Navigating Angel Groups

A seed round is often times a good idea either after a ‘friends and family’ raise or in place of it.  A seed round tends to have less strings attached.  People always say the clock is ticking once you have taken a Series A from a VC.  A seed round is serious, but typically you haven’t proven you idea can work – you are still kind of testing it. So often times it is just more appropriate.

One of the reasons Angel groups are a good source of seed funding is not because of their skill or professionalism but simply because of the concentrated access to self-identified investors that they provide. Finding 10 to 20 angels willing to write a check of, for example $25,000, from an entrepreneurs own network would probably take quite a bit of time, even if the ‘hit rate’ on a percentage basis might be higher. So the odds of raising a seed round of between $250,000 and $500,000 seem higher and additionally the time commitment of the entrepreneur is likely lower than in a 1:1 meeting scenario.

Conversely, the value of an Angel group to its members is that they get deal flow. More sources of deals means more investment choices and ought to mean better investments and better returns.  It actually doesn’t, but that’s a different blog post.  The point is that for an entrepreneur pitching to an Angel group is a competition.  Entrepreneurs may not be thinking about it this way but they should.

As an insider here are some hints that can help improve your odds of winning this competition:

1) Market to your audience.  That means know your audience and don’t try to use a one-size-fits-all pitch.  Simple right?  Apparently not always.  Check out the individual bios.  Ask what the groups other investments have been.  Meet with a member of the group 1:1 before hand to understand some of the quirky do’s and don’ts.  Chances are you’ll find out that the group is old and white and male.  That’s changing slowly, but it’s still true today.  That means keep the initial interface with the group at a high level. Don’t go diving into the intellectual property as some entrepreneurs are prone to doing.  Use analogies.  I’m not saying this crowd is simple – they are not!  They are not all that tech savvy especially across lots of categories.  Finally, plan for less presentation and more Q&A. Let the investor be in the driver seat.

2) Keep the message simple. If the presentation has a bunch of ‘eye charts’ or lot’s of builds, or even too many slides, that is a sign the message hasn’t been boiled down to its essence.  Ben Franklin once wrote a letter to a friend concluding it with something along the lines of  “I’m sorry this correspondence is so long, it would have been short if I had more time to consider it.”  Essentially this means don’t brain dump!  Think about what is most important and how it is best said.

3) Find a champion within the group.  Let’s say you are one of 20 companies getting screened, one of 10 presenting to the Angel group and 1 of 3 that gets brought back for final investment consideration.  Think about how terrible those odds are.  Three opportunities to get nixed, lost in the shuffle, fallen through the crack or not properly remembered and considered.  I estimate that a good idea gets unknowingly screened out monthly.  So find a champion within the group. Get someone to help you keep your pitch alive by reminding the group about your business and why it is different and good.

4) Help find a lead investor. This one seems weird but it can be really helpful.  A bunch of times an Angel won’t be as good at valuing a startup or deciding on a term sheet.  If there is someone out there willing to set the terms and the valuation that accomplishes  two things: lets the group know that there is conventional wisdom that this is a good idea, and also helps make the investment decision easier for the rest of the investors by providing some guidelines about what the investment will look like.  Of course, finding a lead is the hard part, but Angel groups tend to be better at filling out the round than being in the driver seat.

I’ve seen a lot  of blogs that talk about how the deck should look and what the presentation style should be.  I think you should take that advice as well.  But, if you truly have a good idea for a business and you work the system I think your odds go way up.