We announced our $41 Million Fund II back on May 23, 2022.

On the two-year anniversary of our Fund II announcement, here’s a progress update-

Team Update

Future Outlook

I’d like to personally thank each of our Fund II investors. It’s through their capital commitments which we are able to continue on our journey backing ambitious founders!

Great North Ventures has invested in Mangxo, a company set to revolutionize the way construction material suppliers extend credit terms to subcontractors in Latin America.

Mangxo provides an online credit tracking system for material suppliers. This innovation enables suppliers to offer flexible, interest-free credit options to subcontractors, fostering smoother financial operations and project execution. They are currently focused on expanding the number of material suppliers that use Mangxo in Mexico, along with adding material procurement and tracking capabilities over time.

We believe Latam markets have historically been underbanked, making it an attractive region for new technology-driven startups to launch solutions to better service pent-up demand. Mangxo’s rapid customer adoption since launch shows evidence of the pent-up demand for better financing offerings within the construction vertical, and we are excited to support Mangxo’s rapid, continued growth.

Founded in July 2022 by Sergio Angelini (CEO), Luis Morales (COO), and Patricio Naumann (CTO), Mangxo draws on its founders’ diverse expertise. Angelini brings growth strategies from his tenure at a Y Combinator-backed grocery delivery startup, Morales contributes deep construction industry insights, and Naumann offers technical prowess from fintech consultancy.

CEO Sergio Angelini states- “We are thrilled about the funding from Great North Ventures. Rob and his team share our excitement to innovate an industry still stuck on old-fashioned pen-and-paper procedures with almost no financial solutions. Our team knows this firsthand, and we have experienced it for the last three generations. That’s why we’re committed to creating a solution that’s perfect for our users, with products and financing options tailored to their needs.”

Previous investors in Mangxo included Brick and Mortar Ventures, First Check Ventures, and Built Tech Ventures.

Profitable growth is pretty rare to come by in the early stage startup world. This is the story of our portfolio company WithMe which provides printing and coffee amenity solutions to the multi-family real estate market.

I first met WithMe Founder & CEO Jonathan Treble while visiting Chicago in April of 2019. During our initial meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to invest in the founder and vision. I then spoke with one of their earliest customers based in Chicago CA Ventures, who confirmed my initial interest when they explained their decision to replace all printers across their student housing locations with WithMe’s kiosk solution. We closed our investment not too long after this initial meeting alongside other notable VCs which had previously invested such as M25, Network Ventures, and New Stack Ventures…

Here is what WithMe looked like back in April 2019-

In 2020, WithMe started turning a profit, using their cash flow to fund continued growth since then.

Now let’s look at where WithMe is at today, March 2024-

How has Jonathan and the WithMe team been able to achieve capital efficient growth? Three takeaways from my podcast interview with Jonathan from back in 2021- Execution is King: Jonathan Treble, PrintWithMe (libsyn.com)

Congrats to Jonathan and the whole WithMe team on their amazing, capital efficient growth! The WithMe story is far from being complete, yet it is already truly an inspiring one.

Hunting Land Rentals By Owner, Inc., a Brainerd, MN-based company, provides hunters with direct access to landowners across the U.S. who offer their hunting land for lease using HLRBO’s online platform.

The $1M Series Seed round was led by Great North Ventures. Comeback Capital, Gopher Angels, and Right Side Capital also participated in the round. Rob Weber, Managing Partner at Great North Ventures and Jeff Peterson, member of Gopher Angels and former CFO of Cardinal Glass Industries, will join the company’s board of directors.

When asked why Great North Ventures decided to lead HLRBO’s Seed round, Rob Weber explained “Heath is among the scrappiest and most resourceful founders I’ve come across since starting our VC fund 7 years ago. To be able to bootstrap HLRBO to the national scale they’ve already reached is beyond impressive. And the market adoption of HLRBO is showing no signs of slowing down. HLRBO can become a very important business to the outdoor recreation space, serving potentially millions of consumers and a wide array of landowners in the years to come.”

The company intends to use the funds to grow its landowner base, expand its reach to hunters, and launch a mobile application to enhance user experience.

HLRBO CEO & Founder Heath Schubert said about closing this Seed round- “We are very excited to close our first investment round to support meeting the needs of hunters and landowners alike even faster. Rob Weber at Great North Ventures is an ideal lead investor to work with our team given his past experience as a founder scaling a consumer internet business to tens of millions of users annually which happened to be based here in Minnesota. Rob has the track record to help us scale HLRBO to become the dominant leader in our category, a category within the broader hospitality market that has been very slow to adopt new technology.”

