The limitless power of new beginnings

Article written by our Amsterdam Partner Youri Doeleman, original publication here.

On August 18, 2018, I had a realization. It was the realization that another life-changing opportunity had fallen onto my path. Earlier in life in similar situations, I didn’t realize the ripple effects that a decision in such a situation has over time - for example when I decided to volunteer in the Ecuadorian rainforest at the age of 17. Then ten years later, when I became convinced to move from Japan to Norway in pursuit of love and a career at McKinsey, I would be more conscious but it still took substantial time (ie. weeks/months) to take the plunge. This time around, I knew within minutes that it was ‘another one of those moments’. It was when I caught up over video call with Magnus Grimeland (founder and CEO of Antler), my old colleague and friend who I’d worked together with a few years before. He made me an offer on the spot to join Antler as Partner and kickstart any new location on Earth.

The months following were exhilarating. In Oct-Dec 2018, I met with hundreds of new people in the Netherlands as I dove head-first into the local tech and startup ecosystem. By January, I had hired 4 people to kickstart the Antler Netherlands launch. By February, we identified and reached out to 6000 high-potential founders across Europe to entice them to join our first Netherlands cohort, and we onboarded our first 20 Advisors. In March, we were featured in Het Financieele Dagblad, BNR, Sprout and de Telegraaf, we expanded our team to 10, and we started to get recognized in the region by many different stakeholders. By April, we had attracted more than 1500 applicants, held over 700 interviews, and selected 70 founders; confirmed our wonderful program space at Epicenter - as well as confirmed our first two external Investment Committee members, the well-renowned early-stage investors Johan van Mil (Peak Capital) and Ohad Gilad (Keadyn). On May 13th, we launched the first-ever Antler Netherlands program. It has been the single most exciting phase of my professional life so far, and last week was the pinnacle.

In an attempt to share that excitement, here are some of my personal highlights of the past week:

  1. The focus. It was the first time I ever saw a group of 70 people watch 4 hours straight of personal introductions with such intense focus. These people had all just quit whatever they were doing to dedicate themselves to building a new, global business. No bosses or colleagues calling - just 100% focus on finding the right co-founder to team up with for the months and years to come. There was even one founder who had interviewed no less than 15(!) potential co-founders over Skype in the weeks leading up to program launch.
  2. This group means business. 15 years average work experience and 60% serial entrepreneur translated to a relentless drive to share and co-create business ideas, including during every single coffee break, after-hours drinks or ‘family dinners’ that I attended.
  3. We are doing something right. Multiple founders came to me after Day 1, Day 2 and even on Sunday (while I was hanging out at the office in case any founders wanted to discuss) saying how grateful they were to us/Antler for having pulled together this group of founders and giving them the opportunity to join. The most memorable quote was at the end of Day 2 from a seasoned CTO and economist who said “Even if this experience were to end tomorrow, my life has already been completely changed for the better”.
  4. Profit & Purpose. All founders I personally spoke to during the week are showing a compelling mix of drive to solve real social issues but also intending to build a profitable business while doing so (and having prior experience to show that they know what it takes).
  5. Ability to impact. Apart from coaching founders and ensuring our team is able to deliver the best support infrastructure for founders to excel, I was able to introduce the founder group to a broad mix of people from my personal network that I have accumulated over the years: a former colleague who is now himself a founder in the Shipping space, a corporate executive, a freestyle rapper, and even my high school physics teacher (who was the reason why I ended up doing a MSc in cosmology) - all of who are already adding value to these founders’ journeys. Never before have I felt so clearly the ability to make a unique impact on the world.

So, what can we learn from the above? For me, it is that new beginnings have the power to unleash the deepest sources of energy we all hold inside us. And that to find your new beginning, you need to learn how to recognize opportunities when they present themselves.

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