Tag Archives: angel investor

What criteria should you use to create a target list of angel investors?

As a follow up to what percentage of active angel investors are on #angelList, I thought I’d address the orthogonal question. The follow up is to help entrepreneurs figure out how to come up with the list of criteria to create their target list of 20-50 angel investors for their #NapkinStage startup.

There are 5 primary criteria I use to help entrepreneurs find the right target investors.

1. Location. 2. Company Stage. 3. Space (Market). and 4. Raise Amount. 5. Network.

Target Angel Investor List Criteria
Target Angel Investor List Criteria

1. Location. All angel investing is largely bound by “what do we have in common”. Many angel investors prefer to invest in areas they have expertise in, in entrepreneurs they know and in their “own backyard”. There are a few exceptions (many Indian angel investors in the US, like to invest in companies in India), but angel investing is largely a “city specific” opportunity. If you can find the top entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals in your city or expats who are from your city but have left to go abroad, who you know, that would be a good place to start.

2. Company Stage: The further along you are from the #NapkinStage (yes, I know the irony in this criteria) but not so far along to be expensive, is when angel investor like to invest. I am going to put some simple stages – Idea (#NapkinStage) (or concept stage) – when you are formulating the problem with your cofounder, then the #PrototypeStage, then #CustomerPilot stage, followed by #MVP, and then the #TractionStage and finally #RevenueStage.

Most entrepreneurs need investors at the #NapkinStage through the #TractionStage, but most angel investors prefer to only invest at the #RevenueStage. The number of purely Idea stage investors is fairly small – limited to your network, since this used to be a Friends and family round.

Most entrepreneurs also like to join an accelerator at the #NapkinStage as well, but most accelerators prefer to take companies at the #Prototype or the #CustomerPilot stage.

3. Space. (Market): This would be the most obvious, but I am surprised by the number of entrepreneurs who reach out to folks who have been in B2B all their lives with a consumer internet opportunity. While, there are exceptions when folks who like to invest in areas outside their expertise, most angel investors I know tend to “stick to their knitting”, since they like to add value beyond the money.

4. Raise Amount: Depending on the amount of money you are trying to raise, you might want to create a target list of 20 to 50 investors. The average angel investor puts between $5000 to $50K per company. There are exceptions, of course, with some angel investors putting as little as $1000 and a few also putting up to $250K. If, you are looking to raise between $250K to $1 Million you want to target between 20 to 50 angel investors, which is the right number of early targets to get about 5-10 investors signed up.

5. Network: This is probably the most important and sometimes the only criteria needed. If you can dig your well before you are thirsty, it makes it easy to raise money faster. The first place I’d start to build my target investor list is the people in your network, who you have worked with before and those that know you well.

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Why you should have at least 1 investor / advisor who has been an #entrepreneur on your board

I think the best thing you can do is to celebrate small milestones at your startup more frequently. They help you ride out the sine-curve of emotions (or the roller coaster journey if you prefer that analogy).

The interesting thing I learned last week from a founder of a small startup last week, was they have weekly celebrations. The reason was it forces the team to think about what they should be doing to celebrate in a few days. Every Thursday, their team would get catered lunch, and a cake, providing the opportunity for one person to be the MVP for that week.

When he was presenting this to us at the advisory board meeting last week, I thought it was pretty cool. I loved the culture they are building of celebrating smalls wins.

Another member of the board, who was an angel investor, nodded his head, and moved on to the next item, which was a milestone he really cared about – $10K in monthly revenue, which the entrepreneur had committed to last quarter. The progress was slower, and so it was likely they were not going to hit that number in the quarter, but he was confident they would in 2 months.

I gathered later (post the board meeting) that they were unable to hire a “Growth Hacker” to their team, since they had interviewed 3 great candidates, but they all picked up offers at other companies.

I asked him what the issue with hiring was. He mentioned that the companies they lost the candidates to were smaller, earlier and were wooing the candidate with a different culture (free food, benefits, pay were all table stakes) of work from anywhere and 2 weeks paid work from a place of their choice (think Hawaii or Bulgaria or anyplace you choose).

