Early Adopters E03 - Consequences

Early Adopters E03 - Consequences

Early Adopters is a saga that takes the reader to the journey through a high-tech foreseeable future with Amir and Jasmin, 2 friends with very different personalities.

Written by Marc Gamet (the partner and Chief Product Officer of Slash) & Mianne Cudal; Story-telling Consultant: Robin Narciso; Drawing by Faisal Arief

Continued from previous episode s01e02: Amir hacked into the school portal and found the key answers to the upcoming tests. He anonymously announced his discovery and used it to earn money for a gadget he was building. But Amir is in for a big surprise.

“$100 for the aluminum, $25 for the wiring…”

Amir paused a bit from walking as he tried to recall where he had spent the money. It had been a week since he started his ‘business.’

“I should have roughly $700 to work on other projects. Cool.”

He took out a small black box and carefully lifted the cover. He then took out a shiny metal piece from it.

“And you… You shall be called Spiderec. Too bad you can’t shoot webs,” he whispered to himself and chuckled as he looked at it for a few seconds before putting it back into the small black box.

As soon as he entered the school building, the school’s announcement drones went past him. All were headed towards their respective pods placed on various locations in the school.

“Sorry! Coming through!” one of the drones announced in its robotic voice as it slowed down in its flight before speeding up again.

“What the hell?!? Why are the drones in such a hurry to get to the stations?” said one student while barely dodging a drone.

“Something sick might just have happened! Let’s go and check it out!” exclaimed another student as the rest of his classmates scattered on the school grounds and ran to watch the video on the screens of the drone pods.

As soon as the drones sat in their pods, all the students went silent and waited. Amir continued to walk at his own pace, looking at each screen he passed by and then stopped at the pod closest to his classroom.

A few seconds later, the screen flashed the school logo, a woman with a weighing scale and an eagle perched on her shoulder. After the logo faded, the school principal apperead on the screen.

“This is a very important announcement. We hope that this will not be a cause of panic because investigations have been conducted and we now have major updates.”

Everyone remained motionless, still wondering what was the announcement about.

The principal paused and scanned through sheets of paper. He raised his head and looked sternly at the camera, then continued to speak: “the school network has been hacked and test answers have been leaked. The IT department has now found evidences pointing to the culprit. This person will be dealt with accordingly.”

Everyone was holding their breaths, looking at each other and waiting to hear a name. But Amir shrugged it off and was about to enter the room when then principal said, “we would like to announce the three-week suspension of Jasmin Collins effective immediately. In addition to this, she will immediately be marked zero across all examinations and will not be allowed to do a retake.”

“We are requesting that Jasmin Collins reports to my office immediately. That will be all. Please go back to your respective classrooms.”

The drones went in auto hibernation mode. Everyone remained silent, shocked at the principal’s announcement.

Than suddenly Jasmin yelled in shock “Why me? What did I do?”. Two of her friends came over to console her as all the students turned towards her and began to comment the event.

“Jasmin is a top student. Why would she have done it?”

“Don’t you think that’s the reason why she has been maintaining her spot in the ranking? I feel so cheated.”

“What a shame.”

Amir clenched his fist at what he had heard. He wanted to walk away from the place but his feet felt heavy. He stood frozen in front of the pod as the crowd dispersed.

“I know she is a bit of a weirdo, but this doesn’t look like something she would do” continued another student while walking away from the scene.

Amir started to feel sick. He rubbed his temple as he tried to take in the events that had just happened: “What have I done?”

Early Adopters E02 — Money Maker

Early Adopters E02 — Money Maker

Early Adopters is a saga that takes the reader to the journey through a high-tech foreseeable future with Amir and Jasmin, 2 friends with very different personalities.

Written by Marc Gamet (the partner and Chief Product Officer of Slash) & Mianne Cudal; Story-telling Consultant: Robin Narciso; Drawing by Faisal Arief


Continued from previous episode s01e01: Amir is an aloof but very smart student with uncommon hacking skills. During one of his classes, Amir decides to test his skills by breaching his school network when he stumbles upon something unexpected…

The portal contained hundreds of folders and files, but his attention was immediately caught by one folder named ‘test answers.’

“Did I just enter a forbidden dungeon?” he said to himself as he smirked.

“So much for security, huh?”, he whispered to himself once again. He flipped the laptop’s monitor half-closed and leaned back. He shut his eyes to rest for a while when he heard his classmates talking.

“Dang, exams are coming in a week. My dad’s keeping a close watch on me to make sure I’m studying.”

“My mom locked up my PS4 in her room. I can’t get it back!”

“I’m having a hard time with Math. I suck at Math!”

“My Geography could be worse than your Math. Why do we even have to study it when most of us will live in one country all our lives anyway? Geez.”

As soon as his classmates walked away, he opened his eyes.

“School really is like a walk in the park. A Jurassic park,” he laughed at his own joke.

Amir stretched his arms upward and yawned. He turned to a group of classmates to his right who were talking amongst themselves.

“Man, school is so stressful. We pay a lot of money here for books and uniforms only to make our lives miserable.”

“Why don’t we pay for the answers to the examinations as well so we can all get out of this prison?”

The boys laughed like the jokes they shared were impossible things. But to Amir’s ears, they sounded like the switch to his light bulb. He was struck with an idea.

“Well, I need some wiring and aluminum sheets for that thing,” Amir murmured. “Should I try to open up a small business? A capital-free one, that is. Amir-tastic Key Answers Shop doesn’t sound that bad.”

Amir raised his glasses as they were slipping down the bridge of his nose, and reached into his pocket to get his phone. He scrolled through a few names then began to type. The email addresses of his classmates he extracted from the school portal last week finally found a purpose. He sent out an email using his anonymous email address. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes again.

In less than a minute, all of his classmates’ phones started to ring and vibrate. The students suddenly stopped chatting and the room became filled with the beeping sound of notifications. Amir pretended to take out his phone and have a look , but he was only staring at a locked phone. He patiently waited for his classmates’ reaction.

“Woah!” Christa, one of Amir’s classmates who sat two seats away from him exclaimed in shock and covered her mouth with her hand immediately. She briskly walked towards her best friend, Kim, gesturing with her hand to keep her silence as she showed her phone to her. Kim’s eyes widened as she took the phone from Christa.

“Hey, did you get an email?” Bryan whispered to Amir while sitting on a chair in front of him.

“What email?” asked Amir, faking a surprised expression.

“Oh..uh, nothing. Just some promotional email but it’s probably some scam.” Bryan immediately stood up and walked towards his friend, Billy, who had just arrived. He immediately showed the message to Billy who snatched his phone and started to drag him out of the classroom.

“So easy to read through,” Amir whispered as he watched Bryan and Billy walk away in a hurry.

A few seconds later, Amir could feel his phone vibrate. The corner of his lips raised every time he glanced at his phone. He checked the sent items of his webmail and read the email he had sent out. He had just given out a very tempting offer.

“You can have all the test answers at a very affordable price.”

Suddenly the teacher came in the class and forced everyone to put away their phones and go back to their seats. Amir gave his phone one last glance, locked it and then waited for classes to end.

At home, Amir began to respond to his email inquiries. Meanwhile, he received a bunch of notifications on his phone regarding payment transactions ranging from $25 to $100. He verified payments and started sending out the test answers.

“No one told me owning a small business would be this easy. It won’t pay my tuition fee, but it will sure help me create my new gadget.”

That night, before falling asleep, Amir thought of all the money he would be making the following days and what he would be doing with it.

