Building a Global Community of Founders

Hosted by Jason Atkins
President & Co-founder, Cake Equity
Listen now
Listen now
Read transcription
Listen on

Episode notes

In this episode of Startup Equity Matters, we feature Ryan Sommerville of Antler.

Here are three key takeaways that you won't want to miss:

  • The emphasis on the power of community in the startup world. Building a strong network of like-minded founders can be more valuable than any amount of programming or mentorship. The community at Antler serves as a catalyst for growth, support, and collaboration, propelling founders towards success.
  • Ryan highlighted the essential qualities that successful founders possess: a willingness to take risks, unwavering grit, and resilience in the face of challenges. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, and it takes a special kind of individual to navigate the highs and lows of building a startup. The ability to push through adversity and maintain focus on the end goal is key.
  • He shared his personal wellness routine, including running, weightlifting, and sauna sessions. The importance of maintaining physical and mental well-being, especially during hectic travel schedules, was a key takeaway. Prioritizing health and fitness can have a profound impact on overall productivity and success.

Tune in to the full episode for more insights and stories from startup legends. 💡

#StartupEquity #Entrepreneurship #CommunityBuilding


Subscribe to —
Startup Equity Matters


Transcription to follow!

Jason Atkins: Hey everyone and welcome back to Startup Equity Matters, the podcast where we dig into startup equity. How do we make it simpler and faster? How do we unpack great stories from the industry to help create real value from startup equity? We've covered quite a few topics so far. I think today could be the broadest topic because we have Ryan from Antler joining us. And based on reports I've been seeing lately, Antler's doing more early stage checks than anyone globally right now, which is unbelievably exciting because it creates a ton of innovation. I can only imagine all the wild and awesome things that are happening all around the world off the back of this. Personally, I've worked a ton with Antler over the years in my Cake capacity and in my mentoring capacity. We're big fans of what they're doing, and I'm working with Antler in a range of ways at the moment, so I'm excited about that. We're going to dig into all that today. So welcome, Ryan Somerville from Antler out of Boulder, yeah?

Ryan Sommerville: Yes. Thank you, Jason. Really appreciate you taking the time.

Jason Atkins: Oh, great to have you here. Thanks for joining to share the story. So we've been working together for maybe a year or so, a little bit up there out of Boulder. Cake’s a huge supporter, as everyone knows of early stage founders and getting equity right early on, which aligns super well with Antler's mission and what you're doing. Tell us the big story about Antler. Give us some of the headline numbers. Tell us a bit about the vision and mission, because it's super cool.

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, it's been a crazy ride, as you alluded to over the past five years for me, just over six years for the firm. So we started the organization in Singapore back in 2018. The kind of founding mission of the organization is how do we unlock more innovation to solve real problems by working with founders at the earliest stage conceivable. It really came out of a personal problem that our founder, Magnus, had experienced in Southeast Asia. He was a part of Zalora, which is one of the unicorns in Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce companies. What he noticed is that his most impressive teams over the course of building that organization were starting to spin out and found revolutionary companies across Southeast Asia. But the teams that spun out weren't able to access early stage capital in the way that he would have expected them to be able to do so. But he had such deep insight from working with them. If I gave those guys a 100K check and if I gave that team, I know that they would definitely build something meaningful and I definitely wouldn't invest into that team based on my experience of working with them. But the market didn't react in any way. So we founded Antler on the belief that talent is fairly normally distributed across the world, but capital is certainly not, and I think resources more broadly are not. I suppose, as a global civilization, we need to have more incredibly driven and intelligent people solving real problems, as opposed to being blocked up in corporations and solving something that's not particularly interesting for the rest of the world.

Jason Atkins: We take all our best and brightest and stick them in finance companies so they can create a giant financial casino. Way to take humanity forward.