That’s when it struck me. You will always have investors who have been through the startup experience and those that have not. Those that have not, will not understand the nuances of what it takes to actually be an entrepreneur, so they are less appreciative of the “many little things” that go towards making the big things happen.

What this entrepreneur was planning to do was to have candidates attend their final interview (if they went to that stage) on a Thursday, so they got to see the culture in action.

In this particular case, the outcome that the investor cared about was revenue. To achieve that though, the #1 thing they needed to do was to hire a good marketing person (Growth hacker) and the #2 and #3 things were to build a good pipeline of opportunities for their newly hired sales people and tweak the on-boarding experience for new customers.

Unfortunately the entrepreneur had failed to explicitly communicate this to the other investors, who were not entrepreneurs before.

If you do not have investors and advisors who are entrepreneurs, make sure that you are clear about the “little” things that need to happen to make the outcomes happen.

It is not that I dont think you are great, but I am not confident about my ability to pick winners consistently

I had a very interesting conversation with an entrepreneur yesterday who I was keen to invest in. He had soft circled $250K of his $750K seed round. I have been a big champion of him and really respect his determination, thoughtfulness and diligence.

I committed to $50K and was going through the details of the investment with him, but letting him know that even if it took him a while to raise the remainder of the funds, I would ear-mark the $50K for his venture.

He then asked me “You know and influence a lot of other investors as well, can you please convince them to join the round”. I said that I can introduce him to investors who have invested in the past with me, but they will have to make their own decision.

I was not going to lean in on them to invest.

He mentioned that I “leaned in” on another VC to invest in a portfolio company, which is what he heard from the other entrepreneur, who I had worked with.

He was correct. I did lean in. So, the signal I sent him (although that was not my intent) was that I was not as committed to his venture as I was to other the one where I leaned in.

First, I dont have as much influence as entrepreneurs give me credit for. That’s just the truth. They may attribute the fact that I am at Microsoft Ventures as a signal that the corporation thinks this is a good investment, which is absolutely untrue.

Second, I believe there’s a HUGE difference between an angel investor (who I dont like to lean in on) versus a institutional investor (who I will lean in from time to time).

Most angel investors invest by reputation, connections and referrals. VC’s will judge an entrepreneur and their opportunity on its own merit, do their required due diligence and will likely pass EVEN if there was a strong referral from a person they trust.

Referral’s get you in the door with an institutional investors, whereas with an angel investor it will usually get you a deal.

Most angels I know have “day jobs” or “other interests” with angel investing being their side project, activity or means of giving back. That does not mean they don’t want a return on their investment, it just means they don’t do as much diligence as an angel group or an institutional investor would.

Knowing that, I believe the biggest challenge is the confidence in my ability to pick winners all the time. I am investing as an individual investor because I believe in the entrepreneur. I don’t know if that entrepreneur, problem set, idea or market is right for the other angel investors I know and invest with.

Well, I do know that to a certain extent, but with angel investors, the relationship I have would be personal as well as professional. With VC’s it is rarely (exceptions exist) personal.

So, when I meet the other angel investors over dinner, with their family, I don’t like having uncomfortable conversations about “the investment that went south”. Many of them are great folks, but not mature enough as an investor to realize many of these angel deals (in fact 70-80% of them) will return in loss of their investment.

Many of the angel investors I invest with are not in the “early seed market” for the long haul and have not seen ups, downs, sideways deals, etc. So, end up investing in 1 or 2 companies, solely because of referrals and recommendations.

I don’t think I have confidence in every deal I do to end up returning my money or generate a great return.

That does not still mean I dont believe in the entrepreneur when I invest in them.

This is truly one of those cases, when its not you, its me.

A comparison of early stage private company startup databases

If you are an early stage investor (Venture Capitalist, Angel investor or other Seed fund), there are now a host of databases which claim to have the information required to scout, identify and track startups. There are 2 open data sources – Crunchbase and AngelList and 5 known new age companies – Datafox, CB Insights, Mattermark, Tracxn, Rocket Companies and Owler.