Previous: s01e01

(#9)HAK podcast: Methodologies for prototyping and validating early stage ideas at a low cost: A conversation with Nick Martin, MISSION+ CEO
HAK Podcast

(#9)HAK podcast: Methodologies for prototyping and validating early stage ideas at a low cost: A conversation with Nick Martin, MISSION+ CEO

Narine Daneghyan

Nick Martin is the CEO of Mission.Plus, a digital innovation studio that combines engineering, design agility, expertise and commercialization to deliver market ready tech products.

In this episode we will deep dive specifically into methodologies for prototyping and validating early stage ideas at a very low cost.

Website URL: https://www.mission.plus/

Nick’s LinkedIn: https://sg.linkedin.com/in/nicholasrjmartin


Andries De Vos: What was your founding vision for MISSION+, and what was the origin story behind this?

Nick Martin: Every journey has a starting point.

For us, one of the reasons we co-opted the word “mission” into our company name stems from the desire to understand our intrinsic motivations or purpose. At this point in our journey I would say it’s still evolving from the genesis stage.

If I go back to my personal story, I was struck by herd mentality and I went into a bank, and then I broke away. Then I fell into a startup that I really enjoyed working on. We were issuing Visa debit cards as a non-bank. There were a number of achievements, and there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of learning. We were lucky enough to get to a stage where we could sell it and move to the next chapter. I really started thinking a bit more deeply about what was going to drive and motivate me when I was offered a role to work in the Investment team of an early stage investor.

One of the reasons I joined was that I was interested in sharing but also increasing my learnings. An attraction point was the asymmetrical access to the number of different people that you meet as an investor, who are starting companies at different stages, with different business models, in different industries, with various strategies to grow, the pure volume of what comes across your desk is overwhelming but I was inspired to see if I could make sense of it.

It was actually during that period that the fund, which had invested in about 50 companies at the time, was keen to evolve into a venture builder. So, I was asked to work out what the model meant, and how the team could support it. Later on, I was also encouraged to start a new company, which is today MISSION+.

I think having a safe space to work on something while not taking too much personal risk actually allowed us to evolve MISSION+ differently. I admit to being more conservative with it, but not because I got scared by the risk that I see a lot of founders taking. I felt I had to start MISSION+ as a boring business model on day one, doing things like building technology for other people, using the skills that we had and what was around to generate value. In terms of what we offered to the client and delivered on software engineering, it was achievable. On the flip side, it gave us an opportunity to make sure that we generated the right cash flow so that we could develop operations experience. It gives us space and time to determine our own mission and work out what it is that we want to do.

Andries De Vos: So where are you landing with this? Did you figure out where you take this next? How is your vision evolving?

Nick Martin: One of my friends has recently said, “Look, I like the Ocean's 11 thing that you're doing.” I hadn't thought about it, apart from the fact that he made reference to a movie, that what we've been doing is assembling a lot of people that we've been inspired or interested to work with. It's not always the case of “can we afford them?” It’s about what motivates them to give up what they're doing and work with us.

Right now we're still in the stage of just ensuring delivery for client satisfaction. Have we got to that next stage yet of where we're taking bets outside of the professional services? We are slowly getting there. I'd say probably our first is in prototyping, but there's probably other areas where we're cautiously dipping toes in water as well.

Andries De Vos: Is there something that you guys think you understand that others haven't? Or is there an assumption behind the MISSION+ that is guiding how you're building your business model?

Nick Martin: The initial goal was just sustainability via earnings, making sure there’s the financial base. I think that P&L stability allows us to take small bets to test ideas, because right now we're not building IP as much as delivering IP for others. I think having a roadmap that allows us to look after clients while testing other strategies will be what defines us.

Andries De Vos: What is the economics behind this? How much retained earnings do you think you need to have in order to make how many bets? What does that ratio look like?

Nick Martin: Right now, we make sure we're comfortable with taking money out of retained earnings to test something and decide how long we want to test it. With prototyping in the last part of 2020, we knew we were going to hire people but we decided to not have full paying clients. Without full paying clients, we didn't have to offer any warranty on the output, because we're still learning in this example. We hired people in Singapore, which comes up sometimes at a higher rate of monthly expense than other countries, but we wanted them to be near.

We took risks on people at different stages in their career to see how they would deliver in a space that we were not really clear about.

This is possible if offset by areas where we're growing, making sure that if we've got $100 right now, for our next wave of clients to support that, the next contract value should be somewhere between 5% to 20% of that $100, this allows us to incrementally improve our run rate.

At the moment, we're just keeping an eye on the original business but making sure that through putting those numbers away, we can say where we want to make bets.

Andries De Vos: Have you conceptualized how big the bets need to be? It is 20,000 per bet, 60,000 per bet?

Nick Martin: I'd say we haven't had enough bets to conceptualize the range. It was commented on by someone whose opinion I value, who said ”Oh, look, your sample sizes are too small.” That's probably where we are. I think what we'd probably do instead is not constrain ourselves but do what makes sense for the risk that we're taking. Obviously, at some point we have to be critical about looking back and reflecting on the evidence of what we've achieved. In one case we were pitched a partnership opportunity, someone had come to us and said, “Look, we like what you're doing. If you can invest time and resources with someone that we think has some promise, would you be open?” It's an area where we think the business model has an option to scale but we're not really sure if that's the case just yet.

Andries De Vos: Do you have things that you're not doing in your model?

Nick Martin: One thing that we don't touch is non technology delivery such as customer validation. This may be a bias that I have from when I was working as an investor. You could continue providing an offering of services and then at some point, you are doing the job of the person that you're being paid to support. We highlight the many tools around. “Now that you've got this product, this is what you should think about - how you go out and get it in front of your customer”.

We believe the client has to develop the ability to talk to their own customers, solicit feedback so we can improve collectively. It's a line that we don't cross at this time.

Andries De Vos: That's a great point, because we have a similar philosophy but a slightly different take on the asset that we're building at Slash. For every single capability, we're building a specialist in such a way that we can externalize the capability - a bit like Amazon did with AWS. If we build a growth team for our own company, it can provide service to our portfolio. I take your point that at some point, you have to draw a line, which is what the entrepreneur is expected to do. We've taken a fairly ambitious view, an empire building view that we can build more and more capabilities that we can offer, in whichever format. That's a commercial negotiation whether it's a fee or equity, or something else based on our own ideas. It's a big part of the package, if we factor it all in from a financial standpoint in order to de-risk our equity portfolio, but indeed, there has to be an expectation setting with the founder. That's essentially the direction we've been taking so far. It's quite interesting to see we're now in the early stage of that process. I think pre-typing and prototyping is fascinating. I see you're positioning more in the prototyping phase space, but help me understand how you came up with it. When was your “Aha!” moment when you started prototyping?

Nick Martin: I would say it actually came from two different angles. One was our technical adviser Ned's, and one was mine. We weren't even looking at it as an “Aha!” when I was at the investor but a lot of people were coming to us asking for a lot of money to build something that they hadn't yet gone out and validated. It could be a $300,000 raise with $50,000 of that going to building this two-sided marketplace MVP as one example. We thought, before you go and build a two sided marketplace, shouldn't we get some guarantees or commitments that the two-sided marketplace is what the customers want? I kept going back and forth with a lot of founders on this same topic.

Unfortunately, the market was quite frothy, and a lot of people were getting offers or interest to go build things elsewhere because the two sided marketplace business model was going to scale the investment if it worked, whereas we were being a bit more practical and prudent about growing the business idea a little more sustainably. I think we were a bit of an outlier. We thought, “what if we just validate this so that the person either gets the guarantee or we get the guarantee together?”

