Monthly Archives

November 2017

Enjoying the journey

By | Startup general interest | No Comments

Two weeks ago I wrote about our Skill and Pace value. Another of our four values is Enjoy The Journey. This one is more axiomatic for me than the others. Everyone at Forward Partners is devoting a significant part of their life to the cause and if it’s not enjoyable, what’s the point? The journey is the destination.

But what does it mean to live the value “Enjoy The Journey”?

First and foremost, it’s about finding meaning in our work.

Straight up fun is also important of course and we go out regularly as a team and with our partner companies to do crazy things and have a few drinks together, but I liken that stuff to the role of an important supporting actor. You need it, and the film wouldn’t work without it, but it’s not enough on its own. The lead actor, the rest of the cast, the script, the set and everything else have to be right too.

I think of table football, ping pong tables, Play Stations and beers in the office in the same way. They can help people enjoy their time at work but they are a sub-plot, not the main story. It’s been said many times recently, but perks are not culture.

So how do we find meaning in our work?

First, there’s a question of attitude. You have to want to find meaning in your work, and to be willing to work at it.

I love this from Tim O’Reilly’s recent introduction to Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View newsletter:

From When Nietzsche Wept, by Irvin Yalom: First will what is necessary. Then love what you will.

There’s a profound insight there that I’ve tried to live by, long before I read the quote. Life asks many things of us that we don’t want to do. Some of them are distractions, but some of them are necessary. It’s so easy to be full of resentment toward things that we feel are keeping us from our joy. Finding joy in what needs doing is magical. Learning to love the things that are necessary—like daily chores—is the secret of happiness.

For most of us at Forward Partners meaning can be found at three levels:

  • Taking joy in helping founders build their companies
  • Taking pride in their role in building Forward Partners
  • Mastering their craft, be that design, development, growth, talent, back office or investment

Taking insight from Dan Pink’s seminal book Drive and Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design, the final components that bring enjoyment and fulfilment are autonomy (i.e. the ability to control our own work life and schedule) and some time having plain old fun – which is where the beer and ping pong comes in.

Our job as a company is to create an environment which makes it as easy as possible for our people to find meaning at all three levels, provides for autonomy and is fun to work in. Here are a few of the things we do:

  • Manage by objectives
  • Provide regular feedback
  • Back companies that go on to enjoy significant success
  • Be clear about our mission and the contribution we all make to our success
  • Recognise success
  • Celebrate our wins (big and small)
  • Find interesting work for people to do
  • Offer training and development
  • Maximise on-the-job learning opportunities
  • Encourage people to blog, speak at conferences and become recognised experts in their field
  • Recruit and promote people who get on with each other (this is why many companies have a ‘no assholes’ rule)
  • Create opportunities for friendships to build, especially cross team
  • Go out and have fun together every now and again

So far, I think we are pretty good at this, but can definitely do better. We do many of these things well already, but some of them we could do with more conviction. Living our Enjoy the journey value is journey in itself, and to really live it requires constant thought an iteration.

The Dawn of ConstrucTech

By | Startup general interest | 4 Comments

You might have seen that the week before last Balfour Beatty (here) and Mace (here) weighed in on the future of construction. Both are quite radical in the breadth and depth of impact they predict, whilst the technologies they choose are perhaps unsurprising to anyone immersed in the startup ecosystem. The Balfour Beatty piece is more detailed and they predict humanless construction sites by 2050 (which is admittedly a long way off – broadband is less than twenty years old) saying that drones, robots and 3D and 4D modelling will get us there.

Construction is a massive industry with low productivity that hasn’t seen much penetration of tech. Balfour Beatty and Mace clearly see that changing and towards the end of the Balfour Beatty article they herald the arrival of a “constructech” market. Fintech, and more recently proptech and insurtech are startup categories that many VCs and corporates are targeting and I’m guessing they are indulging in a bit of marketing to try and stimulate activity in their own backyard.

I think they will succeed. As noted, construction is a massive market, but it is messy and complicated for startups due to the bespoke nature of most construction jobs and heavy regulation. As technology advances these problems become more tractable, and there are parallels with healthcare and govtech which face similar challenges and are already enjoying more attention from entrepreneurs and investors.

I expect we will see two classes of constructech startup:

  • Startups selling tech enabled services to existing construction companies – e.g. site mapping services using drones
  • Startups leveraging new technologies to compete with existing construction companies – e.g. a new housebuilder which has radically different economics (maybe charging based on usage or building for a fraction of the cost)

This is a common pattern for startups bringing tech to new industries. There are some companies that support existing industry structures and some that disrupt them. When this battle played out in media the disruptors mostly came out on top, but in ecommerce and marketplaces (where we make maybe half our investments) the game is still on – Amazon is a winner, but it remains unclear who will take the rest of the seats at the top table. In financial services none of the biggest companies are recent startups, although that’s partly a matter of scale and large numbers of entrepreneurs are building great businesses.

It’s interesting to think how it will play out in construction. The reasons that startups have struggled historically aren’t going away and it’s hard to do big things in a small way, so I suspect incumbents have more of an advantage than they do in most industries.

 

The pursuit of skill and pace

By | Forward Partners | 2 Comments

Here at Forward Partners we are going through a process of rethinking our values. We have historically had seven, but found that was too many to consistently remember and action, so we recently consolidated it down to four:

  • We execute with skill and pace
  • We get better every time
  • We play the game differently
  • We enjoy the journey

The next step in our process is to flesh out what these mean in a bit more detail. I’ve been thinking about our ‘skill and pace’ value in particular. This is one that was part of the seven, so we’ve had it for a while. We adopted the value originally because we were having problems balancing speed and quality. We were getting conflict between team members who wanted to move fast and those who were concerned that we were compromising too much on quality. Most often this was when we were deciding whether to release products or launch services when bug testing had been done, but not done to death, and before the full suite of unit tests had been written. We realised that we didn’t have a language to discuss the trade-off between speed and quality and so introduced the ‘skill and pace’ value so we could repeatedly ask ourselves if we had the balance right.

As I’ve been mulling over it some more it’s becoming clear to me that another aspect of executing with skill and pace is being comfortable with both the big picture and the detail. The big picture gives you ambition, the need to move quickly and ensures you are on a worthwhile path. The detail is key to hitting your short-term goals and is what enables you to move at speed.

Conversely, people who prefer to live only in the big picture can be insufficiently practical and people who are only comfortable in the detail can find it hard to see past short-term obstacles.