Great North Ventures Investment Themes

Great North Ventures is a network-driven, generalist early-stage fund that prioritizes exceptional execution. Founded by founders, for founders – we back repeat founders, we back strong first-time founders, and we form founder teams in our venture studio. 

Our innovator network and team’s connections drive our value-add to startups, and our network density is greatest in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. While we are a generalist fund, we invest in three themes: “Solving Labor Problems”, “Digital transformation Through AI”, and “Community-Driven Applications”. 

Community-Driven Applications

There is a global trend towards network-driven software expanding into every industry, for both consumers, and for businesses. And while much of the world is buzzing about Web3, we believe we are still in the early innings of Web 2.0, as these software platforms continue their expansion. 

There is a strong investment reason to invest in network-driven startups: they outperform! Why? Network-driven apps have lower customer acquisition costs than their single-user counterparts. This is because of strong viral effects that make use of growth loops, which compound user acquisition. When these network effects cause customers to engage with other customers retention rates also increase.

Founders building software today can leverage the behavioral design patterns that dominated horizontal online communications (Facebook, Instagram, Snap, YouTube) and gaming (Roblox, Fortnite, Zynga, etc). These same Web 2.0 patterns can be applied in any category where end users benefit through collaboration. 

Web3 startups will also take advantage of these network effects. The winners in the crypto and metaverse spaces will take on a mobile-first approach (“Start With a Mobile App, Not a Website”) and will adopt best-in-category community features. Regardless of which internet paradigm a startup is part of, the apps with the highest engagement of their end-users will win in most categories and capture most of that category’s profits. 

Starting and scaling a network can be challenging due to what is commonly referred to as the cold start problem. In addition to having a strong product, successful startups usually find the smallest network that can stand on their own (“atomic network”) and focus on building a leadership position there before expanding to other networks while eventually eroding the market share of the incumbent network. 

In practice, we have seen other strategies work as well. Andrew Chen details four of them in his book “The Cold Start Problem”:

1. Invite Only refers to allowing users to join only if they are invited to use the app by other users. This ensures a stronger network effect from those that get invited as they already know other users on the service.  

2. Come for the Tool, Stay for the Network refers to providing a single-player mode that allows a user to get value from the service even before it has a strong network. Instagram had photo filters, for example.

3. Paying for Launch refers to paying to grow the network, after the initial atomic network has been figured out, as a way to accelerate growth until the tipping point is reached where the network grows rapidly due to compounding atomic networks strengthening each other. This tends to be expensive and is not usually a tactic taken in the early stages of a startup that is resource-constrained.

4. Flintstoning refers to manually helping to keep the network strong while still early in developing automated capabilities that can exist at scale through the stronger network and product.

Tactically, we see many of the same tools and techniques work effectively across social apps. We’ve had startups scale based on strong network effects in both consumer and enterprise businesses. Usually, incumbents lack the creativity and know-how to thwart a well executed attack. Utilize a new technology, or market trend, to uncover a unique and valuable tool or focus on a specific network whose needs are only partially being satisfied and you may have the next big community app.

What We are Looking For

Vertical Social and Passion Marketplaces 

The Web 1.0 marketplace winners like Craigslist and eBay were largely horizontal in nature. Since the early 2000s, nearly every category of e-commerce has had multiple successful marketplaces targeting it. But most categories have not fully embraced Web 2.0. 

We have multiple examples of these marketplaces in our portfolio, including NextGem, Mustard, Omnia Fishing, and TeamGenius. 

Consumerization of Enterprise SAAS 

Enterprises used to move slowly when it came to new tech adoption. Workers have accelerated and transformed that adoption as tools they elect to use garner enterprise sales. By getting enough workers to adopt the product first, businesses can’t say no to the enterprise products without risking productivity. As a result, now enterprise software is consumer grade: simple, easy to use, and mobile first. 

Examples from our portfolio include Branch, FactoryFix, Dispatch, Flywheel, Mustard, Omnia Fishing, PartySlate, Pitchly, SkillIt, CoverLease, ClinicianNexus, and Structural.

Work with us

If you have a startup that is a community-driven application, submit here for feedback. We will provide pitch deck feedback to all startups who submit. Before you submit, get an inside look at our process first: “This is how to evaluate early-stage consumer app startups

Welcome back to the Great North Ventures newsletter! (Sign up here!) This month we have some advice for founders as well as an open call for funding applications. 

In the latest episode of “Execution is King” we talk with Jonathan Treble of PrintWithMe. Jonathan talks about his path from Wharton to Grubhub to CEO/founder, and shares advice for those starting out:

“Optimize for control over valuation” – when negotiating at early stages.

“Validate with the smallest team that you can” – because, really, more money means more problems. 

For the full episode, including recommendations and resources on recruiting, find us wherever you get podcasts or on YouTube.  

For the full episode, including recommendations and resources on recruiting, find us wherever you get podcasts or on YouTube.  

As we move ahead with Fund II investing, our themes have coalesced. Here are descriptions along with examples from our portfolio

Digital Transformation through AI – We are looking for technology-driven startups that are innovating analog industries using artificial intelligence. Examples include Dispatch and Flywheel.

Community-Driven Applications – We are looking for consumer or enterprise startups which are connecting people through software, especially in the areas of media consumption or commerce. Examples include NextGem and PartySlate (and our new investment, Mustard!).

Solving Labor Problems – We are looking for startups with market-driven solutions for workplaces and labor. Examples include FactoryFix and Skillit.

If you are a founder who fits a theme and our investment criteria, apply for funding on our website!

Portfolio Updates

Mustard is new to the portfolio! Mustard is a video-based food discovery and ordering app. Users view and share videos of restaurant dishes, discovering food from restaurants nearby, and can even order or reserve a table right from the app. The app is live in LA and free on the App Store.

Patrick O’Rahilly, CEO of FactoryFix Talks Jobs in Manufacturing with Tim Heston of The Fabricator

Allergy Amulet Research Secures Second Peer-Reviewed Publication

NoiseAware Introduces AutoResolve To Solve Vacation-Rental Noise Problems Automatically Any Time Of Day Or Night

Breezeway and NoiseAware announce integration

Open Positions

See open positions on the Great North Ventures careers page

Dispatch is hiring for 58 positions

FactoryFix is hiring for 8 positions

2ndKitchen is hiring for 5 positions

PrintWithMe is hiring for 22 positions

Parallax is hiring for 2 positions

Branch is hiring for 14 positions

Inhabitr is hiring for 6 positions

NoiseAware is hiring for 1 position

PartySlate is hiring for 1 position

Flywheel is hiring for 3 positions

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