The first time I ran a design workshop, I really hadn't spent a lot of time with the process, but it was just reading the book and saying, “Okay, well how can we do this with three different founders, just to see if we've got enough certainty on whether we want to work with them and what they want to do?” The problem/solution and decision steps that you see in the design thinking process were relatively well-run with the band that we pulled together.

However the prototyping step was terrible. There was actually limited to no prototyping capability amongst us. If you've read the stories about how the example of the robot gets built overnight in the hotel, these prototyping steps evolve very quickly. You either need someone who can do something very fast or, in our case, you have to rely on smoke and mirrors.

We finally got the person with the marketplace idea around to the idea of testing before building. She couldn't co-opt her technical founder to spend any time on it, so we ended up looking at an equivalent website that existed in the U.S. and getting her to just cover the name of that website, go to five customers to present it as something she had built, and ask for feedback.

In that case, it was really important because the assumptions that she had actually developed, which were true in some cases were generally dispelled. If anything came out of that exercise, it was just an “Aha!” moment when we realized $50,000 was not needed to build an MVP at that stage. We continued a few more design thinking sprints with limited to no effort on prototype, just because again, we didn't have the capability. As MISSION+ was evolving and I was telling these stories to Ned, he thought that it was actually more achievable, not just with our team, but with the low code tools. That's when we started first, taking prototyping to low code.

Andries De Vos: Do you want to tell me a bit more about those tools and how they have matured over the years? I’d say five years ago those tools were on very few people's radar. Now it seems that the market is evolving so rapidly that they're becoming more and more solid, mature, ready both for budget startup-type projects and enterprise-type of projects. You now have almost a segmentation of tools for different purposes. What's your philosophy on that? What's your take on how that will evolve?

Nick Martin: I'd say that probably 10 years ago, there was a period when I couldn't build a website, and I'd have to hire someone. I'd have to describe my needs and have that whole process of coming back in a few weeks with comments. There were a bunch of cycles, and the project would ultimately land somewhere close to what I need. Then, a website would be there to sell whatever it is, for instance.

When I started speaking with Ned about this he said that rather than asking what low code is, we should think about what the problem with this is. The problem that he came across from all of his time as a career systems architect and engineer was that the requirements for those ideas had always been based on interpretation. The gap that he talked about a lot was either he or his team didn't understand the domain, the business user, or the business unit had poorly articulated the requirements. In total, there was just generally a poor comprehension of requirements. While agile methodologies tighten the loop, there was always this wastage that he used to live with.

When we were looking at his experiences and at low code tools, we just became a bit bullish on the idea that this could usher in a world where a business user could build their own applications. We just realized this couldn’t happen today. We looked at low code tools such as  bubble.io and they have a very sharp learning curve, even I stopped and said, “Look, I'm not going to jump into this as a non-technical participant, but in time that will eventually improve.”

There is a transition period now, where it's worth it for us to have people at MISSION+ who can become familiar with those tools and then shorten the validation cycle to develop prototypes for our clients to get enough signals from internal stakeholders, customers, investor - whoever it is that you're trying to get feedback from, to get the confidence before you go to full development.

Andries De Vos: Oh, that's brilliant. I agree. Do you offer this primarily as a service towards new ideas of young startups or do you also offer this for large enterprises? And when you do, how is that different as an engagement?  What are the challenges of each?

Nick Martin: Yeah, we've offered it successfully to one large enterprise and worked with about five startups. We chose the startups because they had time and no money. We said, “Look, if you want to test this with us, we're not going to charge you,” or we just priced it to the point where we got their participation and commitment because they felt like they were getting something that was worth the value.

During those experiments, we were testing if the output was going to meet the user requirement for clickable prototype. From our business side, we were asking, can we make this a viable business? If not, what's the cost structure for this in the future? We tested the cycle of what we could do and how much time it would take to deliver a prototype.

So what actually evolved? We decided on the first day, whether it's with the institution or the startup to just to absorb as much information around the idea and the problem solution as we could. Unless the client was really unsure themselves, we would remove the debate and the noise around the problem/solution and just make quick decisions.

We felt that if we could remove a lot of the interpretation or the need to get to an answer in a short period and just start building, the output would actually get to developing some wireframes where we'd have a better conversation. Now, invariably, day two or three (or one rapid cycle of wireframing and prototyping) didn't yield a lot of positive response, but on day five and day seven, a path was starting to evolve. And we found that clients by two weeks got to a point where they were comfortable with an output, which in most cases was just a low-code, clickable prototype.

In some cases, it was built withbubble.io or figma and in some cases, we had to develop a hack together with some basic code. We didn't define the point of how we produced, we were making decisions in each case. It gave us a point of stop-and-handover as in you can now go and talk to someone about this and come back with better feedback.

Andries De Vos: What's the learning curve on these types of tools? Is it something that's in the process of a two-week process the business user can then take it for the next iteration, if they are committed to it and invested in that methodology? Or, do you think it's still too early and they will always need external support?

Nick Martin: At this stage, we find that they still need external support. Only one out of five said they would go and get their hands dirty and use the tools. For others, there is still a gap. It's not like me jumping into Squarespace to build a website by the time we finish this conversation, it's not there yet.

What we were really trying to do is also evolve the mindset of spending as little as possible to get to a point where you validate, test, and come back with confirmation before you commit resources.

Now, I would caveat all of this by saying that it is not viable for us to continue doing this with a parallel business, which is professional services. In some cases, we were stopping ourselves from doing the next round of launch. But it’s the right thing to do. We had one person who was quite committed to deploying their own capital towards building an idea before the two week cycle. At the end of the prototype delivery two weeks later, we felt the client disappointment that washed over the room. Our team was quite dejected at the lack of response from the client. In the end, that person said, “Look, thank you, this is really good, because in this case, I spent $2,000 instead of $50,000,the idea was not as it's not as contagious as I thought it was going to be”. We were thankful there were clear takeaways for this founder around how to make it more creative, more interactive, more gamified, but also an awareness that it was going to come from someone else, and they shouldn't proceed further until they'd solved that part of the problem. If we did this every day, and then we only relied on the one in five to go through, it would change the business model. How do we then put this in a place where we're happy for it to operate, so we can do better by the world but then still work on full service projects that people have certainty about? That is the aspect we're still working out.

Andries De Vos: What venture building models and MISSION+ like models do you find interesting out there and why?

Nick Martin: Where all the buzz is usually around startups, I realized that there's a lot of venture builders out there now, who are taking all of their skills and learning and applying it to corporates.

If we think about it, these corporates still maintain and dominate a big percentage of the global GDP, the Fortune 500 probably owns a majority percentage of it. I think the efforts in the future will come from companies that refine their approach with corporates.

There are some venture builders that we are watching and working with who seem to be getting in and around corporations and saying, “Look, it's not going to be one business that gives birth to the next.” And then there's going to have to be a process for us looking at the value chain and deciding what the segments are, realizing that there's going to be some capital spent even if we don’t find them, but maybe only one of them at best will get you to that next business that generates a new line.

I find that whole area interesting. We see a lot of people out there that are starting to walk that path and for me, that's a really interesting area. We want to spend more time getting to learn more about it.

HAK Event SumUp: Creating a Winning Pitch Deck
HAK Event

HAK Event SumUp: Creating a Winning Pitch Deck

Narine Daneghyan

On June 16, 2021 HAK audience gathered for a session led by David Shelters on creating a winning pitch deck.

The speaker focused on instructing the audience on how to build a winning pitch deck that will increase the probability of attracting prospective investors.

The participants learnt how to define what an investor deck is as well as how to illustrate the preferred narrative flow a pitch deck should have.

