Responding to a popular request, we are now sharing transcripts of our investor podcast interviews in this new series. The following interview with Robert Weber was recorded in September 2020.
Robert Weber is Managing Partner at Great North Labs located in Minneapolis.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself. Talk a bit about your background and also about Great North Labs.
Robert Weber: I live in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I just turned 40 years old. I started building my first software company as a teenager in the mid-90s. I successfully bootstrapped a company that became known as NativeX.
At our peak in 2012, my brother Ryan and I achieved $70 million in revenue. The only money we raised was a small $20,000 angel round back in 2000. We learned a thing or two about resiliency while going through recession, which is relevant today. When we had our first exit event at age 25, my brother and I formed a family office.
We began making investments in local regional tech entrepreneurs. Once we exit our last operating business, we decided to launch our debut fund, Great North Labs, with partners. This was three years ago. We had $23.7 million in debut funds. We focused on investing in startups that are headquartered in Minnesota across the great lakes and upper Midwest region of the US.
We tend to invest in startups during their seed rounds with a size ranging from $250,000 to $1 million. We occasionally invest in full-on series A and B rounds.
Sramana Mitra: Talk a bit about what kind of company you like to invest in.
Robert Weber: We invest in technology and technology-enabled service companies. We are open-minded. I had some experience in B2C as well as B2B so we’ll invest in both. The most common business model that we tend to see is enterprise SaaS throughout the marketplaces. Once in a while, we also invest in consumer or social.
Sramana Mitra: Define seed investing for us. I remember that in the early phase of venture capital in the mid 90’s, at the beginning of the internet, it was seed and series A. The A is pre-seed, friends and families, post seed, and so forth. The seed capital investing has fragmented.
What is your world view of seed investment? What do you like to see as proof points in the field that you are comfortable going into? Maybe you want to take it as B2B and B2B separately.
Robert Weber: We are looking for products which are post product launch. I always think of a startup journey going through different phases. I consider the early phase to be experimentation and incubation. We don’t invest in that stage.
We are looking for a post-product launch as the startup is at an early scale upper growth mode. We are looking to see at least one scalable customer acquisition method. Often, the companies that we invest in are somewhere between $10,000 to $100,000 in monthly revenue.
We don’t care so much about how much revenue they have. It’s more about the qualitative aspects, which involve their customer acquisition and if this is something that can be repeated.
We have a fund that is largely started by four founders. We have about 40 of the most successful founders and operators in our surrounding region who have come together to launch this fund.
From this standpoint, the founders that are involved in our fund have all successfully scaled companies across different industries and verticals by using technology. We are looking to share perspectives on scaling from actual entrepreneurs who have done that before.