Meet Ella Shen, Investor at Forward.

October 18, 2022

Forward invests in high-growth companies at early stages. Investing early not only means great deals on equity, it means we can roll up our sleeves and get involved right from the start, supporting businesses to build strong foundations for growth.

We specialise in pre-seed and seed stage investments within marketplace, applied AI and Web3 sectors, backing teams and products with promise and momentum. We also provide support right from the start of our investment. This is achieved through our dedicated Studio team who help founders on the ground with expert execution and our investors who support at board level, through strategic advice. 

Our investment team are the engine room at Forward. They uncover outstanding founder talent, deep dive into new trends, analyse the growth potential of the companies we meet and build long-lasting relationships with the founders in our portfolio. In this article, you’ll meet Ella Shen, one of our investors at Forward.

Tell us a little about your career to date? 

I graduated with a dual degree in Information Technology and Informatics with a focus on human-machine interaction and Philosophy, specialising in metaphysics. I started my career working in sell-side finance in New York and stayed there for most of my career until I went to Cambridge for my Master of Finance. From there, I made the move to buy-side venture capital focusing on early-stage founders and found a home in London.

What made you want to work at Forward?

Forward's culture for sure. Selecting an early-stage VC firm with a solid portfolio and a strong fundamentalist approach were important factors for me, but the most challenging part of the search was for a fund that had the right cultural fit. I wanted somewhere I would be happy and excited to walk into every day and somewhere that aligned with my values. Forward's progressive thinking, analytical and critical approach to assessing deals, and clear dedication to its founders bring together all the best ingredients. It's rare to find a company that cares as much about its people. The opportunity to work alongside veterans in the VC space has also given me a safe space to grow and Forward's philosophy makes room for an ever-evolving way of opening up new perspectives. The office snacks and Thursday pints aren't half bad either!

What technology sectors are exciting to you right now?

Blockchain technology fascinates me from a political, ethical, and programming perspective, and it's an area of tech that is still very much in the making, making it compoundedly more exciting. The number of talent and brains it attracts continues to fuel its fierce momentum.

Politically, blockchain decentralisation opens up an avenue of self-organisation and human coordination that is as revolutionary as the concept of countries itself (i.e. The Network State as detailed by Balaji Srinivasan). Ethically, blockchain provides equitable access opportunities for all populations including the most disadvantaged to participate and earn (though the prices of certain entry points have become problematic i.e. cost of energy, equipment, and cryptocurrencies; blockchain communities are aware and actively solutioning). Furthermore, on ethics, blockchain stems from the principle that we as individuals should not need to compromise the privacy and ownership of our data and the critical digital assets we generate. And of course from a programming perspective, in a nascent universe where anything is possible and we are free to let our imagination run untethered, it's hard to resist the beckon of intellectual curiosity to open the door. We live in a time where the world awaits us at our fingertips. I invite everyone to participate in any or a few blockchain networks of their choosing.

What do you think makes a stand-out founder?

A founder who truly stands apart from the crowd has grit, passion, and discernment. They have passion in their focus area, grit to see the project through, and discernment to accurately tune into market trends, situations at work, and themselves. The ability to continuously achieve growth relies on these qualities which will push both the founder and the business to consistently improve and ultimately succeed.

One more quality that feels underrated but noteworthy is the ability to be transparent and ask for help. No one is going at this alone nor is expected to and great founders will hire well and lean on their advisors as appropriate.

Do you have any advice for founders looking to secure funding from Forward?

Whether it's securing funding from Forward, or from any other VC, it's important to understand the fund's investing style and identify critical attributes/markers the fund is looking for in their investments. Given the short amount of time founders have to pitch, being prepared with multiple lengths of pitches, hitting highlights about the business the fund is particularly interested in, and establishing a good relationship with the investor during the meeting, are all key to advancing the discussion for the round. That being said, remember it's always a two-way street and this will give indication if the fund is right for both the founder and the fund.

Who's making waves in the Forward portfolio? 

Our portfolio company Plyable is a quiet builder in a space that most wouldn't consider the sexiest, but it's a business with impressive commercial traction especially given the market turbulence during the pandemic. Despite strong headwinds, Plyable's CEO Martin led the business into a period of significant growth more than doubling revenue in 2022 from 2020-2021. Plyable is already one of the world’s largest composite tooling marketplaces with clients such as Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing. Most recently the business has pulled together a £3.2m seed extension round with Maven as lead. We are both proud and staunchly optimistic about the waves Plyable will continue to make within its domain.

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October 18, 2022