Ryan Sommerville: 100%. So the thinking was, how do we create a platform and a vehicle to invest in exceptional talent at the earliest stage possible, and then do that on a global scale? I think that Silicon Valley for the past several decades has really solved that problem, but it hasn't expanded beyond the Bay Area and the US in the way that it can. Particularly, in today's world with access to technology. Founded in Singapore back in 2018, raised our first fund out of Southeast Asia. That was initially just servicing Singapore, but now, it's servicing the broader region with four locations under that same fund structure. We then started to expand super rapidly across the world. At this point, we're in 27 cities currently where we're running the programs that I'll get into. We have 30 offices across the world, and that's in the past six years. So, it's been a rapid global expansion. How many countries? So, the countries out of that would be 22. Yeah, it's been, like I said, a crazy ride. I think that the real magic of Antler is that we set up this fairly decentralized platform where we have 15 pre-seed funds across the world that are all operating under a similar mandate, which is to invest in founders at that kind of earliest stage possible, but doing it in a way that doesn't kind of hold us back from a centralized focus in the platform. So myself, in terms of my journey, I joined the U.S. when we launched back in summer 2019. That was initially just in New York. We ran our first program fall of 2019, made our first investments in Jan 2020, right before COVID broke out, particularly in New York City. We then went through kind of the COVID digital era, still making investments across the U.S. and having to do it in a format that isn't as powerful as the one that we have when we're able to operate in person. I think that we're, at least I am a huge believer in that, particularly at this kind of zero to one stage. I then went down to Austin, Texas to launch the second location for the US. That was in the beginning of 2021. And then as you mentioned, I'm now in Boulder. So I've been here for just over a year and a half now. We launched this program in June 2022. That's all operating under one US fund structure. But the same principle is true for a place like the Nordics, where we have Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, now Helsinki, all under one fund structure. But the process has been to hire exceptional folks to run these geographic locations, their mandate is basically spend up the fund when they land in a particular geo, or obviously are already based there, start to run programs, start to make investments, and then the flywheel begins to spin from there, and then expand geographically deeper within those existing organizations, or existing locations, rather, the organization is based. So yeah, we've been operating here in the US for nearly four and a half years now. We've made 158 investments from the US, so it's been a pretty rapid scale on our side. Following the same principle, which is that talent, again, is normally distributed across the world, but also across the US. How do we bring innovation capital to the highly talented folks that are based in places like Austin and Boulder, as opposed to playing purely in the Silicon Valley pond?

Jason Atkins: Amazing. You know, this part is about unpacking stories of creating real value from startup equity, so this is really that on a grand scale. We literally have thousands of companies being formed and thousands or tens of thousands of, as you say, intelligent, motivated people solving real problems all around the world, so I'm super pumped about what's going on at Antler and to be able to unpack that story a little bit more today. So I'm going to talk a bit personally about what I've seen at Antler. I think most people know I'm an Aussie and I spend a lot of my time in Australia, even though Cake is super global and doing a ton of work in the US at the moment as well. So, yeah, we've had an Antler down here for quite a few years with Ant and a few of the crew. And just recently, we've got a new antler office in my home state in Queensland. So pretty excited to see Antler continuing to expand. In Australia, I was just in Sydney last week with the Sydney cohort, or I guess, it's like an Aussie cohort now running out of Sydney. And there's going to be a new cohort happening out of Brisbane in Queensland. So I just wanted to give a wrap to, I guess, Antler for being part of that and helping build innovation in my home state. You know, to Mike and Stefan and the team down here in Australia, I'm really excited to see that kicking off and I'll definitely be helping out as much as I can.

