I don’t consider myself as much of a risk taker, but in summer 2019, I knew it was time. I quit my job in order to become an entrepreneur at Antler, without knowing what to build or with whom. My expectations were to work hard and develop a lot. Coming from the business side, predominantly from global organizations, I was also expecting to learn a lot in the tech field. Boy, was I in for a ride!
As for preparations, I was told it’s good to start collecting “problems”. So I started writing down anything that could become a business idea worth solving, and read startup management books. Would I be helping aphasia patients speech train? Or build an activity platform for adolescents and their parents? All I knew was that I wanted to help people in some way, and that I had two non-negotiable conditions: I had to find a great, trustworthy co-founder with complementing skills, and an idea that I’d be passionate about.
The first day of Antler felt like the first day at school. What was I supposed to wear? I knew I had to make the “just right” impression while presenting the pre-submitted slide about myself in front of my 97 fellow cohort-members. I was terrified that no one would want to work with me.
The first two weeks passed quickly. Team building exercises and workshops turned into trial working sessions (“idea sprints” in Antler language). The potential prospects narrowed down and although speed dating co-founders may not be romantic, it sure is emotional. Everyone is forming and reforming teams, and deciding not to work with someone turned out to be equally difficult no matter if it’s you or the other person who’s making the decision.
The most stressful point was when 60 people had made the official transition to an exclusive co-founder relationship (“tracking out” in Antler language), and I was still in the founders’ up-for-grabs-pool. It almost felt like being the last one picked in gym class. So, after four weeks when I fell in business love and finally tracked out, I was thrilled! We worked intensely day and night for one week (and a week in Antler time is like a month in real time), only to find out that we unfortunately didn’t crack that hockeystick idea. We also realized that we weren’t the perfect co-founder match, broke up and were both back on the market again.
Luckily enough, my business partner and I weren’t the only ones who were up for grabs! Two interesting tech profiles also split up with their teams about the same time. Simultaneously, my non-Antler friend, a CEO of an international tech scale-up, told me about his need to improve ad-hoc communication within his organization that was spread out across the globe. This sparked my interest and as a happy surprise, it sparked the two techie’s interests too. Finally, a new team constellation of three founders was formed – and the foundation for Teemly, a platform aimed at improving communication within distributed teams, was laid. The coming weeks we interviewed over 30 company representatives, surveyed numerous people about remote work, spoke to three organizational psychologists, got to know each other, iterated, discussed, prioritized, name-brainstormed, developed a prototype, made a business plan, and got six companies to sign letters of intent that they wanted to trial our (non-existent) virtual office space product.
After 11 intense weeks, it was time to pitch to the Investment Committee. We were one of 17 lucky teams (out of 40 pitching) that got funded by Antler and made it through to the next phase. Now things would finally calm down and we could enter work mode, I thought. Error. The calm state lasted for 40 hours, before one of our co-founders decided to leave. The upcoming days, while legally filing the company, setting up the CRM-system and speaking to investors, we reviewed our recruitment options. Within ten days, the dropped out co-founder’s skills had been replaced and the coding of our MVP could finally start.
It has been 15 weeks since that first day I didn’t know what to wear, and we are 28 founders left out of 98. Startup chaos is the new state of mind, and I am continuously realizing what that means. The speed at which we run hasn’t slowed down. Emotionally, however, things have calmed. We are a committed and solid founding team and my co-founder Oleg is fantastic. We have learned that the magic happens when we collaborate, especially given we are so different and complement each other well.
Together, we have founded Teemly, driven by our joint passion to truly connect distributed teams. It has grown to be a remote organization consisting of five people and a venture capital investor, fantastic advisors and excited customers. We have launched a website and we are rolling out our product trial shortly.
Things change by the hour, but I enjoy the rollercoaster. On the tax papers I'm the CEO. In reality, I’m also Head of Legal, Investor Relations, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Admin and Candy Purchases, because that’s what it means to be an entrepreneur. I am doing a lot of things for the first time and while it's terrifying sometimes, it’s exactly the right thing for me to do.
It has been an extraordinary ride so far. I’ve challenged myself and found a great, trustworthy team. Together we’ve developed, validated and received investment for a business idea we’re both passionate about. I’ve also met 97 new fantastic people that are now a part of my life. Thanks for that, Antler!
- Charlotte Ekelund, co-founder and CEO of Teemly