Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Wrong Ways to Fund a Dream

The perpetual merry-go-round of entrepreneurs and investors is full of wondrous sights.  I wade through the chaff so my readers don't waste their time.  I run down blind alleys far enough to know when to run back out.  I recently ran down one such alley with a group I used to think was reputable.  I shall correct that misjudgment right here in this article.

Raising capital requires hard thinking about proven methods.  Appeals to faith don't hold water.  It's not enough to tell people they've gotta believe in a capital raising system.  The system has to actually work.  If it is designed with a hidden agenda in mind, such as funneling deal flow to asset managers who do not have relevant expertise in helping startups, then the system does not deserve to be considered angel investing.

Introducing angel group team members begs questions about why they are on the team.  Are they experienced investors?  Are they entrepreneurs with successful exits?  If those don't apply, and they're just good technicians, then they are probably in over their heads as mentors to entrepreneurs.

People who want to inflate themselves will sometimes drop names of prominent people they've met casually, or who were early into deals when they themselves came in late.  That does not imply any formal business relationship between the big shot and the braggart.  I have been in the same room with tons of Silicon Valley's biggest names and none of them cared about me at all.  There is no way I can claim those billionaires as business partners.  Anyone can photograph a casual encounter with a business or political celebrity.  So-called investors who run their mouths about phantom partners should either publish proof of their claimed relationships or shut up.

I have never heard of waiting to the end of a receiving line to maximize face time with a VIP.  Think about it, people.  All VIPs are busy and waiting to be last in line risks missing them altogether when they have to pick up and leave for their next event.  Waiting around is never an effective tactic in my experience; being first in line for anything is much more likely to bring success.

In a similar vein, I have never heard of mapping out a wealthy prospect's personal network of gardeners and gold partners as a means of planting a venture pitch in their ear.  That is just plain ludicrous.  Every effective prospector knows the importance of getting past gatekeepers, not converting them into an unpaid sales force.

Angel investors are supposed to know certain things about technology startups.  They should know that a provisional patent offers some IP protection for a pre-revenue stage startup.  They should know that traction means sales, and nothing else.  They should know that metrics like CAC and LTV are ways to measure a marketing campaign.  They should not have to lean on an audience member to explain widely adopted concepts like the Lean Startup method.  They should know how funding rounds are linked to achieving operational milestones.  They should understand that VCs expectations are partly driven by a need to return capital to their investors, and that VC funds' stated lifetimes affect a startup's path to its exit event.  Finally, angel investors should know that an early expectation of an X-multiple ROI works backwards from the exit's terminal valuation, adjusted for dilution by terms offered to different investors.  I cannot take an "angel investor" seriously when they demonstrate obvious ignorance of these concepts.

Business fakers should be grateful that I am in solid control of my blood pressure.  Otherwise, I would be blowing up when I see self-described business leaders pull amateurish stunts.  I dislike watching an entrepreneur tell minions to adjust event admission prices at the door based on whether an attendee looks like they can afford to pay.  Doing that with real products or services leads to FTC complaints.  I also dislike watching a featured speaker adjust their presentation slides 20 minutes prior to showtime, wing it through the presentation, allow audience questions to go unanswered, and otherwise show a total disregard for people's time.  All of these things are very bad signs.  I run away from this behavior when I see it.

I cannot take seriously any claimed expert who engages in the bizarre tactics I described above.  Anyone who approaches early-stage venture investing in this manner will never figure out how to get their dream funded.