It started as an idea blogged by two guys and turned into an awesome event at Palo Alto based Vysr, where nearly two dozen aspiring entrepreneurs showed up to share ideas, learn, and teach. Startup folks from as far as Australia unconferenced with bloggers, media folks, and angel investors and angel groups about a variety of topics, such as scaling on a dime, finding angel investors, and pitching a deal. We even had the pleasure of meeting a fifteen year old entrepreneur behind Teens in Tech. The most oft-recurring themes of course were bootstrapping (discussion lead by Mukund Mohan), and angel funding (discussion lead by MR Rangaswami of Sand Hill Partners, Guda of Vysr, and Mark Balabanian of Koders). Between participating in a few sessions, I managed to snap a few photos, which can be found here.
Since the majority of sessions and the preponderance of collective interest were focused around angel funding (post-seed), I put together a 14-point list of learnings for entrepreneurs looking to pitch angel investors:
1. Relationships are a discussion starter. Get to know people with personal relationships to angels, and approach angels through those people. M.R. notes he’s never funded anyone outside his network in 11 years of investing.
2. Mind the basics. M.R. and Mark look for a clear value proposition which stands out.
3. Lose the Hockey Stick. The market size looking big is unimportant, as everyone who pitches investors has a habit of putting up impressive looking “hockey stick” graphs of how the total market is set to explode. Everyone can project a big market – what those kinds of graphs do is make your audience cynical. Savvy pitchmeisters specifically talk about total addressable market rather than total market size, which is received as more realistic.
4. Parallelism. Make sure your personal resume supports what you’re looking to do – investors are investing more in people than in ideas, and they want to know you’re not new at what you want to do.
5. Chemistry. The personality and chemistry is important. An investor’s involvement doesn’t end at funding, and they will be looking for people they can comfortably work with over the next 3-4 years time. Investors will sometimes provide a helpful “kick in the rear” and are keen on people who respond positively and decisively to it.
6. Demonstrate incremental success. They will also look into whether the person makes his commitments over a 3-4 month cycle -about as long as it takes to fund a deal. Even a stray comment can be construed as a milestone. Many a pitch has been blown off by a ballyhooed “we’re about to close a deal with Facebook, etc” pitch which never came to pass. If you’re working on meeting a milestone, alert investors to it only after it’s a sure thing, which make it appear you’re executing effectively.
7. Develop your story slowly. This may sound inscrutable but MR and Mark advise sandbagging to some degree. Giddy entrepreneurs usually make the mistake of showing all their cards as quickly as possible. A more effective strategy is to develop the story during the close process to maintain investor interest in your idea. It’s also important to maintain consistency. If the investor feels like they are being pitched a plan to be followed with a backup plan, then they will get cold feet.
8. Quit your job. Investors will be skittish about funding a startup in which none of the founders are working it full time. Said differently, they are looking for entrepreneurs willing to dive into their ideas without reservations.
9. Teamwork beats heroes. All else being equal, a founding team with well segmented duties will be more attractive to a single founder. While single founders do get funded, an angel will likely inquire why an idea is likely to be fruitful if a founder can’t convince others to join him or her.
10. Keep it real. Investors wade through many pitches and will mentally discount hyperbole with nary a thought. Do not pitch divine inspiration or perfection -be open about weaknesses you’ve identified and have a plan to deal with them.
11. Align interest with involvement. Pitching an angel based solely on the numbers is hubris; there are simply too many unknowns. Make sure to pitch to investors who are interested in your market. For instance, if you’re starting up a social network for soccer fans, then find angels who are soccer fans.
12. Advisory boards. Advisory boards are effective leverage: you pay people in stock and benefit from influencers who will talk about your idea to everyone they know. Adding an adviser is also a great way to mitigate risk of disinterest – advisers who do not want to be involved are usually removed quietly, while board members can not be removed to easily. Mark specifically notes that an adviser who is proficient in marketing wizardry is particularly important, since founding teams are usually weak at promotional savvy.
13. You Have No Secrets. Every angel or VC talks to every single other angel and VC. There’s no secrecy here so you have to pitch the idea intelligently and make sure that you retain value.
14. Put Everything on Paper. Many an internal founder power struggle has doomed a startup to failure. Since clairvoyance isn ot part of the business plan, preparedness has to be. Investors will feel more comfortable with a founding team defining their core competencies and their ownership stakes on paper, along with vesting schedules to each founder providing incentives towards continuity. That last thing an investor wants to see if half the team bail with full vesting in hand shortly after funding.
Thanks again to everyone who came and made the event a success. I look forward to the next such event; we’re hoping to put another one together sometime after the summer. Please drop me a line or comment below if you’re game!
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