David Shelters has over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience as a co-founder, board advisor and mentor to numerous tech start-ups in both America and Asia. For the previous 12 years David has been an active community-builder and advocate in the Thai startup scene. Since January 2020 David has resumed his community-building efforts in the emerging Cambodian Startup community.

If you have missed the event, you can check out the event video below.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

Early Adopters E01 — A Test of Skill

Early Adopters E01 — A Test of Skill

Early Adopters is a saga that takes the reader to the journey through a high-tech foreseeable future with Amir and Jasmin, 2 friends with very different personalities.

Written by Marc Gamet (the partner and Chief Product Officer of Slash) & Mianne Cudal; Story-telling Consultant: Robin Narciso; Drawing by Faisal Arief


Amir entered the classroom with not much interest as usual. He kept the usual poker face and the side glances as he made his way to his seat in the last row closest to the window. He then sat and reached for his laptop.

He liked looking out the window whenever he started to feel bored in class. He liked to try to guess people’s IQ level based on their looks.

“If only I could make an AI that could rate these people, that would be so cool,” he thought to himself.

His friend, Jasmin, stepped into the room, sighed and rolled her eyes at the sight of Amir.

“Lame as ever,” she said to herself, and walked towards the seat in front of Amir.

“Other than computers, what kept you busy for two days?” Jasmin asked.

“Nothing,” Amir answered with a snort.

Jasmin rolled her eyes again at the response. She jokingly hit him in the shoulder before taking a seat and turned to him once again after putting her bag away.

“Wished I had your life and wouldn’t have to go to take programming classes.”

“Why are you complaining now? You wanted to go for programming anyway,” Amir responded as he shrugged off the shoulder she just hit.

“Yeah, because a certain someone I know wouldn’t teach me about it,” she replied with a mocking tone.

“I’m not an expert. I’m just… good at web stuff,” he answered while pushing his glasses up. “You know, for extra cash,” he glanced at her face waiting for her reaction.

“Oh really?” Jasmin raised a brow and gave Amir a smirk, then left to greet a few friends.

Amir watched her walk away for a few good seconds before turning his face away to the window again.

Just then, he saw his old computer teacher, Mr. Lee, enter the school gates.

Amir’s eyes lit up. He always looked up to people who were experts in computers and Mr. Lee was not an exception. He was his computer teacher since fifth grade. He wouldn’t give too much of his attention to his other subjects, but he had always listened well to Mr. Lee. He was the reason why Amir started to learn coding by himself since sixth grade and began to create small programs. Mr. Lee found out about it and began to mentor him. Those were very good days. But it had been a while since they had last talked. He could barely remember why. Although, they had given each other nods whenever they had met in the hallways. Their interactions did not last more than a minute after he became a senior.

Amir’s nostalgia was cut short when classmates bumped into him while they were horsing around.

“Oh, well, what a waste,” Amir said softly as he turned his attention back to his surroundings.

He realised everyone was talking about what they had done during the weekends. Amidst the noise of the classroom, Amir shifted his attention back to his laptop.

“So, what game are we going to play today?” Amir said to himself as he started to mess around with the school portal. One by one, subject links that were restricted to teachers only started to pop out.

“Geometry, Greek History, Spanish. Could these be new lectures?” Amir read the list in his mind. He was curious, excited and thrilled thinking about what could be inside. “I think I would love some advanced reading.”

“How about we go for Geometry today?”

“That’s an amazing choice, sir,” Amir said to himself, changing his tone of voice.

He looked behind him to make sure no one was there, then glanced at his smart watch.

“Can you do it in 15 minutes, sir?”

He raised his glasses up, “Absolutely.”

Amir indulged in his little world. All he could hear were the clicking sound on the keyboard, the ticking of the clock that hanged above the whiteboard. Then, he paused for a while.

He glanced at Sam who was five seats away from him, bragging to his friends about a girl from the classroom next door. He was telling them how she blushed when he asked her out. Amir thought about the time last year when he hacked into Sam’s phone in less than 5 minutes and thought it was funny how Sam never found out it was him who deleted the stash of porn on his phone.

“What an ignorant pervert,” Amir whispered to himself and returned to coding.

He went back to tapping a few more keys on the computer and stretched his arms upward as he felt a bit of strain in his lower back. A login request popped up on his screen. Amir sighed and clicked his tongue in frustration. He glanced at his smart watch. “6 minutes,” then he straightened himself up and went back to coding.

“10 minutes,” he said in his mind as he continued to code. He decided that if he failed, he would let it go.

He typed a few keys on his laptop and pressed enter. He sat back and closed his eyes for a bit. His smart watch vibrated at the 15-minute mark. When he opened his eyes, the page had loaded, and the restricted portal was unlocked. He had been at it for days and he had finally made it. It was another milestone for him to breach a well-protected school network.

He navigated through it using his laptop’s touchpad and was left amazed like he had just unlocked a new mission in a game he had been playing for days. It was filled with tons of folders and files. It was too significant to ignore.

HAK Event SumUp: Bootstrapping Your Startup

HAK Event SumUp: Bootstrapping Your Startup

Narine Daneghyan

"Bootstrapping your startup" event, which was organized by Slash and HAK, gathered the online audience on May 19, 2021 to hear from expert David Shelters on various types of bootstrapping decisions and opportunities.

According to the speaker, those decisions and opportunities serve as a basis for formulating a bootstrapping strategy. Very few startups will be able to go from incubation to exit via bootstrapping and deciding when to abandon the bootstrapping strategy and proceed with fundraising is one of the most important decisions a founding team will need to make.

David Shelters has over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience as a co-founder, board advisor and mentor to numerous tech start-ups in both America and Asia. For the previous 12 years David has been an active community-builder and advocate in the Thai startup scene. Since January 2020 David has resumed his community-building efforts in the emerging Cambodian Startup community.

If you have missed the event, you can check out the event video below.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

HAK Event SumUp: The Venture Building Playbook

HAK Event SumUp: The Venture Building Playbook

Narine Daneghyan

The online audience came together on May 5, 2021 for a session led by Slash CEO Andries De Vos.

The event, which was organized by Slash and HAK, focused on the concept of venture building, which allows businesses to explore and own new strategic growth areas.

The audience learned about the key questions to answer in order to systematically architect and build startups, and eventually set yourself up for success.

Andries De Vos is a serial entrepreneur and investor who builds and grows businesses. He and his team at Slash focus their venture builder on developing startups that can become vertical leaders in the B2B and B2G domains.

If you have missed the event, you can check out the event video below.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

HAK Event SumUp: “Introduction to Blockchain: Foundations and Use Cases”

HAK Event SumUp: “Introduction to Blockchain: Foundations and Use Cases”

Narine Daneghyan

On April 28 Vahagn Khorotyan, software engineer at Slash shared his extensive knowledge with the audience during the “Introduction to Blockchain: Foundations and Use Cases” online session.

Organized by Slash and HAK, the event focused on methods on how blockchains work, including how they use hashes and how transactions are made.

The audience also learnt how blocks and proof-of-work consensus algorithms are used to build distributed ledgers.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

(#8)HAK podcast: Methods to De-risk Corporate Venture Creation & Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: A conversation with Matas Danielevicius, Whatnot Co-Founder
HAK Podcast

(#8)HAK podcast: Methods to De-risk Corporate Venture Creation & Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: A conversation with Matas Danielevicius, Whatnot Co-Founder

Andries De Vos, Narine Daneghyan
Matas Danielevicius is the co-founder of Whatnot Startup Studio, a venture studio focused on building scalable and investable corporate ventures that originate from Thailand. WhatNot brings in experienced teams and founders to create and operate corporate ventures and provide support services like legal, HR, and Fundraising.

