Quality over quantity on The Equity Kicker

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Robert Scoble is perhaps the greatest blogger of them all, so when I started blogging in 2006 I read Naked Conversations, his guide to blogging. One of his tips was to post every day. At the time we were all reading blogs in feedreaders which we checked every day for updates from our favourite bloggers. I tried them all, but Netvibes was my favourite. At that point in time blogging was in it’s infancy and readers were using feedreaders to keep up to speed with rapidly expanding content, therefore to serve up content in a way which worked for readers it was key to post daily. I also figured that an everyday habit would be easier to maintain than posting on some days but not others.

So I’ve posted pretty much every working day for nearly ten years now.

But the world has changed. When I look in my traffic sources now it’s all Twitter, Facebook, Google and aggregators like Mattermark, channels where posting daily makes much less of a difference. In fact most people are surprised to learn I write that frequently. Twitter is different from feedreaders in that inactivity on my part doesn’t waste screen real estate for my followers. They are equally likely to see my post-tweets if I post daily, twice per week, or even once a fortnight.

In summary, posting frequency no longer effects distribution.

The other thing that’s changed is me. In 2006 I was a newly minted Partner at DFJ Esprit (now DraperEsprit) without the family, fundraising, and fund management responsibilities I have now. Blogging is still a priority for me, but on some days I struggle to find the time to do it justice.

So going forward I’m going to switch to posting twice per week, allowing me to spend more time making sure each post is good. I will also start writing posts in advance so I have time to get feedback before I hit publish. You will be the judge, but I’m hoping these two changes result in a higher quality blog.

This is the first of those posts. Next up will be some thoughts on mutual funds investing in startups and their impact on valuations and the VC industry.

Transport for London’s ‘Private hire proposals’ make me mad

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Many of you will have seen this already, but Transport for London’s ‘Private hire proposals’ are so loaded in favour of protected interests and against consumer choice that I’m cross enough to have a moan here. Hopefully this post will make a small contribution to the debate and increase the chances of a sensible outcome.

There are 25 proposals in total. The five below seem to do nothing for the consumer and are only explainable as an attempt to make Uber less attractive. If they go through 10m+ Londoners will have less choice, wait longer for their cabs and probably pay higher prices so that a small number of taxi drivers can be better off.

How can that be right?

  1. Operators “must provide booking confirmation details to the passenger at least five minutes prior to the journey” – should be a matter of consumer choice, and who wants this when you can have a car in 2-3 minutes?
  2. Companies “must not show vehicles being available for immediate hire either visibly or virtually via an app” – hard to see how this hurts anybody, and again should be a matter of consumer choice
  3. Operators “must offer a facility to pre-book up to seven days in advance” – consumers should be able to decide whether they value seven day advance bookings 
  4. Drivers may only work for one operator at a time – doesn’t seem very fair on drivers to restrict their employment options
  5. There should be “controls on ridesharing in public vehicles” – targets UberPool, a ridesharing service

This list is taken from an article on the

Announcing our investment in Dataloop

By | Announcement, Forward Partners, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’m very pleased to let you all know that we have invested in The announcement went live yesterday.

Dataloop provides infrastructure monitoring for cloud services and they fall into our ‘late seed’ category of investment. That means they are up and running and on a 12-18 month path to their Series A. (Our other category of investment is ‘idea stage’, often with solo-founders.)

The starting point with this one was the team. We got to know David Gildeh, the CEO and one of three co-founders, around this time last year. At that time he was talking about infrastructure monitoring, doing customer development work but had yet to start the company. The first thing we liked was that the team was scratching their own itch. They were coming out of Alfresco where they’d built a custom solution to monitor their infrastructure as they’d moved from an on premise software company to a cloud play. On top of that we liked the fact that David was being very thorough with his customer development work and the fact that Dataloop was to be his second startup (his first was acquired by Alfresco).

From a market perspective we liked the fact that companies everywhere are building their own custom cloud monitoring solutions using open source software – just like David and his team did at Alfresco, and that as cloud penetration increases demand for cloud monitoring solutions is only going to grow.

