Zvelle In Conversation with Bernie Li

Bernie Li

Bernie Li is an entrepreneur and investor with a passion for technology and building meaningful companies. Currently he is a partner at Antler, a global early stage venture capital firm. Whether he is advising founders, investing in new ideas or climbing mountains, Bernie is always marching to the beat of his own drum.

“To me, Walk How You Want is a statement of personal empowerment and choice. I particularly enjoy the word "Walk". That implies moving in the direction of the life that one wants at one's normal, everyday tempo; not running or forcing oneself.”
Elle: You have been a founder and an investor (many times!). What do you think sets apart great investors who have been founders other than understanding the mindset and hardships one goes through building a company? And by great investors I don't mean just those who write the biggest cheques.

Bernie: I think that investors who have been founders may look at startups through a different lens.

A huge factor for whether a startup succeeds comes down to people. Are the right people in the right seats? Are they aligned on the mission and padding in the same direction? What's really driving the founders to choose a path of starting a company instead of taking a less-volatile path in life? Ex-founders may spend a lot of time digging into people-issues like these.

Former founders probably also visualize the growth of startups differently. They can pull from direct experience to understand what a company looks like as it starts from zero people, growing to 10, 30, 100 people in stages. If you've been through the fire before, you have a better sense of what operating issues may be coming ahead of the company. What does that mean? Possibly a better degree of accuracy when predicting what a startup can accomplish over the next year or so. And a sense of the infrastructure and processes required to be in place.

Elle: After you sold your company you took some time off to travel with your wife. I bet you are glad you did that pre-Covid times. What's the most memorable experience you had during this time and why?

Bernie: Yeah, we are so glad we took the opportunity we had to take a break from things and see a few parts of the world. I like to joke and say that we had a five month honeymoon, doing a loop around the earth's circumference.

It's too difficult to pinpoint a specific moment from a trip like that, where we voyaged from the harsh terrain of Patagonia, to the Pacific islands, to Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East. What stands out is the contrast that we felt and observed as we moved from one environment to the next. The vibrancy of the people, the various cultural norms, the landscapes. And of course, the flavors of the foods!

“I'm a believer that it's never too late to try a new experience.”
Elle: Share something with me that we can't find on your LinkedIn profile or Google.

Bernie: I'm a believer that it's never too late to try a new experience.

In 2019, my wife and I signed up for an alpining course and spent 5 days in the alpine of Mt. Baker, Washington. The interesting thing is that up to that point, I had never spent a night in a tent before! So I went from zero to a hundred miles an hour, in terms of being in and dealing with a new environment. It's unsettling and anxiety-inducing. But it also expands the mind and the outer boundaries of my comfort zone.

Elle: When's the last time you failed and how did you pick yourself up?

Bernie: During the Mt. Baker alpine course, the members of our course attempted a push to the summit of the mountain, to cap off the training.

Getting up at 1AM in pitch black, we harnessed ourselves into two teams and started the trek up through the snow to the peak.

At about 5-6 hours in, we stopped at the edge of a cliff for a rest. That was to be the end point for a number of people, myself included. I had pushed myself to the point of weariness, where mental clarity evaporates and trust in one's footing disappears.

My amazing wife, on the other hand, harnessed herself to a new team and pushed towards the peak. I cheered her on as I turned around to descend down the mountain. I didn't make it to the peak. Does that mean it was a failure? I pushed as hard as I safely could and my body said it was time to stop. So no, I have no shame and no regrets about that experience.

Elle: What does Walk How You Want mean to you?

Bernie: To me, Walk How You Want is a statement of personal empowerment and choice. I particularly enjoy the word "Walk". That implies moving in the direction of the life that one wants at one's normal, everyday tempo; not running or forcing oneself.