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, and we obviously appreciate it and can only do this through partners. But I think the Queensland example is evidence that we're really onto something on the topic of economic development. We're really seeing it across the country. Our Malaysia launch was backed by an organization that was really focused on economic development. We recently–this is public information, we recently raised money from the state of New Mexico here for our U.S. fund. The premise of that is how do we develop the economy of places like New Mexico for the next 10 years? You really have to start at the earliest stage of innovation for you to be able to then build the flywheel that's necessary for a tech economy to occur. So in the case of New Mexico, which I'm obviously closer with, they've been essentially pulling money out of the ground in the form of oil and gas revenues for the past several decades. They're switched on enough to realize that that's either literally going to dry up or dry up by potentially a proxy of regulation. How do we solve the problem of what the economy of a place like New Mexico is going to look like in the future? Our belief, which is shared by the government there, is we have to invest in local founders and bring high-quality founders to that ecosystem at that earliest stage, so the rest of the capital stack can then start to come. I think the one thing that we've noticed in terms of our economic development work is it's very difficult to solve this problem by bringing in or trying to entice later stage funds to come into an ecosystem because there just isn't enough critical mass in places like potentially Queensland, certainly New Mexico, of founders that have enough traction to really capitalize on the kind of series A and beyond capital. So we're spending a lot more time in markets where there's a true need for economic development with the fundamental belief that there is talent there. That's what we continue to discover. But what is missing from these regions is essentially, friends and family capital. That's really what it takes to get off the ground to be able to then bring in seed and beyond stage capital. What Antler can achieve is bringing an institutional lens to family and friends capital, and maybe angel capital can be thrown in there as well. Alongside a community and a suite of resources, bringing in service providers like Cake to work with us. I think that through this platform, we can have a significant impact on the economic development side. I am also super stoked to hear about the Queensland thing. I think that it's perfectly representative of that story and a real area where we can move the needle.

Jason Atkins: Yeah, I love the way you position that. I'm a huge believer as well in the impact of innovation to reskill economies and communities and create more jobs of the future, highly skilled jobs, and broaden out the different types of industries those regions possess. That's actually a big part of why I started Cake initially, having been pounding away on that all these years, because you need great people to build companies and show people the way and help create the infrastructure for an innovation community and economy. We are currently building a tech hub down here on the Gold Coast, and we're hoping to have Antler involved in that. I will shout out to our friends at Queensland Investment Corporation. You know, they're sort of the investment arm of the Queensland government, and they created the Venture Capital Development Fund that helped promote. They've got these five venture capital firms that have just been co-funded in Queensland, and I think there were five accelerators as well, so we're really excited to see the support of the government and the investment institution. QRC is also an investor in Cake, so we're good friends of theirs, and we love to see that part of our economy and community growing. And we're stoked to have, I guess, really quality operators like Antler here, because you don't just bring like a little bit of infrastructure, I think you bring a lot. It's not just like, “hey, we're bringing a fund.” It's like, “hey, we're bringing a fund and a whole platform that we've been able to successfully roll out around the world.” And that's a huge advantage for us. Let's touch on a little bit of that. So we talk about friends and family capital. That's definitely part of it. If you want to elaborate on that, I'd love to hear a bit more, but let's talk a bit about the program as well and what it is about the program that's so valuable. My experience working with early stage companies through these last five, six, seven years, and especially, if I see a founder in the first year and they're a new founder, I'm like, “join an accelerator immediately or life is going to be hard for you.” What is it about an accelerator that just turbocharges a founder's opportunity and ability?

