BLUEPRINT: How Antler Sydney recruited 71 aspiring founders in 3 months

I joined Antler at end of February with the task of recruiting 65+ founders for the first ever Sydney program starting June 3. The hope being that these people will build the next wave of tech, and even better, reach unicorn status. This was from a standing start, before the local team was fully established, pre-launch.

To break down the months of March, April and May, we received ~1,000 applications and conducted almost 800 hours of interviewing.

The result:

  • 71 founders
  • 18 nationalities represented
  • 25% female
  • 13.6 year average commercial tenure

Antler itself is a startup. There were points of total exhaustion, one week we had events every night across Melbourne and Sydney attracting over 400 attendees. By day as a team we were conducting ~20 interviews, fundraising, building a local brand, securing press coverage. By night, we were setting up and running the launch parties/meetups. I remember being anxious mid point in the recruiting period that we had 20 offers accepted, and just one of them one was a woman. Then there were the highs. For me, this was simply watching the steady stream of people I genuinely believed were capable of changing the world through the companies they would go on to build. This culminated in our recruiting target of 65 founders being hit 2 weeks ahead of plan.

So how did we do it?

First and foremost through teamwork, everyone in the team was involved in recruiting and most interviewing.

Building a diverse sourcing strategy across personal networks, social media, sourcing tools, events and referrals. Then applying that to our target profiles, commercial, technology and domain experts. Our exclusive in the AFR got a lot of attention and provide a vital validation point for those with commercial backgrounds, whereas the best attracting tool for engineers was our partnership with YOW! Analysing our founder source data the largest number came via the personal networks of myself and Antler Partner's. LinkedIn was next and built into this channel was inviting people to come to a bi-weekly Meet Antler information evening, an hour with a local Antler Partner to run through the program with open Q&A, this attracted 8 - 20 attendees each session.

We executed over 60 events in three months, the main ones being the Sydney and Melbourne launch parties (>300 attendance) and night with Andreas Ehn, Antler Venture Partner and original CTO of Spotify (~250 attendance). After each event we saw a significant spike in applications, the week of the Sydney launch we set a global Antler record of 162 applications.

We modelled and bi-weekly reviewed the interview requirement to balance how people were tracking through the interview pipeline and the interviewing capacity of the team. You can only put into the funnel what the team has capacity to interview. There are many profiles of talent professionals (I am highly people focused) but working at this volume I have definitely learned the value of Excel models for forecasting!

Critical was then going a layer deeper, what were the skill sets of those in the funnel? We had to adapt quickly to how the cohort was forming to achieve a balance of builder (engineers) vs. non builder (domain expert/commercial). On peak days we were making six offers, without closely monitoring the acceptance rate, within a week we could massively skew to commercial over technical profiles.

Diversity. In terms of international profiles I must be honest and say this was handed to us by the makeup of the tech scene in Australia but gender balance took some work. I was all too familiar with the gender breakdown by role within tech in Australia, stats such as just 2.2% of VC funding going to female founded companies and women having a lower risk appetite to men. I believed, however, this would be offset by Antler providing a supportive path to starting a business with a defined route to capital. I was wrong. ~15% of applications were by women. We undertook highly targeted sourcing campaigns and partnered with organisations such as ProductWomen, but the real impact came from enlisting prominent women in tech to speak out in support of the Antler program.

Lessons

Professionally, I have learned an incredible amount in just three months, especially around recruiting at scale. Our next program will run January 2020 and I will take into it the following lessons.

  1. We made 114 offers to reach 71 founders joining. This offer to conversion rate is lower than I have experienced hiring in product lead companies. We have 10 candidates who will hopefully join January’s cohort but this drop off rate was inline with our global cohorts so needs to be anticipated for future rounds. I believe this is as joining the Antler program is a bigger life shift for most than switching from one corporate role to the next.
  2. Increased applications are likely, Singapore saw a 80% increase in applications from first to second program. Effective interview forecasting (yes with my new found Excel skills!) is essential for the team to manage this workload which we now must execute alongside supporting the startups from this program. We must also balance starting recruiting early to handle this volume against giving offers too early. Interviewing too soon could be an ineffective use of team time as the majority of withdrawals we had were from those offered early.
  3. Our gender balance of 25% is strong but required a tailored approach. Knowing application rates of women are likely to be low we must start female focused hiring strategies immediately.
  4. Data, how do we capture more from our events in particular?

People ask me if I am now taking a breather before recruiting for program two in January. The answer is of course not! We are taking expressions of interest now and interviewing will start September www.antler.co/sydney.

This article was written by Adele Moynihan, Director of Recruiting for Antler Sydney.

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