In this episode, we will discuss methodologies to de-risk the creation of a corporate venture, the role of entrepreneurs-in-residence, corporate sponsorship criteria and much more.

Website URL: https://whatnot.co/

Matas's LinkedIn: https://th.linkedin.com/in/matas-danielevicius-419ab6aa

Listen to the Podcast


Andries De Vos: Matas, welcome! If I think of the venture building process, I see it as a methodology and a capability to de-risk the creation of a business, which is the definition of a risky process. If you had to extract the key steps you undertake to de-risk a venture, what would they be?

Matas Danielevicius: That really depends on the market. Local startups are not capable of producing investible solutions, so a lot of local corporates do their own CDC funds. This ecosystem is being shaped right now. Local corporations are forming CDC funds, and looking for ways to invest their money, but nothing yet is coming out of the ecosystem.  Corporates tend to go outside of Thailand and invest in Silicon Valley or China, but once they go to Silicon Valley, they are just some investors from Thailand, so their networks and strength are very limited.

Our proposition is this: why don't we use some of these funds to build a venture in a less risky way and have it managed by a professional team, which we believe we are? We have experience in building the process, we have our own methodology, and we have an in-house team that supports every single step.

We also propose to rely on professional entrepreneurs who have a proven record of building businesses before rather than on a random startup team, which usually, in here, is a group of friends. When working with the startup team that is formed by a group of friends, we tend to see that later on in the development, there are weaker links in the chain, which are not able to produce but still have a big chunk of equity in the company, and it just drags the startup down.

That is a very common scenario: startup teams are formed by groups of friends rather than professionals selecting support, and the teams are not balanced. We see that there can be three marketing professionals or three engineer guys doing a startup, where they have in-depth knowledge of certain areas but no knowledge of business development or brand value. We help declutter that whole mess.

Let's say, we go to the corporates and understand what challenges they have. We see if there is any solution in the market that could help them or if there is a gap, a space to build something outside of their structure, which would help solve their issue and be able to solve similar issues for other corporates in the region. We offer workshops and just general conversations, where we bring people from certain industries to share their opinions in order for us to see if there is something we can help with, and then we come back with the action plan.

This is quite a tricky part because there is no set model. We have to improvise. Corporates have different challenges, different ways they want to work with. Some of them want an all-in solution, i.e. we execute everything and they just sponsor the venture. Some corporates want to introduce their own entrepreneurs, which means we have to work with their own in-house teams and rely on our entrepreneurs or residents to coach them. This also involves a selection process: we have to select and balance the teams from the pool of corporate talent. In some cases, we are able to build the teams from scratch, but to be fair, we rely a lot on entrepreneurs in residence.

Once we sign the contract with the corporation and we know the challenges we are going to work on, the most important bit is to find the right person to lead the project.

Andries De Vos: Give us a flavor of how industrialized this is already. How many have you done approximately in terms of such programs with corporates? How big of a team is employed? What is the economics against this?

Matas Danielevicius: It depends on each corporate individually. We started a little bit over two years ago, and we have already had 5 large corporations that we did innovation and venture building with at different levels. Currently, we have two real estate companies, who have different challenges, and we are scaling the projects. We started with one real estate firm here with 3 venture building projects, each of them had its own budget, and the budgets were decided depending on the size of the issue and the market opportunity. One large corporation can scale up to 10 venture building projects. Each has its own budget and limitations, each has its own opportunities, but we usually provide predictions before we start.

We calculate the cost of the project, the management cost, the entrepreneurs' residence costs, and the facilities- because we all have our own offices and space to run these projects, and we need to pitch project by project. Ideally, what we would see is that would start one project, it could be a launch from around USD 150,000. What we promote is that eventually, the entrepreneur would get up to 60% of the equity of that venture. It is an ideal scheme we are looking into. We would love the corporate to own 20-25%, the entrepreneur to get up to 60%, and the support team, us, and other outside investors could get a share.

Andries De Vos: Do you have restrictions for the corporates? Do you accept any restrictions they impose on you on how this new product or business can be commercialized? For example, you cannot sell to a competitor or, in the governance structure, you ensure this never happens.

Matas Danielevicius: We do get that at this stage. Again, the ideal situation would be working with open ventures, but the ecosystem is just being shaped now, so we have to be diplomatic and negotiate for certain things. We see that once the corporate gets the taste of it, it becomes more and more flexible for the next batches of ventures they want to build.

In the beginning, if we look into local corporations in Thailand, they are very conservative. Usually, it would be a family business. It is a challenge, which we trained ourselves for years, to negotiate and to prove them things. It still takes time, but we see that - and COVID was actually one of the reasons - they are forced to innovate. As we would see before 2019-2020, a lot of innovation was more of a theater performance: organized events, debates, accelerators, big awards ceremonies, a lot of pitching competitions and media attention, but the scale of the startup is still nothing to be compared with Singapore, Malaysia, or Indonesia. Now, because of the pandemic, the core businesses are suffering, so they have to find ways to solve their issues, ways to improve, stay competitive and actually stay in the market in general.

These Dutch real estate companies that we are currently working with, two large corporations, and oil refinery corporations - their core businesses are being attacked heavily, so they have to find ways to change that.

Andries De Vos: On the USD 150,000 side, what is the deal after that? Is the plan for the corporate to keep financing it or to find external funding?

Matas Danielevicius: We would encourage them to find external funding as well, but some of them would rely on funding the ventures themselves, especially the more conservative ones, which have their own entrepreneurs - they tend to want to keep more power in their hands. However, we would argue that in order to make it more successful, we would negotiate and try to convince the corporate that the venture has to be funded from outside as well.

Andries De Vos: Do you have stage gates between the discovery, the MBP, the company formation? How structured is this? Is this bite-sized when you sell it or is it in one bulk?

Matas Danielevicius: We sell it as one bulk, but we go stage by stage. At each stage, we have drop-and-go options as well. If we sell a venture building project, we promise certain outcomes like product-market fit, and we usually divide it into 6 steps. We have market gap analysis, RND where the development starts, branding, marketing, and through to the market and business development stages. Each stage has its own structure and map, and each stage has the option of drop-and-go, where we evaluate with the corporate if it makes sense to continue. If you want to continue, our job is to make sure that the entrepreneur is able to push it further and to convince and prove with data like consumer feedback that this is a valid idea and it could potentially work (they need to find examples in the market in or outside of Thailand). It is a lot of research and competition analysis, and design thinking - empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and repeat. Each stage goes through the same process where we sort the problem we need to deal with, consumers (B2B, B2C, etc.).

Andries De Vos: It is already a challenge to get alignment in early-stage startups of the group of friends, let alone when you have vested interest and corporate politics in the board room.  As you are selling this to the corporates, what are the signals you are looking for in the corporate? What are the criteria for the corporate sponsor? How do you determine if the corporate will actually sponsor USD 150,000 and support the venture?

Matas Danielevicius: To help us to decide whether to turn down, first of all, we just do not jump into a venture building project. We have workshops that we offer before that, so we tend to know the theme, we tend to know with whom we will be working, who the decision-maker is, how many management layers we need to go through to convince the corporates to make certain decisions. The higher we can pitch, the higher we can get feedback forward, the better for us to decide if the project would actually work.

In some of the cases that we had, we tend to say that we are going to innovate outside of the corporate structure, which is a much faster way because of the corporate management layers and things like that. But once we start doing it we get stuck into the corporate vehicle because each decision has to be made by the supervisor and the supervisor's supervisor, and then it has to reach the CEO at some point, who is a very busy person, so feedback and decision making slow down and we become just another business unit in the corporation, which is exactly what we do not want to do.