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, I think my answer to this would have been different when we first started. I would have probably over-emphasized the programming and the office hours and the mentorship, which I think is still a relevant component. But where I've landed, having run, I think, 13 cohorts now in the U.S., is it's really all about the community. The founder to the right and the left of you is going to add a hell of a lot more value than myself doing a whiteboarding session, which is obviously, you know, still available. But the way that I really view it is if Antler as an organization can do the heavy lifting of bringing in the highest quality community of founders, that's enough. That job in and of itself will propel these founders for the rest of their venture or potentially their career. Because I think it's worth noting, we don't actually invest in every founder who goes through the program. So how it works, at least for the US, and you'll obviously be familiar with this, but for the audience, we run two programs per year. We run an application funnel where we accept about 3% of total applicants into these physical in-person programs. We're obviously doing that in New York, Austin, and Boulder. They run simultaneously. The programs for us are eight weeks long, and the eight weeks is really focused on that community piece, some programming, obviously coaching and mentorship. But really, it's creating the white space for high quality founders to come in and discover compelling problem statements that are solving real things in the society, start to build initial MVPs, and battle test those MVPs. Sourcing a co-founder is an emphasis for many founders in the program. I think that's one area where Antler is fairly uniquely positioned, because we're really working with folks at the individual level. The sample of founders that we're bringing in from that 3% are folks who are coming in usually as an individual with the intention to build a business for the long term, but also potentially discover a co-founder they can build alongside. So in that sense, Antler is more of a talent business at the beginning, and then it becomes more of a venture capital business moving forward. During the eight weeks, again, problem statement validation or discovery and validation, building initial technology, selling that technology. I think the philosophy that I always encourage in the early days of the cohort is that there's really only two things that matter when it comes to going from zero to one as a company. Can you build technology and can you solve technology? Underlying assumptions being are you solving a meaningful problem? Do you have a compelling team? But that's really the only thing that founders should be focused on, and I think that that's another compelling value problem being in this environment. The alternative to Antler at the stage that we play at is really building by yourself or maybe with your friends and the local coffee shop or in your attic or, you know, in your garage or whatever it might be. I think that it's a whole hell of a lot less lonely and a lot more effective to do that alongside the community of fellow founders who are at the same stage and kind of solving problems in the same area. So I think community is probably the underlying message there, but we try our best to add programming across the zero to one journey to help these founders. Our program for the first phase culminates in our investment committee. So we invest in a subset of the founders at the end of that process, all on standard terms. So for the U.S. folks in the audience, it's $250K for about 9% of the business, and then additional follow-on capacity from our pre-seed fund into the seed round. There's a whole second phase of the program once folks graduate with that 250. I think this is another area where Antler is somewhat differentiated. Once you have the capital in the bank, it becomes all about ‘how do you find product market fit’, essentially. So the programming is focused then on business development and growth, building the next generation of the technology. Sourcing early hires is a huge component where we can move the needle. We had 130,000 people apply to Antler globally last year. We're on a run rate to do north of 150,000, so it's a pretty extensive network. The reason why that's relevant is, you know, there's 3% of those founders who make it into the program, obviously. There's a whole host of other folks who might be a brilliant VP of engineering or a VP of sales or early executive talent that makes a huge difference in the early days of building a company and going forward. And then that second phase will culminate in a fundraising release. So we take our companies to market to raise downstream capital. I think that that's arguably one of the things that Antler does the best job of, is we're obviously taking early stage risk, backing founders with our own capital, but we have a global network that's gotten super extensive over the past six years where we can help plug our founders into the right VC for them at the right time and help capitalize that business with strategic capital moving forward. It's worth noting that we also have a larger fund structure that does series A through C rounds. So the real ambition of Antler, I think this is relevant from a founder standpoint, is how do we be a backer of these companies from, like I said, literally day zero, but then do it throughout the whole life cycle of the venture. Few funds are multi-stage in that respect and able to actually double down. accordingly. So we have a larger fund structure A through C that will continue to back our companies as they go downstream and raise additional capital. The intention is to continue to scale that to B through pre-IPO and truly be able to back companies for the 10 year plus marriage that we're signing up for.

Jason Atkins: That's a hell of a project, man. That's a serious amount of impact you're having there. Absolutely love to hear that. Let's pivot a little bit to some success stories. You've been around for a few years. I'm sure there's some companies coming through that are super juicy and exciting. Are you able to share some cool innovations and or companies that are really going nuts on the growth side of things?

