There is a tendency among entrepreneurs to chase money wherever they find it. The pressure to find the financial resources so necessary to build a business can be over-mastering. Most of the time the partnerships which form between founders and angel investors are productive but, in a few cases, I have seen it turn very destructive. Companies that should have realized success have been held back by investor partnerships that have severely limited their potential or, in some cases, doomed them to failure.
Look Beyond the Checkbook
It may be hard to be discriminating when you are in the heat of the ‘money hunt’ but the sins of omission you commit while chasing investors can return ten-fold to destroy any chance of success. The problem become acute because of the incredible range of circumstances, experience and interests that angel investors bring to the table. Their having money to invest in not enough. You need to understand their basic motivations and what is driving them to act as an angel investor. You also need to understand that all investment money is not the same. Some money will help you succeed while other investments will be a poisoned pill that will reduce your chances of building the business you envision. Here are some ‘sacred cows’ that you need to slaughter:
- Angel investors are in it for a return on their investment: Well, how can you argue with that? You would assume that the primary driver is always a return on investment. But, as you will read further on, that is not always the case. I know angel investors who are simply bored and looking for something to do and others who are frustrated CEO-wannabees. For some investors, it is all about a return but for others the return is secondary. You need to sort these two groups out. Do not listen just to what they say; it is what they do that is important.
- They have money they; must be smart: This is another fallacy. Some of the dumbest and most self-destructive people I have ever met are wealthy. I have found only a weak correlation between wealth and intelligence and a slimmer one between wealth and wisdom. Many a destructive hubris has been built on a fat bank account. Investors have an important role in start-ups but pretense, omnipotence or omniscience can warp an investor’s understanding of that role. Smart investors play their part in a highly professional and constructive manner. Seek them out; they are most likely the winners you want to associate with.
- They have been successful in business so they will know how we can be: Past success is not always a good indicator of wisdom going forward. In fact, great success can be counter-productive when they decide to work with start-up companies. I know one investor who continually regales his CEOs with stories of how he ran his company. Of course, the company was running over one hundred million annually when these stories took place. The CEOs, wanting to emulate his success, take steps that are entirely premature. The result is wasted resources and a dysfunctional corporate culture. Past business success is not a good indicator of professional performance as an investor. Remember, you are seeking an investor, not a shadow CEO.
- They will become my close personal friends and advisers: Not a good idea; the correct focus of investors should produce a tension in the relationship with management. If you want a friend, buy a dog.
The Bad and the Very Ugly
The problem with writing about angel investors is that they come in an amazing variety. I have met lots of them and there is always something different about each. The ease of entry into the field may have something to do with it. The only real entry requirement is wealth beyond current needs. That’s all it takes to become an angel investor. There are no educational requirements, courses to take or certifications to merit. Only a bank account and a decision to ‘invest’ are required to hang out a shingle and open up for business. Watch out for the following:
- The Shadow CEO: I have met investors who purposefully pick weak or inexperienced CEOs to work with. Their real agenda is to run your company from the back seat. These investors are very intrusive and will push you to make decisions and commit resources that will put your company at risk. They are mostly successful entrepreneurs who have built and sold a business. In the process, they have lost touch with the necessary energy levels and passion that is essential to building a start-up into a going business. Mostly they remember the later stages of their company and the extended staff they had. Then they turn the CEO into a kind of executive assistant and attempt to run the company by proxy. Most of the companies in the portfolio of this type of investor remain very small. They generally have very complex Excel spreadsheet projections and poor records in meeting them. Stay away from the Shadow CEO; they are very dangerous investors.