Moss & Barnett represented the company in this transaction.

I am thrilled to announce the addition of our newest Associate, Grant Gibson, who brings a unique blend of business acumen and legal expertise to our Great North Ventures fund. Holding a law degree from St. Thomas School of Law, Grant passed the bar this past fall, solidifying his legal prowess. Prior to joining Great North Ventures, Grant gained invaluable experience as in-house counsel at a cybersecurity startup.

Great North Ventures looks forward to leveraging Grant’s diverse skill set to further enhance our ability to identify and nurture promising startups. Grant will be responsible for driving deal closures, assisting in deal sourcing, conducting due diligence, and working closely with portfolio companies to support their growth and success. His expertise will play a pivotal role in Great North Ventures’ mission to foster the next generation of transformative businesses.

Please join us in welcoming Grant Gibson to the Great North Ventures team.

The following is the second guest post in a series written by Victoria Schanen, founder of Ghrow.io, a consulting services firm specializing in fractional human resources and recruiting leadership for startups. We’ve enjoyed our conversations with Victoria and are pleased to share a series of guest posts authored by Victoria with you. Prior to launching Ghrow, Victoria served as an HR executive in three separate SaaS startup companies based in Minnesota. She speaks and presents at startup events such as MinneBar, Twin Cities Startup Week, and Enterprise Rising and performs comedy improv in her free time. To see the first post in the series, go here.

Startups are lean operations with tight budgets and, for good reason, they tend to staff up in two areas first: technology and sales. A dedicated human resources team member doesn’t make it into the picture until much later and so the function is often cobbled together and minimally viable. In this blog series, I’ll endeavor to demystify startup HR by unpacking common pitfalls and offering helpful redirects.

Moreover, because hiring a team is expensive, I hope my insights help founders protect and strengthen the people investment side of their businesses.

Early hires

Startup founders often hire past colleagues, friends, or even family members, understandably. It’s much easier to recruit someone who knows and trusts you. The founder also knows roughly what they are getting versus hiring an unknown quantity. Perhaps equity is offered in lieu of salary, or the offer package has other tradeoffs, saving a founder precious cash for other uses. 

These early hires often don’t have a job description nor defined objectives. Since the employee and founder have a close relationship, responsibilities and expectations tend to be communicated and understood in the context of working closely together. This works for a while but then reaches a breaking point.

When an early hire’s performance doesn’t meet a founder’s expectations, the conversation is going to be a hard one without a job description to point to. Or worse, a founder may realize too late that the hire wasn’t actually a fit for the work that they needed them to perform. 

To avoid these scenarios, I strongly recommend writing a job description, even if it’s just a list of responsibilities and objectives, before hiring anyone – even a former colleague. Job descriptions help define who it is your business needs and then sets the north star and criteria for what work needs to be completed. This will help the new hire be successful, which in turn helps the company be successful. 

Leaders

Hiring functional heads for a startup – Head of Growth, Head of Engineering, etc. – is tricky. On the one hand, startups need leaders capable of strategic planning, which typically means someone who has previously held a director or vice president role. On the other hand, the leader will likely need to also perform hands-on work. 

When hiring functional heads, I recommend being mindful that candidates who have a decade or more experience in a director or vice president role likely manage teams who execute all the work but they haven’t gotten their “hands dirty” in a while. That said, I wouldn’t swing the pendulum the other direction by hiring someone who has only ever been an individual contributor. A few profiles I’ve seen that translate well into startup functional heads: an experienced software engineer who just finished an MBA; an HR executive who spun up a new division from scratch; a former startup founder coming in as a head of Customer Success. 

Managers

Setting up the function of people management in startups can also pose challenges. Often, the highest performing employee is offered a promotion to manager. Since promotions come with pay increases, which is hard to turn down…who doesn’t like money?…people tend to bite at the opportunity. In other words, they’re kinda forced into it. The issue is that being a strong individual contributor doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good manager of people. Further, strong performer often miss the hands-on work they need to give up to make time for management, leading to job dissatisfaction.

Here’s a manager introduction model I’ve seen work out. The functional head should talk to their employees about goals to get a sense of who is interested in a management vs. a technical specialization career path. Those interested in managing can be given “training wheels” such as managing an intern, a lower stakes / shorter term trial. If they like and are a good at it, you’ve got a manager pipelined! 

