What do an online transportation network, a full-service pharmacy, and a fantasy sports competition provider have in common? They all got their start on AngelList, one of the most talked-about investment platforms on the Internet. Uber, PillPack, and DraftKings have all made bank ($1.3, $4.3, and $2.5 million, respectively) in online and offline rounds with investors they met on the website, which was founded in 2010 by Babak Nivi and Naval Ravikant. Here’s what you need to know before you try to raise a few million of your own.
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How does it work?
AngelList is basically like Match.com for startups, helping them get connected to both investors and employees.
But before we can talk AngelList, we gotta talk angel investing. For those new to the lingo, angel investors are wealthy individuals who provide capital for startups in exchange for equity in the company. These are accredited individuals with a net worth of at least $1 million, or an annual income of more than $200,000, who typically prefer a hands-off style of investing. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, typically work with a firm, invest more, and require more say in managerial decisions (to learn more about the differences between the two, check out this neat infographic).
To get hooked up with investors on AngelList, you submit a private application. Then, if you are one of the 1-2% of applicants that gets accepted, AngelList will generate a list of recommended investors based on your market, stage, and location. You, the founder, select investors from that list that you are interested in speaking to, filtering by attributes like fund type (angel, VC, seed fund…), activity, and location. Every investor you swipe right on receives information about your startup, along with a recommendation from AngelList admins. If they like-like you back, they can start investing.
One of AngelList’s newest features is the syndicate. A syndicate allows investors (leads) to invite other accredited investors (backers) to share in their deals. In exchange, backers pay the lead carry. Basically, the syndicate feature lets individuals act like VC funds, but without the management fees. AngelList admins, along with analysts from some of the top venture capital firms in the world, review syndicated startups and feature the most interesting ones to investors. Typically, this process occurs no later than 72 hours after the syndicate campaign is published. If you opt not to raise a syndicate, you can still build your network by connecting with investors that follow you.
AngelList is also a useful platform for anyone looking to get a job at a startup. It is just a three-step process: create a free profile showcasing your experience and skills, browse jobs and select the companies you are interested in, and wait for an email saying that that company has also said yes to you. Hopefully, it will be a match made in heaven.
Who is it for?
Just like dating sites have to regulate their users, weeding out the criminals and the catfishes, AngelList has to be selective with the startups they feature. They are looking for US-based technology or tech-enabled companies with impressive founders, potential for venture-scale returns, large or emerging markets, and usage that is suggestive of customer demand. However, some exceptions do apply.
“We look for weird things,” their website states. “Obscure markets. Awesome founders. Freaky corners of the internet where magic happens.”
So, what about you?
In 2014 alone, 2,673 investors raised $104 million for 243 startups on AngelList. The stats are staggering, but responses from users have been mixed. Alex Moazed, founder and CEO of Applico, hailed the site as “more important than LinkedIn to tech startups.“ On the other hand, Bryce Roberts of O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures went on-record in a viral blog post explaining why he deleted his AngelList account– the site’s “making an investment is like throwing darts in the dark” investment style did not jive with his own philosophy. Roberts also criticized AngelList for using their site to to push other types of deals on members than just angel investments.
“Generating heat for Series B companies or for venture funds isn’t the kind of investing the AngelList crowd has been trained for,” he wrote. “More to the point, it feels like when those kinds of opportunities pass through, AngelList becomes the greater fool’s list.”
One local has his own reservations about the site. Blaine Booher of Clifton Labs signed up for AngelList after hearing about it at a venture capital meetup. He never went back to AngelList– but that did not stop the site from emailing invitations to people on his contact list without his permission.
“To me, that’s a strong sign of shady activity,” he said. “Several people have asked me about it, so apparently the email looked authentic enough to have come from an action I supposedly took.”
Still, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Suster argues that there is no downside for entrepreneurs to using AngelList, as long as you use it correctly. With thousands of active investors, you’re bound to meet the right one– just don’t waste your time marketing yourself to all of the wrong ones. Check out Suster’s complete advice to AngelList users, as well as a compilation of arguments for and against the site, here.