Category Archives: Angel investing

Why more non-technology investors will form the bigger pool of angels by 2020

It is only 7 years to 2020, and I’d like to speculate a bit and make a fool of myself by taking a stab at the future of tech angel investing. To do a good enough job of predicting the future (or a hopeless job of it) you have to know the current state well enough.

In the US there are about 250,000 angel investors across all sectors and about 25% of them are in the technology sector alone. The number of active technology angel investors is claimed to be about 40,000 – active being defined as someone who does at least 1 investment in a calendar year.

Of the 40K angel investors, fewer than 5,000 are classified as “lead investors”. These are folks that will take the pole position in funding a startup and get other investors to rally around them. In India, those corresponding numbers are 500 angel investors in technology and about 25 lead angel investors.

Currently word of mouth networks rule and tend to be the large part of deal flow for investors. Most lead investors get pitched by people they know first or have worked with, then via referrals and finally from random others. This means that typically angel investors tend to put money in things they (mostly) understand or people they know well. That makes logical sense, since they tend to want to add value, learn from and coach entrepreneurs instead of just providing the money and checking in once in a while.

The increasing need for speed to make decisions, means that most angel investors are forming affiliations with others who complement their skills and are beginning to pursue “expertise” in certain areas.

I am noticing another trend that’s starting to make waves in the angel investor ecosystem.

Non-technology angel investors are increasingly becoming due diligence experts in deals.

I spoke with 5 of the top investors in the US a few weeks ago in the technology space and their preferred co-investors were ALL non-tech. That’s amazing and bodes well for startups.

The example I was given is the work being done in agri-tech (intersection of Agriculture and technology). Most of the technology portions are relatively easy to understand for a technology expert, but the non-technology parts of soil testing, crop selection and cold-chain storage were all alien to most technology founders. So they enlisted the help of local (Seattle) farmers and food supply chain experts. In this case it was cheese processing.

In places such as India, where technology founders are a small part of the ultra-rich, this is a dramatic change and a great way to expand the angel investor ecosystem.

I can see how we can enlist more non-technology high-net-worth individual to form teams of investors to help get deals done faster. Since they have good working knowledge of the space and sectors, they are more likely to provide insights and connections that matter.

The irrational fear of missing out (FOMO) #startups

I know an entrepreneur who attends every event that happens in Bangalore. Provided its free. He also organizes many events. I used to wonder where he has the time to run his company or do his job. I have yet to ask him why he attends all these events.

I could hazard a guess. It could be the free food, or the chance to meet other people that might help his company or a chance to make serendipity happen.

Then I overheard a conversation he was having with his mind. Turns out he suffers from “Fear of Missing Out” syndrome, or FOMO.

To be fair, those “rare connections” do happen. That’s the whole point of serendipity. And also the point of never giving up. You just keep plugging away at it until you get to the promised land.

I am that person.

I realize that I have the irrational fear of missing out.

The trouble is , every time I meet an entrepreneur, I learn. I learn a small little thing that I did not know before. It always happens. Without fail.

I have learnt one trick about how to get more views per post with a single character added to my posts. I have learnt the perfect Subject line you can write to get a better open rate in your email newsletter.

So the question is always one of the value of the time spent. I fear that I might miss out on learning something, but at the same time I fear my time is worth a lot more than the lesson learnt.

It is the fear of missing out and it is an irrational fear, but I am curious as to how you overcome that fear. Thoughts welcome.

The step function of #changes that are happening in the #Indian #startup scene

Most everyone believes that startup growth happens in step functions. You work for ages on something and it seems like there is little progress, but as an entrepreneur you are plugging away at it and suddenly one day, the growth is dramatic. Then it plateaus for a while and grows again. That’s the same for startup ecosystems is my opinion (not researched).

Step Function Growth

Step Function Growth

I am starting to see the next step function of growth in the Indian technology startup scene. There are a lot of people (entrepreneurs, investors, etc.) contributing to this growth and its hard to point to why it happened except in hindsight.

First, what metrics should we track so we can really know if there’s a step function or no progress?

Here are a few that we track at the Accelerator.

1. # of startups: How many startups are getting formed, where are they getting started, etc.

2. # of funded startups: Time taken to fund startups, amount of investment into startups, stage the companies are in at the point of angel investment etc.

3. Pace of growth: How quickly are they signing customers, how quickly are they getting VC investment, how quickly is their revenue growing, etc.

The NASSCOM 10K startups initiative is one such forcing function contributing to the growth.

Yesterday in partnership with NextBigWhat they organized the first of several #startuproots event.

A big part of that event was the #sharktank, which had 4 companies out of 200 that applied, that were going to pitch to investors and they had to make a decision on the spot.

For those of you who are not familiar with the sharktank format, the startups get 5-10 minutes to pitch, the investors get 5-10 min to ask questions and 2-5 min to make an offer. The entrepreneurs can then take some time to make their decision and then make a counter offer.

