The modern business environment is highly dynamic. It presents exciting opportunities for people who want to swim against the tide of conformity and strike out on their own. Entrepreneurship makes it possible for them. With the promise of innovation, autonomy, and potentially high financial rewards, the world of entrepreneurship is a beacon of opportunity amidst a tumultuous job market. The Entrepreneurship in Residence (EiR) position is an interesting one for anyone thinking about venturing into business for themselves.
What exactly does an EiR do? How does one become an EiR? What are the benefits and challenges associated with this role?
The concept of an “Entrepreneurship in Residence” may appear ambiguous to many. Fortunately, Craig was gracious enough to pull back the curtain in a recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) session in the community. After gaining experience in start-ups, strategy consulting, and technical roles, Craig started a new and exciting chapter in his career with the help of Antler, a leading global early-stage venture capital firm.
In this guide, we will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of various startup resources, including accelerators, venture studios, venture capital, and bootstrapping. We'll also talk about the difficulties that may arise for people who don't fit the stereotypical profile of a young college dropout founder, including how to find a co-founder, validate a concept, raise money, and network for seed investment.
By looking into Craig's time in the Antler program and his entrepreneurial career, we can hopefully provide a clearer picture of what it takes to be an EiR. With any luck, the information presented here will inspire would-be business owners to finally make that jump
Let's take this trip into the world of residence-based entrepreneurship and learn about the life-altering potential it offers to those who pursue it.
Think of Entrepreneurship in Residence (EiR) as having one or a full squad of entrepreneurial superheroes at your beck and call, ready to provide you with their invaluable wisdom, guidance, and support. An EiR is usually someone who has accomplished the feat of building and expanding their own business and possesses a vast amount of knowledge and expertise they are willing to pass on.
The purpose of the EiR is to encourage entrepreneurship within the company or institution by using the knowledge and expertise of these seasoned business owners. They assist people in succeeding as business owners by sharing the lessons they've learned the hard way and offering advice and counsel gleaned from their own experiences.
Workshops, one-on-one coaching, strategic guidance, and introductions to key networks and resources are just some of the things that an EiR may do to help prospective entrepreneurs. Having access to a diverse pool of industry contacts, investors, and experts can prove handy for startups that want to broaden their networks and obtain funding.
EiR programs strive to create an atmosphere that encourages and supports entrepreneurship. Aspiring entrepreneurs don't have to do anything radical to become successful. With EiR as their wingman, they can learn all the tricks of the trade and fast-track their entrepreneurial journey.
Being an EiR may sound intriguing, but it isn't as cut-and-dry as you'd initially believe. But for the sake of simplicity, we will divide the EiR roles into two brackets: one where the founders generate their own ideas and another where they don't.
Day-Zero Accelerators are designed for budding entrepreneurs who are still in the process of putting together their founding team, finding their product idea, and writing their business plans. Startup accelerators accept groups of people at once and assist them in locating co-founders, coming up with and testing business concepts, creating a marketable product, and pitching to investors. Antler and Entrepreneur First (EF) are two of the most popular Day-Zero Accelerators.
Venture Studios are companies that come up with and launch new startups from within. They gather a group of experts to carefully examine and verify various business opportunities first and then get founders on board to lead and bring these ideas to life. Startups that are nurtured by venture studios usually receive financial support, guidance, and help with day-to-day operations. Companies like Rocket Internet and Atomic have proven their ability to build successful businesses in various industries and markets.
Antler is a $600 million global early-stage VC with a strong presence in Europe and Southeast Asia. Antler offers a three-month cohort-based program for high-potential founders. The program is designed for pre-team and pre-idea to help find a co-founder, develop a viable business, and potentially launch the company with a first round of funding.
Antler's Founder Residency program is an exclusive community of aspiring founders with a set of interventions and activities designed to forge meaningful connections and collaborations. Ultimately, the Residency's goal is to help you find the ideal co-founder, a long-term and enduring partnership between builders.
The Residency is a space for anyone who is actively ideating, tinkering, building, or taking the first steps in their entrepreneurial journey. You will meet and build with fellow hand-picked world-class operators who are committed to starting up, spend a targeted 12 weeks at the Residency, and find a co-founder whom you may not have crossed paths with otherwise.
At the end of the Residency, teams have the opportunity to present to the Antler Investment Committee for investment. Antler will back you as people at the Residency and as the first believers in your new venture.
You will be part of a network of exceptional founders who will support you throughout your journey. You will also get access to sector-specific sessions with industry leaders, masterclasses on the zero-to-one journey, and candid conversations with seasoned founders.
To gain insights into the EiR experience, we turn our attention to Craig's journey in the Antler program.
Craig, like many aspiring entrepreneurs, saw the structured program offered by Antler as an opportunity to accelerate his entrepreneurial endeavors. He didn’t have a clear problem-solution fit, which is why he decided to go down the EiR path through Antler’s structured 12-week program.
Craig applied online, underwent multiple rounds of interviews, and eventually received an offer to join the program. The allure of potential upside, including the chance to find a co-founder, develop a viable business, and secure investment within three months, convinced Craig to embark on this journey. Despite the uncertainty inherent in entrepreneurship, even the potential downside of not achieving these outcomes was seen as a valuable learning opportunity.
