Since its founding in 2018, Antler has invested in 700+ companies, run 80+ residencies, and worked with 5K+ founders. We know a thing or two about how founders successfully build a company. At Antler, we are always striving to make the residencies serve our founders better. We are ”founders first” as we say in our values. But a big part of a successful Antler residency is about you, the founder, joining.
Here are my six tips for founders to take note of, so you can get the most out of your Antler residency.
1. Come prepared on day one
Preparation is key. You have a major advantage over others if, on the first day, you already have a general idea about who you want to talk to, and where you stand with your existing ideas. It not only makes the experience better for you, but having a clear idea of these things helps us, as well as other founders, help you.
The full residency is only nine to ten weeks—don’t spend your time doing what you could have done earlier. Some locations run what’s called a “Pre-Program”, where in the weeks leading up to the start of the residency, founders have the opportunity to ideate with Antler team members, start speed networking with founders virtually, as well as reading materials to get up to speed.
The more prepared a founder is on day one, the quicker and higher the likelihood they will find a co-founder in the early weeks. There are many founders to get to know. We advise founders to front load as much of this networking process as possible, by looking through the profiles and forming a shortlist of individuals they would like to chat and work with. And make sure to be clear about where your idea stands before your residency starts.
2. Focus on how you complement each other
Many founders come into the residency looking for a specific skill set in their co-founder, such as salesmanship to compliment their ability to build, or a tech native to build their vision. While that is important, I like to frame it in a slightly different way.
Teamwork should enhance individuals’ output disproportionately. If one person equals one, when working on a team, it should be 1+1=3. It should maximise and yield more results than two people's output. A founder with an idea, looking for a co-founder to build that idea, isn’t what builds successful teams.
The most successful teams we see are those that divide and conquer while constantly challenging each others’ new insights. They stay agile and are ready to pivot together. The residency is a pressure cooker to test whether the combination of founders have what it takes to successfully build a company.
There is no “perfect recipe” but if the team proves themselves—no matter the challenge, pivot or abrupt change—Antler deems the team investable. After all, we invest in teams, not ideas. An idea is just an idea until you have a team that can make it reality.
“Well I’ll say the cheesy liner of never judge a book by its cover, because it applies here better than ever. You never know how someone is or what the synergy is going to be like unless you talk to the person. And drive deep and challenging conversations with them about your experiences, your ambitions, your skills and what you look for in your co-founder.” —Funded founder from Antler’s seventh residency in Amsterdam
3. Commit to your co-founder(s) but stay in communication with others
One of the most frequent questions we get asked is “How do you know when you should form a team? And with whom?” This ties back to tip number one. The earlier founders get to know one another, the quicker the shortlist is formed, and the sooner founders can test out their chemistry.
Again, there is no correct time frame within the residency to form a team—but what is important is to commit, when you feel like there is enough to go on. Having ongoing projects with multiple founders, before deciding to team up with one or two, not only wastes a lot of time, but also showcases indecisiveness.
Most founders will experience one or more breakups during the residency, before they find the right one. Additionally, it’s important to commit and have ample time to test the relationship.
That being said, it’s crucial not to have tunnel vision once you think you’ve found “the one”. In the likelihood of a break up, if founders have only spent time with a handful of others, they will find that many of those may have already formed teams. So stay curious about your fellow founders' ideas and what they are building. You might find yourself wanting to explore other options down the line. Always have a shortlist of founders updated. Time is of the essence, so that one last potential match might be the one.
“First, focus for yourself on the profiles of your ideal co-founders. Then concentrate on meeting the maximum number of people in the cohort instead of focusing on your specific idea. Additionally, when you have found them, share your 'company' equally to motivate them, even if it's your idea. Finally, try to obtain as much feedback from Antler as possible since one of their main focuses is to see that you as an entrepreneur can grow during the program.” —Funded Founder from Antler’s fifth residency in Amsterdam
4. Trust the process
Founders come into the residency with the goal of finding a co-founder and, of course, securing investment from Antler. The journey there, however, might not be what they expect—too rigid for some, too fluid, and unstructured for others. Too fast paced for some, too restrictive for others. What I mention over and over again during the residency, is also a good learning for everyone who has yet to begin their Antler journey: For the duration of the residency, trust the process.
