According to PreWarp co-founder and CEO Tom Barber, fundraising is a “necessary evil” — something most founders wish they could get away from but just can’t seem to quit.
“I have always thought that fundraising is a sort of necessary evil,” he told me during an interview for my podcast, Back Yourself. “I’ve never particularly enjoyed it, but I think you can learn a lot about it. If you go in with that negative mentality, it’s not good, but if you look at it, like OK, this actually a challenge, a competition, it’s something I can learn and get better at, and here’s a skill I need to learn, it’s really interesting.”
Creating PreWarp Thanks to Help From Entrepreneur First
Barber is the founder of PreWarp, and we should take a look at that, because it is a pretty cool company.
PreWarp was a business that Barber founded while in lockdown. According to the company, “PreWarp enables you to launch sustainable products with ease. Launch, monitor, and replenish with one-click efficiency.” The company promises to “Bring data and machine learning into your product decisions, improving price setting, enabling real-time sell-through forecasts, and optimising markdown investments.”
Barber created the company with help from Entrepreneur First, an “international talent investor” that supports individuals who are building technology companies. EF has locations around the world in Toronto, London, Berlin, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangalore.
Barber went through Entrepreneur First with a friend right out of college, and watched that friend realize phenomenal success.
The Back Story: How Tom Barber Became an Entrepreneur
Barber is an Imperial College London graduate with a BSc in biology who also had virology training at a school in Lyon, France. He went on to earn a master of philosophy in development economics and international development from the University of Cambridge.
Out of university, he had a short internship at Lloyds Banking Group before spending two years at Neptune Investment Management as a healthcare analyst and fund manager. He was then an associate at Credo Group UK, a product manager at Medallia, and an advisor at Minima. Along the way, he founded Svelte London, a premium sporting apparel company. It was a GM role in London that lasted just a year and prompted him to head off on his own. His tenure at Entrepreneur First led to the founding of PreWarp and also influenced his role as an investor at a handful of companies, including Hapi plan, Ori, Tray, and IFTTT.
Being a general manager was “tricky,” he said. He was running Europe for a company based in San Francisco, which entailed a huge amount of travel and the need to take phone calls late into the evening. It also meant that he was in an awkward managerial relationship that he found dissatisfying.
Svelte clued Barber into the rigours and satisfaction of owning a company, and built on his history as an athlete — he participated in pentathlons — but the actual process of making a physical product was surprisingly difficult. For example, he had to procure fabrics in one place, assess their quality, and then ship them to another location.
“It was an interesting journey,” he said.
Founding a Company: Find the Right Partner
Founding a company with a partner can be a complicated matter, but Barber seems to have met those challenges without encountering too many problems. PreWarp was his idea, and he serves as the CEO since he has the subject matter and commercial background, while his partner is the CTO as he has the technical background.
“It is actually very nice that way,” he said.
PreWarp is based on the problem of sustainability in fashion. The fashion industry produces a huge amount of CO2 emissions, with enormous wastage. Shortening the time from sale to delivery would cut out a lot of waste, he figured, and enabling brands to use data to make better demand-driven decisions would benefit both consumers and producers.
Investing in Companies to Learn How to Pitch and Create FOMO
Investing in other founders has been hugely valuable to Barber. Of particular note is his investment in Hapi, which provides financial planning for children.
“Suddenly you had a brand, a founder, a partner who you can troubleshoot on,” he said. “For me, that is such a good hack, to have an interest in the success of a friend, basically, and have a look at what they are doing decision-wise.”
Every time you pitch, you get better, but it takes a lot of practice. You must be persistent and work toward a target, understanding after each pitch what worked and what did not, Barber said.
FOMO is huge, Barber says, and also hugely difficult. Founders need money but have to act as though they don’t.
“You have to reek of credibility, but you have to act like you don’t need it,” he said. “We need to generate excitement and show we are not interested when actually we are wildly interested.”
Paradoxically, as soon as you don’t need the money, you project that, which often is what attracts investors.
A founder’s pitch embodies not just their business boiled down to a handful of slides. It’s also an educational process where you can learn about business itself. Practice it as much as you can — it can only help you.