We sat down for a chat with Forward Partners VC, Katie Kim, to hear about Forward Partners’ unique way of operating, what she looks for in a founder and what startup trends are on track for 2020 and beyond.
Forward Partners describes itself as a fund x studio. What does that mean?
We’re active investors – not just as board members but we also provide operational support to help you build your company. One of our biggest differentiators is that we have an in-house studio team of about 15 operators who cover the product side. That means engineers, product managers, and designers, as well as marketing comms and recruitment – everything that an early stage company would need to bring a product to market. Post-investment, we are keen to be hands-on with helping founders execute and reach their milestones. Often times, early stage founders can face difficulty recruiting top talent, so we offer our pre-seed companies office space to sit in-house with us and work with our studio team as if they’re part of their own headcount, whereas our seed companies tend to use us on a project by project basis.
What makes you excited about a startup or a founder?
Typically, it all starts with the founder. Founder, founder, founder, then product and market shortly after. When you can feel the ambition and excitement in a founder and a pitch, it gets you excited. When they back that excitement with data, market research and their own research, that’s even better. Good founders have a great sense of their positioning in the market and reasons for ‘why now’ and ‘why them’.
Are there any businesses or startup trends that you’re currently excited about?
I’ve been curious about Gen Z. They seem to be a mysterious generation and a natural topic in the consumer space, as 2020 is the year they will outnumber Millennials. A microtrend in the consumer space that I’m currently digging into is conversational commerce technology. Not to be confused with customer service NLP chatbots, but a way for e-commerce brands and businesses to interact with online shoppers through private chat – WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram DMs. Text and private messaging tends to be the preferred method of communication in our private lives, so why can’t I make purchases through text? Businesses that adopt chat commerce will have a stronger relationship with their customers. It feels real, transparent and personalized – all important values for Gen Z.
What’s the best way for founders to approach you?
The best way is through a referral, but I also try and make it to as many networking events around the city as I can. If you are a pre-seed company, we hold office hours on a monthly basis, which are 15-minute meetings with a member of the investment team to discuss your business idea in the context of an investment or advice. In the new year, we’ll be holding one sector-specific session per quarter, as well as expanding to five additional regional office hours in Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh. Office hours are a great way to reach us – pre-seed companies can apply through our website. Seed companies can also drop us a line and their pitch deck through the website.
Do you have any advice to share with founders?
For pitching advice, it’s good to have data to back up your claims. Data around market sizing from a top-down & bottom-up approach, customer dynamics, reasons behind your pricing models and so on, will help build your case. Expect to be questioned about the parts of your business that aren’t as built-out or areas you may be struggling with.
Forward Partners are hosting FemTech Office Hours – do tell us more!
Femtech is technology for women’s health – many people get it confused with female-founded companies, but it’s tech that specifically addresses women’s health and wellbeing. One of our Investors, Louise Rix, is a doctor so has a genuine interest in this space and felt like it was an interesting and important area to dig into. She’s written a microtrend article on FemTech which will be up on our blog soon. The femtech-focused office hours are the first in our series of sector-focused office hours and we are excited to be partnering with Octopus Ventures on it.
What do you hope to see more of from the startup world in 2020 and beyond?
Meaningful innovation. It can feel slightly repetitive and monotonous to meet companies wanting to build the Spotify for X, the Instagram for Y or the Amazon for Z. We all know them as successful logos but they themselves were the ones to innovate in their respective markets and subsequently grow to dominate them. I’d like to see fresh ideas backed by brilliant founders looking to disrupt an untapped or traditional vertical. As always, I’d like to see diversity within the VC and startup industries as they continue to grow – it’s looking promising but we’ve still got a way to go.
Read more about Forward Partners here.
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