Crunchbase and AngelList have proprietary data (which they have open sourced) that’s entered by the startup founders and “followers” of the company.

The rest of the systems have either used public API’s or crawling to build their database of startups from sources such as Crunchbase, AngelList and LinkedIn etc.

All of these systems have almost identical pricing ($399) for a single seat per month. Owler claims to have a free tier and CBInsights has priced themselves even more than these solutions.

All except Datafox have given me some form of limited access to their data for evaluation purposes.

All these solutions are looking to replace the expensive Venture Intelligence reports or Reuters data or other private databases from yesteryear’s or become the “Bloomberg” terminal for private companies similar to what’s being used by traders and investors for publicly listed companies.

The mega trend that’s important for the story: The benchmark for a good stock to buy was a “ten bagger”. A company that if you invested $1 would return $10 in relatively short period of time (2-5 years) as initially quoted by Peter Lynch.

What’s happening in the private markets is that due to the onerous regulations, Sarbanes Oxley law and other paperwork associated with being public, tech companies are staying private longer. So they are becoming multi-ten baggers before they go public. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Uber and AirBnB, may do well as a public company, will no longer be a 10 bagger post IPO (or highly unlikely) but are obtaining large valuations from seed rounds to Series D or E.

So, many investors are looking to invest earlier into these companies. Data from companies listed above will be very useful for these investors, to make decisions on investing.

All these systems have a fairly similar UI and have almost identical data. for the 3 sectors I wanted to track – Internet of Things, Consumer Internet companies and B2B Enterprise software companies. I am sure you will have better value for the arcane categories. There is not much of a difference in their data since they all seem to obtain data from the same sources. Except Tracxn, I dont think the others use manually curation to track or manage their database.

There are 3 top things I looked for when evaluating these systems:

1. Comprehensive nature of their data: Most are fairly similar and you may get a 10% variation in companies from one system versus another.

2. Capability to export and do analysis manually: There’s not much of a difference here as well.

3. Their analysis, reporting and intelligence platform:All of them are in version 1 of their analysis modules, so right now there is a tremendous lack of sophistication on their data analysis.

Most peers in other companies and a few Venture firms I know, use more than 1 system and pull that data into their own CRM system.

I wont be able to really recommend one system over the other. They all do the job for a beta / version 1 system pretty well and right now, Datafox has a good visualization engine as does CB Insights. CB Insights has the most robust system, but in all 3 cases had the least # of companies of the other 4. Tracxn claims to have analysts that are curating their data, but I dont see the impact of that on their database.

The Global Startup Quiz at NASSCOM Product Conclave #NPC2013 #fun #unique

Most tech conferences offer you a plethora of speakers and peers to learn from. That’s par for the course. Many also offer practitioners who will guide you on the ways of the world – like the “blind leading the blind” Matthew 15:13-14. Others offer immense networking opportunities – cofounder dating, angel investor connections. Its matchmaking at its fastest. If marriages are made in heaven, cofounder dating assumes that heaven was made in a day.

How many promise you a fun time?

I mean a time that you will remember because you laughed so hard or when your pulse raced.

I mean, really, there’s no rule that says that you cant have fun once you join a startup.

Lets have fun. Big time.

Let me take you back a few years. Remember your days at school or college when you had a knack to remember the most mundane of things and store them in your head? Ahh! Those were the days my friend. Trivia seemed to find all the space in my head, but those damm chemistry equations never did.

Our volunteer team at NPC this year is an eclectic mix of folks who seem to think “fun is their birthright”.

So they are bringing you the Global Startup Quiz at NASSCOM Product Conclave this year.

You can form teams of 2-3 of your peers and participate in your knowledge of startup trivia.

The winner gets automatic funding** from Shekhar Kirani from Accel (who’s coming to NPC this year BTW)

** some restrictions apply, void where prohibited. subject to approval. conditions apply, fine print applies. do not operate after consuming alcohol. Plastic bag (part of the quiz) is not a toy. Keep away from adults – children only. Blah Blah Blah. Are you still reading this? go register for NPC

Yeah right! You wish.

You think you know your startup trivia?

