Angel investors are often cautious about diving in too early when it comes to investing in early stage tech startups. They argue that it is highly risky and that there is little quantitative data on which to judge performance, even with the wonderful visualisation tools like MS Power BI we have today. Of course, this is correct but does the situation get any more favourable if you leave participation until later? We all know that even VCs have a poor record of picking winners. Surely it is better to make a larger number of smaller bets at early stage than risky larger amounts on later rounds when the valuations are poorer and you have less influence? Here are a few reasons for getting in early;
You can cherry-pick the best opportunities
In the current frothy market there is strong competition for VC ready startups. However, at seed stage, there is the possibility of spotting a gem. Admittedly it takes more work and you may want build a relationship before committing but you can construct a portfolio of startups that play to your personal strengths and experience. I would advise networking like crazy in your designated sector, learn what’s attracting VC investment and get in before the rest.
You can influence the outcomes
If you are first in, you can have a strong influence on the strategic outcomes of the startup that you invest in. You will want to pick strong founders in industry sectors where you have previous knowledge and contacts. You can build a powerful relationship in an advisory role and take away some of the burden from the founder in building the first full funding round. You can also bring the benefit of your experience and help the founder attract other investors.
You get a better valuation
Clearly the earlier you invest the more favourable the valuation you will secure. This has the advantage that you will be able to construct a portfolio in which you hold equity in a great number of startups with higher equity share. The diversification of your portfolio is an essential part of achieving a higher return on your investment. If you spot opportunities early enough you will find that quite small individual investments can have a major impact.
I would advise founders to start building their funding rounds, bottom up, from very early in their startup lifecycle. They should identify smart investors who are able to add value during the early days and later bring in other investors to construct the full seed round. Most founders fail to realise that they will need a lead investor anyway. It is better for both parties to build the relationship early to obtain maximum benefit.