People management is of course a complex topic, peppered with the sub-topics of learning and development and performance management. Please tune in for the next installment of “Startup HR Demystified” for a continued discussion touch on these areas.

I’m excited to introduce you all to Joseph Daher. Joseph has played an essential role in sourcing, evaluating, and supporting promising startups for the past nine months and I’m pleased to announce that he will be joining the Great North Ventures team full-time in the role of Associate.

Joseph grew up on Hemlock Ln in Maple Grove Minnesota. He graduated from Osseo Senior High in 2014 and proudly served his country in the United States Marine Corps from 2016-2020 as an aviation logistics management specialist; during this time, he also graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in psychology from Campbell University, North Carolina.

He will be graduating in May of this year with his MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. Before pursuing his MBA, Joseph attended Columbia University in New York where he studied Social-Organizational Psychology, with a focus on Organizational Leadership.

In addition to his professional and academic accomplishments, Joseph is deeply committed to giving back to the community. He currently volunteers as an Admissions Ambassador for Service to School where he coaches and mentors transitioning service members in their pursuit of higher education, and he is the founder of The Oak Tree Foundation which aims to provide educational resources and scholarships to young people.

We are confident that Joseph’s strong background in finance, psychology, and leadership, and his resilience forged during his time in the Marine Corps will help him make a significant impact on our firm and the innovative startups we support. Please join us in welcoming Joseph Daher to the Great North Ventures team.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Great North Ventures team and I am looking forward to identifying promising opportunities and supporting innovative startups that will shape the future.”

From my vantage point as a venture capitalist evaluating hundreds of early-stage startups annually, I’ve become puzzled why the vast majority of founders I come across are still choosing to develop their initial Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) via a website versus a native, mobile app. The data suggests they should not be.

According to eMarketer, over 88% of time spent on mobile is spent inside an app versus a web browser. It’s not just that startups are choosing to build their MVPs using a web application, but many are scaling well beyond their seed rounds and into their Series A or B round before ever getting around to launching a native, mobile app.

So what considerations should startups be weighing when deciding whether to be mobile-first and launch with a native app, or launch with a website? Let’s dive in with the help of some Twitter friends.

Advantages of a native mobile app

What are the advantages of launching with a native mobile app in a mobile-first world? The dominant consumption habit for the Internet is on a mobile device, and native apps have the most optimized user experience (UX) for mobile devices. But it isn’t just about user experience. The opportunity to drive re-engagement from device-triggered push notifications and home screen icons proved too much to resist for founder Alina Matson of Fitment, a new micro workouts startup.

From my vantage point, local push notifications are the #1 reason to launch a native, mobile app first, with clickthrough rates ranging as high as 12% to 40% depending on your category, according to insights shared by Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz.

Email or other forms of reconnecting with users just do not come anywhere near as close as push notifications in terms of clickthrough rates. Also on the marketing front, you can receive additional visibility via App Store Search Optimization (ASO) in the App Store which you are giving up when choosing a website approach.

On the development front, there is easier access to other native APIs, although the differences between what you can and can’t do between a mobile app and website are fuzzier to me than ever given the advances in web technology. Finally, why not avoid costly technical debt and refactoring later in? When startups build for the web first, they start to compound technical debt which can dramatically slow down their ability to iterate later when they discover that the majority of their users want to use their application natively on their phone or tablet.

Advantages of a web app

Why would someone launch a website first? Launching a web app is often easier and faster than a mobile app. A founder may know very well that their user experience has more friction within a web app, however, as Maria Semykoz of Ukraine-based What’s In My Jar points out, the signal provided in a high friction web app can help to prioritize feature development for a more-costly native mobile app.

Web pages with rich content are more likely to rank higher in search results than content stuck inside a native mobile app. Marketplace startups like Omnia Fishing first launched websites because they knew a main driver of their go-to-market strategy could be ranking high in search results. Also, requiring your users to install an app versus just keying a website into a browser also can reduce initial trials, as Scott Resnick points out.

From a technical standpoint, there are ways to make the user experience more native now than when smartphones first hit the scene. There are web-wrapper products that can make a website look mostly native and minimize the poorer mobile user experience, which has historically been more common with websites on mobile screens, as Jeff Ericson of RubyRide points out.

Other considerations before starting to build

What are some of the other considerations founders should weigh when deciding between going truly mobile-first with a native app, or launching a mobile-optimized web app for your startup?

