Back to Alumni News

“Uncomfortably ambitious”: How did this alum-founded VC fund get to 1,000 investments in less than five years?

With offices in 26 cities on six continents, alum Fridtjof Berge’s VC fund Antler is breaking barriers.
Fridtjof Berge image
We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. Please email us at:

Alum Fridtjof Berge (OSL 12-17), co-founder and Chief Business Officer of Singapore-based VC fund Antler, is having a moment. Previously named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for Asia, he was recently named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

And Antler – which he co-founded with fellow alum Magnus Grimeland (OSL 07-13) – is about to make its 1000th investment in less than five years.

We recently sat down with Fridtjof to talk about Antler’s “day zero” investment strategy, how the fund is helping to democratize entrepreneurship, and its “uncomfortably ambitious” goals.

You co-founded Antler with fellow McKinsey alum Magnus Grimeland. What was the inspiration?

I was lucky enough to reconnect with Magnus in 2017 after we had both left the Firm. We started talking about what to do next, and the chemistry was there. Having a big positive impact was a key driver behind starting the company, and we were inspired by other entrepreneurs – McKinsey alumni and others – who took their strongest skills, their networks, and their passions to build great, impactful companies.

Both of us were thinking big. It's a good example of how we can make lifelong friends, and business partners, through the great alumni network.

Did you have any inkling at the time about how huge Antler would become?

It’s an interesting question because the business plan we made in 2017 was quite ambitious. We wanted to tackle early-stage investing in a very structured manner.

When I look back at that early presentation we made, it is close to the footprint that we have now. Not exactly the number of locations – we're now in 26 cities across six continents – but it's not far off. In fact, we are a bit ahead of our original plan.

So we did envision it to be this big. Obviously, putting it on paper and executing it are two different things. I didn't foresee all the challenges we would face, but the vision and ambition were there from the beginning. To build something big – to get enough scale in the capital, in the support networks, and in people – we knew we needed to be in a large number of cities.

Tell us a bit about Antler's approach to investing in startups. How does your approach differ from other venture capital firms’?

The key difference between us and typical venture capital firms is that we go earlier than pretty much any other investor. We call it "day zero investing." We start before there is even a company. We gather people in our offices globally, and we work with them for around three months to help them figure out their business models and form strong co-founder teams.

We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. Please email us at:
Fridtjof meeting with water drone company Syrenna

By doing this with really smart people, we end up with lots of great potential companies. And because we have helped create these companies, we get to become the first investor in these startups.

We fill a market need because few people dare to go this early and back ambitious people when they need it the most. By spending a lot of time with these individuals we de-risk the investment because we really get to know them.

We get a very diversified pool of entrepreneurs. We have backed around 30% women founders, which should be even better, but it's vastly outperforming the industry as a whole. We have backed 90 nationalities and all socioeconomic backgrounds. There’s a vast age gap as well between the youngest and oldest founders we have backed. The average age of people we work with is 35 or so – typically people who previously had a good career, sometimes two careers. It shows that the average entrepreneur is not always a 19-year-old dropout from Harvard. It's typically someone who's been observing a problem, whether as a consultant or as a former entrepreneur, or as a domain expert in a big company.

Because we go earlier with our support, we remove some of the barriers that people have. We even pay out grants to people that get into Antler for a few months just to work on their ideas just so they can focus on this full time.

What we're trying to do is to take away the capital and network constraints by giving people access to each other and co-founders; and we take away the advice constraint by having our global advisory network. This way, we don't only get the people who have lots of savings or have an Ivy League background or some other advantageous access. That makes me very happy because we want to invest in the best, and I do think the best come from everywhere.

We're not basing our strategy on us being superior at predicting the future, as it is very hard to do. We're trying to identify and back people who can shape and define the future.

Talk about the scale at which you work.

If we only did this with ten people a year, it would be very difficult to make it work. But we're doing it with thousands of people across two dozen places. That way we get scale benefits around technology stack, networks, and global investor base.

We're living in such a great moment in time where now you can build a unicorn company from anywhere. In 2013, 37 cities in the world had fostered a unicorn. Now 200 cities have a unicorn. We are also seeing that the cost of starting a company is going down several multiples every year. For instance, the cost of cloud computing used to be a big barrier. In the last six months, we’ve also seen the decline in costs of marketing and sales because of generative AI. You can really do more with less and that opens up opportunities.

