As VCs and at Forward Partners we’re big on ideas. The best ideas backed by great attitudes and minds are what we look for. There is a huge reverence for ideas and for people who have them: justifiably so. Though it doesn’t seem dissimilar to what people think about great novel writers.
There is a tendency to think that writers come up with a well-articulated, constant stream of pure brilliance. It could be true that creators hit the jackpot the whole time, but I suspect that that happens in a minority of cases.
For the most part, brilliance is a process which if understood well we can increase our chances of coming up with a great business idea.
At this point, it’s probably useful to point out that a great business idea and an idea that’s suitable for venture investment isn’t necessarily the same thing. I’m a little better versed in the latter so let’s talk about those.
When we are assessing the potential of an investment – which for us in many cases is simply an idea – we’re looking for answers to questions that fall under three broad headings: market, product and team.
An entrepreneur who raises successfully will be able to convince us with their answers that there is a good* chance that they will be able to build a business which could grow to a venture scale: £100m exit value within the UK, and preferably far larger. It’s a tough ask. Back to the questions…
With the market, size is an important factor. To foster and sustain a company of the size that we’re hoping for the market needs to be big. This typically means a market size in the £ billions within the UK alone.
This can occasionally be substituted for wallet sizes i.e. slightly smaller markets with businesses earning higher commissions. Beyond size it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of that market, it’s participants, buying behaviours, the competitive environment, the list goes on.
Concerning product we want to see clear, strong use-cases or real solutions to genuine problems backed up by some customer research, perhaps even some offline transactions. With the Team, it doesn’t matter if you are a solo-founder (in fact we actively look for them) What is most important is that you are credible.
It helps to have industry experience and/or entrepreneurial or startup experience. Furthermore it’s important to understand where there are gaps in your skills and in what order they need to be plugged.
Setting out a list of questions then doing some work to answer them so as to substantiate whether it’s a great idea or otherwise may not sound romantic or amazing but it could well be helpful. My bet is that the more you do it, the better the ideas that you take forward will become.