Talk to an Angel: Crucial Connections to Early Stage Capital

moderator: James Geshwiler, CommonAngels
author: John May, New Vantage Group
author: Robert Greene, Contour Venture Partners
author: David Friend, Carbonite
author: Cynthia Fisher
published: Sept. 3, 2013,   recorded: June 2006,   views: 2202

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What entrepreneur doesn’t long to be touched by an angel? This panel offers tips that might bring aspiring business people closer to that dream.

For good ideas that need a fast but small infusion of cash, angels are just the ticket, says Bob Greene. If you “sit down with someone over breakfast and they love” your plan, they “may write a check over coffee for $25,000.” But if you need more than half a million dollars, the better bet might be venture capital.

The best way to find your angel within the pool of an estimated 8.5 million U.S. millionaires, says John May, is through networking. Search your community for “cashed-out entrepreneurs and high net-worth individuals” using lawyers, accountants, tech councils and regional business incubators.

But, warns David Friend, “the worst time to meet them is when you’re trying to get money out of them.” Establish a friendly relationship with your potential angel, “talk about windsurfing or technology first, then come back and ask for advice.” Says Friend, “Most people like me who started their own business love to give advice -- it’s in the blood.”

The one area where seeking angel investors may prove fruitless is biotech, suggests Cynthia Fisher, who acted as her own angel when launching her first company. “Biotech is hot but there’s a long lead time: eight to 10 years of drug discovery and tens of millions of dollars, or north of that, with private equity.” Think venture capital and government funding, she recommends.

Pitch an angel “on nonfinancial areas,” suggests May: Say “I want your Rolodex and a shoulder to cry on, access to people to form a team, help with intellectual property.” This can lead to a “bond that lasts longer than a pure bank or VC relationship.”

But be careful what you wish for. Once on board, an angel investor may wish to offer guidance in an intrusive way. Fisher says, “It can be life or death based on do you have a shared vision for the long and short term goals of the company. It is a marriage.” Greene says, “You might meet a great billionaire angel who offers you a million dollars to start and you’re totally beholden to him or her. And then they control the cards. It’s good to diversify.” Ultimately, prepare to give up some control. Says Fisher, “He who has the gold, rules.” But responds, Green, “If managers are doing a decent job, the last thing a VC or angel wants is for you to toss the keys to them.”

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