I had the good fortune of participating in the first (hopefully of many) AngelConf today. AngleConf was the brainchild of Paul Graham of YCombinator fame (although, you never know, it may well have been the brainchild of Jessica Livingston, so my apologies if that's the case Jessica). Not only is Paul a prolific angel investor, but he is also a thought leader and a mentor by nature. His AngelConf was an attempt to share the collective wisdom of the angel investor community with would-be angel investors.
The speakers at AngelConf were a veritable who's who of the angel world. Among those speaking were Ron Conway (Angel Investors, Baseline Ventures), Dave McClure (500Hats, Founders Fund), Paul Buchheit (Google, FriendFeed), Andrea Zurek (Google, XG Ventures), Naval Ravikant (The Hit Forge), Michael Dearing (Ebay, Stanford Design School), Mike Maples (Maples Investments), Ariel Poler (Textmarks, numerous startups), Aydin Senkut (Google, Felicis Ventures), Jeff Clavier (SoftechVC), and Jim Young (HotOrNot). Like YCombinator's rapid-fire demo days in which companies are given only a few minutes to present, each angel investor was given seven minutes to share his or her wisdom with the crowd. And this impressive group did not disappoint.
AngelConf was part training session, part confessional, part group therapy. Virtually all the speakers were in agreement that angel investing is not for the faint of heart. As one investor after the next stated, you have to be prepared to lose all your money. If losing your money is going to keep you up at night, perhaps angel investing isn't the thing for you to do. That said, there were plenty in the speakers lineup who have every intention of making money. Folks like Jeff Clavier and Mike Maples are investing other people's money. For them, the goal is assuredly to make money. For many of the others it was a fantastic mix of geeky pleasure at building great things, the need to stay engaged in the tech world, a desire to give back to the entrepreneurial community, etc. While for most of the speakers angel investing is essentially a full time job (even if they have another full time job), everyone in the room seemed to be there for the love of the game.
What was some of the most interesting advice imparted? Here are a few thoughts from the speakers:
* It's a small community -- if you screw one entrepreneur, you'll be out of the angel business because entrepreneurs talk (Conway)
* Angel investing is about learning on the job, which means that you can plan on screwing up your first 10 deals at least (McClure)
* If you assume that the money is gone once you've invested it -- that it is like a lottery ticket -- then you will have a better time angel investing (Buchheit)
* Work with other angel investors so that you can get the advantage of their expertise (Zurich)
* There is no rational way to arrive at valuation, so don't be overly concerned about getting it right (Graham)
* Don't worry if the idea seems crazy -- if it didn't seem crazy, it would be too late to invest as an angel (Graham)
* The lifeblood of angel investors is deal flow -- you need huge deal flow to find enough stuff that is worth investing in (Ravikant)
* The best deals come from other angels (Ravikant)
* Don't be afraid to throw a little dynamite into the status quo and see what comes out of it -- often times interesting stuff emerges (and sometimes nothing does) (Dearing)
* The Rule of 12 -- you need to invest in 12 companies to have statistical diversity -- invest in fewer than 12 deals and you run the risk of them all failing (Maples)
* Like in the movie "Oceans 11," you want to pull together the best team of angel specialists there are out there -- it increases the likelihood that the company will succeed (Maples)
* Help bring your entrepreneurs together so that they can learn from one another (Poler)
* By being a connector, you will see the most interesting stuff and work with the most interesting people (Senkut)
* Angel investing is all about the syndicate -- you can lead if you want to but it can be lonely until others join in the syndicate (Clavier)
* Angel investors need to distinguish themselves from others with money -- what do you bring to the table? Contacts. Experience. Advice. (Young)
* Only invest in stuff you actually know something about -- otherwise you're just buying a lottery ticket (Young)
All in all, a pretty jam packed few hours. The energy in the room was great. It felt very much like being in a room full of entrepreneurs. Because, in the end, like entrepreneurs, angel investors are company builders. They love technology. They love company creation. And, like me, they thrive on the fun and excitement of the startup world.
I hope that Paul will have another AngelConf some time in the future. It was a fantastic way to spend the afternoon.