This Former Navy Seal Helps Early-Stage Startups Grow—With Military Precision
If Norwegian entrepreneur Magnus Grimeland learned one thing above all others from his time serving in the military, it was to constantly strive for perfection. Which is probably why the Harvard graduate left a successful career in retail to identify and nurture the next generation of game-changing companies.
His startup generator Antler, which Grimeland co-founded in 2017, sources the most promising young talents, puts them together to co-found businesses that they will own and run, and provides them with the mentorship and access to funding they need to succeed.
Put simply, its mission is to "turn the world's top talent into great founders of great companies". We talk to Grimeland about what inspired him to change career course once again, and how his military training helps him spot the young entrepreneurs who will make the cut.
How did your education and military past set you up for your present career?
The Navy Seals and Harvard are very different places, yet they possess similarities for me. In the Seals, you are always expected to deliver, no excuses. They aim for perfection in everything and any mistake can be very costly. Harvard is very similar, without the physical aspect and the life-threatening risk, of course. These values have been very deeply instilled in me so much so that I have brought this discipline to all my business endeavours. At Antler, we are creating a similar culture of excellence. We want to motivate people to be the best at what they do and help create positive change in the world.
How did Antler go from an idea to reality?
Through building Zalora, I’ve seen up close the huge capabilities that new technologies bring to disrupting existing industries and how they can impact the world. We have been speaking to VCs, accelerators and other organisations globally to create a programme that helps founders build companies from scratch.
We are searching for the best of the best, supporting them with our world-class network of advisors to build the next generation of great technology companies in the region. In other words, if you have the drive and talent to form a great company, then apply to us and we’ll help you get the right co-founders, the right business model and capital, to help you build the next global giant out of Asia.
What are your priorities for the organisation?
Building a diverse team of driven and talented individuals who are just as excited about helping to nurture new businesses as I am—each with a unique skill set to effectively assist in the Antler process. From my entrepreneurs, I’m looking for four things: great ambition and vision; something they really excel in, be it coding, products, a specific industry, leadership, or similar; drive, tenacity, and integrity.
What is your success rate so far?
Many of our partners, venture partners and working teams have been part of building a lot of great companies, including Zalora, Spotify, Wrapp and more. For example, one of our advisors, Andreas Ehn, was the first-ever employee of Spotify and built its tech as the company’s first CTO. We know that not all of the companies [that we help] will succeed, but by starting a company through Antler, the chances are much bigger compared to if you were to start it on your own.
What skills do you need to become a successful entrepreneur?
You really need to be able to break through walls and overcome barriers along the way. To run your own company, you need to start acting as an owner. Care less about specific tasks and focus more on the business as a whole and on delivering results. You need to act as if every day is ground zero, every hour counts and every opportunity presents itself to help you improve and grow. The amazing thing is that once you get going, all of this should come naturally—if you have the right drive and unique talent.
What tips would you give to entrepreneurs who want to be part of your programme at Antler?
1) Don’t wait. No great entrepreneur regretted starting too early. The most important thing is to decide and get started.
2) Get one or two great co-founders on board who complement your skill set. It is important that you get along as you’ll spend a lot of time together. A team with varied skill sets and a great chemistry will always win.
3) Be ambitious and solve an issue that needs to be resolved. Fill a gap in the market.
4) Speak about what you want to build and achieve to as many people as possible. Unless you have a magic formula for free cold fusion, it’s likely that someone has thought about what you’re building before. Thus, the more you discuss it, the smarter your solutions become.
5) Get support from people who inspire you. You can literally meet anyone if you show the right drive and energy to help change the world.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned?
Unless you try, you will never succeed. This is my biggest takeaway from anything I’ve done in my life. If you don’t try to be a Navy Seal, you will never become one. If you don’t try to build a great business, you will never have one. If you try and you have the right drive and ambition—and you’re working on an idea that really makes sense with people that form a great team—you will make it happen. Yes, there’s a lot of hard work and execution that is needed but, in the end, this is how all great businesses start.
Interview: Shauna Jay Popple Williams.