All offers are binding, save for legal and financial due diligence. Which means if and investor gets cold feet later, they cannot back out.

Yesterday, 4 companies presented. I had heard about 2 of those companies before (but did not know they were chosen) and the other two companies were fresh and new.

There were 8 investors who were part of the sharktank, but only 6 were serious. The other 2 seemed more there to critique and provide theoretical knowledge about startups.

Pankaj Jain from 500 startups, Ravi Gururaj from HBS, Ranjan Anandan from Google, Anirudh Suri from India Internet Fund and RK Shah from HBS were on the investors side.

Tookitaki (ad-tech space), Moojic (retail music hardware), Credii (Mid-market IT decision support) and Lumos (solar panels for backpacks to charge your phone), were the presenting companies.

All four got funded at the end of the event. I personally thought 2 of them would definitely get funded, but all 4 getting offers was truly a step function change.

I was personally pleased that Lumos got funded. They are doing something new and innovative that most Indian entrepreneurs wont do – Working on a non-software, difficult to scale hardware business, because of their passion.

I have to call out a special mention to RK Shah. RK is not a technology entrepreneur, (he runs a textile unit) neither is he a professional institutional investor. He wrote 2 checks himself yesterday. We need more RK Shah’s in India.

Finally big kudos to Jaivir, Brijesh and the rest of the NASSCOM 10K startup team. In less than 1 week, they got 850 signups for the event, and 500+ people attending.

Why do investors use boilerplate emails instead of telling you the plain truth?

Most every day I get 2-3 requests to review companies for investment in the seed stage as an individual investor. Since I keep a fairly open network on both LinkedIn and Twitter, I get many folks sending me an email to review their plans. While I do read all of their emails, and send them a response, only 1 in 10 get me to open their plans.

It tends to be fairly easy to decided not to pursue based on their description of the problem or their background. Although I have put my criteria for investment on my blog, rarely do people read it.

I dont think entrepreneurs have internalized the changed landscape for funding of all types.

I do send a quick email to everyone of the people who I dont intend to invest in with a short 1-2 sentence reason. Either its because I dont like the market, the idea or dont believe it will work.

I used to be brutually honest initially (a few years ago) and have mellowed down over the last year. These days if I say I dont have time, it really is the truth. Its not because I dont like the plan or the entrepreneur or the idea. Its just because I dont have the time to evaluate the company.

The main reason I mellowed down was the feedback I heard from many entrepreneurs who had not developed a thick skin that my response was really disheartening and counter productive.

I read today, Paul Graham’s piece on VC boilerplate that Harj Taggar wrote and was amused initially, but the reality is most entrepreneurs prefer to read emails from investors that have some boiler plate stuff rather than the honest truth. I mention most, not all.

Its hard to find know which entrepreneurs prefer the straight up honest truth versus the ones that prefer to get a pat on the back with some encouragement to keep going.

Practically speaking the email from Harj, has 25 sentences too many. If all the email said was “it’s currently a little early for us to step in here.”, that would suffice. If there was more detail, i.e. the number of users, or too few customers, etc. it might help, but really it rarely does.

Why?

Primarily because you get into a shouting match about why the entrepreneur thinks you should be investing at this stage and why you are not an “angel investor” if you wait longer or that you (as an investor) are very risk averse. See comments on my post earlier on what you should have ready before you approach me to get a sense for that.

I invest in very few deals every year (most likely 2) and so do most VC’s. Like most of us we are all pressed for time. Short email responses with quick no should help, but realistically most entrepreneurs dont like that.

A field guide to being a technology angel investor

I am going to work in a series of posts over the next few months on angel investing. This guide will be based on my conversations with about 100+ US angel investors and over 50 in India. The goal is to encourage more high net worth individuals to fund new technology companies.

I have one request of you: If you are an entrepreneur, please promote this guide (it will be free, before you ask that question) among potential angel investors and those that are on the fence. I will try and make it into a downloadable single file in 2-3 months when I finish the guide. Here’s an excerpt.

From 2008 to 2013 there has been a 713% increase in angel investors1 who have funded technology startups the world over. Dramatically lower costs of starting companies, thanks to cloud computing and well formed distribution channels such as app stores has created a boom in entrepreneurs forming new digital ventures. This boom in supply coincided with significantly lower returns from several other asset classes worldwide including a steep drop in public markets, debt returns and also lower housing and real estate prices, which enabled these investors to seek better returns, offered by technology angel investing.

There are multiple reasons we are seeing an increase in angel investors including the anticipation of higher returns, the desire for fostering entrepreneurship among the youth, the need to give back in a more meaningful way to the community and the joy of mentoring. Many angel investors are also seeking a way to leverage their expertise, experience and connections built over the years into a meaningful venture. Whatever the reasons, the net result is that we now have a large set of experienced individuals interested in helping fund and grow innovative companies.

