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Highlights

 

Welcome to another episode of Category Visionaries, the show that explores the future of tech with innovative B2B founders. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Dr. Josh Riedy, CEO and Founder of Thread, an autonomous inspection platform that has raised roughly $20 million in funding.

  • Josh’s journey from growing up in North Dakota, inspired by his grandfather’s legacy of starting the area’s first power cooperative, to founding Thread to make the energy industry safer and more efficient.
  • The impact of the 2013 October ice storm that left people without power for months and the need for modern tools to manage vast arrays of energy assets.
  • Thread’s solution: a mashup of ERP solutions, asset performance management, and robotics that enables frontline workers to capture data at scale and relay it to remote engineers and managers.
  • The importance of empowering frontline workers with easy-to-use tools that can be deployed on-demand to prevent small problems from becoming catastrophic.
  • The co-development arrangement with Xcel Energy, where Thread invested time and effort to understand the utility’s problems and prove their solution before getting paid.
  • The market opportunity in the utility space, with roughly 800 entities in the United States, and the potential for Thread to become the standard for inspections and data capture.
  • The challenge of describing a new product category that spans robotics and ERP, and the evolution of Thread’s messaging to focus on customer results and case studies.
  • The impact of celebrity investors like Brad Smith and Kevin O’Leary in bringing attention to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in North Dakota and boosting founder confidence.
  • Josh’s vision for Thread to become the Epic of utility digitization, driving the industry forward for the next 50 years as it pivots from fossil fuels to renewables.

Actionable
Takeaways

Identify Critical Problems in Traditional Industries:

Josh and his team recognized the need for modern tools to manage energy assets, particularly in the wake of natural disasters that exposed the vulnerabilities of the existing system. By targeting a critical problem in a traditional industry, they were able to create a compelling value proposition.

Earn Customer Trust Through Co-Development:

Instead of seeking upfront payment, Thread invested time and effort to understand Xcel Energy's problems and develop a solution that met their needs. This approach allowed them to establish strong product-market fit and earn the trust of a major player in the industry.

Leverage Industry Relationships for Market Entry:

By partnering with Xcel Energy, Thread gained credibility and access to a network of potential customers in the utility space. Founders should seek out strategic relationships that can help them navigate the complexities of their target market and accelerate their growth.

Embrace the Challenge of Defining a New Category:

: As a mashup of robotics and ERP, Thread faced the difficulty of describing their offering to both customers and investors. Rather than trying to fit into an existing category, they focused on communicating the real-world results and impact of their solution.

Capitalize on the Shift Towards Sustainability:

With utilities investing heavily in renewables and setting ambitious carbon reduction goals, there is a generational opportunity for startups that can help facilitate this transition. Founders should look for ways to align their offerings with the sustainability imperatives of their target industries.

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