Robot salads, resilience and Web 3: Founders Factory’s Nick Le Fevre on the next next

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes 

What you’ll learn from reading this: 

  1. How identifying everyday problems helps you create innovative product ideas 
  2. Why real-life experience trumps professional experience — meaning the ideal founder might not look like the ones you’ve seen before 
  3. Why remaining geographically open-minded is key to startup success 

Nick Le Fevre is the director of partnerships at Founders Factory, a London-based company founded by the bright minds behind lastminute.com, which supports entrepreneurship by uniting corporate partners and early-stage founders to help solve problems.

We’re particularly excited about Founders Factory since we’re collaborating with them on Venture Builders (more on that here — and later in this article). But we wanted to find out from a man who knows: what makes a great founder? What trends are set to shape tech? And what makes Founders Factory so special? 

Hi Nick! Can you tell our readers who maybe aren’t familiar with Founders Factory what your special sauce consists of? 

Nick: We support fantastic entrepreneurs in building really big businesses that can change industries. How do we do that? A few different ways: by bringing together a full-time team of expert startup operators, who cover functions like engineering, design, products, data science, fundraising, PR, alongside networks, capital and leading corporate partners from whom startups can get insights and access to scale. 

We think bringing these elements together can create really strong advantages for any early-stage founder in terms of building a company. It gives entrepreneurs access to the assets and unique advantages of a large organization. Hopefully, by bringing those two groups together, they can build impactful companies. 

Sounds impressive. But can you give me a nuts-and-bolts example of how that might work? 

Nick: Of course! There’s a fantastic business called Guider that’s actually a great example as it was built to tackle a shared challenge that we saw across a number of our corporate investors.   

Employees are undoubtably an organisation’s greatest asset, and it felt like a great deal of knowledge was unintentionally kept siloed and disconnected.  Almost every business we had spoken to had tried a mentorship programme, but almost all of them fell short of what they had hoped to achieve.   

With this in mind, we spent 3 months testing, conducting market analysis and validating potential solutions with our corporate partners before agreeing there was a huge opportunity to solve, not just within our corporate investors, but across a huge number of companies globally.   

We then worked to find an exceptional entrepreneur in Nick Ross. He deeply understood the problem and brought a unique perspective from his time as part of the original team behind global employee platform, Perkbox.   

We supported Nick through a 12 month ‘build’ and ‘accelerator’ programme with deep operational support, cash for operational runway, and also access to corporate partners to rapidly test and learn.   

Fast forward 3 years, and Guider has built a brilliant AI-powered platform that enables mentoring and coaching across organisations in a novel way. They are live with many large organisations, including 4 of our corporate investors, and have enabled over 1.5 million employees to access mentoring.   

I think it’s a great example of bringing together top entrepreneurial talent alongside corporations in a structure that enables the business to flourish with startup speed and scale. 

So effectively, a big corporate comes to you and says, we have a problem, and you give founders or entrepreneurs access to real problems and they develop startups or ideas to solve that? 

Nick: Yes, exactly. I guess it’s kind of a collaboration — we ask ourselves, what problems do we see in the market that exist not just for our corporate partners but also exist for everybody? So, we bring an investor lens alongside that corporate strategy. 

hand planting corn seed of marrow in the vegetable garden with sunshine

It’s a great approach. How did Founders Factory come up with this idea? 

Nick: We have a really strong founding team, Brent Hoberman,Henry Lane Fox and George Northcott who have a long history of building successful startups like lastminute.com, made.com and many others but perhaps most importantly a lot of experience seeing how immensely challenging that founder journey can be.

They essentially asked themselves, if we were to build these companies again, what functions or support would be invaluable for really top founders? We built Founders Factory from these first principles, asking ourselves how we could support really amazing entrepreneurs and offer operational support, funding and unique access to the world’s top corporates.  

Speaking of amazing entrepreneurship: What marks someone out as an excellent founder? 

Nick: I think one of the key qualities is resilience. The ability to weather challenges and essentially fight through what will be very difficult situations. So, how can we make sure we have the right incentives for those individuals? But also, it’s important to find people who are going to battle through and find solutions to problems. What we often hope to accomplish are things that haven’t been done before, so it’s also important to find individuals that can handle that uncertainty and can even thrive in it.  

The other key element is thinking through who have the right lived experiences to solve that problem, they might not look like the sort of people investors have invested in previously. With many challenges facing the world today, the people who feel these problems most acutely, might not be the ones who occupy the top position at venture funds. If we can uncover the people who are best placed to solve these problems, we can coach and prioritise the individuals with tenacity and a unique view on the world.  