This guide is for potential and new investors, ones on the fence and those who are experienced at the art and math of investing at the early stages. The audience for this guide includes high net worth individuals and experienced entrepreneurs who are keen to help the next generation of entrepreneurs. This guide can help those who, after years of experience working at a large company are now looking to branch out and learn about new markets, new companies and technologies by nurturing and investing in game changing entrepreneurs and their ideas.

How to get to 1000 startups in India ever year

I will be on a panel with several others at the IAMAI conference next week for the India Digital Summit and the discussion is about how to make 1000 digital startups happen annually in India.

I thought I’d put some thoughts together and get some opinions before I present at the panel.

Currently there are less than half that number of product companies being started each year.

There are various issues across the funnel, but I’ll focus on the #1 issue, which I believe is at the top of the funnel.

Great product entrepreneurs starting great companies.

I wanted to pick a specific example from our accelerator: two of the most amazing hackers and geeks I have worked with – Melchi and Aditya co-founded Cloud Infra after 6 years at Google here in India, building high quality products.

I would fund them just given their background and the quality of hackers they are. Regardless of what they are developing.

Anyplace else (Valley) they would have been funded first and then they would have been asked questions. I worked with them for 4 months.They are amazing.

India needs more of them to increase the number of startups from 500 to 1000.

Unfortunately that’s not happening and is not going to happen.

I may get a lot of brickbats for this statement, but:

I believe the best product entrepreneurs should have built & shipped a world-class product before they start a company.

If you have worked in a services company it does not count. Period.

There are very few software product companies in India – in fact fewer than 20 are really good. Of those 20, many, including Google, are cutting back on hiring and investing in India.

That’s just awful.

Yahoo, Zoho & InMobi in particular have contributed a LOT to the product startup ecosystem in India, given how many good developers they have helped groom.

If you worked at any of these product software companies a few years ago, then you are a candidate for a high quality product startup in India.

Granted, a small number of these folks are actually starting companies, but that can be fixed.

The trouble is there are not too many of them in the first place.

And the bigger issue is that the Google’s and Facebook’s of the world are preferring to hire more folks in the valley.

In fact many of the top IIT graduates who get jobs at Google and Facebook are moving to the valley. 2 years ago they’d be working here in India.

To get 1000+ digital startups each year in India, we have to work on making sure world-class digital software companies hire more of our top people here in India.

I dont think tax breaks will provide them any more incentive to hire here.

I also believe there are enough quality folks here in India they can hire.

I’d love some ideas on what will make them hire more people of high caliber in India and keep them here. I’d love to see them not cut back on hiring in India.

What are your ideas on how we can get these companies to hire great engineering talent in India?

Announcing the angel investor office hours in Bangalore (soon in Mumbai and Delhi as well)

How to hack your seed round in India, got 63 emails, comments and twitter messages asking me to take the post to its next logical step.

The 3 biggest issues entrepreneurs raised were:

1. They dont have the email addresses of these angel investors. Even if they did send them an email, responses were slow or went into a “black hole”.

2. The angel networks in particular have a fairly arduous process to filter, select and decide on new companies.

3. Many angel investors were not proactive in telling them what areas (sectors) they were interested in funding, so entrepreneurs could tailor their pitch to be more specific and target the right person.

I am extremely pleased to announce that in Bangalore (soon in Mumbai and Delhi as well), we will have a few of the top angel investors from IAN (working on Mumbai Angels and others as well, stay tuned) who are committing to office hours each week to meet entrepreneurs and provide them quick feedback on their funding options.

From January 2013, five of the most prolific IAN investors, Venkat Raju, Manav Garg, Nagaraj Prakasam, Sharad Sharma and Sundi Natrajan will hold monthly office hours in 2 locations – the Microsoft office at Lavelle Road and Eka Software offices in Outer Ring Road.

Update: Anil Joshi of Mumbai Angels has also agreed to host office hours in both Bangalore and Mumbai once a month.

Each session will be for 30 minutes per entrepreneur and a max of 4 entrepreneurs will be given time on a first-come-first-serve basis every month. Only one session per entrepreneur per year will be allowed.

Second, after each investment led by these investors they will write a quick note to tell us more about why they decided to invest. This will tell us more about what their thesis was, the trends they were betting on and other relevant details.

Finally each of these investors will share their investment thesis for 2013 and the sectors or areas they have expertise in or are passionate about. For example, Sharad’s an expert in Internet and advertising, whereas Sundi is passionate about education.

I am very excited that they are committing to these office hours. As entrepreneurs we will get a chance to interact with them and get their initial feedback so we can fine tune our plans and strategies to maximize our funding chances.

I do have one request: We’d like a volunteer to help program manage this effort. You should be willing to commit about 1-2 hours per week. If you are interested, please send an email to: mukund at thrisha dot com.

If you are a seed investor and you’d love to join this program, do send me an email as well.

P.S. A few folks have been asking me about other cities, such as Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, etc. I wont be able to commit to these investors coming to those cities, but will try and get a few more local investors from those cities to hold office hours.