Category Archives: Uncategorized

A common investor mistake: imagining you can fix a company

By | Uncategorized | One Comment

I just came across a post that Hunter Walk wrote last May titled Five Mistakes New VCs Make. Number three is a peach, and isn’t just restricted to new investors:

3. Imagining You Can “Fix” a Team/Product/Market

New VCs, especially those with an operating background, can see a company for what they want it to be rather than what it is. They use their own brain to fill in the blanks on an opportunity versus really understanding how the founders think. They see that the product is a little raw but imagine that if they invest and spend a few hours a week with the team, it’ll be okay because they can fix it!

Perhaps the most common flavour of this mistake is investing in a company with a fantastic market opportunity and a team they don’t fully believe in. It’s especially easy for thesis based investors to make this mistake when they find a company that perfectly fits their thesis. The usually secret plan is then to fix the the team with a couple of key hires.

In reality the only person who can fix a company is the person who is running it. Investors can help, and I certainly like to think that we do, but the key is that the founder knows the gaps and solicits assistance. If that’s happening then what we have is a company working to overcome it’s challenges and there isn’t really anything to fix.

 

Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans

By | Startup general interest, Uncategorized | No Comments

We’re walking personality machines but computers beat us at our own game

Michal Kosinski, Computer Science Professor at Stanford

Kosinski wrote these words in a paper which describes a study which found that computers processing Facebook likes are better at predicting personality than subjects’ colleagues, family, and sometimes even than the subjects themselves.

The study itself was not terribly complicated going on. Kosinski, Wouyou and Stillwell correlated answers to a personality test with Facebook Likes and used that to predict the personality traits of others.

Something interesting came out though, which is that computers were more intelligent than humans in a narrow but significant domain. The key to success was data – both access and ability to process – and computers will have increasingly more of these as time passes.

Ray Kurzweil and others have predicted that computers will comprehensively pass the Turing Test at some point in the next decade and this study offers a glimpse of how that might happen.

Making Forward Partners a company we are proud of: Our culture

By | Forward Partners, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Forward Partners is a venture firm, but the size of our startup team and the way we support our partner companies makes us very different from conventional venture capitalists. One of the exciting aspects of that for me personally is that if we are going to deliver on our mission of delivering amazing help to amazing startups we need to think of ourselves as a company that attracts and retains great people, rather than a partnership of investors.

Firstly, we offer a promise of inspiring work – the chance to have a hand in some amazing startup success stories, to touch the lives of founders and their employees in a very positive way, and to enjoy an unparalleled learning opportunity.

But secondly, it’s important that Forward Partners is a great place to work. To that end we’ve spent a lot of time over the last six months thinking about the sort of company we want this to be and the things we look for in ourselves and our colleagues. Last week my colleague David Norris published our Culture Deck (embedded below) and wrote a great post detailing our journey up to this point.

It’s been an interesting ride, and we are much stronger already for having been on it. Having a clear sense of who we are is immensely powerful. The journey doesn’t stop though. Culture doesn’t live in a deck or a set of values, it lives in the actions and decisions we take every day, and every week we ask ourselves if there are things we could do differently that would make us more like the company we want to be, as described in the deck below.

I’m writing all this partly for the benefit of prospective partners who can now get a better feel for who we are and what we are like to work with, and partly for entrepreneurs everywhere who want to go on a similar journey. At many startups codifying culture never makes the top of the priority list, I think largely because it’s hard to do well and because the benefits are intangible. Those benefits are real though, and having a great culture should be viewed as an execution challenge equivalent to having a great product or great sales and marketing. We started our process by identifying the archetypes we relate to (explorer and sage, represented by Indiana Jones and Yoda, hence the whip and the light sabre) and then went from there to our values. I think that’s a good process that other firms could copy, and which is explained in more detail in David’s post.

Ecommerce discovery on mobile – no apps?

By | Mobile, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

It’s been troubling me recently that at first glance the trend towards mobile and the trend within mobile towards apps mitigates against startup ecommerce companies. Amazon is one of the first apps I download whenever I change phone, but it’s the only ecommerce app that I have, and that’s because Amazon is the only place I shop frequently enough to be bothered to download an app. I’m not the best example customer because I don’t shop much, but generalising the problem I think there aren’t many categories of ecommerce where the interaction is frequent enough to merit an app. Grocery shopping is a weekly event for most people and that merits an app, and shopping for shoes is a monthly endeavour for many people, hopefully frequent enough for our portfolio company Stylect to prosper, but most shopping isn’t like that.

So it was interesting to read a great post from Intercom.io this morning about the End of apps as we know them. It’s one of the bests posts I’ve read in a while, largely because I think they may well have mapped out how mobile services will be designed in the future. The quick summary is that they believe engagement and interaction will shift from within apps to within interactive cards in a notification or ‘Google Now like’ stream. It’s a long post, but if you are involved with apps or mobile design you should definitely go read it (I linked to it twice to make it easy for you).

The idea that we will stop opening apps and live within a stream of cards requires quite a headshift, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Having pages of apps is highly inefficient and reminds me of browsing the web in Yahoo or AOL days – there has to be something better and a highly personalised and contextual stream of interactive cards sounds like a good answer.

