Why I became a VC

Today I am proud to join Forward Partners as a VC. Having worked in VC backed growth businesses for many years, I'm now changing seats and changing gear, looking forward to helping the best UK entrepreneurs succeed.

Why I have taken on this challenge now, at this moment in time, really boils down to 3 reasons;

  1. The VC model is changing and I believe that the approach that we are taking at Forward Partners will become the future of early stage tech investment. I am truly excited about being instrumental in defining that model.
  2. I have real practical experience having worked in multiple high growth international startups and I hope to provide sound advice that will really help entrepreneurs succeed.
  3. We are in the midst of the greatest disruption to civilisation since the industrial revolution; we're living through the 21st century gold rush and there's never been a better time to start a tech business.

In some ways, today reminds me of some advice given to me back in 1986.

Mr Jackson stood in front of our 6th form class. "Many of you in this room in 20 years time will be in business and you'll be managers. You will be in charge of other people, many of whom will have not have the same opportunities in life that you have had. If you are to do your job well and be successful you will need your team to be on your side. You will need to understand the world from their point of view". As we were about to head off to University he advised us to think about using this opportunity to live in the inner city, to get a part time job to pay our way and mix with the real world. "In 20 years time you will thank me for the advice, I promise".

I took his advice. I went to Manchester. I lived in a house next door to a B&B for ex-cons. I worked nights in canteens, waited tables with old Irish ladies from Moss Side. I worked in an Oxfam shop one afternoon each week. I constantly worried about money. I studied, graduated.

Living in the inner city of Manchester gave me the experience to draw on as a manager later in life.

I'm reminded of this because I now find myself in a position to help entrepreneurs having worked in startups myself. I can draw on this experience because I know the stresses and strains of startup life. I know what it takes to bring order to chaos and to scale a company. I know how expensive it is to prematurely scale. I've tested pricing models and conversion rates. I've hired and built great teams. These are the details that are needed to turn vision into reality.

I've worked in digital businesses since 2000 as Product Manager, ECommerce Operations Director and most recently as Chief Operating Officer (3 companies). In the early days I had to apply myself to learn HTML and CSS (I built a hobby website), set up Adwords campaigns, learn SEO tactics and so on. Most of the technology we now have in the digital space wasn't here 15 years ago. (Nor does most of the technology of the future already exist). I've worked as a COO in some fantastic high growth companies over the last 7 years. There's no textbook for that. I learnt a lot by simply getting hands on and trying things out. I'm a great believer in the rewards of evolutionary methods. Take ingredients that exist, reform into new variants, test and measure what works. Keep and do more of what works, discard what doesn't.

2014, Forward Partners, London. Here I now find myself looking forward to a great opportunity to work with and support some of the very best entrepreneurs in the UK.

At Forward Partners we look to invest in early stage tech businesses. We don't simply provide the money. We can provide support, resources and knowledge. We maximise the chance that an entrepreneur will capture their opportunity.

I've been lucky to work for and with successful entrepreneurs. I now know two important facts;

  • an entrepreneur needs a compelling vision of the future to disrupt the present
  • the path to that future is riddled with uncertainty

At Forward Partners we help entrepreneurs systematically uncover assumptions in their business model and find ways to test those assumptions. By doing so early and by using our expert team of designers, product managers, developers and marketers they can refine their business model without needing to hire full time staff or find their own office space.

This massively improves the odds of the vision becoming reality.

With the use of our lean start up methodologies and design thinking an entrepreneur can increase their chances of success at a lower cost and arrive at a viable business model sooner.

Equally, I am looking forward to learning from some of the most innovative and brightest entrepreneurial minds in the country, to continue learning and absorbing new methods and ideas.

When the time comes to grow the company, having people around that have done it before to be on hand to advise and help once again improves the odds of success. I have real and deep experience in building and executing plans and this is where I can be useful.

The VC model is changing. There have been a few VCs that I've worked with that have management experience in internet businesses. However they are the exception. Many VCs know only of their startups through board meetings and conversations with CEOs and their senior teams. They are not involved in the nitty gritty of getting stuff done. The next generation of successful VC firms will combine robust investment experience with practical operational experience.

I'm not sure who said it, but it's a favourite maxim of mine, "Vision without execution is hallucination". If VCs can help entrepreneurs with execution (and I mean really help, not just the odd intro to another portfolio company or refining pitch decks for the next round) and we can do it early in the life stage of the company, we can become real springboards for success. There are few VC firms in the US taking this approach and at Forward Partners we intend to lead with this approach in the UK and reinvent venture capital.

Finally, there's been no better time to build a tech business. Now is an amazing time in human history. We are in the midst of a technological revolution.

In the last 15 years, the cost of production has gone down, distribution has gone mainstream. This means that entrepreneurs can very quickly and easily validate business models using lean startup methodologies. Knowledge gained 15 years ago that would have cost millions, now costs tens of thousands.

What can go digital will go digital. There are thousands of businesses waiting to be born to exploit and succeed in the new competitive landscape.

In this new world, startups that learn early by rigorously testing assumptions in their business model can succeed with relatively small capital outlay. When capital is then later invested in earnest, it is for growth and exploitation of a proven model.

Forward Partners is at the heart of this new approach and I am excited to be part of the team.

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