From Intern to Analyst
Akshat Agarwal is a recent Civil Engineering graduate from UNSW and a former Head of Events at Textbook Ventures. He has been working at startup generator Antler since November 2018. We asked Akshat a few questions regarding his experience and the key takeaways from his journey so far.
Antler is a global early-stage VC enabling and investing in exceptional entrepreneurs.
What sparked your interest in entrepreneurship and how did you find yourself at Antler?
After high school, I decided to do civil engineering at UNSW with a dream of helping to build a dam for the underprivileged. After some time, I was introduced to the General Electric Generator program where they taught corporate innovation, which was new and exciting to me. This led me to work at the UNSW Innovation Centre, where I was involved in the Maker Games — a prototyping competition where students would pitch their ideas, with the winners going to Silicon Valley.
Reflecting on this, I realised that you don’t have to be an adult to create change, kicking off my interest in startups.
I interned at Ribit and worked at a couple of startups helping to teach coding. I then joined Textbook Ventures and really enjoyed the opportunity to inspire students and help open the door to entrepreneurship for others.
I actually met Bede Moore, who is the Managing Partner at Antler, at one of Textbook Ventures’ events. He mentioned that he was starting Antler in Sydney and asked if I wanted to help out. I decided to take the offer and the rest is history!
Could you tell us a little more about Antler and the type of startups that have come through previous cohorts?
Antler is an early-stage VC company and a startup generator. A traditional VC company like Blackbird or Airtree will generally invest in established startups that they believe in. On the other hand, Antler looks to attract people who are domain experts or have done well in the corporate world and help them become entrepreneurs.
Right now, there are 3 main challenges to becoming an entrepreneur: finding co-founders, getting capital and having access to a global network to scale up. Antler helps answer these challenges and de-risks the process of becoming an entrepreneur.
For example, a manager at McKinsey might be looking for a career change but may be wary of the risk involved. By joining the program, he or she will meet with 70–100 like-minded people, solving the co-founder problem. If Antler likes the idea pitched to them at the end of the program, they will invest $100,000 for a 10% stake, solving the capital problem. And the third problem is solved by the truly global nature of Antler, with offices across Europe, Asia, the USA and Africa.
The program itself is run in two phases. In Phase I, we run workshops and hackathons with the participants, helping the domain, business and tech experts in the program get to know each other. At the end of Phase I, teams present to Antler and successful startups receive funding.
These teams then embark on Phase II, where Antler helps them with scaling, fundraising and positioning their business to grow. At the end of this, we host a Demo Day where our companies get to showcase what they’ve done.
Many exciting companies have already come through the Antler program such as the computer vision startup Xailient, Upcover which provides insurance to gig economy workers and the IoT construction startup SiteHive.
Tell us about your role at Antler. Could you share any key learnings from your experience so far?
As an Analyst, my role was quite diverse while helping the company set up in its initial stages. I mainly organised the logistics of the Antler Program but also helped with recruiting. I also helped with marketing, by setting up a Hubspot and Mailchimp for Antler. A year later, I was promoted to Senior Analyst and started to take on more responsibility. There’s always lots to do and every day is a new challenge.
I think there are 3 key lessons I have taken away so far.
- Being in a small team at a growth company, there’s no room for slacking off. I know that if I don’t do my work well, there will be a significant impact on Antler, meaning there’s a lot more responsibility on my shoulders than I would have at a larger corporate. With this in mind, it’s been really rewarding to see Antler develop and grow over time.
- I have realised that it’s not what you do but who you do it with. At times, I have questioned my decision to work in more of an operations/business role given my engineering degree and my dream of building a dam to help others. I realised at the end of the day, it was about people. Everyone at Antler is amazing at what they do and it would be extremely difficult to find such talent at any other company.
- I have realised the importance of doing everything to a world-class standard. Working at Antler has made me a much better executor, and I now know the difference between a job that’s done versus a job that’s done well.
What has been the most challenging part of working at Antler?
When I first started at Antler, there was no clear structure and team around me. Initially, I found it hard to find my footing in this environment. In a corporate, you are generally given a stream of work to do and told to stay in this stream. At Antler, you have to find your own stream, which was challenging for me.
But through this, I learned how to take initiative and figure out how to leverage my skills to be helpful. This did take a while and was daunting at times, given the calibre of people around me. I also received some great guidance and developed my self-confidence over time.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
After graduating I decided to transition full-time into Antler. Mostly, it came down to the people and Antler was too big of an opportunity to let go. I honestly feel blessed to be where I am today.
In terms of my future plans, I really want to do something that helps others. I realise that based purely on the fact that I am a university graduate living in Australia, I am lucky enough to be in the top 1–2% of the world. Given this privileged position, I want to do something that raises up the other 99%. At some point, I do want to be a founder, as I love the idea of creating something and growing a business.
Why do you think students should get involved in the startup space? And for those interested, do you have any tips, tools or resources?
For me as a student, I felt that I was given a very rigid path - do well at high school, do well at university and then climb the corporate ladder. I felt a little bit stuck in a cycle and didn’t feel like I could make an impact.
What I found was that entrepreneurship unlocks that ability to make a change.
If you see a problem, you can go ahead and solve it. I think universities have started to catch on to this and are providing more and more programs and opportunities to build a business. Anybody can be an entrepreneur and create a change which is very powerful.
My main tip is to be proactive and go after opportunities you are passionate about. Meet people in the space, go to events and ask to grab coffee with people you are inspired by. If you really want a job, find a creative way to get it.
I don’t think there are any silver bullet resources, but a few books that I’ve found helpful are Principles by Ray Dalio, Start With Why by Simon Sinek and the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. I enjoy books that aren’t prescriptive but instead tell life stories.
The other key tip is to find mentors. At the start of your career, you don’t really know anything, so don’t be scared to reach out and learn from more experienced people.