Ecommerce discovery would then be through the cards of other services. As an example, maybe you find out about Stylect from within a Twitter card and then agree to receive regular cards direct from Stylect – that could be by downloading an app which sits in the background barely seen. Search will still play a role, but maybe a greater percentage of stuff we want is finding us rather than the other way around.

Getting discovered then requires getting a presence in cards, and to me that feels like social media advertising rather than search advertising. Perhaps unsurprisingly this muted shift from web to cards might be bad news for Google and good news for Facebook, Twitter, and whoever’s next.

Finally, for all this to work the personalisation and contextual targeting needs to be great. The cards need to be good enough that we want to read them. That’s different from some of the irritating notifications I get today.

“When the train of history hits a curve, the intellectuals fall off”

By | Startup general interest, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

When the train of history hits a curve, the intellectuals fall off

Karl Marx

Vinod Khosla wrote an article yesterday about the coming impact of artificial intelligence. In the final paragraph he uses the above quote from Karl Marx (one of my favourite philosophers) to make the point that history might not be a good guide for what’s going to happen next.

Let me explain.

Automation from artificial intelligence and robotics puts up to 40% of developed world jobs at risk over the next couple of decades. When large numbers of jobs have been wiped out in the past new jobs have been created to take their place. The transition might have been painful, but it happened without too much disruption.

This time round it might be different. History might not be a good guide because for the first time the old jobs might disappear much more quickly than new jobs can be created. Or, and this is worse, for the first time robots and computers might become better than people at whole classes of jobs and the jobs may never come back. That’s the scenario that Khosla raises.

Another thing that’s new is that we live in a global economy. Capital and people are mobile now, particularly wealthy people. As a result, national taxation systems are no longer effectively able to redistribute wealth.

Unless we do something I think we are looking at a future of high unemployment and increasing wealth inequality. At the very least that’s a plausible scenario, and it will be dangerously unstable.

As Khosla says, we may well need a new type of capitalism.

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 Dataloop.io. 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.

 

Don’t let your startup fail for a preventable reason

By | Startup general interest, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

CBInsights analysed 101 startup post mortems and found the following reasons for failure:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 15.51.02

Many of these can be prevented with discipline. My friend Stephen Allott who was CEO of Micromuse, a UK startup that peaked with a $3bn valuation on NASDAQ, once described managing a startup as a process of identifying problems, putting a box round them and then finding and implementing solutions. Taking that approach it is possible to avoid failing for many of the reasons on this list.

E.g. failing because the team isn’t right is preventable in most cases. It’s difficult, because it takes discipline to look at team questions thoroughly and real courage to address issues when they arise, but discipline and courage are two of the things that separate great entrepreneurs from the rest.

Going further down the list, poor marketing, ignoring customers and losing focus are all also questions of discipline and execution.

Going back to the top, even failing because there is ‘no market need’ shouldn’t really happen. Taking the ‘identifying problems’ approach I described above you would make establishing market need the number one priority. That puts you in the mindset of testing demand before you put much effort into building a company, and if it turns out there is no market lead it feels more like an experiment that didn’t yield the result you hoped for than a failed company.

The big take away here is to be structured and deliberate about the way you build your business and to face the hard problems first.

Latest Google X project – Project Wing: delivery drones

By | Startup general interest, Uncategorized | No Comments

Delivery drones, aka Project Wing, is the latest project to be announced by Google X, the Google department that houses many of their most exciting projects including self driving cars, Project Loon and Google Glass. As you can see from the video below they are using a hybrid plance/helicopter design that takes off vertically and then rotates to fly like a small plane. The payload is winched down to the ground from a couple of hundred feet. This is very different from the equivalent project at Amazon which uses a quad copter design that lands at the delivery site.

I like the way they are focused on the user experience as well as the technical challenges. This from  The Atlantic:

Sergey [Brin] has been bugging me, asking, ‘What is it like? Is it actually a nice experience to get this?

Apparently the experience is very cool. The delivery drone hovers in the sky above you and then winches down the delivery before gliding away. It’s optimised for rural delivery though, and I’m not sure how the winch down would work in cities with tall buildings and limited outdoor space. The other interesting fact is that the drone is limited to a 1.5kg payload.

Making money from apps is HARD – some data

By | Mobile, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 17.44.29

As you can see from the chart above only 3% of mobile app developers are making more than $100k per month/$1.2m per year. Assuming the same power law applies as monthly revenues scale further it’s a fair guess that only 3% of that 3%, i.e. 0.1%, are making $1m+ per month or $12m+ per year. That’s one in a thousand making enough to be interesting as a VC backed startup. Not great odds.

And it’s getting worse. The latest news is that app downloads are decreasing. The average Brit has downloaded 1.8 apps to their phone, down from 2.3 a year ago and 31% of smartphone owners have no third party apps on their phone at all (up from 20% last year).

The trends show that developers are still increasingly favouring apps over web technologies, but I’m thinking that might change soon. Maybe it will become easier to make money on the mobile web than from apps. It doesn’t seem like that’s a high bar.

