Nearly all seed rounds we are a part of include angel investors. In some cases, there are also smaller checks from funds as well that are playing a support role as opposed to a lead role.
In almost all of these cases, these smaller investors were included into a syndicate because they “added value” either through domain or functional expertise or through their network. In almost all cases as well, I find entrepreneurs really end up feeling that a very small subset of these investors (if any) actually added tangible value.
It’s easy to just dismiss this as investors being investors, and promising that they’ll add a lot of value and then not following through. I’ve seen that happen sometimes. But I think much of the time, it’s a bit of a two way street. Investors have a bunch of companies that they are engaged with, and it’s hard to help if you feel out of the loop and the company is not top of mind. Sometimes, the most well meaning investors are actually hesitant to offer advice or an introduction because they don’t want to be perceived as meddling in a company that they don’t know enough about.
So, here are a couple idea for getting more out of your angels and smaller investors.
First, don’t bring in too many. Sometimes, founders take a shotgun approach. They figure that it’s going to be a bit of a crapshoot as to who can help down the road, so they save a chunk of a round for a very large number of small investors. I personally am not a huge fan of this approach. The problem is that the amount of money invested by the angels is too small to really matter, and the sheer number of individuals diffuses whatever time you do have to build your relationship. Further, with any investor of any size, there is a non-zero chance that something could go wrong and there is some sort of time-consuming dispute down the road. Adding more people just increases the probability that some sort of unforseen headache like this could happen. Personally, I think it’s better to have a small number of folks who are committed to helping your company rather than a bunch of people chipping in for moral support.
Second, send updates. I find that almost all seed stage companies start out sending updates to investors. Inevitably, these end up lasting for 2-3 editions and then drop off. I’d keep at it for as long as possible, but find a way to make these updates sustainable. I’d probably target sending these out every 2-3 months (I find monthly ends up being hard to keep up), and I’d have a simple consistent format. Something like: I) KPIs, II) Wins, III) Concerns, IV) Asks. I might even lead with a 1-2 bullet “TLDR” version so at these those who are casually glancing over the email get some gut sense of where things are and your sentiment around the business. I’d also lead (with bold letters) with specific shout-outs to individuals that have helped you since the last update. We are all competitive by nature, so there is no better way to get an investor more engaged than to see a founder praise someone else for the way they have helped them.
Some founders find themselves nervous about sending these updates when things start to go sideways. Unfortunately, it’s in precisely in these shaky situations that your investors should be most motivated to help. If you don’t let them know things are happening, or they feel like they’ve been caught by surprise, they are probably less likely to really engage. Think about this when you are selecting smaller investors to add to your syndicate. Are you going to be comfortable sharing not great news with them? Are you going to feel the need to spin everything positively? Your ability to get value will be correlated with your ability to be transparent.
Third, go out of your way to see people face to face. What I often see is founders who add an angel in a syndicate to gain geographic reach in a market other than the one they are headquartered in. But then, they basically never see this angel because they never go to see them. This is a lost opportunity. So much of an investor’s willingness to help is based on the personal connection they feel to the founders. So try to find way to deepen this. It doesn’t take much – maybe 1 meeting every 6 months or so, or a Google Hangout or two. One other approach to save time is to have group gatherings of investors and advisors a couple times a year. This happens to some degree during office housewarmings or other larger events you may throw, but that’s not really the same thing. I think a casual drinks or dinner gathering between your investors, advisors, and maybe a few key team members can go a long way towards building the sense of connection between the investors and your company. This may also be a leveraged way to replace 1:1 conversations, or at least be able to focus future 1:1s better with a smaller subset of people who have something specific to add.
I think the reason many founders don’t do many of these things is time. It feels like a pretty bad ROI given that the benefits are not always tangible and scheduling is often a nightmare. I totally get it, and it’s kind of true. That’s all the more reason to keep the investor group fairly small and really focus on people that you don’t feel the need to waste time “spinning” your story for. Scheduling with busy people is an unfortunate challenge. That’s why I like the idea of a group events or consistent email updates because it allows for a bit more serendipity if the 1:1’s don’t work out. Finally, visit your out of town investors. I believe that most founders don’t end up travelling enough, and in the early stages of a business, you sometimes feel like it’s hard to justify trips. But I find that travelling almost always has a positive ROI (I’ve shared this opinion before), and visiting out of town investors is one more way to anchor your trips. Leverage them when you do visit – by asking them “who are the 2 people I should prioritize meeting while I’m in town?” That ends up being a very easy ask, and one that you might get a ton of value from.
I’d be curious if anyone else has any tips or hacks to get more value from their smaller investors without burning too much time. Please share in the comments!