An interview with Marta Sjögren, Principal at Northzone

Marta Sjögren’s debut to the venture capital world resulted from a passion for innovation and a desire to make an impact in the world. Today, she is the Principal at Northzone,a Danish VC, nd focuses on companies in the early stage.

Northzone, established in 1996, is a leading technology investor. Today Northzone has raised over $700 million and invested in over 100 companies. Their current portfolio includes companies such as Spotify, iZettle, Trustpilot, Avito, Tobii, and Spaceape.

Marta Sjögren‘s focus at Northzone is in early stage companies in consumer internet, edtech, recruitment, fintech, security, and gaming.  Before joining Northzone, Marta was with DN Capital, where she worked with several of investments in both fintech and music verticals.

So to start with, Northzone closed its seventh fund worth €250 million ($325 million). What kind of plans do you have for the fund and have you already closed some deals?

We have been exceptionally active since the fund was closed, some 2 years ago. We have invested in over 35 companies, from seed to growth stages. We continue to focus on building relationships with the best of entrepreneurs in the fintech, media, entertainment, deep social, ecommerce, and edtech/recruitment SaaS. Some of our notable investments in this fund include Seriously (Finland/US), Klarna (Sweden), Jukely (US), Kahoot (Norway), Sqore (Sweden), and MarketInvoice (UK).

Northzone invests in both early stage companies but also in companies that are in the expansion phase. You usually talk about the game changers and game winners. Who are these game winners and changers and how do they differentiate from each other?

Game changers are companies that are fundamentally disrupting markets, or building entirely new ones. These companies usually have a fundamentally new way of looking at a problem, and build new, creative solutions.

Game winners, on the other hand, are usually companies that focus on optimizing execution, in competitive markets, where more efficient operations and business intelligence can reap major rewards.

Your own focus is on consumer internet, marketplaces, fintech, gaming, and SaaS companies. Has your focus changed during the years and why specifically these areas?

I’ve always enjoyed understanding consumer behavior, characterized through the relationship between lifetime value and CAC, be it in B2C or B2B companies. I fundamentally like product-driven companies, where there is a significant enough vision to disrupt or invent a market. At Northzone, our focus areas develop and change as the market matures, but we try to be consistent with investments in businesses we understand and can add value to through our experience of building companies over the past two decades.

Today Northzone is the largest shareholder after Spotify’s founders. What made Northzone see the potential in Spotify back in 2008?

We were blown away by the founders’ passion and ambition levels. The music industry was also at the brink of collapse, so timing (a crucial ingredient!) was also right. It was by no means an easy decision, but looking back, we’re happy we took the leap of faith.

Do you have any cases you regret you let pass by?

Yes – it’s part of the job!

What is one of the most important qualities for a startup company that makes you personally interested and might lead towards a possible investment?

The most important aspect of a startup for me is the team: how ambitious and passionate is the team? Why have they set out to build this particular product/company? What pointers can I spot that suggest a strong track record, even if not directly related? Do they have complementary skills? Are they aiming high enough? Are the foundations solid?

Northzone is located in Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, London and New York. Great tech companies are coming out of the Nordics despite the market size here. Why do you think there are so many great tech companies coming from the Nordics?

Three main reasons: strong engineering and design culture; solid investment environment, where success breeds success; “born global” – small home markets that merely serve as a good testing ground.

Any advice to startups how to impress you during Slush?

Keep it simple and concise; be data-driven in your communication. If you’re aiming to meet investors, prepare: understand what areas of focus an investor might have, and target them only if mutually relevant.

You visited Slush last year. What is your favorite memory from last years Slush?

I was amazed by the energy that was flowing throughout the event on all stages, and during all events – day and night! Every year it only gets better. I am super excited about this year!

Slush is the biggest startup and investor event in Northern Europe, organized on November 11-12th in Helsinki, Finland. Read more about the event at slush.org.

Ultrahack, part of Slush Hacks is held on 6th through 8th of November in Helsinki, Finland with a long pre-game. Challenge winners can win up to €20,000!  Register at ultrahack.org.

 

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