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, I'll share one that you're probably familiar with, because the preamble to this conversation was about how much travel you and I have been doing. But one of the breakout successes from our initial Southeast Asia fundsabout a year and a half, nearly two years older than our fund in the US, one of their companies called Airalo, which is an eSIM marketplace, is a breakout success story for Antler globally. So they're kind of at the series B to C stage right now. But it's a relevant example for the other topic that you mentioned, which is the kind of global impact of what Antler can accomplish. I think that's where we can really build a true differentiation over time. So that company was, again, formed out of Singapore in one of the initial cohorts. By the time they reached series A, they moved over to the US, and I think that through our infrastructure, we can really add value to these companies by creating global competitive advantages much earlier in the life cycle than the founders otherwise would be able to on their own. So most companies consider going global probably at the Series C level. If we can, through all the heavy lifting we've done over the past six years, plug our companies from overseas, given your respective location, into our existing locations, we can create these global businesses from a much earlier stage, which provides a massive competitive advantage for them. So in that case, they were able to come over to the U.S. We can help with things like hiring early talent. Downstream fundraising is obviously a huge emphasis, but even basic things like how do you organize office space and which studies should you launch in and how do you kind of get market access? I think that that's one value prop that the U.S. is a larger beneficiary of given the size of our market, but it's one area where I think Antler can really add value and that's a company that I think is taking advantage of it in the appropriate way. From the US side, our breakout companies are starting to hit series Bs at this stage. One company to highlight there, out of our first New York bash, I think this is evidence of how early we started and where it can go, a company called PowerX, which was started by a guy called Manu Schoenfeld. He came into our first New York program. His background was in the energy sector, working at McKinsey. He worked at the World Bank as well as a few energy companies in the Middle East. He came into our New York program with purely the problem statement that was as vague as he wanted to solve an issue around climate change. The most specific he was able to get is that he wanted to build a product that was helpful in reducing emissions, so that's the kind of sample that you're working with. You have an incredibly high quality individual coming into the program, but the substance, as far as the business, is virtually zero. And that's really where we want to live and where we've seen the most successful companies come out of. So he spent the entire eight-week program in New York focused on, initially he was building a hydrogen scooter. He spent a few weeks doing that, eventually shelved that, recognizing that the kind of the supply chain and kind of apparatus of building hydrogen supply to these scooters was never going to materialize. So in week four or five, he then discovered what became PowerX alongside a few other members of our cohort and our team. PowerX is an IoT device that you plug into water heaters and it will initially monitor and then eventually optimize what the energy output should be, so it could be applicable. It was initially residential and now, it's more applicable for things like quick serve restaurants or hotels or eventually commercial buildings would be the focus. So that company is at the Series A stage now with significant pilots across the industries that I mentioned, and then approaching Series B territory likely this year. But it's an example of going from as early as you can possibly get to something that becomes real. And that's where this job is rewarding and quite powerful. To be super transparent, it's hard to work at this stage, and I think there's only a certain maniac profile that can actually survive at this stage because the sales cycle or the return cycle is so long. You're taking a hell of a lot of risk at the beginning stage, but you actually don't get rewards for it for ages, right? So it's very fun if you enjoy working at that zero to one stage, but where it becomes rewarding is when you see these companies actually having commercial impact, fundraising impact, hiring folks, et cetera. So yeah, those are some examples from both the global side as well as the US.

Jason Atkins: Yeah, I remember going through it well. I had to embrace the knowledge that I knew I enjoyed a challenge and that I didn't want to have a real job. And every single day, I would get up and I would give myself a fair talk like, you were built for this. You were built for the challenge. We will get through. We do not want a job. It takes a hell of a lot of mental fortitude and perseverance and commitment and mindset to get through that first couple of years when every single thing looks bleak.

Ryan Sommerville: And 100%. And I think that entrepreneurship is somewhat romanticized in popular culture. I mean, you've lived the reality of this thing for a number of years now. And I had some experience in it in the past and then have certainly observed it for the past several years.

Jason Atkins: Doing what we do. Helped a few people through a few hard months or whatever, I'm sure.

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah. I mean, yeah. In some cases, you have to play that kind of therapist role, which I enjoy and is super necessary. But I think that it does strip away the romanticism of what it actually takes to build a company. This is the hardest thing that you can do in your professional career, and I think that a lot of people don't quite realize that. One of the ways that we try to emphasize that during the program is just talking openly about it. And, you know, we obviously don't invest in every company, but every company makes a decision kind of midway through the program as to whether they want to pitch or not. Another area where Antler can be valuable that I think is non-obvious is discovering for eight weeks, is this really for here? And really getting a taste at least of what it could look like before making the commitment that you're going to devote the next 10 years of your life and all the collateral damage that comes along with it before actually taking that plunge. That's something that over time I've started to emphasize more and more. It's just the reality of it.

