Christoph Klink from Antler: Creating the right conditions for building great teams

Christoph Klink is Partner at Antler, a global early-stage VC firm founded in Singapore in 2017. He is co-leading Antler's operations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Eastern Europe, driving early-stage investments in the region. In anticipation of his talk at sTARTUp Day 2022, we posed him some questions about Antler and creating the right conditions for great startup teams.  

Embracing his passion for fast-paced innovation, Christoph continuously screens and invests in early-stage ventures in areas such as Healthtech, SaaS, Marketplaces, Proptech, Foodtech and Supply Chain Technology. He is also interested in the quickly evolving mobility sector and has worked very closely with leaders of the World Economic Forum to advance the ecosystem and build industry-shaping insight. Christoph holds a PhD in Business Administration. 

This interview was written by Tejas Anil Shah, member of the sTARTUp Day Marketing & PR team.

You moved to Antler after more than a decade at McKinsey. What motivated the move?

Back in 2020, just when we saw the first signs of the pandemic coming; my old friend and now partner in crime, Alan and I felt that this was going to be intense. This was also the time when the startup ecosystem in Europe as a whole was gaining momentum, and we believed that - despite all the terrible humanitarian consequences of it  it would be an interesting time with a lot of disruption and innovation on the charts. At that time the seed stage investor ecosystem was quite established, but a lot of impactful work could be done pre-seed as well. Be it helping the founders build strong co-founding teams, or help the startups further their ideas. This space needed a lot more work, and Antler is doing exactly that. So, we took the plunge and haven’t looked back since.

How do you like the environment at Antler?

I can hardly think of another workplace as inspiring as Antler. The founders that we work with have about 10 years of experience on average, and two-thirds of them have built companies before, and they are about to embark on building their next business.

The cohorts that we pick are typically about 60-70 founders, and we look out for people with grit simply being around these determined people is extremely energizing.

Apart from this, our portfolio is extremely diverse, there are founders working on web3 technologies, healthcare, cyber security and many other important challenges of the societies we live in. This makes no day like the other.

How has the investment strategy at Antler changed in response to the pandemic? Now that the end seems to be in sight, how will this change?

At the beginning, everyone expected the worst, and everyone wanted to hedge their bets and somehow stormproof their portfolios. There was this expectation that there would be a dry streak in funding. Luckily that hasn’t happened, and a lot of young companies either pivoted, stretched their runways, or adapted how they worked and pulled through. The pandemic also gave a lot of the founders time to rethink their businesses.

At Antler, our investing cycles are extremely long-term oriented with holding periods of up to a decade. So, for us it boiled down to sitting together with the founders and having those conversations about whether it was the right time for them to go through with the plan that they had and helping them adapt to the circumstances. The pandemic has taught us one thing  we don’t know when it is over and thus need to remain highly adaptive. I am hopeful that we are at the end of the tunnel and we can see the light, but also cautious about what comes next.

The recent cohort at Antler had startups dealing with mental health (clare&me), psychedelics (Eir Drop Biosciences), VPNs (WireTrustee) etc. What is the most exciting sector to you personally?

It is very hard to pick one sector. I like to think that I have the great luxury of being at a place where I can work with founders in a variety of sectors. So I don’t think I have to be biased towards a specific sector. Last year, we issued a call for founders and tried to boil down our interest to 10 sectors, and it was one of the hardest things to do.

Some of the companies are trying to disrupt extremely relevant fields, for instance, clare&me is trying to work in the healthcare space, and WireTrustee is working on cyber security, both these sectors need a lot of innovation and companies building products for people. The companies that will overcome the challenges will build amazing things.

How is success measured at Antler when funding such a diverse set of companies?

There are multiple ways of measuring success. Just looking at the valuation or market capitalization is definitely not enough. However, obviously, it is one of the metrics that we need to look after as investors.

Apart from that, we look at success in a way that is very individual to the founder and their journey.

One of the first things, after we invest in a company, is to sit down with the founders and carve out what success will look like for that company. So depending on the company it could be tonnes of carbon captured, trips booked, payments processed, etc. We are also diligently going through our portfolio and figuring out which companies are contributing towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

So, I’d say it is a multi-dimensional game where market capitalization is one factor, and then more uniformly the sustainable development goals are roped in across the portfolio. Then depending on the individual company, we look at different parameters for that specific company.

At Antler the focus is on helping people find co-founders, could you shine some light on how this is done?

We work with founders who are at a very early stage of their journey of building their next company. Oftentimes, they are looking to first build their team, it could be a team of two, looking to bring in another founder with a specific skill set, or perspective. We don’t do matchmaking, meaning we don’t pair up specific founders instead we focus on creating the right conditions and help them to build strong teams.

The overarching theme that we have is teams first, ideas second.

Often these teams will pivot and try to solve a slightly different problem or build a different product to address it, so our focus is on creating an environment where serendipity can help the founders to bump into others who are just as passionate.

So all our cohorts are in-person and we heavily curate them to have a good mix of profiles. Then we have team challenges for the cohorts with clear steps, milestones and deadlines. These challenges help them work together and systematically evaluate who they work with effectively.

This environment helps the founders test out different configurations and then decide on who they are going to build their company with.

Christoph will be speaking about identifying the right co-founding teams on Day 2 of sTARTUp Day 2022 on 27 August 2022. Check out the other speakers.
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