Managing Angel Investors: It's Like Herding Cats
With today's robust funding environment and the new crowdfunding rules included in the JOBS Act taking shape, there's a strong chance that your start-up will be raising money from angel investors—quite possibly a very large group of them. Working with numerous investors, all with different interests and demands, can be a strain not just on you, but also on your business.
Here are three ways to ensure that managing your early investors doesn't turn into an administrative nightmare.
Pick the Right Investors
This point seems obvious, but it is often ignored or overlooked by entrepreneurs. I'm not just speaking to the well-known importance of taking money from investors who can afford to make the investment. Even more critically, your angel investors need to truly understand the mechanics of these deals and the risks of this asset class. In short, they need to be comfortable with the notion that investing in start-ups is akin to burning money. Over the years, I have witnessed start-ups which, caught up in the excitement (or desperation) of the fundraising process, ignoree warning signs and accepted investment from folks (often friends and family) who lacked the sophistication or temperament to make angel investments. The result: constant panicked phone calls demanding updates, incessant second-guessing and founders stressed out for the wrong reasons. The lesson here is not to get caught up in the moment—maintain your nerve and select investors who will both provide needed capital and actually allow you to run your business.
Manage (and Understand) what is Legally Required
Unlike with venture capital transactions, the level and frequency of ongoing investor communication that is required in connection with angel deals is generally not well defined. That is a good thing. The point of taking angel investment is to allow the company to quickly close on needed cash and get back to working on product. You want to avoid onerous contractual provisions that give your angels non-standard information rights, like audited financials or required weekly phone calls. Work with an attorney who is experienced in structuring angel transactions so that you can keep these provisions out of the deal. Push your counsel to help you understand exactly what disclosure is required by your investment documents. If your angels start getting overly demanding, having a strong grasp of the contractual requirements can help you more effectively shut down their unreasonable requests.
Set Expectations and be Focused and Relevant
This is a more nuanced point—but in working with startups and angels I have seen entrepreneurs get into sticky situations when their ongoing discussions with angels are inconsistent and/or go off-track. Your investors do not need weekly updates—once per quarter is more standard—but set an ongoing, dependable drumbeat of disclosure. Also, your investors do not need to be privy to every speck of your start-up's decision-making process. They do not need to see a copy of the two-page "pros and cons" list you created when contemplating a new VP hire or a snapshot of the whiteboard from the last product development meeting. Seriously—I've seen entrepreneurs send these. That kind of visibility often leads to a great deal of second-guessing, as well as distracting, tangential conversations that are a waste of time. Provide focused and relevant information with your investor updates: recent results, honest assessments, goals and even "assignments" for your investors. Leave out the stream of consciousness points and the minutiae.