Jason Atkins: Might as well get it out of the way up front. Do you have any rational and semi insane need to do this? So, yeah, it's cool. And it is very worthwhile working on something that you care about at an insane level and bringing it up from nothing. And then hopefully, luckily, and if you can, getting it going, it is incredibly rewarding, but it's not to be taken lightly. Not to harp on that too much, though, because we do want people to come and try and jump over the wall. But, what can we help? For some people listening to this, it's going to have Antler on it. We're thinking, how do I get into Antler? Obviously, it's got a great brand and it is going to accelerate people's opportunity to succeed and build a network and get into this great founder community. And there's tons of great LPs and everything in here and they want to get in the fund. How do people apply well to Antler and more broadly, accelerators? I think being a transient friend is always a great thing. It's hard enough. So probably jump into a trend if you can. You probably can take the outlier contrarian view too when you're building a startup, and that can create the biggest outcomes, but can make it a bit harder. So how would you advocate people applying well? And what are you seeing is working really well? What trends are you seeing that might help people 2024?

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, I might have a contrarian opinion on the trend piece. And some of that is a proxy of where we said some of it is just personal bias for what it's worth.

Jason Atkins: But what we're here for is not a group thing. So tell us what you think. That's great.

Ryan Sommerville: We're never focused on trends, and I think the relevant example in recent history is we missed a lot of the web three crypto waves. In hindsight, that was a good thing. It could have gone the other way, but Antler isn't a startup studio. I think there's merit to startup studio models, but it's not for me as an investor, where I have 100 problem statements on the whiteboard, I'm kind of feeding into the cohort, everything is driven bottom up by our founders. So our real ability to build conviction is on the back of the founders conviction, that they want to solve a meaningful problem that they have demonstrable evidence for, or for the, again, kind of the next 10 years. So as a result, we're influenced by trends. So sitting in Boulder, we have a ton of climate folks that are looking to solve problems across climate tech in this region of the country. So that's a trend in a sense, as it's also a geographic point to make. AI is obviously the elephant in the room. I don't know that that's quite a trend as much as it just is the underlying technology. I think the trend that we observed in 2021, 22 was AI for the sake of it, a lot of consumer gen AI, you're more familiar than anyone with this whole story. I think that that's an example where we hopefully dodged a bullet and I think our core premises invest in founders that are solving real problems and applying technology like AI to actually solving the underlying issue. As far as the original question, how to be successful. I think that, you know, I'm again quite sober about this. I think that the analysis prior to applying to any accelerator to include Antler is doing a real evaluation as to whether entrepreneurship is for you to the best of your ability. So understanding the risk that you're taking, understanding the collateral damage that can come with it, but also evaluating what do you actually want to focus on for the next 10 years? This is a huge segment of your life, so I think that necessary domain expertise is something that I'm always optimizing for. So the example of PowerX, for instance, he came with an energy background, he had the credibility, the depth of understanding, he was a proper expert in that space, which lent itself well to his ability to solve a problem. So I think that it's passion, it's necessary domain expertise. And then it's purely the grit and resilience to take all the pain necessary to become an accessible startup founder. So those are the things that I'm underwriting. I mean, additional components is I'm looking for folks who have taken meaningful risk in their life, whether that was professional risk, so maybe it's trying to build a previous company that maybe didn't work out, or maybe it did work out, but taking a leap to be able to do so. It could be a personal risk. We hear a lot of really compelling stories from founders coming in where they took a sabbatical to go climb K2 or whatever it is, right? There's a necessary risk threshold to be successful as a founder. So one thing that I always look for is someone who's demonstrated that in the past, whether it was professional or whether it was personal. And then I think that there's an intangible thing around kind of gravitas and charisma, that is, you're somewhat able to suss out as someone evaluating this at the point of our application stage but it comes even more evident during the program, where you want to have someone in the portfolio who can hire 10x talent around them that's better than them or better than they ever will be as an engineer or go-to-market expert. There's a reality of fundraising and there's a storytelling aspect to that, so I don't overweight that, but it is a relevant component to have someone that has the necessary charisma, particularly on the hiring front. So a question to ask yourself in the kind of diligence period that we go through is, “Is this someone that you would quit Antler to go and work for?”, “Is this someone that's sufficiently inspiring to you that you would actually take the plunge and work for this person for the next 10 years?” So I think that adds a bit about the evaluation, but also I suppose the criteria that we look at.

