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Words from our Co-founder & CEO, Alex: Starting a business during a pandemic

Starting a business during a pandemic

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Alex Millar
Published
June 24, 2020
Words from our Co-founder & CEO, Alex: Starting a business during a pandemic

It’s safe to say 2020 has been a peculiar year for all. In January, my world began to change rapidly. I couldn’t ignore the facts that a global pandemic was imminent and the revenue/growth prospects of my company Littlehubs were looking dire.

After many board meetings, hibernation was the obvious choice. Fortunately, we had built strong enough relationships in the industry to sell our intellectual property and technology. It was a difficult decision but they were in a stronger position to support Littlehubs at the other end of the chaos.

I didn’t see this coming at Christmas time, I was now looking for work…

Not even a week later, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Antler - an early stage venture capital incubator. Antler lures the brightest and most driven minds out of their corporate job and into a three month intensive founder program. Antler helps you find a co-founder and provides a small amount of capital to accelerate the development of your idea that will change the world.

My story getting into Antler however was a little different.

My now co-founder Santi, who was participating in the Antler program, was in a predicament. He had recently parted ways with his co-founder and now was on the hunt for a new team - it's rare for Antler to fund a solo founder and the clock was ticking if he wished to receive investment.

Through a stroke of good fortune, Santi and I connected through the infamous Sydney Startups Facebook group. We had two in person meetings and started working together. In five weeks we had to validate our hypothesis about SaaS management, demonstrate traction, build a prototype and successfully pitch to Antler’s investment committee. Most importantly, we had to decide if we were a good “fit” and to make matters worse Australia just went into lockdown. We had no choice but to throw the traditional founder “dating process” out the window.

I was skeptical and even more reluctant to start a new venture with the economy tumbling. The only caveat was that companies were desperately trying to reduce their operating costs due to COVID-19. Companies desperately needed to manage their subscriptions in a better way and spreadsheets didn’t do an adequate job.

I’m pleased to say after all of that, we received investment and became one of Antler’s portfolio companies. Going through this experience became a huge eye opener for what the future of work could be. What was uniquely special about this experience was that it happened nearly 100% remotely, which I wanted to share some of my key learnings from the experience.

Building co-founding relationships remotely

Brainstorming sessions and coffees catch ups are out the window. You can’t rely on the same mechanisms that you would by meeting face to face. Personal biases i.e how well you get along with a potential co-founder are less meaningful and you give greater weight to their communication style and how well they execute. If your communication isn’t in sync, it will show quickly.

Take a leap of faith with trust

You are forced to trust earlier and there’s no other alternative. You physically can’t see most of what “your team” is working on so you need to trust their process. We had to build relationships with investors, customers, employees and potential hires all through online interactions. Santi and I couldn’t see how we each approached these conversations, all we could do is evaluate the outcomes. If you're someone who needs to be across all the details, you may struggle with this.

Thinking global

When you can’t interview face to face, you think differently about hiring. Our first three hires were all done over zoom. When you’re forced to hire without meeting face to face, it opens your eyes to your ability to access global talent from. Hiring in general is a nerve racking experience and your first ten hires shape the culture of your company. By eliminating the need to physically be in the office, we’ve opened up our talent pool and our budget for top talent goes further.

Virtual meetings

I’m all in on virtual meetings. What you lose in personal connection, you gain in effectiveness. When given the option, I will opt to a zoom call over a face to face in most circumstances now. This has eliminated the travel time which adds up quickly. I have also found that meetings by nature become more concise, less “small talk” and people generally get to business and don’t over talk just to be heard.

While writing this, Santi and I are two days out for demo day. If you’re curious to see what the next wave of innovation looks like that was inspired by COVID-19, you check register to the event here.

More importantly, if you’re interested in starting a company but don’t know where to start, I encourage you to apply to Antler’s next cohort. Please reach out to me if you have any questions about my experience.

Written By

Alex Millar

Qualified accountant and cofounder of Hudled. A real-time dashboard for teams in growing companies to track and optimise their software stack.

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