Here Be Dragons

I’ve been thinking about dragons a lot recently, whether its eagerly awaiting Series 8 of Game of Thrones or taking my sons to learn how train them (for the third time). But I’ve also been thinking about dragons at work.

Mapmakers used to write ‘here be dragons’ where uncharted waters were and where danger may lurk. As a phrase its stuck and is still used today to describe anything that’s unknown or undiscovered and a bit scary.

18 months ago, when we were just starting out at NBS Ventures, our map was covered in dragons.

How would we establish ourselves as a credible venture capital arm of Nationwide Building Society? Would start-ups answer our calls? Could we engage people at Nationwide with the idea of working with start-ups on new ventures? And could we deliver on our promise to be a long-term partner to the start-ups we invested in, sharing experiences and learning, and establishing mutually beneficial relationships?

We were a start-up of our own, in a way, but with the responsibility of representing an established financial services organisation and household name. There were dragons at every turn – unknown, undiscovered, and a bit scary.

Our fears that start-ups wouldn’t want to hear from us were unfounded. What we discovered was encouraging; our brand resonates most clearly with start-ups that share our consumer-centric values. That’s ideal because these are exactly the businesses we want to be associated with! This also has its limitations however, and as a UK-centric business the boundaries are geographic.

Next, we faced the question of how we’d engage our colleagues at Nationwide, enabling them to work effectively with start-ups on new ventures. We decided to start by cultivating empathy, and to that end commissioned a “24-hour start-up” training course. In an all-day interactive game, participants found and run a start-up in an unpredictable environment, facing challenges and making crucial business decisions (with consequences) along the way. They also hear from founders who’ve experienced all of this first hand. So far, we’ve trained 70 of our colleagues, and of those 32 are now actively involved with NBS Ventures in roles ranging from providing occasional support and sharing expertise, to working with our investment companies day-to-day.

18 months into our journey there’s still a lot we don’t know, but we feel we’ve come a long way. We’re forging ahead on our own path, discovering new territories and slaying a few dragons along the way!

To give you a sneak preview of what’s on the horizon, we’re looking to focus on two kinds of expansion in the next few months: recruiting to our team and improving our international reach.

We’d love to hear from people who can help us generate deal flow outside the UK and from people who fancy joining us! We’re recruiting two Associate roles to shore up our research, lead generation and assessment capabilities. Previous experience of dragon slaying desirable, not essential.

Get in touch through the usual channels: and @NBSVentures.