The 20+ Milestones Fuelling Our 2021 | An Annual Review

We don’t want to let 2020 go without taking a moment. Last year was...unique. And despite this, our founders and team managed to hit milestones that would have been world-class sans pandemic.

We’re lucky to be where we are - powering incredible businesses - through one of the biggest, sharpest macro shocks in recent history. So here’s a retrospective. To celebrate what was a great year for our fund and our portfolio companies - and use this as fuel for 2021.

2020 was a year defined by creativity.

We often overestimate our abilities to break free from entrenched ways of thinking. Once we’ve drunk the company kool-aid and figured out what the social currency is, giant iron walls can form in our minds. Creative thought gets confined to ‘what's going to get past senior leadership’ or ‘what will appeal to investors’.

The innovate or die nature of the pandemic blew these walls to smithereens. ‘Thinking outside of the box’ elevated from an annoying thing strategy consultants say, to the new mandate for companies across the board. Founders were forced to throw caution to the wind and turn around new strategies and approaches in a matter of weeks (or less). All whilst carrying the responsibility of continuing to lead their company, furlough and fire, and potentially home-school their kids.

If you’ll allow me to kill a cliche, VC-backed founders didn’t have a choice but to be productive during the pandemic.

So we buckled down to help them through, fully aware that the last thing our founders needed was more pressure from their investors. Natalie helped furloughed and fired employees find new jobs, Katie wrote bulletins and hosted workshops to keep our portfolio abreast of government developments, and Louise, Luke, Matt, Katie and Brendon supported companies with Future Fund applications and ran COVID-19 strategy clinics for the wider ecosystem.

Our concentrated efforts early on in 2020 were just the tip of the iceberg when looking at everything we all managed to achieve over the full course of the year...

Our founders knocked it out of the park.

💰 Apexx closed a deal with ASOS to manage their global payments.

They’ll manage the authorisation, optimisation and processing of transactions made through Asos’ Payments Orchestration Layer across several of their European markets.

🥽 Gravity Sketch won a €2.5m Horizon 2020 grant.

🧑‍🏫 UpLearn doubled their amount of live courses.

A course they built for a big pharmaceutical company resulted in its salespeople outperforming pharmaceutical staff in their understanding of the drugs.

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📈 Ably hired 20 new people, and built up a brilliant customer base including Hopin, Guru and Experity.

👛 CountingUp won the best Banking Provider at the Contracting Awards in November

With judges describing them as “leading in innovation”. (We agree.)

🏠 Ahauz got FCA-regulated.

After a long, hard road Karthic, Joao and “the bank of mum and dad” is finally off to the races.

💊 Heights raised £1m in 20 minutes.

Becoming the fastest company ever to raise £1m in the health and wellness space.

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🌴 Patch's sales increased by 500% over lockdown.

Their user experience was prepped and primed to address the four biggest barriers to e-comm adoption: convenience, experience, trust and advice.

💄 Highr launched (in the UK and US) and got featured in Vogue, Marie Claire, Pop Sugar, and more.

Glamour describes HIGHR as “revolutionising sustainable beauty”, Marie Claire described them as the “future of lipstick”, and Hello as the “talk of the beauty industry”. This is just the beginning!

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🤖 Robin AI assembled an incredible team and landed Clifford Chance as their first enterprise client.

🚗 Drover sold to Cazoo.

Felix’s 100+ team, which is based in London, Lisbon, Paris and Bucharest, will join Cazoo’s team of 800. An amazing result.

📚 Wonderbly hit 6 million books sold.

👶 Rachel at Koru Kids deployed a best-in-class strategy during the height of the pandemic.

In the face of crisis, Rachel and her team were able to accelerate their product to deliver an around-the-clock nanny service, as well as launching a virtual nannying service for existing customers.

🏦 Koyo launched in March and achieved 50% MoM growth.

And they’re raising a £100m debt facility by the end of the year to forge ahead in using open banking to extend credit to the millions of people who have thinner credit histories.

🔧Plyable became a supplier for GKN aerospace.

💻 Aphetor held their first event, coined the ‘influencer olympics’.

Youtube Stars Chunkz (1.5M subscribers) and Yung Filly (900k Instagram followers) hosted Aphetor’s next-gen sporting event with 20 other creators battling it out in the peaks of Snowdonia.

And we worked hard to make an impact.

We…

💰 Invested money and manpower in Phil, Kate, Molly, Flavius and John.

We don't just invest cash. We also unlock access to our in-house team of startup operators - engineers, recruiters, designers, growth marketers to help accelerate progress. (It takes more than money to scale a company.)

Phil Hewinson is on a mission to transform the end-to-end process of finding and building a successful career with Would You Rather Be. Kate started Fair HQ to tackle the challenge of building a diverse and high-performing company culture with data, science and evidence-based insights. Molly launched HIGHR after a 15-year career in beauty, to build the cleanest beauty supply chain in the world. Flavius’ OutThink helps enterprise brands identify and understand their human risk in real-time and prevent data breaches caused by employees. John Hill, founder of Silico, is building a no-code simulation platform that allows users to model their business operations to support decision making and forecasting.

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🌬️ Accelerated portfolio progress by helping them code, design, ship and strategise.

Our studio barely had time to come up for air. Josh nailed the redesign for Would You Rather Be, Anna and Gary coded a social content aggregator for Aphetor and helped Patch launch their product bundles, and Suf and Nicola made 10 new hires for our founders.

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🔥 Launched our own startup.

Forward Advances - a fast, equity-free way to fund your growth - is off to a roaring start, powering the likes of Accountancy cloud, Bedfolk, and Stripe & Stare.

👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 Persuaded 13 brilliant people to come and work with us.

The talent we managed to recruit across recruitment, marketing, engineering, investment and design was next-level. Jared, Hasam, Josh, Bonnie, Emma, Allen, Ade, Brendon, Sam, Dahlia, Nicola, Suf, and Gary - here’s to 2021!

👩‍🏫 Gave 400+ founders hard truths about how to get from idea to series A.

15 speakers from the likes of YCombinator, Monzo, Balderton, Zinc, Appear Here and Koru Kids, shared the hard truths about early-stage company building in a 3-part event mini-series.

✍️ Did a lot of writing.

We wrote about all of the startup’s we’d like to invest in, produced detailed guides gritty topics like on burnout, content marketing, and making your first hires, and dug into the what makes founders like Richard Robinson and Rachel Carrell, brilliant leaders.


Here’s to 2021.

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Shope is a marketer, writer and headshot photographer. As Brand and Content Manager at Forward Partners, Shope executes on our content strategy and works to build our awareness with early-stage founders. Prior to joining Forward Partners she worked at e-commerce and marketplace startups, initially as a content creator at ASOS, before moving onto support Drover and Common Objective with their communications and content. She has a strong interest in consumer brands and sustainability.

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