We kept in touch for the next several months, during which time David incorporated Dataloop with his two co-founders Stephen Acreman and Colin Hemmings, closed their first two customers, created the successful DevOps Exchage meetup, and took Dataloop through the Microsoft Accelerator programme in London. As they came out of that programme they started talking with investors about raising their first round.

We were encouraged by their progress so we dived in deep to develop our understanding of the market. It’s a complicated and deeply technical story, but once we’d wrapped our heads around it we began to get quite excited. Simply put, Dataloop is part of the growing ‘DevOps’ meme that’s arising because infrastructure management is growing in importance and complexity. The underlying drivers are the continuing shift into the cloud, the growing complexity of online services, and the trend towards continuous deployment – all trends with legs. The brittle custom built solutions currently in place are increasingly inadequate for the task and the competing products out there either demand that developers learn new languages or are not the main focus of their companies. We were significantly aided in our understanding by the developers in our team who have been living some of the problems that Dataloop is solving.

A strong team, an attractive market and a good dose of momentum are the key ingredients for a seed stage software investment and Dataloop has those in spades. I’m looking forward to being part of their journey.


Pleased that Scotland is still part of the union

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Scotland votes no


No 2,001,926 (55%)

Yes: 1,617,989 (45%)

Turnout: 84.6%

I don’t write much about politics on this blog but I’m making an exception today because it’s great that Scotland has voted to stay part of the United Kingdom. We have enjoyed remarkable political stability as a single country but as separate countries we could have found ourselves in turbulent times. The risks to Scotland centred around financial uncertainties and the balance of the two to three party system would have tilted uncomfortably to the right in the rest of the UK. Much better the devil we know.

Also worthy of note is the peaceful way this debate has played out. I imagine many parts of the world are looking on wishing that their governments would allow a similarly threatening debate to play out without violence.

Hopefully attention can now turn to building the future in a similarly constructive manner.

Ice bucket challenge

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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been amazing, both as a money raising phenomena and a case study in how quickly memes spread these days.

And so perhaps inevitably my turn came around. I was challenged over the weekend and did it on Tuesday. Watch it below.

I tweeted the video out yesterday to keep the momentum going but I wanted to put it here for posterity.

Big thanks to our Head of Design Jack Oliver for bringing his magic touch to the video.


My interview on FrenchWeb

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Last Friday my friend Steph Bouchet (aka @rougefrog) stopped by our office to interview me for FrenchWeb, embedded below. It’s a good 12 minute intro to Forward Partners, the sort of companies we like, what we do here, and what makes us different. I also talk a little about the current state of the UK startup scene.

There’s a couple of minutes in French about Little Printer and then I’m on from 3.40.

Thanks Steph!

London Calling #12 by frenchweb

Starting an ecommerce company? Please apply to Forward Partners Open Day

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This is a copy of a post my colleage Dharmesh posted on the Forward Partners blog last week.


We are really pleased to announce our second Forward Partners Open Day during London Tech Week on the 17th of June.

Our team are offering a day of their time to work with you and 3 other startups with an aim to give you a meaningful boost forward. We had great feedback from our first open day and we got on so well with one of the companies that we are now exploring whether we can partner with them on an ongoing basis.

We combine investment with a hands-on team of experts that work with our early seed startups every day, so if you need help with marketing, investment, product, tech, design and talent, then we have got you covered. Taking feedback from the first event we will be spending more time diving deeper in a single area with each company to really move the dial.

The chosen startups can expect to leave the day with key action points related to their current challenges and insights into their business that you might not have thought of before. During the last open day we helped startups understand how to navigate the investment journey, understand how to make better product decisions and shared different strategies to acquire early customers.


To apply send us an email at [email protected] and include a bit about yourselves, the startup or idea, your current biggest challenge and your business model canvas. We work with companies from the concept stage so even if you haven’t incorporated your company you can still apply.

Please note, we have a sector focus on the future of ecommerce (in its broadest sense) and we will give preference to startups in this area as we can help more.

The deadline for participation is on the 9th of June and we will be notifying the chosen participants on the 12th of June and the day will be held in our new offices in Hoxton.

Welcome Stylect to the Forward Partners portfolio

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We’re really happy to welcome Stylect to our portfolio. The deal closed a couple of weeks back and was announced on Techcrunch last week: “Swiping is the new liking” now applies to shoe shopping.

