As angel investors, we like to see entrepreneurs with a laser-like focus on themselves, their venture, and fundraising. However, there are times when that single-mindedness can work to their disadvantage. With startups, fundraising is usually the most formidable challenge, whether the money comes from angels, VCs, or other sources. Over the years, I’ve seen many entrepreneurs make the process even more challenging by not putting themselves inside the head of an angel investor. They don’t look at the situation from the investor’s vantage point. In order to do this, it’s important to understand some of the key traits of angels…

An angel investor wants (and needs) returns

Although angels invest their own personal funds and often have altruistic motives, they can’t continue investing without returns. Many entrepreneurs dismiss this idea and figure that if an angel isn’t beholden to an outside institutional investor the way a VC is, then returns aren’t a high priority. Having been both an angel and VC, and although both scenarios are pretty uncomfortable, I can tell you it’s a lot worse explaining a bad personal investment to your spouse, than explaining one gone awry to your fund’s Limited Partner.

Along with focusing on returns, angels typically shy away from sectors of past failure. On numerous occasions I’ve been approached by entrepreneurs asking if we’d fund their company in a particular sector, right after closing down a similar company. Please do your homework (see below) before pitching, and in particular do some research on our portfolio companies—particularly noting where we’ve had successes and failures. The good entrepreneurs passionately believe they have lightening in a bottle and that their company is different. However, if your company’s in a market where we’ve had bad experiences, then the angel you’re talking to will be subconsciously thinking about the prospect of your crashing and burning.

Angel investors are often accomplished individuals, but…

In pitches to the Pasadena Angels, we’ve had hundreds of entrepreneurs assume that because our group is comprised of very bright people that went to the top Universities, then our members must be very technically oriented. A lot of the recent press about Google, Facebook, or (you fill in the blank) developers becoming angel investors and throwing checks around like Johnny Appleseed hasn’t helped matters. Although we do have a few of those technical types in the group, the vast majority are not overly technical, and will lose patience and interest fast if your pitch contains a lot of technical jargon and acronyms. Some of the best pitches we’ve seen have been from entrepreneurs that have taken a very complex technology and/or target market and described it in very simple language in 1-2 slides.

An angel investor can have a short attention span

If I only had 24 hours to live, I’d want to spend it with Mr./Ms. Entrepreneur, since it would feel like an eternity. This pretty much sums up what many angels think when listening to a long, boring pitch. Most of the time, the problem stems from the entrepreneur not being succinct and their inability to get their point across in as few words as possible.

If you look at the backgrounds of many of our members, these are individuals that have previously had hundreds (and sometimes thousands) or people working for them and tend to be bottom-line oriented. Think about how well a long-winded pitch would resonate with a CEO or senior executive from a Fortune 500 company, which is where many of these people have come from. The net impression produced here is that if you can’t easily explain your business to us, how will you ever explain it to a customer or key partner. Lastly, if an investor asks “aren’t you like Google, Microsoft, etc.” or another relevant question, don’t be dismissive, as their attention span will get even shorter.

Some of the other pitch pitfalls that will invariably decrease angel attention spans are story telling (e.g., talking for 30 minutes on the history of the Internet) and stating the obvious. When I fist joined the Pasadena Angles in 2004, one of the pitches I heard was for a company that had developed a dashboard mounted mapping and traffic monitoring device. For most of the 40 minute presentation, the Founder did nothing but try to convince us that Los Angeles had a traffic problem (really?). Although this individual was a visionary, clearly saw where the market was going, and had a good product prior to Garmin and TomTom, the company never got funded and eventually closed.

Angel investors run in packs

Cultivate a champion early within the angel group, or better still cultivate champions. Although angel groups have become institutionalized, these organizations are people, and not firms, and it is the individual member that makes each investment. Who you initially contact within an angel group really matters.

Let’s say there are two members in the group that might be potentially interested in your company—one who has 20 years of experience in your target market, and another that has no knowledge of your sector. Within an angel group we all typically look for a member that has relevant sector experience to either get us excited about a company or tell us we should pass. And if you contact the wrong member, you may be starting with one foot already out the door. For fundraising, you really need to think through who you reach out to for that first conversation. To make that process easier, the Pasadena Angels has provided for many years on our website the bios of our members.

Angel investors like to co-invest with the smart money

Who you’ve had involved with the Company (e.g., investors, board members, advisers, etc.) is really important when seeking angel investors. Having a prominent name and people that are well respected by angels can be helpful with fundraising. Angels (and most VC) like to be involved with those they perceive to be the ‘smart money.’ For our investments it always comes down to people, and most importantly the founding team and those that do the day-to-day work. However, to angels it also matters who’s behind the company, what they are willing to do in order to support the company, and most importantly how they are perceived.

It’s show time, folks

In the movie All That Jazz, Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) looks in the mirror and utters “It’s show time, folks”, which is a good way to think about (minus the pill popping) going into a pitch with angels. As is the case with most people, angels respond emotionally as well as to reason, and it’s critical to show both high energy and enthusiasm. As I mentioned a few years ago when I was on the Frank Peters show, you have the initial two minutes of a pitch to get maximum impact with prospective investors. If you exhibit the personality of Ben Stein (think Ferris Bueller and not his regular NY Times columns), that’s not likely to happen.

About the Author

Joe Platnick

Joe Platnick is currently a Faculty member and Business Advisor for the Goldman Sachs Foundation 10,000 Small Businesses Program. Since 2004, Joe has also been Director Emeritus of the Pasadena Angels, one of the largest angel investment groups in the US that provides long-term human and financial capital to early-stage technology companies. Founded in 2000, Pasadena Angels has provided over $65 million of early stage capital to more than 175 Southern California companies. Joe’s career has included a number of executive, board, and sales/marketing management positions with both Fortune 500 and startup companies. He has also been a Partner with the Asia-Pacific Venture Capital firm, Pan Pacific Capital Ltd. He is also a board member of the South Bay Entrepreneurship Center (SBEC).