Do you have an example of a person like that? 

Nick: We’re backing phenomenal entrepreneurs from Lynn Anderson who has founded a purpose driven media company called The Know championing diverse perspectives, to Carina Cunha who has created Satori Health, a psychedelic supported mental health startup built from the learnings of her own very personal journey. We’ve supported hundreds of entrepreneurs, each bringing their own lens to the problem they’re solving. We’d love to support many more points of view to solve even more problems. 

Two confident business man shaking hands during a meeting in the office, success, dealing, greeting and partner concept

It sounds like an exciting project. What other success stories has Founders Factory witnessed over the last few years? 

Nick: Success can come in different forms; we’re trying to build really ambitious businesses and some of those businesses might look really successful at one stage and others might blossom at an entirely different stage.  

One of the most exciting to me personally is a really interesting company we built in our AI sector looking at the question of how to scale food production and to do so in a personalized way. There is a nutrition problem, different people need different types of food but also a scale problem: we need to feed more mouths! So we helped launch a company in the Studio called Karakuri which automates food production through robotics and AI. They are working very closely with Ocado, one of the leading players in the grocery space.  

When you say automated food production, what does this mean?  

Nick: So, for example, how do you create personalised salads at scale for an entire workforce? Fast food is by its very nature quick and easy whereas creating salads based on nutritional needs can be complex and expensive. Karakuri is quite astonishing in that it’s created a robotic system that feeds a workforce at scale underpinned by a new operating system for food production. 

It’s nice to hear such optimism about tech in an era which can sometimes feel a bit doomy on the subject. What do you think are the most gamechanging tech trends of the present? 

Nick: The emergent space of generative AI I find incredibly fast moving and very exciting. The idea that you can prompt an AI system to generate new content, whether written word or new images and videos that didn’t previously exist, could create a whole host of new use cases in the creative world or even beyond that.

We are still right at the beginning of this technology and it’s a whole new toolset to apply to existing problems. There’s probably an equally large opportunity in mitigating the potential dangers of this technology!  

Image: Alexander Sinn/Unsplash

I’m also still very excited by what can be built in Web3. The internet transformed our lives in incredible ways by making everything available to anyone, all at once. One element of Web3 I find fascinating is a throwback to the pre-internet days and reintroducing the idea that you can truly ‘own’ things in a digital space rather than just rent or subscribe. Again it’s a new toolset to solving problems and I’m excited to see what problems can be solved here that perhaps couldn’t be any other way. 

When it comes to our collaboration Venture Builder, what’s the scope of the project? 

Nick: What we are looking to do is solve really big problems. How can hubraum, Deutsche Telekom, and Founders Factory, really think through where we could leverage this scale and solve problems that maybe haven’t been solved previously. And those problems are not going to just be in Berlin or in Krakow: we can really think with a large lens of how do we solve global, industry-defining challenges? We should be looking for great founders, wherever they are. Who are the right people to solve those problems? How do we bring them together to our hub in Berlin, but also support them where they are?  

The other piece is thinking about where to launch these companies — asking ourselves where the best market for them is? It may be that we decide that despite being headquartered in Berlin, the best market for a business to launch in would be somewhere else. Much like any startup would do, you want to find that product-market fit very quickly. That might not be on your doorstep, so we should be open minded to how we solve those problems, take things from a geography located point of view but also a talent point of view — it’s a very Pan-European and global mindset. 

It’s a really exciting atmosphere right now in terms of what we’re hoping to do together. It’s been a meeting of minds in terms of adopting an approach between what hubraum has been learning over the last ten years from investing in and supporting startups and what we’ve been doing over the last seven years, we’ve really met in the middle.

We’ve said this is an approach which feels like it’s perfect to affect massive scale, and I appreciate the shared mentalities around that and the really ambitious optimism around what we can launch to market. Plus, the appreciation that of all the things we do together, a lot of it will fail and that’s OK. Hopefully we have two or three big things that are really successful and can make an outsized impact.  

I think this is a really exciting collaboration and hopefully a great joining of forces to do something really impactful. It’s got the Founders Factory team as a whole really energized and excited and I think from what I’ve heard from the entrepreneurs and the community, it’s a development that has really driven a big wave through the ecosystem as well. 

Are you an entrepreneur who’s looking for a new challenge? Apply to our Venture Studio collaboration with Founders Factory today. 

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