The Antler program required Craig to relocate to Toronto, where the program was held. While Antler provided a modest stipend of CA$ 1,000 per month to support participants, it was not sufficient to cover the living costs of those relocating from out of town. This logistical aspect necessitated dipping into personal savings, highlighting the importance of having a financial buffer when diving into entrepreneurship full-time.
One of the crucial aspects of the Antler program was team building. Craig had the opportunity to get to know other participants in the cohort, their interests, and their skill sets. The program encouraged networking and collaboration, both virtually and through face-to-face interactions. The philosophy at Antler emphasizes the importance of overlapping values and complementary skill sets when forming a co-founding team, as they significantly contribute to the success of the venture. If you're looking for a co-founder but don't have anybody in your network, YC's Co-Founder Matching Platform can help you find the right one.
Once the teams were formed, the focus shifted to problem and solution generation. Antler provided resources, bootcamps, and a supportive environment for founders to share ideas and iterate on potential problems and solutions. While some founders entered the program with a clear idea in mind, others, like Craig, explored various interest areas and allowed their focus to evolve over time. The process resembled an accelerated form of dating, as teams iterated and sought alignment between problem and solution. Craig’s focus evolved and transformed over time, and he ended up working with a technical co-founder to develop a mental health tech product.
With a team, a defined problem, and a hypothesis for a potential solution, the Antler program transitioned into the validation and pitching phase. The main criteria for evaluating ventures included:
Once all these criteria are satisfied, the program culminated in investment pitches to a panel of Antler investors, providing an opportunity for teams to secure initial seed funding.
Entrepreneurial hopefuls can learn a lot from completing an Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) program like the one Craig did. Here are the biggest takeaways from Craig's experience with Antler's program:
Understanding the problem inside out and a deep connection with your target audience is paramount to landing on a product-market fit. Through rigorous testing, continuous feedback loops, and iterative processes, you get exposed to priceless insights from your mentors. This arduous journey ensures that you steer clear of the treacherous waters of building something that fails to resonate with your target market.
Antler's program continuously demands you check your assumptions at the door. You have to be willing to confront and question your own beliefs. You can't wilt under criticism but instead, look at it as a catalyst for growth and to pivot when necessary.
A successful team is made of diverse team members coming together in pursuit of a common goal. Skills must align, values should harmonize, and a shared vision must guide your collective efforts. The EiR program serves as your guiding compass, illuminating the path towards finding the perfect co-founder fit—the key that unlocks the doors to sustained triumph.
You'll find yourself surrounded by a vibrant tapestry of diverse talents, each possessing the potential to be the missing piece in your entrepreneurial puzzle. These interactions lay the groundwork for assessing potential co-founders, forging connections that transcend mere professional compatibility, and delving into the realm of shared purpose and unwavering commitment.
The program exposes participants to a diverse range of professionals who can provide guidance, valuable insights, and potential investment opportunities. Building meaningful relationships within the startup ecosystem can open doors to partnerships, customer acquisition, and future funding rounds.
If you want to grab the interest of your investors, you have to ace the pitching game. EiR programs often culminate in pitching sessions to a panel of investors, providing founders with invaluable experience in pitching and fundraising. You stack the odds in your favor when you finally set out to secure the necessary funding to propel the startup forward.
Entrepreneurship is a challenging journey, and the EiR program helps cultivate resilience and adaptability in founders. Participants learn to embrace uncertainty, navigate setbacks, and iterate quickly to overcome obstacles. The program instills a growth mindset, teaching entrepreneurs to view failures as learning opportunities and to persevere in the face of adversity.
EiR programs often bring together individuals from various backgrounds and industries, fostering a rich and diverse environment. Entrepreneurs gain exposure to different perspectives, business models, and industries, expanding their knowledge and enhancing their problem-solving abilities. This exposure allows founders to approach challenges from fresh angles and encourages innovative thinking.
Completing an EiR program can be a springboard for future opportunities. Even if a venture does not secure investment during the program, the skills, network, and experience gained can open doors for future collaborations, entrepreneurial endeavors, or employment opportunities within the startup ecosystem. The EiR program serves as a valuable stepping stone toward building a successful career in entrepreneurship.
The most valuable takeaway for Craig from this program has been the experience of starting a company and all that entails - finding a co-founder, validating a problem, building a product, seeking investment - doing this end-to-end is so different from anything he’d done before.
We love how Craig puts it — “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution - there's a massive fixation on "having a brilliant idea,” but the truth is the solution will evolve over time. Being more focused on the problem than the solution will allow you to adapt to that and stay engaged through the long journey!”
Securing adequate funding is a critical aspect of launching and scaling a startup. There are three ways you can approach this goal. Each approach has advantages and considerations, and entrepreneurs must carefully evaluate which option best aligns with their specific circumstances and goals.