Jason Atkins: Love that. On that last point, I often talk to founders about when they're pitching, what is amazing about you? What is it about you that is just streets ahead of everything else? And each person is different and they need to find their thing that when they pitch, it's just mega powerful because so much of that first few years is about you. Can you get capital? Can you get people? Will you run through a brick wall? What is it about you that is just absolutely alluring and unstoppable that can create the train that everybody wants to jump on? So, yeah, I'd just love to double down on that point. What was it about startups and innovation and entrepreneurship that got you into this, man? You've been at it for a while. You've been part of building one of the tech sectors. Great stories of the last few years, I think. What brought you in in the first place and what sort of excites you about it?

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, there's always a lot of luck and serendipity in where you inevitably land in your career. And I think that people don't talk about that as often as they probably should. I spent my entire career in early stage entrepreneurship and in a few different ways. So I was a founder coming out of university, I built a couple companies, had some moderate success with a few of them certainly had failures along the way, which I think are more powerful in terms of the advice that I can now pass along to the founders at the stage that we work at. I was an early employee at a fintech company. I helped build a nonprofit that was in New York and then expanded to Oakland and California that was focused on essentially pro bono resources for lower income entrepreneurs. So less focused on the tech founders I might work with now, but small business owners that come from a lower income background. So did a lot of front line counseling on financial projections and accounting and things like that, as well as helping build that organization strategically. Then I was a whisker away from going to law school. I kind of faced this moment in my late 20s where I was looking to make a pivot. Going back to school is, I think, a natural inclination. Didn't want to go to business school. This is maybe a personal bias thing, but I saw the value of that being the network, which I already had great access to, as well as, you know, I think the learnings, you can probably pick that up from the local library. So I saw the value of law school being that you can learn I think a style of thinking, particularly critical thinking, and it's esoteric enough to where you can really, I think you can get that value a lot more from a classroom setting. So I was a summer away from going and doing that. I met Tyler Norwood, who's our managing partner for the US. We had a relationship when I was building a company in the US that had a supply chain in Southeast Asia. So I'd known him for a couple of years, and then purely coincidentally ran into him in a building in New York. My parents had moved to New York a couple of months prior, and then he had just moved into that building. He was part of the founding team in Singapore for Antler, and he was bringing it to the US. So I ran into him out of nowhere on a rooftop building. And then he told me about he was building with Antler and then I came on board as the first hire for the US and then dodged the bullet of going to law school, which, you know, in hindsight would have been a nightmare, particularly given the timing, because it would have been kind of the beginning of COVID for the latter half of what I would have done. I think it would have been a nightmare regardless for what it's worth, personal opinion, now that I have a lot more lawyers than I did at the time.

Jason Atkins: I guarantee you you're having a better time than that. Exactly.

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, 100%. So there's a lot of luck to this, right? So I mean, I had a sufficient background, you know, building companies and certainly engaging in a kind of economic development and entrepreneurship. But running into someone in the building and the pure coincidence and perfect timing for the stage of my career, that changed everything for me.

Jason Atkins: Everybody, please, you're more capable than you know you are, be more confident, you can do it. There's tons of capital out there, we just need great people, we need great energy, we need you to get involved. So do what Ryan did, don't choose law school, don't choose the MBA, get into innovation, entrepreneurship, get your hands dirty, get around great people, you're going to learn so fast and your day to day life is going to be so much better. Please do get involved. And yeah, we always finish with a creative, healthy lifestyle corner. I'm sure you know, we're big believers in that. I think we've collaborated on a wellness event up with you guys up there for the cohort. How do you see wellness, whether it be health, mental health for yourself and for Antler? How do we help people live a great, healthy life?

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, from a personal standpoint, I've been doing  good recently. So, you know, I run fairly often. So I've run some ultra marathons in the past. How far are they? The longest one I did was 96.