Who said “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?” – dude that was not Steve Jobs. Wrong!

Make a team and match your skills with the best in NassQuiz, a one hour quiz on technology products worldwide.

  • Questions on world tech biz (not just software)
  • Written prelims before the 1 hour event
  • Audience participation included – winners get spot T-Shirts or goodies
  • Audio, photo/video questions as well

So if you want to win the bragging rights as the startup trivia quiz Czar – you gotta be at NPC this year. Register now.

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.

What does a series A funding strategy and plan look like?

This post is the first in a series that I am planning to do on fund raising. I have successfully raised money 3 times (to a total of $29 Million – series A, B and C) and failed twice (once trying to raise $2 Million series A and second time $3-$5 Million series B).

As a background please read Elizabeth’s great post on “Behind the scenes of a seed round”.

Fund raising is one of the most difficult parts of a founder’s job. Getting money from investors of any type is hard. Dont be fooled by stories of entrepreneurs talking to investors and getting checks in 10 minutes. Those are truly black swan events.

The first thing you have to realize is that you need to develop an comprehensive plan and strategy to raise your series A. Think of it as an effort that’s similar to the launch your product. For purposes of this discussion lets call series A, as your first institutional round. I am also making the assumption that you have a working product, paying customers and are targeting a very large market (>$1 B for US, >$250M in India). If any of those criteria are not met, dont bother trying to raise money in this environment.

What are the 3 most important elements of your funding plan?

1. The pitch deck – a 15 slide PowerPoint presentation which summarizes the market, problem, traction and investment requirements. This is needed only for the face-to-face meetings.

2. The target list of potential investors – a Excel spreadsheet which has investor’s firm, name of partner, list of 2-3 recent investments (in the same general space as yours), email addresses, phone numbers, admin assistant’s name & email address, investor connection (people who can give you warm introductions to the investors), status and notes fields. You could use a CRM tool like Zoho if you like, but its overkill for this purpose is what my experience tells me.

3. An email introduction (40 – 100 words) and a one page summary. A simple text file with no images or graphs (something that the investor can read on their mobile phone (most have blackberry, although that’s changing). This can be sent to your connections to introduce you to investors or directly to known investors.

What should your strategy be?

1. Who should you target by role?: Investment firms have partners (decision makers) and associate / principals (decision enablers). Partners make decisions so if you can, get a introduction to a partner. If you cant, its not all doom and gloom, since many partners rely on their associates and principals to source deals for them.

2. Who should you target by investment thesis: Every investment firm has an investment thesis (how they will deploy funds to get best returns for their investors). This should guide you as to whether you’d be a good fit for the firm. Example: An investment firm might say we believe India’s broadband access and huge number of consumers with high disposable incomes is a great target for Indian eCommerce companies. So, they will deploy a certain % of their funds in eCommerce companies. Similar theses exists for big data, SaaS, etc.

Example: if you are an education startup focusing on India, Lightspeed (thanks to their success with TutorVista) should be on the top of your list. If you are a SaaS firm targeting US, Accel (thanks to Freshdesk) should be on your list. If you are a travel technology startup, Helion & Saif (thanks to Make My Trip) should be obvious targets.

A word of caution: If a firm has invested in a company in your sector, they will very likely ask you to speak to the CEO of their portfolio company to perform cursory due diligence. You may decide that company might be competitive and likely to execute your idea better since they have more resources. So proceed with caution and dont reveal any thing during your due diligence that might hurt you later.

Many investors invest in a sector because they “need one of those in their portfolio”. Example: Every firm has a baby products eCommerce company. So, I also recommend the “herd rule”. Which means, you should talk to other investors if your competitor has been funded by your first choice investor.

3. Who should you target by investment stage: Although every Indian investor claims to be sector agnostic and stage agnostic, there are a few early adopter VC’s. If you are the “first” in a new space, then consider an early adopter investor, else any investor who has not made an investment in the sector will suffice.

In a next post I will outline what the series A funding process should look like. This post will include information about whether you should follow a “back-to-back” process, or do a “listen and tweak” process.

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