The chart above came from Vision Mobile State of Nation Q3 2014 which you can download for free here (registration required).

 

 

Snaptrip case study – Solo founder hypothesis in action

By | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My partner Dharmesh Raithatha wrote the post below on the Forward Partners blog earlier this week. I’m reproducing in full here because it’s a great explanation of our solo-founder hypothesis and how we work more generally.

—————————-

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 10.24.20

Are you a solo founder with an idea? We believe that we can help you create a successful e-commerce company better than anyone else. Here’s a case study of how we’ve helped Snaptrip.

HOW IT STARTED

Snaptrip started as an idea, an excel spreadsheet and a passionate founder called Matt. We met Matt for a casual coffee and the chat quickly turned into a follow up meeting and subsequent investment.

Matt was a second time entrepreneur who had a wealth of experience in the holiday lettings industry. His hypothesis was that consumers were moving towards last minute bookings and there was a gap in the market.

With no team and no technical expertise Matt was planning to find a team and build out some product before starting to raise some seed money. Our unique model allowed him to get started straight away.

USER RESEARCH

We help founders develop a deep understanding of the problem so that they don’t have to rely on gut alone.

We worked with Matt to design interview questionnaires and coached him on interviewing technique. More importantly, the team paired with Matt throughout this understanding phase to share the insight. Talking to customers doesn’t seem very difficult but learning how to intuitively ask open questions, deviate from a script and synthesise the information gathered takes practice.

Our neutrality also provides a nice counterweight to a founders confirmation bias.

THE PROCESS OF GOING OUT AND REALLY UNDERSTANDING THE USERS NEEDS AND PROBLEMS GAVE ME ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE IN THE CONCEPT AND WAS INVALUABLE FOR THE SHAPING OF THE PRODUCT AND OFFERING. IF I MEET ANYBODY WHO IS STARTING A COMPANY NOW THAT IS NOT UNDERTAKING THE PROPER VALIDATION, I TELL THEM THEY’RE MAD, NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE IDEA IS! – MATT FOX

CONCIERGE MVP

The Concierge MVP means taking care of initial customers with the attention that a personal concierge would provide at a top hotel. It allows you to launch with a minimal product and provide an amazing service to your early customers while learning even more about their needs and wants.

Most of our early seed companies have used the Concierge MVP to accelerate insight which have led to better business and product decisions.

Matt really embraced this and we put his phone number at the top of the site and really encouraged customers to phone or use livechat to get in touch. Snaptrip is a weekend and evening business so the demands on your personal life can be quite high.

The beauty is that you get  real transactions with a minimal product and customers who are ecstatic with the service provided.

MATT AT SNAPTRIP DID AN AMAZING JOB TRYING TO FIND US SOME LAST MINUTE ACCOMMODATION IN NORTH DEVON. THE ACCOMMODATION LOOKS STUNNING, A PERFECT LOCATION OVERLOOKING WOOLACOMBE BEACH, LOOKING FORWARD TO A RELAXING 5 DAYS IN MY FAVOURITE PLACE. THANK YOU SO MUCH MATT, I WILL DEFINITELY BE USING YOU AGAIN AND WILL RECOMMEND TO MY FRIENDS. – TRUSTPILOT REVIEW.

THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN FOUNDER AND TEAM

With our investment studio model we are covering new ground so how we best work with founders is something that we think about everyday.

For example, will the founders rely on us too much and will it impact follow on investment for the companies?

So far we haven’t found this to be an issue. In the early phases the founders soak up as much as they can from the experts in the room and as the business grows they need less and less of our support.

The timing often depends on previous experience, key hires and the growth of the business. But it has happened in every single instance.

In the early phases Snaptrip would often have the whole team working on the company. Whereas as hires come on board and the product develops our involvement has scaled down to more of a mentoring role and for tactical projects.

FINDING A COFOUNDER

Our solo founder hypothesis doesn’t mean we don’t believe that having a strong founding team increases the chances of success. We definitely do, we just think that for solo founders our model leads to better outcomes and opens up a larger talent pool.

Our talent team was able to source a list of potential candidates and Matt approached them directly for a chat. At this stage Matt had funding (albeit tranched), a solid understanding of the problem, a product and early transactions.

This gives massive credibility and opens up a much wider list of interested candidates.

Matt interviewed a number of candidates and the ones he liked we also interviewed to give him a sanity check.

Matt now has a awesome technical co-founder in Dan who has relevant industry experience from 8 years at HomeAway and post IPO left to run his own holiday lettings startup.

When Dan joined as co-founder the dynamic definitely changed for the better. Snaptrip felt more solid as a team of founders who both had sector expertise. It also meant that some members of our team could pull away from the day to day startup work and move to giving strategic advice while we focussed on the newer companies.

Snaptrip works better with 2 founders, with both Matt and Dan fighting for each other 24 hours a day.

PREPARING FOR FOLLOW ON FUNDING

Snaptrip is nearing the end of its 12 months and our investment team is helping Matt prepare his deck and introducing him to potential investors.

We believe that Snaptrip has a really great future ahead of it and we are really excited that we could help Matt get his idea off the ground.

Get Social

Blog Newsletter Sign Up

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz