Meet the investor: Nic Brisbourne, Forward Partners

With 15 years VC experience, Brisbourne discusses the future of e-commerce, the rise of 'hyphen-tech', & why he values founders with self-belief

Firm: Forward Partners
Name: Nic Brisbourne

Where are you based?

We’re based in a large, open plan office which we call the ‘Partners Studio’, just off Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout. It’s a great, collaborative space which houses not only the Forward Partners team but also some of the partner businesses which we’ve invested in.

Our partner businesses tend to ‘move in’ with us for their first 12 months; it means that our team of experts across marketing, product design and development can work really closely with them to shape their product.

Working alongside us in our ‘Partners Studio’ also helps our partner businesses avoid London rents for their first year in business, which provides much needed breathing space for them to grow whilst avoiding the overheads traditionally associated with starting a business.

What kind of investor are you?

We’re a VC Platform, meaning that we not only invest funds but also provide our partner businesses with world class help in the form of our expert team. We guide each partner business that we invest in through The Path Forward; our proven methodology for turning a great idea into a valuable business over the course of 12 months.

We’re passionate about working with great people and entrepreneurs who have disruptive ideas that can answer a problem or challenge faced by consumers or small businesses.

It’s perhaps a cliché to say it but we always look for amazing people as well as incredible business ideas – it’s important that a great start-up business is led by a strong leader with a clear future vision and a comprehensive plan.

What kind of deals do you finance?

We invest in transactional businesses in fashion, healthcare, travel, fintech and lifestyle idea stage and seed stage.

Throughout my time working in Silicon Valley and in London, I knew that ultimately I wanted to concentrate on investing at the earliest stage.  For me, it’s where the most exciting potential is and allows me to meet and work alongside incredibly inspiring entrepreneurs looking to change the world with big ideas.

I feel fortunate to be doing a job which allows me to interact with the next generation of e-commerce leaders on a daily basis and help them to successfully execute their ideas.

What kind of person do you invest in?

Primarily we invest in entrepreneurs who are passionate about their idea and about innovating in the e-commerce space.

Forward Partners exists to support and nurture the next generation of e-commerce giants, so it’s always incredible to meet an entrepreneur who not only has a great idea but who is also a great leader and will be a fantastic person to work with.

One of our most exciting recent investments is Live Better With, a healthtech e-commerce website and community. Live Better With has been created to provide the products and advice needed to make life more comfortable for people living with the side effects of cancer treatment. Live Better With's founder, Tamara Rajah, is a prime example of the type of talented entrepreneur we look to partner with, she is passionate about her product, knows her market emphatically, is ambitious to scale her business and is a strong leader.

How do you source prospects?

We have a team of investors who are talking to prospective partner businesses everyday to learn about their companies and to assess whether there is an opportunity to work together.

Our investors know that the true potential of a prospective partner business is determined by meticulous research, extensive knowledge of the market and perhaps most importantly of all, knowing that a business has the right person at the helm to drive it forward.

In addition to this, we also run several monthly events which enable us to engage with an ever growing community of talented and aspiring entrepreneurs. These events include our monthly Office Hours sessions in which entrepreneurs seeking funding are invited into our office to ‘speed pitch’ an idea in 15 minutes to our team.

We also run a monthly speaking event called Forward Partners Live at which we host an inspirational entrepreneur or senior leader from a successful e-commerce business, to share their experiences of building their enterprise with our audience. This also offers a great opportunity to network and discuss ideas with the many aspiring entrepreneurs who attend.

What is your ideal investment?

For me, it has to be a business which not only has significant growth and returns potential but is also innovating and disrupting in a significant market, answering a fundamental issue or irritant faced by consumers.

It’s also about something which will enable our team to get involved from the earliest stages and help a founder build incredible foundations to facilitate a strong future growth trajectory. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an entrepreneur and their business grow from the early days to the point where they’re running a hugely successful operation and knowing that our investment can help facilitate that.

In my ideal investment there would also be an abundance of passion and belief from the founding team – it’s that element which drives businesses and investments forward and takes a good business to the next level.

What are your USPs?

We help more than other investors, most notably through our team of functional experts who work alongside our partners businesses to help them execute with speed and focus. We are also the earliest investor in start-ups in the UK and work with founders from the very first stages of an idea.

What are the hot sectors?

I recently came across the term ‘hyphen-tech’ which references the burgeoning trend for start-ups to align themselves to a particular established industry, which struck me as particularly exciting.

Examples of hyphen-tech businesses include Appear Here (property), Thread (fashion), Zopa (finance), Live Better With (health) and Patch (homewares). In all these cases the founders have to work closely with existing players in their industries making ‘hyphen-tech’ an accurate term.

I think these trailblazing hyphen-tech businesses are an indicator of things to come, particularly for London and New York. Both cities are fortunate in the sense that they’re rich polycultures, each with longstanding history and provenance in a cross-section of vibrant industries, including  fashion, finance, retail and advertising.

Much has already been made of the potential for healthtech and edtech and these are sectors which will clearly make a significant impact over the next 18 months – they’re both areas with an abundance of room for growth and innovation, which is exciting.

We’re watching each of these sectors with great interest currently and are already working closely with partner businesses who are driving these fields forward.

Three things a company should be able to offer an investor?

Any company hoping for VC backing should be able to show:

  1. That the market they want to operate in is significant – obviously market potential must be conducive to strong returns
  2. A believable strategy to dominate their chosen market
  3. A clear plan to get to the next level within the funding horizon – usually 12-18 months

What is the cardinal sin when looking for investment?

To forget that investors are human beings too! Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of forgetting this as well as getting a handle on a business or idea, we also want to get to know the person behind the idea. VCs as much as any other business, value working relationships and working with good people so an amiable, straight-forward approach goes a long way!

Another tip is to be well prepared – in a pitch scenario you want to see hunger and utter determination from a prospective founder, so someone who comes unprepared or with a sloppy proposal is an instant red flag.

What continuing involvement do you like in an investment?

By the nature of our business model, we’re usually very involved on an ongoing basis with our partner businesses, particularly in the first years of their enterprise, as we guide them through the challenges of starting up.

I also sit on the board of many of our portfolio companies, so remain involved in terms of advising on strategy and future growth plans. As an early-stage investor, it’s always a very special moment when I get to see a business and founder which Forward Partners has helped at their inception, go on to achieve huge success, those moments never get old.

What has been your best performing investment to date?

By their very nature, each investment is different and offers its own unique successes and challenges. I enjoy that across our 33 partner businesses, we face different challenges and goals on a daily basis ranging from helping a business to scale globally to thrashing out an idea at it’s very earliest stage and building it into a strong start-up.


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