Founder Series: When Academia meets Investment Banking - Scribe

Different nationalities, different backgrounds and different interests. Rob, the CEO, has seven years of experience working in Risk for Barclays in London and Frankfurt. Emmanuel, the CTO, has spent eight years in Academia. After his PhD in Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Sorbonne Université in Paris, he joined University College London (UCL) as a Research Associate focusing on automatic persuasion methods for behaviour change. They probably would not have met if it wasn’t for Antler.

Why become an entrepreneur? 

Rob: Working in Banking was a fantastic experience, you learn a huge amount alongside very smart people in a global, connected environment. Ultimately though, I wanted to be at the front of innovation, with a steep learning curve that comes with building a business. I saw some of the inefficiencies in the world of finance and wanted to do something about it. 

Emmanuel: At the end of my postdoc I had three options for the next step: stay in academia and become a professor, go work for a company, or create my own business. Back at UCL, I created a company applying the research that I had done and turning it into a product. I went to a startup generator to find a CEO, but we didn’t get funded. Then I joined Antler - and it worked! My ambition, that ties together my studies, my work in academia and the two companies I’ve created is to automate more laborious work so individuals can have more time for meaningful, creative tasks. 

What were you looking for when you joined Antler? 

Rob: I left my job as I wanted to build a business. I spent 6 months searching for a technical co-founder in London, attending endless networking events and pitch nights. I worked with a few great people but the timing was never right. I was also looking for someone to build my idea, which was the wrong approach. With Antler, I now appreciate it’s more powerful to work with someone to address a problem and collaborate, rather than employ someone to just execute a solution. Antler has enabled me to maximise my experience and my time. 

Emmanuel: When I finished in Academia I thought that I could do everything, I’ve done all of the research, I’m the one who knows best. So for my first venture, when I’ve been advised to look for a CEO by an investor, I was reluctant at first. But that was trial by fire, I learned the hard way that I could not do the business side of things - I needed someone. Antler was for me a second chance, an opportunity to apply what I’ve learned and not make the same mistakes.

What surprises you the most about your co-founder? 

Rob: The power of Artificial Intelligence is incredible. Before meeting Emmanuel, I had no idea what is now possible with AI. The more we speak, the more that AI-powered opportunities in finance seem to unlock. Seeing our complementary skill sets in action has been really exciting. 

Emmanuel: It’s how fast everything is clicking on a personal and professional level. For the latter, he’s an expert in his domain. I can show him something new and shiny, he’ll always find something to apply it to. There’s no time wasted finding solutions to problems. Instead, one of us knows the problems and the other one knows a possible solution. It’s fast and efficient. 

Did you speak to many other founders before you agreed to become a team? 

Rob: We spoke a little at the beginning and it only took a one-off conversation to realise that there was a big overlap of interests. We kept in touch when lockdown happened and kept the conversation going on Zoom. In the beginning, it felt challenging to build trust remotely, but the more we worked together the more it felt it would work. 

Emmanuel: Zoom calls kept cutting off after 40 minutes so we had to be very efficient in our conversations. We worked a lot on our idea. We were patient before deciding to become a team, but when we decided to track out and commit to Scribe, for me it was certain.

What advice would you give to your ex-colleagues or anyone wanting to start their own company? 

Rob: If you see a big problem in your industry nobody is tackling - you may just be the best person to fix it. Speak to people who have already made the jump to starting a business, it’ll help work out whether it’s really for you. That said, the only way you’ll truly find out is by making the jump and personally, I would have regretted not taking the risk. My advice to anyone joining Antler in the future is to speak to everyone. Challenge your assumptions. Review the kind of business you want to build. Have as many in-depth conversations as possible with people who you think might be complementary to you.

Emmanuel: I wanted to apply my research to something practical, after doing so much theory. Building a company is the only way to apply my research and not be driven by someone else’s agenda. It’s about doing what I want to do. So, my advice: Just do it! If you want to take a step back from Academia and apply your research to something meaningful, then create a company.

What’s the weirdest question you’ve asked each other? 

Rob: I once had to ask Emmanuel whether he was automating his own coding using AI and watching TV instead (he wasn’t). 

Any last words? 

Rob: You’re not alone! It’s not just you. If you find a partner you can do anything! London is a global hub and there are thousands of big problems to be solved right here, right now. 

Emmanuel: Whether you are a tech or business person, with a rather specific or a very wide area of expertise, you’ll find at Antler your counterpart, the second of the pair who will help you bridge all the gaps. Take the leap, the other side is not that far away.

A bit more about Scribe: 

At Scribe, we’re taking a research-led approach to Artificial Intelligence, bringing cutting edge technology into the finance industry and removing the friction of analysing corporates that banks lend to. We see the huge potential of this technology and are working alongside organisations to deliver real, tangible AI-driven solutions.

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