Bootstrapping refers to the practice of funding a business using personal savings, revenue generated from early sales, or the reinvestment of profits. It’s a self-sustaining approach that allows entrepreneurs to retain complete control over their venture and its strategic decisions. The biggest plus of bootstrapping is that you can focus on building the business instead of spending half your time chasing down investors.
There is, however, one downside to bootstrapping. Your business will have slower growth compared to ventures backed by external funding. Limited financial resources may constrain the ability to invest in marketing, infrastructure, or hiring, which can impact the scaling speed.
External funding can come in handy if you are going for accelerated growth. You go knocking on the doors of venture capitalists or angel investors. It can help you achieve a step-function change in growth, for instance, if you are developing a brand-new product, expanding to new regions, or in a situation where there will be a "winner takes all" advantage for the first mover.
While this approach can offer your startups access to substantial capital injections, you have to be willing to part with some of your ownership stakes and involve your investors in growth and exit strategies, as well as in decision-making.
Accelerators are designed to do one thing: propel your business forward at warp speed. They accomplish this mission in various ways, catering to the diverse needs of entrepreneurs like yourself. Accelerator programs come in all sorts of shapes and for all sorts of purposes, such as building the founders' team, developing advisor relationships, or getting investor introductions, to name a few. Which one makes the most sense for you will depend on your business goals.
Regardless of the accelerator program you choose, you will bond with like-minded individuals hunting for innovative ventures to support. This exposure can be a game-changer, propelling your business forward with the financial fuel it needs to soar. This opens doors to partnerships, collaborations, and sales opportunities that may have seemed elusive otherwise.
There are a few downsides to accelerator programs.
Firstly, you will have to dedicate time and some money to go through them. This makes investing in an accelerator typically more expensive than other funding options. You must also be ready to relocate to other cities. Even if you are getting some amount as a stipend as a part of your accelerator program, it may not be nearly enough, and you may have to shell out money from your personal pockets.
The question of how much and when to ideate, validate, build, and launch is indeed a tricky one. It's a delicate dance between finding the perfect balance and avoiding the pitfalls that await the unprepared. While there are advocates of embracing simplicity, much like Craig, you have to be open to finding hacky, sometimes manual ways to solve problems and see how customers respond to changes.
The question of if your product is ready for launch depends on the answers to some important questions.
How revolutionary is your product? Is it a game-changer, poised to disrupt the market and redefine the rules? If so, the importance of thorough validation becomes paramount.
How much financial runway do you have? How long can you sustain your operations without external funding? This critical factor influences the pace at which you can ideate, validate, build, and launch. It's a delicate balance between pushing forward and ensuring you have the necessary resources to bring your vision to life. Careful financial planning and a keen eye on your financial runway are essential to avoiding running out of steam prematurely.
How much conviction do you have in your solution? Conviction is the fuel that drives your entrepreneurial spirit. Your level of conviction plays a significant role in determining the timing of each phase. If your confidence is unwavering, you may choose to forge ahead, relying on your faith in the solution to guide you.
How small is your market? If you're operating in a niche market where you plan to ride on the backs of early adopters, their validation becomes the most significant. You want to ensure that your solution resonates with this core group, as they hold the power to ignite a wildfire of interest and drive widespread adoption. In such cases, investing time and effort into validating and refining your offering before launch becomes a strategic move.
There are dozens of founders who say, "we failed because we spent too long building the wrong thing,” but very few who say, "we failed because we launched too early," - so Craig recommends leaning towards launching sooner rather than later! There will always be counter-examples, though - think Apple, OpenAI, Tesla, etc. But these instances are few and far between.
Craig also recommends reading The Mom Test. Rob Fitzpatrick does a terrific job on the subject of building conviction before building the product.
Venture capitalists invest based on a thesis, a guiding principle that shapes their investment decisions. And here's the secret sauce: finding funds where your company's ambitions align with that thesis can significantly enhance the value of your partnership. The reason behind this is simple. When VCs truly understand what you're aiming to accomplish, they become invaluable allies armed with industry knowledge and connections that can catapult your growth.
Craigs suggests a two-pronged approach. First, embrace the top-down strategy. This entails scouring the landscape and actively seeking out investors who are actively involved in your space. You can dive into databases like Crunchbase or Pitchbook, examine the investors of your competitors, and identify those who have a track record of interest in your industry. It's a strategic way to align your aspirations with the right partners.
Next up is the bottom-up approach. This involves reaching out to other founders within your sector and engaging in open and candid conversations about their fundraising journeys. You might be surprised to discover that many founders are not only receptive but also eager to help others succeed. So, cast aside any apprehensions about sharing your ideas. Remember, fellow founders are already juggling a multitude of tasks, and supporting one another is the name of the game.
Finally, let's debunk a stereotype. While the image of a young college dropout may dominate the narrative of a stereotypical founder, research reveals a fascinating truth. The average age of the most successful founders is actually 45.
What this means is that experience and wisdom often go hand in hand with entrepreneurial success. And while Craig doesn't have hard data to back this up, his observations in the field have witnessed older founders making their mark through programs like Antler and Techstars. So, let's not allow age to hinder our ambitions. The entrepreneurial landscape welcomes all, regardless of the number of candles on our birthday cakes!