A few years ago I wrote a post about evaluating Angel groups and the criteria to use when seeking investment. The list included:
- Do they charge fees
- Do they actually have capital and a track record of investing their own personal funds
- How transparent is their organization and investment process
- How do they say ‘no’
- Honesty and integrity
- Rolodex and connections
- Are they respectful of entrepreneurs
- Do they help entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they invest
- Do they support the local entrepreneurial community
Although charging fees—or pay to play—is a good litmus test for weeding out disreputable angel groups, you’ll also find that for-profit angel groups typically have a poor track record with these other criteria.
Most angel groups have money, and one group’s money isn’t any greener than another’s. Beyond cash, the other ways an angel group adds value to a startup is through great advice and personal connections.
One of the easiest ways to assess an angel investor’s ability to provide advice and connections is to read their bios on their website. High-caliber Angels with a lot of experience at both large and small companies, tend to have strong Rolodexes and skills that can be applied to helping portfolio companies. When reviewing their experience, consider both their work history and the companies they’ve backed as investors.
You can also judge the caliber of the group through your initial experiences, as many Angels provide worthwhile advice and introductions to their networks in the early stages and prior to investing. If you’re further along with an angel group, consider doing more diligence on the group and its members by contacting CEOs of their portfolio companies.
When it comes to connections, one of the most important when evaluating an angel group is links to VCs. Although many of our portfolio companies have told us the Angel round is the last tranche of money they’ll need (and they even say it with a straight face), most startups will invariably require follow-on funds.
William Quigley, a prominent local VC from Clearstone Venture Partners wrote a post years ago, Value of Certain Angel Investors:
As a VC, I divide angel investors into two buckets. The first group includes angel investors who know the space they are investing in. Perhaps they previously started a company in the same industry or were part of a successful company targeting the same market. As it happens, angel investors in this category usually know the VCs who invest in their space and can be a great help in introducing a start up to smart venture capital investors. Better still, these angels typically know the going terms for a start up in their market. Accordingly, they can help the entrepreneur get the best deal warranted given the progress of the business.
The second bucket of angel investors are those who have some spare cash to invest but don’t have any familiarity with the target market. These investors are generally not known by VCs active in the specific market the start up is pursuing. In most cases, they can’t help with follow on fund raising. Because they don’t know what the going VC terms are, they often set terms for their investment that make it harder to raise money in the next round.
VCs can’t know everything about an industry. So how do they get comfortable with a new business? They rely on smart people who are accomplished and well connected in that industry. If someone of that caliber happens to already be an angel in your business, raising venture capital just got a lot easier.
In the current environment, CEOs and entrepreneurs don’t always have a choice when it comes to selecting their investors. However, when you do, it’s important to pick an angel group that can deliver the intangibles, such as advice and network, along with the cash.