Interviewed by Laura DeMassa, Fund Manager ’22-’23
Antler is not your typical pre-seed venture capital fund. Antler identifies the world’s strongest founders who they believe have the ability to build the world’s next biggest businesses. Antler works with them hands-on to get them from 0 to 1 during their six week residency program. Founders often join Antler at the ideation stage, the earliest stages of building their business.
Following the residency, founders have the opportunity to pitch to Antler’s investment team for their first institutional capital. Antler underwrites founder execution as they work alongside founders for two months utilizing the residency program as their diligence process.
Antler has 19 investment funds across the world. The U.S. fund runs cohorts in New York City, Austin, and Boulder.
Annie Ripp joined Antler as an associate in August 2022. Annie runs founder scouting for New York, identifying people in the NYC ecosystem that have the potential to build the next wave of billion dollar businesses. During residency, Annie works with founders hands on to help them ideate, build, scale and grow their businesses.
Antler operates under the thesis that an exceptional founder can build a great business in a multitude of vertices. When meeting with founders, Annie asks whether she has conviction in the founder’s potential, as opposed to the business idea itself. Annie looks for three strengths in a founder:
- Personal Impact. Will they be able to effectively hire a team, sell their vision, raise capital, and build trust? Will people want to work with them and for them? Would she invest her own money in this founder? Are they so compelling that she’d want to go work for them?
- Domain Expertise. Do they have deep domain expertise in the space they are building? Have they experienced this problem first hand through personal experience? Do they have an unfair advantage to be solving a specific problem or to be building in a given space?
- Their Approach to Problem-Solving. Do they have strong first principles thinking? Do they have a bias towards execution? Do they lead with logic? Are they passionate about building and the problem they are setting out to solve but not emotionally attached to how they solve it.
It is also important to tease out a founder’s emotional attachment to an idea, which may cloud decision making and hinder their ability to move quickly, pivot with customer and market feedback, and execute.
Annie looks for the “sweet spot” where a founder has incredible passion but emotional detachment. In this sweet spot, the founder is absolutely determined to solve the issue, but can listen to customers and be malleable in their approach to solving a specific pain point. Annie analyzes a founder’s thinking and whether they show willingness to iterate and pivot if needed.
Investing in Founders
According to Annie, the best founders are able to convert incredible ideas into a viable businesses. Founders must identify an acute pain point and exactly who they are solving it for. The strongest founders are able to bridge the gap between an idea and a business. A great idea won’t survive unless it exists within the constructs of a durable and scalable business model.
When Antler decides to invest in a company, they analyze how the founder pivoted, iterated, and problem-solved and what progress they made over the 6 week period.
Advice to Students Looking to Break into Venture Capital
As an undergraduate, Annie found that venture capital offered a career where all her interests converged. The recipe to become a great investor is the synthesis of relentless curiosity, personal impact and dedication to lifelong learning. It is a relationship driven industry and Annie believes your success as an investor is often predicated on your ability to build deep, trusting relationships.
For students seeking to pursue a career in venture capital, Annie recommends prioritizing mentorship, networking, and surrounding yourself with the right team. You can learn the technicalities of the industry such as accounting and modeling quickly on nights, weekends, and on-the-job, but she recommends building durable relationships above all else.
Annie advises those seeking jobs in venture capital to be selective in choosing who you work for. She advises you surround yourself with people you would be proud to emulate both personally and professionally. You want to work for people who will take the time to mentor you and empower you. Working in a supportive, collaborative and empowering environment can have a tremendous impact on your career, she says. You are who you surround yourself with and in an industry rooted in relationships it is incredibly important to work for people who are genuinely invested in your success and above all else, are good people.
According to Annie, you’re in the driver’s seat of your career and if you have emotional intelligence, personal impact and relentless intellectual curiosity you’ll make a killer VC.