We decided to take 5 years to study the world. Living in 10 different countries and spending 6 months in each of them.
From the beginning until the last words of this story, Lisa surprised us. This one-hour conversation felt like an out-of-time moment. Her smile illuminated the screen and made us feel like we were life-long friends.
Lisa is a partner at Antler. Before that, she worked for Wrapp, a Swedish start-up offering social-gifting service with free and paid gift cards. After participating in the US expansion, she left the company and decided to travel for 5 years to live in 10 different countries. She’s in the middle of these 5 years, currently in Singapore. What an inspiring journey!
But that is only one part of the story.
At Venture Insider, we strive to undress the ups-and-down, the late nights, the early mornings, the failures, and the victories.
In a few words; we want to share the real stories.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Everything in Italic symbolizes the voice of the writer, aka, us at Venture Insider.
Introduce yourself — tell us a little bit about your journey?
I started my career — well it was not even a career, as a theatre producer. Theatre was my passion, and I truly enjoyed it. Funny enough, being a producer was very similar to running a start-up: there were few resources and we needed to do everything from marketing to budgeting.
I then studied Business Administration and graduated from Stockholm School of Economics with a Master’s in Marketing and Media Management. In the meantime, I was working for a PR agency.
So, I was freelancing for a PR agency and, at the end of my studies, I was quite confused about which path I was going to take. It wasn’t easy because most of my friends went into banking and consulting, and I felt it wasn’t for me. I was always tweeting and blogging, plus I had been working in PR for a couple of years already. Working in technology made much more sense. I decided to join Wrapp, a small start-up which PR campaign I had helped to launch.
After one week of free-lancing with Wrapp, the CEO came and said: we might need someone like you, do you want to join full-time?
Pretty quickly, it was clear that we needed to expand to the US. I moved to New York and then San Francisco to set up our American branch.
How did this American expansion go?
To be very honest with you, there were a lot of ups and downs.
We had fantastic investors backing the company such as Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, or Niklas Zennström, founder of Skype. We were a fantastic company going viral and growing our user base to millions of customers. We were surfing on the start-up hype journey.
However, after a couple of years, some problems started to appear. We had a lot of trouble connecting with credit cards simply because the credit card companies were not ready for such novel technology. We were gonna be the first company ever to use Visa’s API! This feels like another age, Lisa!
We understood that we hadn’t hit our product-market fit and that we needed to do a big pivot. This was a drastic change for the company, and we moved back all our operations to Sweden.
I was not ready to go back to my home country, and I thus decided to start a new adventure.
And then, The Dream?
Yeah (laughing). With my partner, Andreas, we were trying to figure out what to do next. We had many options, but it was really tough to make a decision.
We discussed a lot and came to the conclusion that what we enjoyed the most was learning new things. We also noticed that we learned by experimenting, and actually doing it ourselves. I went with my grandfather to Paris when I was 10, and he taught me so many lessons during that trip that I still remember and use today. We figured that, if we want to keep learning, just sitting at home and reading books was not enough. We need to touch, smell, explore and understand.
We decided to take 5 years to study the world. The idea was to live in 10 different countries and spend 6 months in each of them. This was enough time to get to know people and to discover plenty of different places. We listed the 10 biggest economies in 20 years from now, and started taking them one by one. We wanted to work with local startups, get to know the investors in the region and simply learn from the world!
We packed our bags and left for Jakarta, Indonesia. Because I was already pregnant, we decided to give birth in Singapore. After a couple of months, we decided to go to our second country: Berlin, Germany. That was awesome, we really loved it. Life and people are great in Berlin!
The next country on our list was India, and both Andreas and I got super fun consulting jobs for Indian start-ups. We were in-between Mumbai and Singapore, living out of our suitcases, and it was not sustainable, at least not with a baby.
I brought my son twice to India, in the middle of the monsoon. I was out of diapers and I couldn’t buy any. That’s when I realized that Singapore had a very convenient life for a family with a young kid.
Also, we were spending a considerable amount of time dealing with visas, flight tickets, and Airbnbs. So we acknowledged that this idea of studying the world was amazing but that we needed a break. We settled down in Singapore and have been there for more than 3 years now!
Through the ecosystem here in Singapore, we got to know Magnus Grimeland. He pitched his idea for us: Antler, an early-stage venture capital firm that selects the most passionate aspiring entrepreneurs, helps them find the right co-founder and invests in the defining technology companies of tomorrow.
We instantly loved that idea and decided to get skin in the game and invest in the company from our own pocket. Tired of being a freelancer, I also decided to join the team as a full-time employee, and partner. I wanted to be building something again. We kicked off the company in 2018 in Singapore, are now up and running in 8 different countries, and have backed more than 200 companies.
You were very successful at Wrapp, what advice do you give to someone who wants to replicate what you did and build a viral product?
Looking back at my experience, what we did was offering a way for offline retailers to engage with their community. In 2011, these huge retailers were not doing much in terms of social and mobile, so we were the perfect opportunity. Before launching in the US, we already had a couple of articles in TechCrunch. Overall, the timing was perfect.
