How To Ace Office Hours Like Molly Hart

Luke Smith

Partner + Investor

May 31, 2021
“Everything I do, I back it up with data” 

How did you hear about Forward Partners?

I was searching for VCs that would be relevant at the pre-seed stage and came across Forward Partners on Twitter and went onto apply for Office Hours. 

How long had you been thinking about HIGHR when you applied for Office Hours?

I started thinking about HIGHR on my maternity leave in 2017. I was already aware of all the scary ingredients used by the beauty industry through my work and social media, but having to navigate the safety of products during two pregnancies in the industry made that gap in the market personal for me.  A later breast cancer scare then made me desperate to fill that gap for myself and other women.

Was there a single thing that pushed you over the edge to quit your job? 

When I was working for the biggest beauty company in the world, I came to realise there was so much single-use plastic on the shelves. I asked execs if there were any plans to switch it out, but they told me it wasn’t ‘on brand’ to be sustainable.

That catapulted things for me and helped me realise that HIGHR needed to be both a clean beauty brand and also a market leader in sustainability. I was then inspired to work with a 100% solar-powered factory, find low emission materials and 100% biodegradable fulfilment, as well as find a carbon offset provider to help me calculate our operational carbon.  This in addition to all the work we had done to make HIGHR clean.

What stage were you at when you applied to Office Hours?

I had bootstrapped a prototype with a factory and had tested it myself and with friends. This proved the factory could achieve the same level of quality as you can get with high-performance makeup brands like MAC only with clean, plant-based ingredients. This removed a big element of risk in the business so I felt we were now ready for investment. 

How did you approach the application?

I approached the application in the same order that I would approach a pitch deck, which is giving my background first, some information about the market and the consumer and how we’re solving the problem they have. It didn’t take me that long because I’d already spent a long time crafting my deck and story. I think this is a little bit further down the line than most pre-seed companies but I had quit my job and was focusing full time on the business at this point. 

What advice would you give to founders writing their application? 

You need to really show that you have understood your market. Don’t rest on just your own domain knowledge and career history - use insights and statistics from industry reports and consumer interviews to offer a more rounded view. You also need to know your competitors to explain how you plan to navigate a complex and crowded market.

How did you prepare for the meeting?

I reviewed my full pitch deck, wrote down one note from each slide, and then rehearsed that narrative to make sure I could get it into 15 minutes (with a little time to spare). I also brought a print out of my market size slide that had the market size in the US, UK, and overall category size, as well as the beachhead market size for the US and UK. That really helped make those initial questions around market size easy to manage. I could just point to it on a slide so I didn’t have to memorise the figures. 

How did you approach the meeting itself? 

I first explained what had changed since I submitted the application. I also brought the packaging with me because I had chosen a component. 

As I made it clear that I was seeking investment, not just advice, Nic (Managing Partner at Forward Partners) jumped in quickly with market size questions. Then we moved onto competitors and my background. I didn’t go fully into the detail as it would have taken too much time but I made sure I got across the roles I had had, what I had done in the digital space and all the competitors I had worked for. 

He asked who the leaders were in colour cosmetics and then we talked about the lipstick category. I backed up everything with data and that helped frame the size of the opportunity which is what you want to achieve in that small amount of time. 

My other advice would be to be enthusiastic about what your solution is. I think this helps a lot!

How did the meeting go?

I had prepared for every question with both context and data. I know the beauty industry inside and out and that point was made, coming from within the industry you have access to all the data. 

I also think with anything that can seem kind of creative, having that backed up with data as well helps. For instance, Nic asked me how I chose the shades we’d decided to launch with, it was simple to explain that these shades are not what I as a founder think will sell, but that these are the top-selling shades in the entire industry. I think for an MVP it is really important to show that your product isn’t just a pie in the sky idea, but that it’s supported by research.  

Do you have any advice for founders who are going through the investment process?

Be on call for information. I felt personally a question signalled a pause or hesitation in the process so sharing any data or anything that you can do to help give context and clarify through email is key. I never answered anything off the cuff. You have to make sure everything is researched and well thought through before sending through any communication. 

The other thing I did which I’d recommend, was to send through articles I had used in my own research to help frame the conversation. You want to get your investors up to speed on your market quickly so any materials that you can send help that. As well as the market research pieces I sent I also sent a summary highlighting the most important information from each. 

Find out more about HIGHR here.

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Luke Smith

Partner + Investor

May 31, 2021

Luke joined Forward Partners from REV Venture Partners, a corporate VC, where he was responsible for deal origination, investment due diligence and portfolio reporting. He was previously a consultant with the strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman, where he worked across the retail, aviation, healthcare and FMCG sectors. Luke originally planned a career in science and he holds a PhD in biochemistry. His focus at Forward Partners is on sourcing and executing new investments.