Fundraising is brutal. Actually, according to Paul Graham of Y-Combinator fame, “Raising money is the second hardest part of starting a startup. The hardest part is making something people want.” More startups may fail for that reason, but a close second is the difficulty of raising money.
A while back, I outlined “The 10 Best Sources of Cash to Start Your Business” for startups, listing angel investors as alternative #6. I still get a lot of questions on these mysterious and often invisible investors, so here is another attempt to bring them out of the ether.
By definition, an angel investor is not an “institutional investor.” Venture capitalists (VCs) are paid to invest other people’s money, and measured on the rate of return they get. Angels are typically high net worth individuals who are investing their own money, for a wide range of motives.
So “good” angels are ones with motives that are consistent with what you bring to the table. This means they usually invest in people who have the right “chemistry”, and areas of business they already know. They tend to work locally, so they can “touch and feel” their investments.
Angel investors also tend to limit the size of individual investments to $250K or less. If you need more, you need VCs or a flock of angels. So how do you find those good angels?
- Use personal networking. The best angels you will find are the ones who know you personally, or know a member of your team or advisory board. If a potential investor gets to know you BEFORE you are asking for money, your credibility and investment probability will be improved by an order of magnitude.
- Entice angels to play along. Of course, angels are really mortals. They want to make a difference. Asking an angel to work with your company in an advisory role is a great way to establish a relationship that may lead to a cash investment. If you impress the angel, it will likely make her at least an archangel (advocate) when it comes to funding.
- Court local angel groups. Since angel investors most often focus only in their own geographic area, it’s most effective to court the local group, or even make a guest appearance with an archangel. If you can earn an archangel's confidence, he or she will invite you to pitch the group, and you'll have an edge in the voting.
- Mine national databases. If you are still alone, submit your application to the leading online website national databases of angel investors, Gust (USA) and National Angel Capital Association (Canada). These sites have arrangements with hundreds of local groups and individual investors that you might otherwise have missed.
- Remember angels beget angels. That means that once you get the first one, he or she becomes your best advocate for finding more. Investment angels don’t like to travel alone, so they will bring in others if they can (it’s called share the risk).
- Don’t forget passive angels. These are angel investors who are private, meaning they don’t go to meetings, but will invest if someone they trust brings them an attractive opportunity. Find the right investment advisor, or member of your advisory board, and the “match-making” will happen.
Remember that angels have a culture all their own, and it pays to understand how to deal positively with them after you find one. There are some books out there to help, like the one I published with Joe Bockerstette “Attracting an Angel - How to get Money from Business Angels and Why Most Entrepreneurs Don't”, and an old standby “The Art of The Start”, by Guy Kawasaki.
Even if you follow this recipe, you are likely to find that fundraising is a brutal challenge. But if it results in a good angel or two watching over your startup, you will definitely be one step closer to heaven.