Why LAUNCHub Ventures Is Backing Orbiit’s Community-Driven Future
By now we’re all a bit sick of hearing about the power of network effects, but it’s surprising how little we talk about what really drives those effects: community. It’s something the Covid-19 pandemic has made the world more aware of than ever before. And yet, ask a community manager and you’ll find that they’re still waiting for a major technology-driven shake up in their industry.
For the rest of us, being deprived of in-person interaction for more than a year doesn’t mean we’ll settle for just any conference or meetup. We want meaningful connections. LAUNCHub Ventures was recently part of a $2.7 million seed round for the AI-driven matchmaking engine called Orbiit. Below, we’ve broken down why we see this as an investment in the future of community and what the Orbiit story can teach other founders.
Orbiit’s approach to community creation and management
“The number one question you should be asking yourself is how you’re connecting people in a frictionless and consistent way.” — Bilyana Freye, Founder of Orbiit
First, let’s briefly explain just what Orbiit is and does. Orbiit is an AI-powered matchmaking engine creating curated community connections. It puts people together for virtual networking to create life-changing conversations. Community managers can segment their audiences and connect them within sub-communities (e.g. founders, CTOs, CMOs within a VC portfolio) or as a whole (say, an entire portfolio). Community members get invited to opt-in on a regular basis and details that inform each round of matching. Once a pair is matched, they get an intro email with a LinkedIn profile and overlapping areas of interest to help guide the conversation. Orbiit can suggest a time that works for both people and once they’re done they give feedback on the interaction.
In other words, it automates much of the time-intensive work of community managers and enables them to create and scale more frequent and higher quality connections between community members. This helps make and keep communities vibrant. It also helps unlock the tremendous power of peer to peer learning and mentoring. Most people already have a sense that they can learn more (and more efficiently) from another human relative to from something like a MOOC or similar online lecture.
Why community is more important than we think
Honestly, considering how powerful community has been throughout human history as a fundamental building block of human societies, it’s surprising how rarely founders really talk about it. This, however, is quickly changing. A recent survey found that 80% of founders reported that building a community of users was important to their business. 28% of those said it was critical.
But what do they mean by community? Increasingly, it’s not just more social media but meaningful connections between customers which can build emotional connections to brands, enhance marketing, fuel new ideas, and more. The era of getting excited about building communities on social networks is largely gone as people become more and more jaded about how they experience those platforms.
When businesses can form communities, they unlock the power of what one specialist termed “an identity-forming narrative.” Community isn’t just about who you are, it’s about what you do. It’s no wonder businesses are always trying to connect themselves to our identities, but genuinely creating that feeling means creating a powerful connection. [Join LAUNCHub Ventures founders community]
Issues we see in the community management space
All that said, despite the immense power of community for the business world, community managers have been having a tough time. Covid-19 has obviously made managing communities harder, but the long-term effects of the pandemic are going to be far more substantial.
Currently, most people think about community development and management in terms of how often they send out a newsletter, how many webinars or happy hours they host, or just how much engagement they can get on social media. But while all of that is nice to have, real community is built on participation, which those metrics don’t touch very directly.
Orbiit’s co-founder Bilyana pointed out that attending the average business networking event is going to be less practical and less popular going forward, only leaving room for less frequent and more special gatherings, like offsites and conferences. The reason is similar to why social-media based communities aren’t going to be the go-to solution for businesses in the future: people are focusing on quality interactions. Asking them to travel to a sub-par conference or join another Slack channel is sounding less and less appealing.
So businesses and community managers need to find other ways to build powerful and engaging communities. However at the moment this process is quite analog. Managers have to find ways to determine who has what interests and then manually match them with other members. Whether it’s done digitally or in person, this is a big time commitment and creates a huge learning curve to learn interests and community dynamics. Then, if something happens to a community manager, all of that knowledge is potentially lost.
It’s frankly too inefficient and fragile a system for such an important role. There are some standalone networking communities (both paid and free) which are thriving, but the overall market is still deeply fragmented. Even those successful communities are being managed manually and therefore aren’t really scalable.
How LAUNCHub Ventures and Orbiit came together
So it’s no surprise that LAUNCHub Ventures was in touch with the team for around two years prior to the investment. Bilyana was on our radar for combining many of the positive qualities we see in founders alongside skills she gained living abroad for decades. Orbiit’s original concept was to connect people for in-person work shadowing to help them change careers. However, the Covid-19 pandemic made that idea impractical and the company pivoted.
The new concept we just described resonated with LAUNCHub’s beliefs in the future of brand, communities, and how those will fit together. However, like many startups, Orbiit faced the unique challenge of raising a funding round in the midst of a pandemic. They began with a standard technique for startups which have investment funds as users: turning to them. Obviously funds which use Orbiit would have some understanding of the pain points they were addressing and would already be familiar with the product.
However, Orbiit was still a natural fit for our goal to invest in founders from Southeastern Europe, even those not based in the region. LAUNCHub Ventures also has deep experience in SaaS, meaning we had a good understanding of Orbiit’s vertical alongside many portfolio companies ready to share their expertise.
We were also ready to use our connections in SEE to help Orbiit find the AI and ML talent they needed to continue developing their product. This was a real advantage as such talent in SEE tends to be more loyal and affordable relative to talent from Silicon Valley or NYC. And LAUNCHUB Ventures has already helped Orbiit hire a data scientist in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Ultimately, this became the first investment deal we’ve ever completed entirely digitally. It was also our first coinvestment with Delian Asparouhov from Founders Fund who funded Orbiit in their last round and participated again this round.
We were also joined by Mary Grove from Bread and Butter Ventures, who’s experience building communities for Google meant she was acutely aware of Orbiit’s value and the pain points they were addressing. Joining with these two powerhouse investment funds made backing Orbiit an easy decision on our end, as they each brought critical expertise.
Even though Covid has us all craving in-person events, mediocre ones are still going to fail as people become more careful about how they spend their time (especially if it involves commuting). Ultimately, people want fewer and more meaningful connections and Orbiit is always looking for new ways to facilitate that.
Bilyana also sees creating these kinds of meaningful community connections as an essential way for founders to add value going forward. Transactional content just isn’t going to cut it, but creating a sense of valuable belonging is a consistent way to delight and engage customers. Right now, she’s excited about all the new ways they’re discovering to use Orbiit to connect, delight, and empower people.
For now, Orbiit focuses on connecting people based on similarities, however they are exploring the idea of adding a wildcard element. After all, sometimes it’s those unexpected connections which produce the most interesting results. Their advantage is that whatever type of connection they create, every time they do so they collect more data which can be used to improve the algorithm going forward.
Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest from LAUNCHub Ventures.