Since native mobile apps are generally more costly to develop as Derek Rucker points out, the ability for a founder to secure significant initial capital is an important consideration. Startups which are under-capitalized may want to opt for web-only launches. Also, if you do go the native app route, Derek points out that iOS is much simpler to launch on than Android. Android has so many more different device types, with different screen sizes, that it is easier to launch iOS-only than to design for Android.

An alternative to choice: The hybrid approach

Are you still finding it difficult to pick between starting with a native mobile app or a web app for your startup? You may want to take a hybrid approach, and launch with a native iOS app as well as a website like we are planning to do for our first venture studio startup, NextGem.

NextGem is a new social app for trading card enthusiasts to discover and share trading cards. Much of the core initial functionality for NextGem revolves around the use of modern, high definition camera features on the latest phones and tablets. It would be very difficult (if not impossible) to recreate the super high-resolution photo scanning of NextGem through a website.

These high-resolution photos are needed for trading card collectors who want the ability to closely inspect the condition of trading cards before purchasing or trading. The reason the NextGem team chose to also support a website view was for search engine optimization purposes primarily. Each scan of a trading card by a user leads to a new, search-friendly content page that can be easily indexed by Google. 

As a tech founder and investor, I have spent a lot of time thinking about why some startups scale and why others fail. You have to when your livelihood is riding on whether or not you can execute. And when you’re putting other peoples’ money on the line, knowing what to do and being able to do it isn’t enough, but you have to be able to explain your decisions and actions.

When I made enough money as a founder to start angel investing, I was overly focused on the idea and strategy. Why? The business I had founded with my twin brother Ryan Weber was successful in terms of financial returns, but it lacked defensibility. In my opinion, that’s what prohibited our business from scaling to an even greater outcome- we didn’t have a great idea or strategy.

Learning from this lesson from my own business, I compensated by investing in founders who had a clever idea and a good strategy. Sometimes it felt like I was just investing in a nice pitch deck. Many of these teams just could not execute, and over time, they’d fail.

You can be a brilliant founder, with a clever idea and a good strategy, and still fail. It happens all the time. If you can’t attract customers, build a team, and set and achieve goals, you’re sunk.

As a VC, I’ve had to synthesize everything I’ve learned about operating and investing into a scalable, repeatable process- to turn these lessons into actionable guidance for conducting diligence. Founders who work towards these things increase their chances of reaching an exit, and investors who look for these things increase their chances of generating a return.

These are the top 5 signs a startup will succeed.

1) The startup has founders with great soft skills. Having a great idea or writing some really kickass code isn’t enough to scale a big business. Soft skills are even more important than tech skills or industry experience. A founder/CEO’s job includes sales, recruiting top talent, management, etc. All of these are soft skills.

2) The startup has a culture of accountability, and is focused on key growth metrics. Creating a metric driven, accountable culture is challenging. It is easier to do with a 4-person startup than a large-scale growth business so it is a critically important early piece.

3) The startup is good at new product development. Teams that are good at product development are analytical and creative. They run experiments before building a complete product which enables them to avoid focusing on building the wrong product with the wrong features.

4) The startup is focused on finding and perfecting one scalable customer acquisition channel. Experimenting is expected in the very early going, but eventually you need to bet on the one channel that can get you to scale. It could be digital media-focused customer acquisition, a referral program, or viral social strategy, anything that creates compounding returns. You need to be world-class at whatever your dominant channel is to succeed. For most of the best startups, growth is designed into the product or some other kind of clever growth hack is utilized. Look at Airbnb’s famous spamming of Craigslist (Airbnb Growth Study (benchhacks.com)) or DropBox’s famous early referral incentives. This is the scrappy team, focused on the right things, that has found the right product, and a way to scale.

5) The startup has an adaptable, entrepreneurial team. Early-stage is not the time for a team fixated on management systems. The time for investing more heavily in management systems is when your startup approaches 20–50 employees or more. In the beginning, you need a team with entrepreneurial skills, including customer empathy, product engineering strength, and go-to-market strength.

For former founders-turned-investors like myself, we need to be particularly aware of not being overly attracted to clever ideas in big markets, but instead focus on identifying the teams that can find their North Star to take them from point A to point B so the startup has an opportunity to start compounding. Execution is everything.

Every year, when I begin holiday shopping for friends and family, I always start with a list of gift ideas sourced from local entrepreneurs in Minnesota and the surrounding region. One of the best ways to support your community is to become a customer from the entrepreneurs in your community.

