SBEC: Ask the Angel Investors

[This article originally appeared in 2013 – Mr. Platnick has updated to reflect recent marketplace changes.]

Recently a company founder asked me about what kinds of things entrepreneurs have done (and should do) to increase the odds of getting funded. A few years ago John Isaacson, past Chairman of the Pasadena Angels, did a presentation on “How to impress an Angel and get your company funded.” This presentation provided a comprehensive overview of the common denominators (both good and bad) we’ve seen from companies pitching the Pasadena Angels over the past 14 years. For John’s talk, he divided the presentation into the following topics:

  • What Every Entrepreneur Should Know
  • What We Look For
  • Investment Criteria and Cheat Sheet
  • Getting Inside the Mind of the Angel
  • Top Deal Killers

For this post I’ll talk about what every entrepreneur should know and provide some additional granularity to John’s main points on this topic:

1. Having a good idea is not enough

Every so often we come across an entrepreneur who believes they’re investment worthy based on how bright they are or because they came up with a good idea that was well articulated in a 2-page summary. Along with the funding criteria on the Pasadena Angels website, there are two other things we look for in companies: (1) a prototype or proof-of-concept that validates the company really can deliver on its idea; (2) ‘real’ market validation to confirm that a viable market exists; (3) the “plan” behind the plan, which I’ll address in a later post and covers how you’ll execute once you’re funded.

2. Raising capital requires both time and money

Periodically we’re impressed by an entrepreneur that has left a well paying job so they could devote all of their time to their startup. To financially support their new venture, they will often take a second mortgage on their house and max out all their credit cards. The net impression when we see this is that he/she really believes in themselves and their business, are completely committed and has some serious skin in the game. At the other extreme we’ve seen people who keep their day jobs, devote a few hours per week to their fledgling business and have invested only a few hundred dollars of their own money. Although you don’t have to follow the first scenario to secure funding, you should make sure that at a minimum you’re at least half-way between the two.

The two key points on this topic are you’ll need to invest sufficient time and money into your business to get to the point where a prospective investor will be interested. Secondly, the process of raising money will invariably be the hardest part in a startup—which also translates into time and $$$$$.

3. You can save time and money if you understand the investment process

Although this is stating the obvious, you’d be amazed at how many companies don’t take the time to do this.

4. Identify and contact prospective investors whose investment criteria match your situation

Once again, it’s pretty intuitive. One added benefit of doing this is that this research may also help you discover things about the investor that you can use to get your company noticed.

5. It’s like college…you’ll be graded on a curve

Back when I was in college I was surrounded by a lot of very bright people. As if the situation wasn’t challenging enough, my class grades were often determined by how I did relative to them and the class average, and not on an absolute scale. Raising money is somewhat like that, because investors make only a limited number of investments. For the Pasadena Angels, it’s typically 12-15 per year. Although your company may be great on an absolute scale, the chances of getting funded will go down if an investor is simultaneously considering more investment worthy (i.e., stage, market, team, exit opportunity, etc.) companies. Historically, there have been many good, potentially fundable companies we’ve had to forego because of this.

6. Don’t stop till it’s done

At times we’ve watched entrepreneurs reduce the amount of time and energy they invest in the fundraising process after hitting a milestone along the way—but before actually having the money in the bank. The most common time that we’ve seen them ease up has been after receiving the term sheet and investment agreements. The amount of time and enthusiasm that you expend during the latter stages should be the same as when you’re first pitching. Remember, don’t stop until all of the money has closed and it’s in the bank.