One of the core things is that we still need to negotiate the power to make major decisions and find a way to get feedback as fast as possible from the corporate side. It also depends if we work with inside teams or we just build it outside.

Andries De Vos: There's a huge debate going on right now in the consulting industry and, to a degree, in the venture building industry about whether you can be sector-agnostic in the space. Is having a methodology enough to add value as a framework, as a facilitator or do you need to start adding domain-specific expertise to the process? Where do you guys sit on that?

Matas Danielevicius: I would argue for both sides, but we tend to see that it is quite a universal process. We work with the food and beverage industry, oil and gas, real estate, because the challenges and things they want to solve cannot be directly related to their core business. They are willing to expand opportunities, and we just see that we better find the people who would help us with domain expertise at certain levels but we still do the whole process of building a tech company, our solution outside of the environment. Then, it’s up to us to recruit the right people to push it forward and to give us the knowledge.

This is also one of the reasons we are part of the Knowledge Exchange, which is an innovation center here in Bangkok. We collaborate with them as well, so we have access to university talent and research and the center's network, so it's easy to get government support for our projects. We can rely on the pool of talent coming out of technical universities.

We as venture builders try to be ready to sort out these issues, but I wouldn't say that we would not work with certain industries at this point. If we are capable of building the team and finding the partners to execute the plan before we jump into it, of course, we will work with any industry.

Andries De Vos: Do you ever feel that this business is becoming easier to run? In other words, are you pushing the business downhill and it just gets gravity and rolls, or do you feel that as time progresses, you need to just keep pushing uphill?

Matas Danielevicius: We have been around for two years, and the first year, of course, was a struggle and we needed to push uphill because we needed to build a case study specifically for what we provide. We had some networks, some connections, so we got our first contract and started to work with the first corporate. To convince, to prove, to get the budget - it is a very lengthy process. Suddenly, last year COVID happened and we had a moment when everything stopped, nobody knew what was going to happen. We kept on improving our own operations and content, working on the tools that we have. After that, we saw more and more interest from local corporates.

At this point, I could say that we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, as now it is not only us reaching out, but the corporates are also getting in touch with us, trying to find venture building solutions. That is interesting, as three years ago the term was something no one used, at least in Thailand.

Now we hear about venture building in a lot of different ways. We see more and more demand, and what is good for us and what helps us give motivation to our entrepreneurs, residents and co-founders is that our current clients are asking for more. This is a really good proof of concept for us as well, because we started with few projects, now the corporates want to add several more, plus we are already thinking about the second batch and scaling the batches, not just duplicating them. It gives us more confidence, helps us hire better talent.

Andries De Vos: Typical agency makes around 50% project margin and maybe 25% of net margin as a company, depending on the situation, you could maybe stretch it to 30% if it is a good year. If you have a bad year, it could drop to 10%, so you could keep a cash reserve. That is the agency model, it is fairly well-documented, but it is not very scalable. In other words, there is a natural range, through which you can grow that.

Compare that with a product studio or an equity play where it is exponential if you are lucky, and if you are not lucky, it dies. What do you think of your numbers? Let's say, if you take 25% company margin, how much percentage do you feel you are going to take off the top to invest in your side projects? How much are you betting on the fact that your portfolio of corporate support teams will potentially create value? What do you think about your model?

Matas Danielevicius: Your assumptions are pretty correct, as the typical agency model is 50%, something that we would see now. We are trying to decide which direction to take because, in the agency model, we would build the brand value, the methodology and become more of a consulting, training agency that lives from the fees and helps to support our teams and the company's growth. Speaking of our own ventures, it really depends on founders, because we have a couple of ventures on the side and we fundraise for them outside of the structure, looking at them as separate ventures.

As an agency, we do consulting and get fees, we are a corporate venture builder, that is why we position ourselves in that way. We build startups as a service, so we are service providers, we help to find the talent, execute, hire teams, and we do it all for a fee. That is how the model works.

Andries De Vos: Do you give yourself a minimum size for agency and afterwards it doesn't matter anymore, it lives a life of its own and you won't push harder for growth, because you can maximize your time on other ventures? Or do you want your agency to continue growing and become a huge system so you have more freedom, but then building that system means more investment?

Matas Danielevicius: Of course, we see limitations of the growth, so we would probably look into the regional scale and find local partners in each market, and then consider each market individually. Some models might work in Thailand and not work in Singapore. It is building the brand value that is important to us, so we want to be recognized as a venture builder. Each individual market could have its own structure that would be built depending on who we would partner with. I'd say we would need to find strong local partners with their own networks in those markets. It is probably more of a creative agency scale, where you bring in the methodology, the expertise, the talent, and the pool of clients you have been working with in different markets, and then find local partners who can help with their networks to introduce the methodology or certain assets that we have.

Andries De Vos: You mention a lot about entrepreneurs in residence. What are the traits you are looking for in them, especially if you expect them to run a new startup? What are the characteristics that you would consider a red flag?

Matas Danielevicius: This might sound stupid, and I don't know how the corporates would react, but if we click, we click. That is the key.

The person has to be someone we feel confident about, but that, of course, consists of many different things. First, we would like to get applications from people who have a track record of building their own ventures. Whether the ventures were successful is secondary, we want to have someone who has already tried. That is what we call the entrepreneur in residence.

Usually, we get applications from people with a corporate background, someone who has been working in corporations. It is not a red flag, but we would investigate that applicant much more than someone who says they have worked on their own three startups and nothing came out of it. The latter is someone who did the research, raised the money to start the business - this is what we are looking for. We need the hustler, someone who would be doing work, we do not want only strategy. It has to be someone who buys lemons, cuts them, and makes lemonade when they decide to sell lemonade. It is also university projects, internships, something in which people are proactive. We also try to see how applicants see themselves, what aspirations and dreams they have, what they want to learn from the venture building processes. We just want real people, and the rest we can help with.

We want entrepreneurs to be entrepreneurs. If they need legal help, we provide that, if they need methodology and tools, we provide that, but we need someone who says "I know someone, I can call them!" or "I'm going to do the research!" when they need to get something.
HAK Event SumUp: Cross-Platform Mobile Development 2021: React Native vs. Flutter

HAK Event SumUp: Cross-Platform Mobile Development 2021: React Native vs. Flutter

Narine Daneghyan

On March 31, 2021 HAK audience gathered for an interesting session on "Cross-Platform Mobile Development 2021: React Native vs. Flutter", led by Henry Seng, an experienced Senior Web & Mobile Developer.

The online session was organized by Slash and HAK and focused on the ways to develop apps more quickly.

The participants were introduced to technologies that are the best to reduce costs with cross-platform development.

Henry Seng talked about two hot cross-platform app development technologies: React Native & Flutter and shared his tips on how to achieve success with both.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

(#7)HAK podcast: Best Methods For Attracting Talent & Future of Venture Building: A conversation with Björn Lindfors, Partner at Antler
HAK Podcast

(#7)HAK podcast: Best Methods For Attracting Talent & Future of Venture Building: A conversation with Björn Lindfors, Partner at Antler

Andries De Vos, Narine Daneghyan
Björn Lindfors is a partner in Antler Singapore. Björn works with a global team dedicated to developing the next generation of world-changing companies and creating a global pipeline for top talents to pursue a career in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Björn is a seasoned chief technology officer with experience across startups, mid-market multinationals, and global technology firms. Focused heavily on product and growth, he has managed teams in Malaysia, Singapore, Ukraine, and Turkey.