Jason Atkins: Oh, hats off to you, man. That's wild. Yeah. How did you go? Like, did you make it ok?

Ryan Sommerville: I know he was brutal, right? I mean, I'm by no means elite. I'm just crazy enough to put one foot in front of the other. I mean, it sounds cliche, but it really is more of a mental thing than I think it sounds. But that was in Scotland. I'm originally from Scotland. That's where I was born. One of the things that's relevant about Antler is the global nature of what we do really appealed to me because I grew up all over the world. I did this whole thing with a buddy of mine from Ireland where we landed in Scotland and then literally went from the airport to a trail and then just started running for the next 40 hours. Born in Scotland, moved to the US at a young age, and then I grew up in Southeast Asia. I tend to do one of these trips at least once a year where I'd go on a mountaineering trip or I'd go on one of these ultra track or run type things. What's been able to motivate me from a wellness and incestuous fitness perspective is having some goal to look forward to. Where I start to flounder is when I don't have the next, you know, kind of event coming up. So, sports teams involved with the rugby team, as well as a soccer team here in Boulder, you know, running's a big component. And then started to lift weights. I'm as skinny as I ever have been, probably since I was 17 years old. So I started lifting weights again fairly recently. Sauna has been something that I just added. Cold plunge a little bit, but usually I'm too weak-minded in the morning, but I'm trying my best. And that is what helps me from a mental health perspective. You know, we spoke about being constantly on planes and airplanes and traveling so frequently.

Jason Atkins: Let's help the travelers. I struggle when I travel as well. I switch from my normal routine kind of just like even just walking like you do so much walking when you travel and you just tell yourself, look, this is okay when I'm traveling. If I do an hour's walking a day, let's not be down on yourself because you didn't get the strength session in, like, maybe just be a bit flexible. And then with that mindset, you don't get too negative and anxious about necessarily doing something hardcore when you travel. I don't know. What do you think?

Ryan Sommerville: Yeah, it's about I mean, again, it's a simple answer that I've used the excuse for, particularly last year, I think I took 50 plus flights last year, and my wellness routine definitely suffered as a result of it. So hence the kind of, you know, you're doing better nowadays, it's about just forcing yourself to go and do something. I think that if you're a runner, it's a hell of a lot easier, because it's literally just walking outside the hotel and going and doing something. But you know, you can also use the gym in the same way. I think that being transparent that the problem that I run to is overthinking the regimen. So if I'm not in a spot where I can do a particular exercise and I'm going to shelf it for the day and just obsessing about the like routine kind of nature of it, I've abandoned that thought process to the best of my ability. Now it's about going and doing something for 30, 45 minutes and you'll feel considerably better. So it's about just having the, I mean, not really the motivation, but just the commitment to say like, it doesn't really matter what I'm going to do today, but I'm going to move my body. And then diet's a huge component as well. That one, I haven't solved yet for traveling. That one I'm still struggling with.

Jason Atkins: Getting easier, though. There's a little bit more health consciousness around everywhere and a little bit more healthy options when you're traveling for food. But thanks for sharing. Wonderful session. I'm a huge fan of Antler. I'm really enjoying working together with you and getting to know you. The impact you're having is tremendous. So from humanity everywhere, we're grateful for you, and let's help build a better world through innovation. So thanks, Ryan. Thanks, Antler.

Ryan Sommerville: Thanks for having me. Really appreciate it. Thanks, Jason. Cool. Have a great day, everyone.

Latest episodes

How Can AI Help Your Go-To-Market Strategy

How Can AI Help Your Go-To-Market Strategy

Secrets to the Famous Airtree A+ Raise Documents with Alastair Blenkin

Secrets to the Famous Airtree A+ Raise Documents with Alastair Blenkin

Atlassian, Canva, Now Index: A Startup Secondary Success Story

Atlassian, Canva, Now Index: A Startup Secondary Success Story

Equity doesn't have to be complicated. Join Cake today and see for yourself!

Get started free
5-star rating5-star rating5-star rating5-star rating5-star rating
5-star Rating