7 Questions Data and Venture Capital Series: Nic Brisbourne of Forward Ventures

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The 7 Questions Interview Series: Data and Venture Capital

The 7 Questions Interview Series: Data and Venture Capital “The 7 Questions Series” is an investigative content series where we seek out key leaders in a specific industry and/or subject matter expertise area and ask them 7 key questions that inquiring minds want to know in terms of how they view data as part of their investment process. However, there is a twist to these questions: we provide the interviewee with a hypothesis for each question to help frame and set context for their answer.

Data and Venture Capital Series Objectives

The objective of this series is to establish direct connections with venture capital organizations, angel investors and M&A specialists across the globe and ask them the same set of 7 questions regarding their orientation when looking to invest or investing in companies. We want to derive insights from their direct experiences and expertise that will help companies, both B2B and B2C, at all stages of their evolution. We are also curious to see if their answers are similar or different. These interviews will be featured on their website as part of an ongoing series.


Interview with Nic Brisbourne, Managing Partner at Forward Partners

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About Nic:

Nic has 15 years experience in the venture capital industry and prior to founding Forward Partners in June 2013, was a Partner at leading venture capital firm DFJ Esprit.

He has worked and invested in London and Silicon Valley, leading over 25 investments and enjoying a number of successful exits including buy.at (acquired by AOL for $125m) and Zeus Technology (acquired by Riverbed for $140m).

Nic also authors Europe’s most popular VC blog: The Equity Kicker.

The Interview:

Robin Smith: Tell us a bit about you and your firm.

Nic Brisbourne: Forward Partners is an early stage venture firm that helps entrepreneurs with investment, office space and talent. We focus on marketplaces, ecommerce companies and related software in the UK.

Half of our investments are at idea stage and the other half are at seed stage. The founders we back at idea stage come and work with us in our office making use of our team of product people, designers, developers, marketers and recruiters to get their businesses started really fast.

Robin: What types of companies, industries and areas are you investing in today? In the near future?

Nic: We take a highly curated approach to investing, backing around eight of the two thousand plus approaches we receive each year. We look for companies that have magical products or are somehow able to create real ‘wow’ moments for their customers. High quality customer experiences are the bedrock of strong brands and a strong brand is a key asset for ecommerce and marketplace startups.

Personalised book company Lost My Name, real estate marketplace Appear Here and code school Makers Academy are good examples from our portfolio that fit this profile.

Because working closely with our partners is a key part of our model most of them are in London. Proximity to our team makes us more able to help.

Robin: How valuable is data collection to today’s venture capitalist?

Nic: It’s key that startups make good use of data about their business, most of which will come from activity on their site and from their marketing efforts. Step one is to collect the right data, step two is to use it well. Five years ago that was leading edge. Now it’s table stakes.

What gets more interesting is when accumulation of data leads to a sustainable competitive advantage. Personalisation algorithms are a good example. The more data the personalisation algorithm has been trained on the stronger it gets, and stronger algorithms attract more customers, who generate more data and so on. The leader in an industry can get to a runaway position where nobody can catch them because they have more data than anybody else and are gathering more new data each day than their competitors. Google has this position in search, and our partner companies Thread.com and Stylect are building it in their respective fashion niches.

Robin: Does a company’s technology matter when choosing to invest?

Nic: We invest in ecommerce companies, marketplaces and related software companies. Typically they don’t have to develop radical breakthrough technology so what’s important to us is that what they have is fit for purpose. The principle questions we ask are ‘does it work today?’ and ‘will it scale with the company’s plans?’.

Robin: What industries are leveraging technology and data in order to innovate, grow and disrupt? Are there any industries that aren’t leveraging data that should?

Nic: Most industries are making good use of data these days. Many of the interesting business opportunities come either where new data is becoming available, usually through smartphones or cheap sensor platforms. Insurance is a good example. Wearable tech is another.

Robin: Why are some SMBs late in adopting technology? Does this hinder your investment decision?

Nic: We only invest in technology companies and most of our partners are early adopters. It’s unlikely we would invest in a company that was a late adopter. That said, there are good businesses which don’t have technology at their core where it makes sense to wait until new developments are mature, stable and cheap before implementation. Many High Street retailers fall into this category.

Robin: Are you seeing more data centric startups? Might there be more in the future?

Nic: The volume of information in the world is increasing exponentially and the compute power needed to process it is getting cheaper every day. That creates new opportunities to do new things – so yes, we are seeing more data centric startups and there will be more in the future.

The interesting question though is not whether a startup is using data, but what they are doing with it.

About Forward Partners:

Forward Partners are a venture firm based in Hoxton, London. We’re investors in early stage ecommerce companies. If you’re smart and you’ve got a smart idea, Forward can offer you an unfair advantage. Our resident team have both the experience and the proven methodologies to ensure you succeed.  We do more than advise and mentor. We share the challenges of recruitment, acquiring customers, development,, design, testing and analysis.

We’ve already invested in some great companies including: Lost My Name, Appear Here, Hailo, Zopa, Lexoo, Wool and the Gang, Thread, Big Health, Stylect, Makers Academy, Blik Book, DriftRock, Top10, SnapTrip, and Loyalty Bay.

Nic’s Social Outposts:

Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog


Stay tuned for more expert interviews as part of VL’s ongoing 7 Question Series!

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