With the input of some friends in our local startup community, here is the 2020 list!

Gift Baskets

GiftBomb – With a unique intake form to understand your gift recipient’s interests better, the highly personalized Giftbomb gift baskets have brought surprise and delight to so many friends and family for me this year. They source most of their products from local businesses. Huge fan!

Apparel

Askov Finlayson’s Climate Positive Parka ($495)- I purchased Askov’s latest parka right when it came out and it is outstanding. Although this is on the higher end on my list at $495, it’s well worth it for that special someone.

Great Lakes Shirts ($36)- Because of the shut downs due to COVID, I’ve spent a lot more time with my family at our cabin this year. Great Lakes has very cool designs representing lake country vibes.

Love Your Melon Facemasks ($25)- By now, most people’s facemasks could probably use a refresh. Enough said.

Kidizen Gift Card – For the latest new (or used) in kids fashion.

REM5 Winter Hat ($30)- Live events are out, but winter hats are in.

Toys & Games

Covid Playing Cards ($12)- Covid Cards are a fun time capsule delivered in the form of a standard deck of playing cards of all the whacky things that we have all experienced this year.

Paddle North Paddle Boards, Floating Docks, Kayaks ($500 to $1000)- We purchased one of the floating docks for our cabin a little over a year ago and it was a real hit with the kids.

Omnia Fishing Gift Card – For the fisherman in the family.

YOXO ($46)- Creative toys for young kids.

Cooper Kits ($65/quarterly subscription)- Running out of fun, educational ideas for the kids schooling from home?

Art Barn Boxes – DIY art boxes for kids.

Food & Beverage

BoozyJerky ($6)- Beer-infused beef jerky that is super tender and great paired with your favorite ale.

Fast Mary’s Bloody Mary Mix ($15)- Vegan, gluten-free seasoning blend for a spiced up bloody.

SIPDARK – Whiskey accessories.

Muddy Paws Cheesecake – Over 222 flavors of cheesecake. If that’s not enough, you can even rent their cheesecake food truck!

Nomisnacks ($32 for 16)- They built a better granola bar.

Golden Fig Gourmet Foods – Spices, snacks, artisan gifts, even dog treats!

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen ($25)- The James Beard winner’s cookbook featuring modern Native American cuisine

Health & Wellness

DoseHealth – Medication management.

Cammellatte – Skincare products made from camel milk.

Pets

PetChatz ($90) – A treat-dispensing video phone to check in on your pet when you’re away.

Other

Printerette Press – Custom cards, invitations, etc.

Fractional Toys – Rent ATVs, boats, motorhomes instead of buying.

Mend Jewelry – Jewelry is always a good gift idea.

iraLogix Closes Series C
Great North Ventures

iraLogix closes $22M Series C

June Newsletter
Great North Ventures

Flywheel lands Gates Foundation grant

We're Hiring
Great North Ventures

Venture Capital Analyst

Great North Ventures Raises $40M Fund II
Great North Ventures

Great North Ventures Raises $40 Million Fund II

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy
Great North Ventures

Investment Thesis: Fund II Strategy

Investment Thesis: Community-Driven Applications
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Community-Driven Applications

Fund II Theses: Solving Labor Problems
Great North Ventures

Investment Theme: Solving Labor Problems

April Newsletter
Great North Ventures

Trends in the Gig Economy + Work in the Metaverse

Interview with Joe Sriver
Great North Ventures

Joe Sriver, 4giving: Episode 8, Execution is King

2ndKitchen founders
Great North Ventures

2ndKitchen Acquired by REEF

capitol building
Great North Ventures

COVID-19 Resources for Startups, State-by-State

March Newsletter
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COVID-19, the CARES Act, and startups stepping up

New Business Preservation Act
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New Business Preservation Act

Startup Summit 2020
Great North Ventures

Great North Labs’s Startup Summit 2020

Startup Summit 2020
Great North Ventures

Great North Labs's Startup Summit 2020

Top 5 Stories of 2019
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Top 5 Stories of 2019

Minnebar14
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MinneBar 14 Recap

Tech Madness 2019
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Dispatch and 2ndKitchen claim Tech Madness titles

Minnesota Innovation Collaborative
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Minnesota Innovation Collaborative

engineer and various business information. Internet of things industry.
Pradip Madan

IoT 3.0

Healthcare innovation image
Great North Ventures

Healthcare Innovation