Luke Antal's entrepreneurial journey: Sabbaticals, setbacks, and success stories
You’ve taken a couple of career breaks during your career to fly-fish and snowboard, amongst other things. How important have these been to your career and life?
I have been very lucky to enjoy a few extended sabbaticals. The first was before my first job. I negotiated the start date with my employer to be in February 2008, after graduating from college in June 2007. I spent my life savings during those eight months, before returning to work—at a great first job—doing diligence cases for private equity firms. The second sabbatical was in the fall, winter and spring of 2013 to 2014. It came after I was fired from my failed startup.
In hindsight, there are three main lessons from those times in my life. First, have confidence in yourself, even if the future is uncertain. Second, the road less travelled is always the better path. Third, I identified early on that the goal is to build a life, not a career.
You learned a lot from the failure of one of your businesses. Are there any lessons you can pass on to people who are running a startup or thinking about it?
Starting any company is very difficult. Statistically speaking, it’s very likely that it is going to fail at some point. If you’re thinking about starting your own company, give strong consideration to the following.
Learn about design thinking and invest heavily in customer discovery.
Your company needs to offer a solution to a significant pain point, where your customers are motivated (and willing to pay) to solve it.
Your founding team and first few hires are likely to make or break your business. Think through who and what skills you need at the beginning, and make sure they work well together.
Can you talk me through the journey of Alumni Ventures?
Alumni Ventures was started in 2014, with the simple idea that individual investors deserve the same access to professional venture investing that large institutions have enjoyed for decades. Our mission is to democratise this important asset class by offering professional-grade venture portfolios to millions of people and organisations in the US and across the world.
For the next five years or so, we launched our first product line which we call Alumni Funds. Every year, alumni of certain schools have the chance to invest into their alumni fund. That fund is managed by investment professionals who are full-time employees of Alumni Ventures, long-time venture capitalists, and are also alumni of the same school. Over the course of about a year we build a diversified venture portfolio on behalf of our investors. And then repeat that each year.
We then started offering other products, such as thematic funds for specific sectors (excluding our AI Fund), or stages (excluding our Seed Fund), as well as giving investors the opportunity to put more money to work in specific companies they believe in, at lower minimums.
Fast forward to 2023, and we have raised over $1.2B from almost 10,000 individual investors. We were recognised by PitchBook as the most active venture firm in the US in 2022. And we are the largest venture firm serving the needs of individual investors.
What’s the VC market like in the US?
It’s no surprise that the venture market is going through a correction that started in the spring of 2022. Broadly speaking, valuations have come down especially in late stage companies. IPO and exit activity has been fairly dormant. But we’ve started to see this thaw a little bit, with companies like Klayvio and others going public. Investment into venture funds has slowed in 2023, and with that deal activity has slowed a bit. Founders are more conscious of runway and profitability.
In many ways, these are all symptoms of natural cycles that are measured in years and decades. The other side of the coin is that 2023 has been the most investor-friendly market of the last decade. So, if you’re on our side of the table making venture investments, it’s likely that you’re being judicious about deploying capital, but are also excited about the companies that you are backing. If you look back, terrific companies like Uber, Slack, Airbnb and others were founded at this point in previous cycles.
At Alumni Ventures, our job is to consistently deploy capital into the best possible companies. We try not to get too high or low. We’re very excited to be growing our company and investing into amazing founders at a time like this.
What made you enter the US FinTech Awards?
I researched the organisation and saw great progress over the years with the event. And decided we want to be part of these awards. We have a great story to tell here at Alumni Ventures, so I gave it a go.
What are you looking forward to on the night?
Alumni Ventures will be showing up with a group of about eight employees. We are looking forward to enjoying the evening with colleagues and friends. And recognising all the hard work that has got us to this point. It’s also a great opportunity to meet all the other companies that are attending the event.
Image: Luke Antal
This interview is supported by Alumni Ventures.