In this episode, we will discuss the best methods for attracting talent, the future of venture building, and the essential skills of founders.

Website URL: https://www.antler.co/

Björn's Linkedin: https://sg.linkedin.com/in/bjornml

Listen to the Podcast


Andries De Vos: Great to have you on the podcast, Bjorn. So let’s kick off this conversation. What is it in the founding vision of Antler that was so original and innovative?

Björn Lindfors: The fundamental hypothesis behind Antler was that given the right talent and structure, people could actually go out and build amazing businesses. I think since we have started in Singapore back in 2018, we have proven this to be true. Through our programs, we have processed hundreds of people. We have 14 locations all over the world, and now we are building an office in India, trying to structure our first program.

Andries De Vos: Could you paint a picture for me of where you see Venture Building in the next 10 years or so? And perhaps more specifically, how do you see the Antler business evolving in the next 10 years? And for the listeners out there, for perspective, Antler has really only been around for 3 years.

Björn Lindfors: Let me tell you what I love about the world of venture capital at the moment: like many other things on the planet, it is becoming increasingly more competitive. It's no longer a group of ex-bankers sitting in an office somewhere and looking at a spreadsheet, but you actually have to find additional ways to add a significant amount of value to see relevant inflow. I think that is where we are heading.

Whether you are an early-stage, a seed-stage and even a late-stage investor, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to add additional value to the portfolio above and beyond the capital means. I think that is where the VC world is heading in general.

Antler's mission is that anyone who ever considers starting a tech startup will think about us first and use us as a tool to get themselves off the ground and make that initial success. What follows naturally is probably a long series of opportunities that will also be structured in many more thematic accelerators. That provides additional value, probably around particular themes, as we have already seen. You have your fintech accelerators, health tech accelerators, etc. I believe we will see a continuation of this, but perhaps even more specialized than we are seeing now.

It could, for example, be in collaboration with industry experts and companies with investors who have been living and breathing it their entire lives and are now ready to see someone else step in and disrupt.

Andries De Vos: Let's talk about talent. What is the hardest part about attracting the best talent for the Antler program?

Björn Lindfors: If you look from the skills perspective, any organization, large or small, will struggle to attract qualified tech talent. We spend a tremendous amount of effort sourcing and qualifying technical talent to fit into the program. That, I think, is one of the struggles. What we have observed over time, interestingly - and I am not sure if this is what the industry is like in general or if it is specific to Antler - is that more and more senior people applying, more and more people who built companies in the past (successfully or not) are joining our program. The level of seniority is increasing.

The time frame is a struggle. Right now we have three months per cohort, and each cohort wants to have 60 to 80 people, so finding 80 highly qualified and entrepreneurial people who can build businesses together is always a challenge. Silent applause for our recruitment team for making this happen every 3 months! It's an unbelievable feat, honestly.

Andries De Vos: Ok, here is a bit of a funny one. Imagine a massive billboard on the highway. If you could have a billboard for anyone who is trying to build the next Antler or the next venture builder, what would that billboard say?

Björn Lindfors: It's a tricky one. It's a one-liner, and I would say: "Capital isn't everything." I don't know what I would put as a subtitle. It's a point that I keep coming back to. We provide mentoring and support, and of course, capital at the most essential stage when you need it, connections to advisory venture capital networks. That, I believe, is what makes the difference.

Let me summarize this entrepreneurial board for someone who wants to copy Antler. I would say: "Talent is everywhere, it's up to you to make sure that the talent of this planet is put to good use."

Andries De Vos: You guys, in many ways, are unbundling the value chain of creating a successful early-stage startup, with “success” at the early stage being defined as product market fit and follow-on capital. Not yet liquidity. You see many entrepreneurs pass through your programs. Do you have a point of view on whether entrepreneurial qualities are born or nurtured.

Björn Lindfors: Personally, I think it's a combination. Take me, for example. I'm an engineer by profession. A lot of people grow up and they have absolutely no interest in being an engineer. You could say, of course, this is due to my upbringing - I have been nurtured to be that way, but I don't think that is entirely true. I think my personal interests have simply put me on this path and guided me to pursue the career that I am currently in.

I think it is no different for someone who is trying to start a business as well. There is a degree of "I have been wanting to do this for a long time," or "This comes very naturally to me, so I want to do it." This is from the will and drive perspective. But if you look at it from the skills perspective, those are things that you can definitely nurture and build.

Part of this are things that we enable: you have masterclasses on fundraising, marketing, other useful and functional topics that people need to have a fundamental grasp on in order to be able to build a business. I think that is where what people nurture is important. Someone who is really driven will, of course, identify the points where they think they need to improve and read up those points a little bit. However, there is also always the point of "I don't know what I should be good at," so that is what we try to help with, by providing a structure for you to at least be aware of those points.

Andries De Vos: What do you look for in founders and how do you measure or quantify the traits you are looking for in them?

Björn Lindfors: I don't think anyone truly understands what it means to be a successful entrepreneur; they come in so many different shapes and sizes. I would lie if I said we had a fixed recipe that leads to success and makes you a good entrepreneur.

For us, it has a lot to do with measuring the performance of people in the recruitment process and then continuation in the program. Then, whether we invest or not, if we discover that the recruitment decision was poor, we go back and try to learn from it. We have a structured learning process around what we consider to be a good founder. The one quantifiable metric with the most significance, which should come as no surprise to anyone, is whether the given person has built a company before. That is the one that has the most impact.

Then, we have to look for functional skills that we think are going to matter in a startup. Are you a growth hacker? Are you a computer engineer? Are you someone who has spent 15 years of your life in the supply chain? Basically, can you unearth a problem that the world will find interest in seeing solved? These are all things that we try to stress test during the recruitment process.

Andries De Vos: It sounds like those are very soft traits. Are you also looking at psychometric assessments to give you an additional depth into someone’s personality?

Björn Lindfors: I would not say that. We measure, of course, such things as communication, etc., and I would like to add that each of us has bias - conscious or unconscious - which comes into effect a little bit in the personality assessment. They call it the beer test. Do I want to sit down and have a beer together with this person? For us as well, we prefer to attract people we can work well with, and to work well with someone, you have to have a positive working relationship. From that perspective, personality does matter. If someone treats me horrendously during the interview process, naturally, my eagerness to bring that person in will be diminished.

Andries De Vos: It sounds like those are very soft characteristics (likability) and soft skills. Are there psychometric assessments that you apply as well to give you an additional depth into someone's personality?

We conduct psychometric assessments, but not as part of the recruitment process. We do not base our recruitment decision on anything like that. We use it from time to time in the early stages of the program, when founder matching is very important. People coming to the program are looking for a cool founder, of course, to build a business together, and that is when these things become an important tool for the founders to shortlist those they think could have a matching or complementary personality.

Andries De Vos: .I’d like to talk about founder matching. This is the core part of the Antler value proposition. What’s your approach to match founders and to minimize mistakes or mismatches? And how do you deal with founder conflicts?

Björn Lindfors: Let me put this into context and replay the first day of the Antler program from the founder's perspective. Imagine you are sitting in a room together with 75 other people from various backgrounds. Usually, around 40% of these people would be engineers, and the remaining 60% would be either general business or domain experts, maybe someone who has spent 15 years in the supply chain.

The question is what happens next? How do we facilitate these people meeting and forming relationships that ultimately lead to them building a business together? The answer is that there is a forcing function: we say at the investment committee - it is two and a half months later - that you need to find a co-founder. If you don't have a co-founder, we are not going to invest. So, there is a very strong forcing function on the founder's side to try to find a good match in the cohort, someone they could see themselves working with. We provide data, and as I said, there might be psychometric assessments. The founders will have stated their general interest areas, they have each other's LinkedIn profiles, etc. All these are things they can use to shortlist, for instance, 10 to 15 people in the cohort that they could potentially see themselves working with.

