. Speak to as many people as you can. If you have the expertise, don't be afraid to run with it as you're much more likely to have a good founder-market fit. Mortgages aren't the sexiest product to be working on, but once you see the opportunities it becomes a lot more attractive.
Joy: This is not my first business so when I joined Antler there were two challenges that I wanted to make sure I tackled correctly. The first was finding a technical co-founder that wanted to step outside their comfort zone and build something ambitious in fintech. The second was finding people you get along with personally which is extremely important because you will end up spending an enormous amount of time with them.
I don't believe you can give advice to people who want to become entrepreneurs. It's not a rational decision. It's a personality trait. You want to take risks or you don't. Acknowledge that there is some luck involved and you have to be realistic about what you can do. You need to be comfortable and honest with yourself about where your skills and area of expertise lie.
Rob: Antler is not for everyone. You have to want to speak to people and be all in. It's just 10 weeks in phase 1 and you have to squeeze every bit that you can get out of it. When you form a team, work and move fast.
Joy: It's important to trust the process and take feedback constructively. You need to realise that Antler is just the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. It is just the start of a long journey that can last 7-10 years or even more.
A last word about Mast?
We are bringing a whole new way of thinking into a broken industry and are not afraid to disrupt it. There may be bigger players out there but nothing is stopping us from delivering and becoming the new cool kid on the block.
If you are thinking about founding your own company and kick-starting your entrepreneurial journey, apply now.
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