Fun fact: Gap (yes the huge American retailer) did an inbound request on our website, asking whether we wanted to collaborate with them! This really shows that everybody wanted to work with us — the timing was excellent.
Today, there are so many great playbooks on how to get a product to go viral, but at the end of the day, what matters is providing something that is actually truly valuable to the user, rather than push notifications.
Creating this real value will create real retention, that you can spice up with smart marketing tactics.
Is it hard to be a woman in Venture Capital?
It’s a great time to be a woman in venture capital, and entrepreneurship in general. Everyone wants to have diverse teams, and entrepreneurs are striving for more diverse board members and investors. At every conference, organizers push women to be in the spotlight. There is a constant flow of opportunities for those who look for them.
In the beginning, I didn’t want to be invited just because I was a woman. I knew that the organizer was not necessarily interested in my opinions. Over time, I changed my mindset: if I get invited, fair enough, I’ll go, I’ll meet some people, I’ll get new friends and I’ll get new opportunities.
It’s so important to inspire the next generation and to do it in the right way. There needs to be a mix of people as role models, that’s why I’m always up to talk and share my story!
What truly motivates you?
There are three parts to this answer.
Firstly, I love creating things. Exploring and being able to ship a product, that’s something I truly enjoy.
Secondly, it’s amazing to work with founders. Even if it’s just helping them make one introduction or spending a little bit of time thinking through a problem, founders will be very grateful, because being a founder is very lonely during the early stages.
Finally, I always think about the larger picture of today’s world, full of lazy big corporations, who have really s***** products. Everybody gets annoyed by them, and their customer service is usually very poor. I believe that, in many startups, we have truly customer-centric and product-driven founders who are building smooth experiences that will delight people. If we can have more of those people in charge of building great products, we could have a much happier world.
Where will you be in five years?
Antler is growing really fast and the companies we work with are growing even faster! Many of them are simply fantastic! Now that we have this momentum, we have plenty of smart and interesting people coming to us.
Honestly, we’re just starting. Five years is nothing. If you set up a VC fund, its life is typically 10 years. That’s the horizon you need to have in mind when you want to build a VC fund.
If you could change one thing in your journey, something you now have regret for, what would it be?
I have always been good at quantitative subjects, be it math, sciences or finance but growing up,I always wanted to be a journalist. I should have definitely studied something more quantitative, such as engineering. I didn’t have any role models of being an engineer. To me, it just meant an old man working with machines, I couldn’t see myself in that role. Overall, having studied engineering or computer sciences would have been a better fit for my natural skills and would have better prepared me for today’s world. I wish I knew how many doors it would open. What you study is really just your starting point, it won’t define your career.
What was the greatest challenge you have faced so far both in your personal/professional lives?
This year has obviously been a challenge for a lot of people, myself included. I’m aware that I’m very lucky to be in Singapore, where we have help with the kids and everything we could hope for. Despite that, when Singapore went into lockdown, my two young boys were running around the apartment like crazy. It was extremely intense to the point that I decided to take a quick break from work because I couldn’t handle both. It was a mistake. Working is my way of charging my own batteries and getting my own energy.
Now that they are back in school, it’s a game-changer. They are stimulated from being with friends and from learning new things so they are happy and not frustrated anymore. Overall, these were super challenging times, but we are now closer as a family.
It’s still a very tough year because we are so far away from our family. It’s brutal that our kids can’t meet their grandparents and the rest of our family for over a year. My parents miss a full year of my sons’ lives as they grow up, it’s extremely sad.
Do you have an inspiring figure?
Without a doubt, my grandfather. He was the CEO of a company and was travelling a lot, at the same time he is very social and has lots of friends. He would always send postcards from all over the world with different quizzes on where he was. He would then come back with plenty of pictures and local clothes. This was a big inspiration to be part of the world.
Expecting Better by Emily Oster.
The one Billion Dollar Question: How can we foster and help more women to pursue a career in entrepreneurship?
Just do it. If you have people, men or women, who are about to start a project, just cheer on them to get started and build their confidence. The first step is always the hardest. Eventually, they will start building some momentum and they will no longer be the one pushing, the work will drive them forward. It’s an amazing feeling when you get the ball running. The big obstacles are definitely ahead of you, but now you’ve got speed and just need to keep up the momentum.
Finally, if you’re a man reading this article, and you get a kid, do 50% of the parenting. It’s crucial to divide the time equally between men and women to avoid having a home project manager. We have found a good balance at home, but I have seen plenty of friends who had a rocket ship career suddenly stop because of kids. That’s a pity.
Our Main takeaways
- It is not about the destination, but about the journey: everyone should optimize their life on a daily basis, without forgetting about the long-term plan.
- Corporates are slow and not always product-focused: you should join a startup if you want to work in an environment where the users are at the core of the company.
- Virality is correlated with value-added: If you want a product to go viral, you need to provide real value to the users. Creating this real value will create real retention, that you can spice up with smart marketing strategies.
Inspiring story Lisa, thank you very much.
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