We focus on identifying outlier founders: Nitin Sharma, partner, Antler India

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November 01, 2021 2:30 AM

Through this funnel, which is amongst the largest and the most selective in the country, we feel fortunate to get a first glimpse of the new ideas and startups that the next generation of Indian founders are aspiring to build.

Nitin Sharma,Partner, Antler IndiaNitin Sharma,Partner, Antler India

Global venture capital firm Antler has raised over $300 million to date. The firm seeks to build on the success of its regional pre-seed fund model, currently in 15 countries, and with 350 investments in technology startups made, now intends to provide continued support investing up to Series C. Earlier this year, Antler announced a full-fledged launch in India, with the goal of deploying $100 million in India in the next three years. Rajiv Srivatsa and Nitin Sharma, partners at Antler India, co-founded the Antler India Fund, which will raise and invest in early-stage Indian startups. Nitin Sharma recently spoke to Banasree Purkayastha about Antler’s India plans. Excerpts:

What is the Antler India Founders Programme? How many startups have applied for it and how does it work?
Antler India started its journey with unique cohort-based programmes, which received a tremendous response, with inbound applications from nearly 5000 startups representing 8000 founders in the last eight months. The format enables founders in their ‘0 to 1’ journey, with a focus on cohort-based learning, bespoke support over the first year of the founder journey, all alongside a pre-seed investment. We have invested in 13 startups (less than 0.3% of the nearly 5000 startups who applied). Through this funnel, which is amongst the largest and the most selective in the country, we feel fortunate to get a first glimpse of the new ideas and startups that the next generation of Indian founders are aspiring to build.

We believe that the highest impact for founders at the earliest stage is a combination of community, network, and shared learning.

What are the sectors that interest Antler in India? Are you close to finalising any deals?
While Antler India is sector agnostic, we are quite passionate about several new themes that often cut across conventional sectors or spaces. These include decentralisation, Web3 and the metaverse, new brands, climate change or wellness. Given Antler’s presence in 15 countries, we are especially well suited for businesses “building from India, for the world”.

We have recently announced our first set of investments in Bookee, Codedamn, Flow Club, Humit and PeakPerformer. We will also be announcing our next eight portfolio startups, in the coming months.

What would be the average size of the investment you are looking at in new investees?
We are a startup’s first institutional backers. We currently do pre-seed investments in the range of $200,000 for earliest stage founders, even at a concept or idea stage. Moreover, we are a rare global institutional fund dedicated to this stage in India, and we can support founders through multiple stages in the first 4-5 years of the journey with significant reserve capital for future rounds. In addition, we can also co-lead or participate in select later stage investments, with bigger cheque sizes.

How do you define a winning startup? What is it in a startup that makes you sit up and take notice?
For our pre-seed investments, we evaluate startups at the earliest stages— usually when the startup is at the idea-stage, or pre-product stage, or pre-traction stage. There are very few signals at these stages, which also makes early stage investing much harder. We primarily focus on identifying outlier founders—those with the ambition, speed and ability to build a large business.

Besides the founders, we take into consideration the size and growth of the particular market, and other factors such as how much value their product can capture in the value-chain.

We zoom in a lot on their unique insight or product differentiation angle, and want to keep taking bigger risks even if they are super early on an emerging market trend, or are trying to create a new user behaviour that has the potential to become big.

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