How do you see the startup ecosystem evolving in the next few years? What trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the industry?

I think the industry will move earlier, and I think we’re going to continue to see a democratization of entrepreneurship.

As I mentioned, people will do more with less – entrepreneurs will need less capital to build large, profitable businesses. And it will be much more global than before. During COVID some mini-hubs emerged, with "digital nomads" building in places like Portugal and Mexico City.

I believe there is a reasonable chance that VC investors will continue to move earlier in the life cycle of companies, and we are seeing other industry players starting to adjust their focus. I think the days are gone where it's very systemic how a company grows, that you raise capital in funding rounds maybe every two years. I think that will be disrupted with many more approaches.

It is also likely that more people will start companies. You have seen the trend with the gig economy, with people having multiple jobs, working for multiple companies. But I also think that, as people have more tools and resources given to them, it's removing the barrier from years ago where you perhaps needed to come from an affluent family or had to have some sort of unfair advantage, let's say, computer access at Stanford or Harvard in the 70s.

How has your experience at McKinsey influenced your approach to how you work and how you invest?

We have been very inspired by how McKinsey has kept a "one Firm" value. If you go into the office in New York or Oslo or Singapore, there’s the same culture, the same values, the same way people work. But it's also really well connected. You can draw on expertise in one location and you can get advice from the smartest person, regardless of where they are.

We built our advisory network that way, and we've also tried to replicate best practices in an efficient way across locations so we don't need to reinvent the wheel.

Also, calling and talking to successful investors taught us a lot, and I think it saved us from a lot of mistakes. That's an example of this fearless, proactive outreach to people, because there are a lot of people who know more than you about something. And if you aren't at least trying to talk to them, then you're just wasting time.

Antler’s website says that one of the values of the company is to be uncomfortably ambitious and to set improbable goals. Tell us about an improbable goal that you met.

We said publicly when we were starting out, before we had made a single investment, that we would invest in 500 companies in the first four years. I think that was very uncomfortably ambitious.

We strive to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to our website. If you would like information about this content we will be happy to work with you. Please email us at:
Antler Demo Day in Sydney

Obviously, to achieve this, we had to effectively hire, onboard, and enable great leaders across many continents to create an outstanding founder experience to attract more founders. Now, even though it was a huge goal, we’ve actually exceeded that. And now we're about to make our 1,000th investment in less than five years.

It's incredible, but it shows you that you can really move fast after setting big targets. And even if we wouldn't have reached that goal, it wouldn't have been necessarily a failure. But always setting an uncomfortably high target I think will keep people excited, keep people hungry, and just push us farther than what we believed was possible.

Our alumni are keen entrepreneurs; about 30% of McKinsey alumni go on to found their own businesses, and almost 50 unicorns have been founded by alumni. What advice do you have for aspiring founders and entrepreneurs?

We have had more than 100 McKinsey alumni working on building companies across our offices around the world.

My advice for people setting out to start a company is to try to find a big problem to solve. Don't think too small. Alumni are particularly suited to be great entrepreneurs. You learn some really great skills at McKinsey. You know how to be efficient with time, you know how to put in the hours when you need to, and to leverage other people. Those are invaluable tools.

Now is a really good time to build a new company. There are so many tools at your disposal, so many ways to innovate, and so many ways to scale things.

It is not necessary for co-founders to have spent their formative years living in close proximity to each other. After a few months of spending time together, you can form good relationships and build great companies. So find great people. It's not always the person next door.

Finally, find something you're passionate about. That way, you will get more of a combination of what you spend all your time thinking about as an entrepreneur with what you read and think about in your spare time.

You were just named a World Economic Forum young global leader. What kind of work will you be doing around that? How excited were you to be named to that list?

It was very cool. It's a great honor and a testament that we're doing something right at Antler. It’s essentially a forum of aspiring leaders under the age of 38 or so, who get to participate in a lot of different events and courses over the next three years. Some of them are for personal development, but there are all types of conferences, obviously the biggest one being the World Economic Forum in Davos.

What’s great about it is it opens up new collaboration opportunities for Antler – ways to collaborate with other organizations who are trying to do more around innovation, many of them in emerging markets where we're opening up lots of new locations.

I think it is very healthy to not only spend time in your industry, and to see things through a different lens.