Stylect is a shoe shopping app for iOS which employs a Tinder-esque UI on top of it’s recommendation engine to help women find and purchase the perfect pair of shoes. The app launhed last November and now features over 50,000 shoes. One of the exciting things here is that users love swiping – the average downloader has swiped 400 shoes (and rising), with some swiping over 10,000. Each swipe generates a bit of information about the user which is used to power and refine the recommendation algorithm. This is the sense in which swiping is the new liking.

When we first heard about the company we were skeptical. Tinder for XYZ startups are everywhere at the moment and we had the obvious concern that Stylect was little more than a UI gimmick.

The first thing that started to change our minds was the team – Giacomo, Hadi, and Darius. They looked great on paper and one of us had seen them present well so we asked them in for a meeting during which they further impressed us as ambitious, metrics driven, tenacious, and smart. These guys know how to build an ecommerce business. However, the key was the vision – to redefine browsing for mcommerce. Already we can see that many people find swiping more engaging than clicking and scrolling. Add to that the fact that swipes generate far greater volumes of data and you have a mechanism that is better for the consumer and for the retailer. That’s what makes Stylect a high potential business.

Announcing SnapTrip

By | Announcement, Forward Partners | 4 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.46.58

One of the things we like to do at Forward Partners is invest in companies just as they are starting up. That’s what we did with SnapTrip which was literally one man, an idea and a single sheet of Excel when we invested. We loved the man and the idea (the Excel not so much…) and have been excited to help him bring it to life – something which happened with the release of their MVP a couple of weeks back.

The man is Matt Fox and his profile is a great fit for what we’re looking for:

  • He has a great idea  (more details below)
  • He has deep knowledge of his sector
  • He has startup experience having co-founded his previous company PureHolidayHomes
  • He has great personal qualities – he’s passionate, driven, smart, charismatic, humble and tenacious with a clear vision of what he wants to build and the leadership skills required to build it

The idea is to help holiday makers find last minute holidays in self catered cottages. SnapTrip’s opportunity is to own the late availability/discounted end of the market where the competition is limited. This contrasts sharply with the peak bookings end of the market where AirBnB, HouseTrip, HomeAway and a host of smaller players are competing fiercely. (It’s worth noting that most of these companies focus on apartments in metro areas whereas SnapTrip works with rural cottages.)

We’re attracted to this market for two reasons. 1) Nobody is yet focused on helping homeowners to fill out the c40% of their inventory which remains unsold.  2) There is nowhere consumers can go which aggregates all the late availability properties in one place and guarantees the best prices. Neither homeowners or consumers are well served by the piecemeal offerings from existing players whose core business is in the peak periods.

Excitingly, if successful, SnapTrip will grow the market by matching demand for late availability deals with discounted supply. They’ve started with an MVP focused on the Lake District and will soon expand to the rest of the UK and then Europe. This is a big opportunity.

Turning to the business and how we’ve worked together, the first thing to say is that Matt’s customer development work was encouraging. He had tens of conversations with consumers, homeowners and agencies which validated his core assumptions about unsold inventory, willingness to discount, willingness to book late and appetite for discounts and gave him a detailed picture of exactly what he should do to make the business fly straight out of the traps. Initial tests on CPAs and conversion rates have also been very promising.

Secondly, Matt was a sole founder when he joined us. He’s a commercial and operations guy by background and with our assistance in customer development, development, design and marketing he has been able to move extremely rapidly. Now that he is out of stealth mode with a live site we are helping him find a co-founder and build his team out.

Hopefully that gives you a sense of why SnapTrip is exciting and of how Forward Partners works with companies from the earliest stages.

David Norris joins us as Partner

By | Announcement, Forward Partners | One Comment

I’m excited to let you know that David Norris joined us today as my Partner. Our mission is to generate superior returns by making great investment decisions and by being amazingly helpful to our companies. The reason I’m excited is that David is THE MAN to deliver on the second part of that promise. He’s been COO of some amazing businesses, including HouseTrip and LiveBookings, and will now help our founders succeed just as he helped the founders of those companies.

This is how he explained his reasons for joining us:


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.