Proven Need

Reading Time Time to read: 5 minutes

The Path to Yes: Getting a place at FP Office Hours

Louise Rix

Investment Associate

At Forward Partners, our main touchpoint with pre-seed founders is our Office Hours. Competition is high, and a well-written application pays off when it comes to beating the odds. The main questions we ask are focussed on: Founding team, market size, and product vision, as well as uncovering the team’s ‘unfair advantage’.

Office Hours is a quick-fire, 15-minute pitch for entrepreneurs with a world-beating idea to get feedback from our investment team... and potentially secure that crucial next meeting. We love meeting enthusiastic people with great ideas that we can get behind.

We’ve shared some of the reasons why founders don’t get through and what they can do to improve their chances. Here, we provide more practical tips on making your application stand out from nearly the 150 applications that we receive each month.
 

Key takeaways

  1. Keep the application short, and plant the ‘hook’ early on (i.e. why people are going to love the product, buy it, or recommend it to each other).

  2. Give a short introduction to the problem, before giving a brief description (max one sentence!) about your solution.

  3. What’s exciting about the market? Is it growing? Is it massive? Or just massively underserved? Don’t be afraid to present some realistic assumptions/numbers.

  4. Without a fully-built product to hang your hat on, think carefully about the vision. Emphasise product-market fit, and what you’ve done to validate the need already.

  5. Tell us about yourself. What makes you as a founder (or as a team), a better place than anyone else out there to make this work i.e. why will you win?

 

Some general advice

When taking your driving test you are told to make all of your signals totally obvious so that instructors can see that you have the requisite skills to be given a driving license. This analogy is helpful when thinking about your Office Hours application - being ultra clear about your abilities as a founder, that you are going after a venture scale market and have a great product idea makes it easy for us to say yes.

To start with, here are some general housekeeping tips:
 

  • We hold Office Hours for Pre-Seed companies: If you’re Seed or late-Seed then please apply via this link.

  • Proof-read your application: A well written answer shows that you’ve taken care and attention over your idea. Ask friends to read it for you too if it helps.

  • Keep it short, (but not too short!) A couple of sentences won’t be enough to convey why your business will win but investors are time-poor and look for the headlines: 250 words per question should give you ample opportunity to get your point across.

 

How do we decide? A Score out of 4

Decisions about deals is somewhat of an art rather than a science but when we review applications we have these four key areas in mind: Founder/s, market, product, and the unfair advantage or ‘X-factor’.  

 


 

Here’s how we break that down:

Founding team: Why you?

This is the chance to tell us about all of the relevant experience you have. If you’re a first time founder that’s no problem, but it’s helpful to know if you have any relevant skills (such as marketing, sales, technical skills or consulting experience) as well as any domain expertise that you can bring to the business.


Founder Scores

0 - A founder with little or no domain expertise and/or other relevant experience in starting companies. (But don’t be deterred - there’s still 3 other points you can pick up)

0.5 - A founder with some relevant domain knowledge or startup experience

1 - A founder with a number of years working at a startup, an entrepreneur who’s exited or has deep domain knowledge or relevant experience.

*Practical tip: We love it when applications include details about the founder/s. It is also incredibly helpful for us if you include your Linkedin URL if you are happy to do so.

 

Market attractiveness: Is it venture scale?

Ideally, you want to start a company because you’ve seen a pain point in a (large) underserved market that no one else spotted yet. Don’t expect the VC will automatically understand this hidden opportunity! Be clear and explain your market size. Putting these numbers down saves us having to do a quick Google search but also makes sure we see the correct numbers.

This is particularly important if you’ve triangulated the market - that is a product touching multiple sectors and therefore the market size is a sum of segments. It is also important for us to consider if there are any big competitors in the space and whether there is room for another big player.


Market Scores

0 - A small market size with high levels of competition

0.5 - A large market with high levels of competition, or a mid-sized market

1 - A large market with little competition (which does occasionally happen), or a nascent, and hence rapidly growing market

*Practical tip: By including your analysis in your application it reassures us that you’ve thought over the proposition thoroughly, are aware of the competition and have deep knowledge of the market. A well structured assessment of the market is a great way to convey the strength of your analysis.


Product vision: What’s the big differentiator?

For pre-seed companies we don’t expect a fully-built product so this is really the ‘idea for a product’. We’re looking for a clear and compelling use cases and description of why it is a pain point. A single compelling use case is often more convincing than how you’re going to address multiple and disparate users.


Product Scores

0 - no clear use case, undifferentiated product,

0.5 - ‘nice to have’ but still not clear what’s fundamentally different

1 - Clearly articulated pain point with an elegant plan on how to solve it

*Practical tip: Avoid simply listing features. If you have one (it’s OK if you don’t!) a link to your website is also helpful.


The X Factor: What’s your unique advantage?

This is by nature harder to quantify but it could be a company addressing a particularly interesting market, riding a significant industry trend, a founder with inside information that is critical to the problem domain, or a network that will be instrumental in the execution of the idea. Needless to say this is the hardest mark to get.

There’s no score here, but when an idea is articulated clearly, investors can spot it instantly.

*Practical tip: Don’t forget to tell us exactly why you think you will win.


Being accepted to Office Hours:

Out of an average of 150 applications, we pick 20 companies with the highest scores (typically they’re above 2.5). Those that are accepted are invited in for a 15-minute meeting with one of the investment team.

The process, if you’re successful in this meeting, will be an invitation in for a first full meeting, usually, with the investor you saw at Office Hours.

We’ve invested in 4 out 47 companies that have come to us via office hours.

 

Further reading:

 



 

Apply for Office Hours

We’re looking for great entrepreneurs with great ideas.

Apply here

Similar Guides