If you do not find the right co-founder fit for your idea, trust the process. Find another co-founder you would have wanted to work with, find an alternative problem to solve. Who knows where this potential path might take you.
The time frame in which founders have to find their co-founder is very short. There is no denying this. Some might say it feels too soon to know if they want to spend the next five to ten years building together. Trust the process—it has been proven to work. The pressure cooker of a few short weeks, represents what otherwise would have been a few months.
“My experience in Antler was a definition of a roller coaster, with many invalidated ideas, short-lasting collaborations and yet, I somehow managed to find a cofounder during the very last weeks of the program. Retrospectively, that is due to the fact that I continued to put myself out there–it’s 100% up to you how you use your time in the program, so make sure to always be present and engaged.” –Funded Founder from Antler’s seventh residency in Amsterdam
5. Don’t be afraid to break up
Like every other relationship, the one between co-founders is no different. The short time frame of a residency puts pressure on the dynamic. You see quickly whether the relationship is going to last.
Antler has devised a series of 50 comprehensive questions. It means that no awkward questions will get swept under the carpet. We recommend that founders take the time to think through their answers, understand what degree of compromise they are willing to accept (should their co-founders think differently), and to honestly compare answers. If you cannot get through these questions, you are likely not made for each other.
This has helped many founders realise that they are not the best fit for each other. Not only before forming a team, but also in hindsight. Even for the formed teams who go on to build together, if they end up breaking up, they typically would reflect and say, “I should have clarified that question further with them—I didn’t think it would be such a problem that we differed in opinion.” For others who recruit co-founders post investment, they do the same exercise to gauge compatibility.
When the gut feeling is there, reinforced by an example or two, take the step. Move onto the next co-founder match and know when to break up.
6. Get ready for constant feedback—from everyone
From day one onwards, whether as a solo founder or as a team, from fellow founders as well as the Antler team, there will be a lot of feedback (positive and constructive). The feedback is provided to guide and help you excel in your journey as an entrepreneur. Given the speed of iteration and execution expected, the level of feedback will be the same—be prepared to pivot, discard some ideas, and ideate on new problems.
The more that founders show they take in feedback, the more that Antler sees value in continuing to work with them. So get ready to receive some harsh feedback, but to also grow from it. Sometimes it means that you need to figure out a better way of explaining yourself, but most of the time, you'll find yourself pivoting into a stronger company and taking big steps forward. The feedback is never personal and always strives to make you a better founder. At the end of the day we invest in founders, but we assess their strength through the work we see.
“Every time after your weekly pitch session, Antler will provide you extensive feedback. Listen to it and make sure you make progress day to day, week to week. You have only several weeks to show traction–the most straightforward way to secure funding is to always take action on their feedback.” –Iaroslav Medvedev, the CEO of Antler funded Not8, from Antler’s fifth residency in Amsterdam
I hope these tips have given you a better understanding of what to expect and how to make the most of your Antler residency. At the end of each residency, we ask all founders—funded or not—on their expectations going in and how it has differed. The above list is a compilation of what we think are the best practices. It is also what many founders have said they wished they knew, before going into the program.
Many have already spoken to previous founders and have done their research. That is still highly recommended, but maybe this article has given you a bit more context for those conversations.
If you are reading this before embarking on your own Antler residency journey, I wish you the best of luck (and strength!) to become one of our funded founders. And to everyone else, if this post raises any questions you might want answered, don’t be afraid to reach out. We are always striving to help our founders build the best company they can, from the day zero to greatness.
Learn more about our residencies across Antler and apply to one today.