Then, we provide some structured exercises, particularly in the first two weeks - for instance, boot camps where you have to work 24 hours together with another founder to stress test what your working relationship could be like. During this time, if they see yellow flags or red flags, if their gut tells them it might not be the person for them, we encourage people to very practically break up. In fact, we celebrate split-ups, we have a big round of applause usually. The idea is that we want people to be able to try a few different team configurations and figure out something that works for them.

We don't, for instance, require that an engineer has to pair up with a business founder. It really is about what is required for the business they are setting up. If you are building a data seeding business, we would like to see a very different team from the one that is building a deep-tech blockchain business.

Andries De Vos: If you would start Antler today, what would you do differently?

Björn Lindfors: There are big things and some little things. Our headquarters is in Singapore now, and there are many things we have learned over the last few years. To me, a relatively significant change we have made to the program is the introduction of something we call "the pre-IC". Historically, the founders are optimizing for the investment committee. They know it's one point of accountability that is not going to change, everyone fears that day and looks forward to it with excitement (a combination of both).

What is a little bit unfortunate, when you have a 2.5-month program that ends in a singular investment committee presentation, is that some people might not be ready. Some people might have been working on an idea, and despite us telling them to pivot and change the idea, they insist on working on it. That is very unfortunate because in these configurations you have talent that we simply cannot invest in. What we have done then is introduce a psychological point of accountability slightly earlier in the program. 3-4 weeks before the actual IC we have a pre-IC.

There is still the threat of rolling heads in that usually at that point, we will eliminate the bottom-performing 10-30% of the cohort. This means we can refocus our efforts on the rest, and we also have a very structured feedback system, so we can tell the participants that as an investment committee, we think you are not working on something we can fund. However, we tell them, with the following alterations you will put yourself on a path where you are much more likely to receive our investment.

Basically, we give people a chance to pivot and rethink, and fundamentally change their business in the cases we have someone brilliant but a little too stubborn to make changes early on.

Andries De Vos: What is that motivates founders to pass the IC? Because in a way, the amount of money Antler invests is quite nominal compared to what you can get out there. So why would a founder bother to pass the IC? Is it that they really want to have the brand of Antler on their resume, or that they are competitive and feel the urge to “pass the IC test”? What is it?

Björn Lindfors: I would love to say it has something to do with the brand, but I don't actually think it does. The reason I am saying that is because the very first cohort we ran back in 2018 fundamentally had similar dynamics, tension and stress that you can find in the founders today leading up to IC. I think it's a relative thing. Imagine it's the first day of school and you are trying to pass exams or whatever challenges are put in front of you - it's a stressful time because that is your world then, your existence in that very moment. It is the same for people going into this program. They want to build a successful business, and the first step toward that is to pass the investment committee. It’s very much about human psychology. When you put 75 to 100 people in the same room together and ask them to build a business, there is naturally a lot of competition and peer pressure that emerges as well.

Andries De Vos: And here comes my last question. What models out there, whether on venture capital or on venture building do you find interesting and why?

Björn Lindfors: In theory, corporate venture capital (CVC) should have an excellent capability of venture building. Anyone that's been in the industry knows that unfortunately, it is often not the case. It could have to do with flawed incentives or a little bit of shortsightedness in looking for an early acquisition or not selling to their competitors, etc. We know that they have many issues, but theoretically, CVCs could be super exciting. You do have people that have a very deep understanding of a problem or who have been operating in it for a very long time. If they could enable people to disrupt their own space, I think that could be very impactful.

HAK Event SumUp: “How to Communicate Effectively with Your Remote Team”
HAK Event

HAK Event SumUp: “How to Communicate Effectively with Your Remote Team”

Narine Daneghyan

As part of the communication tips parcel, Slash and HAK organized “How to Communicate Effectively with Your Remote Team” event on March 17.

This event, held online, focused on the communication within remote teams and the specific skills employers of such teams look for in candidates.

The person to share this knowledge was Operations Manager Chitra Sen. In addition to vast experience in remote communication and work with cross-disciplinary, distributed teams, Chitra has significant expertise in client and team management and group facilitation skills.

The participants learned how and why to optimize communication for remote teams, maneuvering the differences in time zones and cultures.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

The role of human agency and leadership in a Digital Age

The role of human agency and leadership in a Digital Age

Andries De Vos

Former US President Barack Obama once said that “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.

This may have never been more true and yet more challenging.

Organizational paradigms and rise of algorithmic organization

Homo Sapiens are social creatures. Since our origins, we have always survived by organizing ourselves in groups. The way we have organized ourselves has evolved from our hunting-gatherer days to our agrarian societies, to our first multinational organizations, to the rise of the internet and now - to the rise of algorithms.

Each successive organizational paradigm has enabled us to handle more complexity and propel society into ever greater levels of industrial and economic productivity.

Today, every paradigm is still in use and valuable to get specific jobs done. Think of these paradigms like “social technologies” or tools that are still continuously being perfected and improved by an army of academics, authors, business leaders and politicians.

In less than 8 years, analysts expect that the remaining 4+ billion people will be connected to the internet, thanks to advances in broadcasting 5G internet from satellites, suspended balloons and abundant capital from private investors and philanthropists.

All this data will be ingested by our AI algorithms to make sense of the world, and to start managing the world for us - initially with humans making the decisions (“humans in the loop”), and then perhaps without humans in the loop. What is the role of human leadership in a world where algorithmic decision-making takes on a larger role? As AI becomes stronger, will we increasingly have “weaker” human leadership?

These are hard questions to answer.

Strong vs weak leadership

We take a pragmatic starting point to explore this.

We can speculate that AI will at some point in the 21st century have the super-human ability to reason but may not have the ability to be sapient (“feel”) anytime soon. This will leave plenty of room for human leadership to flourish.

The challenge for human leaders will be to have the intellectual and emotional capacity to integrate AI in their workflow and then to adopt the relevant organizational paradigm and accompanying leadership style for the job to be done: meaning-making or consensus (choose the Circle), crisis management (choose the Pyramid), complexity (choose the Organogram), drive collaboration or innovation at scale (choose the Network).

We, therefore, believe strong human leaders will likely remain a fixture in our civilization for some time, still.

And ironically, this brings greater dangers. While AI may not be able to feel, it sure will be able to reason and influence or even persuade human leaders’ decision-making process.

This will pose great challenges to our notion of “human agency”, our capacity to make free choices and to impose those choices on the world. Perhaps never before will we need strong compassionate leaders, who have the courage of their conviction, in the face of strong AI.

HAK Event SumUp: “How to Really Finish Your Project”
HAK Event

HAK Event SumUp: “How to Really Finish Your Project”

Narine Daneghyan

The “How to Really Finish Your Project” event gathered the online audience on March 3, 2021 to hear from experts about the best methods of completing projects.

The speaker invited for this event was Aria Hadi Wardhana, Agile Coach and Founder of Agile Academy Indonesia. His colleague, experienced IT knowledge worker Najla F. Seff co-facilitated the session.

The session, organized by HAK and Slash, presented guidelines on how to reach an understanding with clients, team and stakeholders on the point when the project can be considered finished.

Another area of focus was the alignment of the finished result with the initial project goal in a way that meets the expectations of the client and the stakeholder. During the event, participants were divided into groups for discussions.

Check out the upcoming HAK events here.

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