We first met Nick Woodrow as a potential investor in late 2019 following him achieving an exit and leaving executive life to focus on non-exec work and investing. Nick has participated in our three EIS investments since (soon to be four) and works closely with us as an introducer, on our investment process and on the portfolio management side of our business.
Nick has proved a considerable asset to DSW Ventures – he immediately started to provide valuable insight to the investment team, our founders and his fellow investors. Nick joined our Investment Committee in early 2020 and sits in on some of our investee board meetings. Our Investment Committee is a group of highly experienced current and former CEOs, investment professionals and non-executive directors. The committee meets our potential investee founders, directs due diligence and provides us as investment managers with support to proceed with transactions – Nick is incredibly helpful in providing both strategic and operational analysis and insight.
We’ve asked Nick some tough searching questions (below) about his career and approach to investing – the types of which Emily Maitlis would be proud. Nick is doing well and slowly recovering from the “DSW Inquisition.”
What’s your background and career to date?
I studied Civil Engineering at university then spent 13 years working in the construction industry, for contractors and consultants, before joining and investing in a contract management SaaS business. As COO I supported the growth and international expansion of that business before it was acquired by a major European software company. I continued for two years as the COO of their UK subsidiary and left earlier this year to spend more time with my young family and consider other opportunities in different sectors.
Why did you decide to get involved in investing in early-stage businesses?
Following my own investment and exit from an early-stage, fast growing business I’ve realised that I really enjoy being involved with these types of businesses. I’m not in a position where I can commit to working full time in one of these businesses so investing for me is the next best thing. It’s also great to be exposed to other industries and sectors that I’ve never worked in and understand how they operate and what other investors are looking for in these businesses.
What do you look for when considering a potential investment?
Purpose, product, people. Does the business have a genuine and authentic purpose which the leadership team are passionate about and others can buy into? Is the product/service market leading or creating a new market or niche that hasn’t been exploited? Does the business have brilliant people and competent leadership? Everything else is just fluff or admin!
To what extent do you look to get involved with the businesses in which you invest? How do you look to help founders and their teams?
Most businesses I’ve invested in are led by people who are experts in their fields and surrounded by great people, so they usually don’t need me! I’m happy to get involved if there’s a gap in their expertise or experience that I could fill and I’m also always happy to get involved on one-off occasions when a fresh perspective may be needed from outside the business.
What do you think the government should be doing, if anything, to support growth and early-stage businesses over the next 1-2 years?
The furlough scheme and associated loan schemes have been a lifeline for many early stage businesses. The kickstarter scheme will also be a great benefit to management teams struggling with cash flow and/or funding growth. I also think the income tax incentive schemes are very useful in stimulating investment, especially with the extremely low savings rates currently on offer. The best thing the government could do to support growth of all businesses, but particularly tech companies, is to get a sensible trade agreement with the EU which doesn’t create potential issues with flows of information and personal data. Alongside this there needs to be a shift in education syllabuses from primary to university in providing a technology literate workforce.
Are there any sector(s)/technologies that you will be looking to add to your portfolio in the near future?
Technologies or businesses which are accelerating our ability to deal with climate change are always interesting as I believe these are both essential for obvious ethical reasons whilst also being economically sensible places to invest.
Why did you choose to get involved with DSW Ventures?
You’re local, led by experienced and extremely smart people, providing me with an opportunity to invest locally, learn and network.
What is your experience of our approach to investing?
My experience is that your approach often mirrors mine and some of the things I’ve noted above. In fact, for other investments I’ve asked your view as I believe your investment philosophy is values driven, people focused and based on providing timely funds for businesses looking to sustainable long-term futures rather than any short-term gains. I’ve also been impressed with your passion and engagement for all the portfolio businesses as they face day to day challenges and the current extraordinary business climate.
You are now a (very valued) member of our investment committee – what do you make of that experience?
It’s been a great experience for me as I’m fairly new to investing in early stage businesses and understanding where value and risk resides in these deals. It’s given me a great opportunity to learn from experienced industry experts whilst I’ve also been given plenty of opportunity to contribute and challenge during the process.
What do you do outside of your professional life?
My kids are 4 and 2 so that’s most of my non-working life but I do manage to maintain a season ticket for Spurs and play a bit of vets football myself.
A big thanks for Nick for agreeing to do this and for humouring our shameless self-promotion!