Sunday, March 6, 2011

More thoughts on raising capital from angel investors

Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity to speak to groups about the difficulty in raising capital from angel investors. I always emphasize the need to establish a relationship with several angel investors before asking them to invest. This takes more time than many companies have to raise capital before going out of business. Therefore, most companies have to bootstrap for up to a year while establishing relationships with credible angels and angel groups.

There is a trend toward angel investors forming angel groups. I think this will help companies that qualify to raise capital from angels, but companies need to recognize the time it takes to go through the process of getting money from an angel group. I hope the formation of angel groups results in better access to capital for entrepreneurial companies.

But, it still takes more time than most entrepreneurial companies can imagine to raise capital from angels. I often advise early stage companies that they need to "raise capital to raise capital." Otherwise, the company can't stay in business long enough to develop the relationships with angel investors necessary to raise a serious amount of capital.

Raising capital from non-strangers, not angels

Over the years, I have counseled clients who set out to raise capital from angel investors that they need to focus on angels with whom they have relationships, directly or indirectly. The probability of raising capital from angels with whom the entrepreneur has no relationship is extremely low. Therefore, logically, the entrepreneur must start developing or pursuing relationships with potential angel investors from the get-go since these relationships are difficult and time consuming to develop.

I've decided to call angels with whom an entrepreneur has relationships Non-Strangers. This seems like an odd name, but it is descriptive of the angels who actually invest in most companies. Yet, most entrepreneurs don't get it. They think that they can simply find wealthy people, present a business plan and some of them will invest. This is usually a waste of time for both the entrepreneur and the wealthy person.

Angel investors should be viewed as customers

When an entrepreneur comes to me for advice on raising capital from angel investors, I ask him or her "Do you know why angels make investments in early stage companies?" Inevitably, the answer reflects superficial thinking and deserves an "F." Most entrepreneurs do not have the foggiest idea about what it takes to raise capital from angel investors and make little effort to find out. They seem to think that if they have a good business plan and enthusiasm, angel investors will invest.

Any entrepreneur who decides to raise capital from angel investors should conduct as much research on why angels invest as they do on why customers buy their products or services. Few entrepreneurs even read a book on how to raise capital from angels when there are many books on the subject through Amazon. It's no wonder that most entrepreneurs who set out to raise capital from angels fail miserably.

Every angel investor is different, just like every customer is different. But, there are some characteristics that are common to most angel investors. If an entrepreneur would come to me for advice on raising capital and demonstrated the same degree of ignorance about his or her customers as the entrepreneur usually demonstrates about angel investors,I would tell the entrepreneur to find another occupation.

Why is it that entrepreneurs make little effort to find out the same type of information about angel investors, yet will work really hard to find out about the characteristics of potential customers? I attribute this to an underlying sense in most entrepreneurs that an angel investor is not a "buyer or customer" but is a "seller or supplier." An erroneous view is that an angel investor is "selling capital" to the entrepreneur and the price to be paid is an equity interest in the entrepreneur's company. Not true. The seller in this case is the company, selling an equity interest to the angel investor who is buying, not selling. If an entrepreneur would only take this view of angel investors, the entrepreneur would do extensive research into the characteristics of the angel investor market. How many angel investors will the entrepreneur have access to, what is the decision making process for an angel investor, who influences the angel investor to make the investment, what is the competition for the angel investor's funds, what will it take to get an angel investor to seriously consider the entrepreneur's opportunity, etc. These are the types of questions the entrepreneur would seek answers to for his or her customers; why not seek this information about angel investors?

Finding out the characteristics of the angel investor market is difficult, but not impossible. It is inexcusable for entrepreneurial companies who set out to raise capital from angel investors not to know as much about the angel investor market as they know about their potential customers.