Natalia Bakaeva on her startup journey with Antler in Canada

Natalia, an architect and artist with over 15 years of experience in design and architecture, joins Antler to build her own venture and innovate the industry

Klára Vítková

Investment Team
October 12, 2023
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Tell me something about yourself and your background.

I dedicated all my life to architecture; I worked at a number of studios and traditional architecture offices, from small-scale boutique firms to corporate firms. A few years back, I switched to a property tech startup. First time in my life, I moved from architecture office work to something multidisciplinary. This shift was intentional. I felt like architectural work could be more elevated using technology. I felt like other industries were moving forward way ahead of us. So, I pushed myself out and pursued this new challenge in a startup environment.

This transition was very drastic, but I liked it a lot. I hired people and built an excellent team. After being there for a few years, the startup did not survive. After that, I never returned to conventional architectural practice. I started my own consultant design and architectural services and kept generating ideas and dreaming about more technologically inclined ventures in the design space.

Why did you decide to build your start-up?

I wanted to start a company because I always had a vision that certain things could become more efficient in architectural practice. The way we do things, by we, I mean architects, has not changed for decades. The industry has not yet been disrupted on a grand scale. And I see many opportunities for improvement; many things could be automated, and work could be more efficient and productive - with the right tools. Most importantly, more fulfilling and less redundant. So, I decided to use my domain expertise and build a tech company in the architecture industry.

Why now is the right time for you to build your start-up? You could have done that before but decided to do architecture consulting…

I have worked at very small architectural firms with under ten people, but also in large multinational corporations. I noticed the same inefficient patterns that give me a very good signal that there's room for disruption. So the first reason now is that the timing is right because there are more sophisticated tools out there that we can deploy; the market needs this.

Combining this with my domain expertise and experience from a startup as well as building my business gives me the right mixture of skills to build something myself. Not completely myself, but rather with the right co-founder.

Why did you decide to build your company with Antler?

I try to be very active in the startup space here in Toronto. I go to events, meet a lot of people, and exchange knowledge. And it was during one of the startup networking events that I heard about Antler. I started to learn more about it and about similar opportunities for founders or some sort of accelerator. Then, I found out that a friend with whom I used to work was part of Antler in Germany. He gave me good feedback and guided me on my journey. His feedback contributed to my joining the Antler residency.

However, that was only one reason I decided to join. It was mostly because I wanted to build a tech company that would disrupt the architectural industry, and I needed a technical co-founder. I wanted to meet someone who would ideate with me and approach this problem space conceptually on many levels. Also, someone with deep tech knowledge but who is also well-rounded enough to be my co-founder, my partner in crime. Finding a co-founder is not an easy task. Here we are with 60 amazing people, potential co-founders who are validated through the Antler interview process to have the best skills to be founders. What is also important, these people are all ready to build; they are dedicated to living the founder's life, which can be really hard sometimes.

What surprised you the most in the first three weeks of the Antler residency?

I think it was the intensity of the program. I consider myself an extroverted person. I go to a lot of networking events, and I’m almost never at home unless I'm working, and yet, I felt like it was a lot of fast-paced interaction with a massive amount of extremely interesting people. I understand now what it means when you say it is a pressure cooker - it is very intense. But you get to know a lot of people in a very short time on a deeper level and observe them. This lets you evaluate quickly who can be your potential co-founder and who cannot.

What was the biggest challenge so far?

Apart from being very socially engaged, my biggest challenge was dividing my time between getting to know people in the cohort, having some head-down time to think about the program strategically while still speaking to customers, and conducting interviews. The first few weeks are really packed, but for a good reason -  you manage to meet everyone and get to know them as soon as possible so that you can track out (find a co-founder) quickly. It can be overwhelming, but it will all fall into place at the right time; you just need to trust the process.

What would you advise founders who are joining Antler?

Try to talk to people as much as you can, even when your social battery is getting low. What helped me the most was that I tried to talk to people even before the program started during the pre-program events. That helped me navigate the environment a lot once the program started. I even had this massive Excel spreadsheet with all the founders’ names, their interests, LinkedIn profiles, Calendly links, etc. I would put in notes and comments every time I met people and talked to them on a deeper level.

Apart from tips on how to get ready for the Antler residency, do you have any tips for aspiring founders on books, podcasts, or anything that could help them build companies from zero?

I listen to a lot of podcasts and watch videos because I think that a lot of the knowledge and insights on building start-ups are relatively new and always changing. I would recommend listening to the This Week in Startups weekly podcasts to get an overview of what is going on in the startup VC ecosystem. I also listen to the ALL-IN podcast, which is more macro-focused and gives a higher-level overview. It also discusses the impact of politics, innovation, and other topics on startups and VC investments. I also follow advice from Y School, which teaches the fundamentals of building startups, like how to pitch, find co-founders, split equity, etc. It is always good to keep these things fresh in mind.

There are many books on startups that are available. However, I would mention more robust, non-obvious ones: The Power of Negotiation - Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss or a Brian Tracy book called The Power of Selling, to name a few. The one must-read for all aspiring founders is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber on how to treat your business as a set of systems. To be able to run a company, you need to define your own role, and you need to understand where you will bring the most value to the company.

Klára Vítková

Investment Team

In addition to her bachelor's degree from King’s College London, Klára has pursued her master's degree at WHU in Germany and the University of Toronto in Canada. During her studies, she gained experience in PE from King’s Investment Fund, the only student-led investment fund with real investments. Apart from that she is a skilled journalist with a focus on stock markets, VC, and startups. Klára is also a member of the board at Family Business Network where she supports more than 6,400 young business family members from 65 countries from around the world.

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