Insights / Venture Capital
”’Boring’ is the new sexy, especially for investors”
On the rise for B2B companies
6 Sep 2022

Who are you?

— I’m Maria Norberg and I’m first and foremost a digital innovation enthusiast. I’m also one of the founding partners and CEO of Hidden Dreams, which now is one of the fastest-growing venture builders in Europe.

— Some call us a startup factory but we use the term Venture Builder. That basically means that we are co-founders of every company in our portfolio. We specialize in identifying and solving hidden problems in the business world using digital solutions. For every interesting problem we identify, we found and develop a SaaS company, and recruit a CEO that is provided initial funding, tools, expertise, and access to a broad entrepreneurial network to enable the company’s success. And Hidden Dreams success lives within the whole portfolio’s success. Since we started in 2019, we’ve founded over a dozen companies that solve ineffective processes in many different industries, from foodtech to healthcare. We are on the ambitious, and maybe a bit crazy, mission to start 50 companies in five years.

What’s the current state of the tech-startup industry in Sweden and the Nordics?

— Big question! The Nordics, and Stockholm in particular, is one of the most fast-growing tech scenes in Europe and it has been for a while. A European Silicon Valley if you will, as we have the world’s most unicorns per capita after Silicon Valley. According to a tech industry report by the venture capital firm Atomico that I just read, Sweden is ranked first in Europe in cumulative capital invested per capita in the past five years. So, it truly is a special place for innovation and startups! 

Do you see any certain trends within your focus areas, SaaS and B2B? 

— I’m quite tired to read about all these buzzwords AI, ML (machine learning, Ed’s note), Blockchain and so on, so I’ll not mention them further. I would rather focus on that I’ve seen an interesting shift; B2B companies have historically tended to be looked at through a ’boring’ lens and B2C companies are commonly perceived as ’sexier’. But with all uncertainty going on, we’ve noticed a change in that. ’Boring’ is the new sexy, especially for investors. Just look at H2 Green Steel and Northvolt. 

What are the main obstacles in order for the companies you start to grow?

— The first obstacle for growth and the initial task every CEO of our portfolio companies gets is to sign a first customer. The first one is usually the most difficult because as a startup in the very beginning of their journey are still in the process of understanding the market and what your future customer’s primary needs are, says Norberg. She continues: 

— Recruiting is also very tricky, both great developers, board members, and so on. You need to find a way to captivate talent, and these days you need to offer more than just an office 9-5 kind of job. As an example, our companies can attract talent by offering flexible work hours, an environment that breathes personal growth, and investment opportunities in a fast-growing startup. We think it’s important that the people who put their time and effort into a company in this early-stage benefit from it in the future. 

— Securing investments is also a huge task if you do it for the first time, it involves much more than just having a great pitch deck. That’s why our team are very hands-on when our companies do their first external funding round. 

— But the main challenges that our and other startups face are the constant need to adapt to their customer’s needs and the market, we call it ’the creative dance’ between the startup and the outside world. 

Maria Norberg.

Where do you see these industries three or five years from now?

— As driving forces in the labour market. For truly great people with the right competence, there is an abundance of different jobs to choose from these days. For example, technical competence is today needed in all companies and that’s one of the reasons why it’s more important than ever to not only put the effort into attracting the right talent but also keeping them.

— With uncertainty in the economic landscape, it’s believed that well-built and performing startups will survive and thrive, but the nonperforming or uncertain startups will have a much harder time securing their future. Therefore, I believe that the quality of startups three or five years from now will be higher. This will increase confidence in the companies that remain on the market.

And more, what will have changed?

— I both hope and truly believe that larger organizations will become more self-aware of what they should and can digitize within their organization and focus on their core business and competitive advantage. Some tasks are better to outsource. There is extreme value in using external software for what is not business critical, and it will be cheaper for each company than developing the software itself, says Norberg, adding,

— We are at the same stage now as in the industrial revolution when we went from being an agricultural society to an industrial society, but this time we’re moving even faster. Digital and innovative progress take place daily, which results in more efficient societies and organizations that are data-driven. This also contributes to and requires more value-creating jobs. Technical innovation is really humanity’s right hand to overcome the obstacles our world face now and in the future. Automation and digitization reveal completely different solutions, solutions we couldn’t believe were possible before.

You’re also the former CEO of Teknikkvinnor (Tech Women). In 2021, 1% of the venture capital in Sweden went to female-founded companies. Do you see any improvements here? And what would you like to see in order to improve it?

— Yes, I’ve seen several changes and improvements. The importance of equality and inclusion is much more discussed today. Both in media and within larger tone-setting organizations as Nasdaq, which recently instituted a new rule that Nasdaq-listed companies must — or publicly disclose why they do not — have at least two diverse directors, which you of course can discuss if that is the right way to move forward.

— In my role, I have the responsibility to maximize shareholder value. To do that I must ensure that we as an organization attract, hire, and keep the greatest of people. Therefore, we’ve implemented a rigid recruitment process and evaluation processes that are based on performance. And on the other hand, we need to ensure that we have a culture where these talented people want to stay. That’s why it’s so important to create an environment where everyone feels they can boost their strengths and feel welcomed. Competence is in short supply today due to rampant competition; companies can therefore not afford to lose talented people based on irrelevant biased recruitment processes or bad work culture. Because neither gender, ethnicity nor age for that matter should play a role in how one is valued, says Norberg.

What advice would you like to share with other startup entrepreneurs?

— Work close to your market, and put time and effort into understanding what your customers want and what they actually need. And keep your promises. It’s easy to get carried away when you talk about the vision of your business. But trust is everything. So, give credible promises, because in the long run it’s much better that you exceed on those than promising to much. Expectation management is a huge key to building a good relationship with investors and customers.

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