The Ant in the Room



Reflections

Barely two months back, Vellum got confirmation of pre-seed funding from Antler. For the benefit of readers not in my immediate network, Vellum is a software tool that enables property developers to make rapid yet accurate assessments of potential developments. In essence, the confidence to make strategic decisions about the value that can be derived from a plot, before more time and resources are committed.


It marked the end of the incubator programme, but the beginning of a second phase of hardship that I experienced in the first phase - 10 times over. (Side note: My husband is convinced he can hit influencer-status with an article titled, ‘How Antler stole my wife’.)


Why do we put ourselves through such suffering, uncertainty and misery? I attempt to answer it in a series of short anecdotes sharing what we do and experience at Vellum.


How did it all begin?

The start of the lockdown ironically marked the anniversary of a 3-month sabbatical to Europe that my husband and I embarked on last year. For a variety of (mostly personal) reasons, our first port of call was coincidentally the Netherlands.


Back then, if someone had told me: a year from now, you will be living in Amsterdam, you will join a startup incubator and spend the majority of your waking hours intensively networking and closely interacting with 70 potential co-founders — I’d have laughed in their face.


Now it is beyond real. Today I am an official resident of Amsterdam, working with my two co-founders Erik and Lennart on an idea that we pitched to Antler at the end of March. We were one of only 7 teams out of 21 to get the green light for pre-seed funding.



So, what’s your idea?


In the early days whenever I told someone about the programme, I somewhat naively referred to it as a ‘Tinder for Startups’. In that same vein, the pick-up line du jour was ‘What’s your idea?’.


I did have an idea, but I felt so lost and insecure in the beginning that I nearly did not pitch it to the cohort. Of all these MBA-tagged management consultants, finance whizzes, highly coveted software developers - who would want to work with an architect, on an architecture-related idea? Fortunately, I did pull myself together and put my idea out there, with surprisingly moving results. People came to me after and said, ‘your pitch was really interesting; it is really grounded and seems to solve a real problem, let’s talk a little more’.


And so that is how I found my first match in Erik, who straddled a good balance of product management and software development. Together we started to dive deeper into the project. Being a newcomer to Amsterdam, I also had to start from scratch, grasping at any strand of connection we could make to architects and property developers.


In true dating style, the cohort went through numerous team-ups and break-ups over the ensuing weeks. While Erik and I worked well together and had complementary skillsets, we still felt a need for a third co-founder. As events unfolded, Lennart was back in the open market after a recent break-up and he eventually joined our team. With his background in business development and sales, we completed the ‘perfect trio’ of domain, (software) development and commercial expertise.


The first pivot, and then some…

In the beginning, it had been quite clear to me that this would be a solution targeting architects. However, as we conducted more interviews, did more research and pitched our idea it became clear that the group we needed to address were in fact the property developers. As an architect it was, no pun intended, a pivotal (and slightly painful) moment, but that was my first lesson in listening to the ‘word on the street’; stubbornly imposing my opinion would likely have ended up creating a solution in search of a problem.


We have a long way more to go, with endless hurdles to cross, and fierce competition to contend with. But have you ever had a thought that kept you up at night, with a feeling in your heart that compels you to act? This is my thought, my insomnia, and that relentless pounding of my heart.