As a venture capital (VC) investor in tech startups, I’m often asked by new founders what the difference is between what I do and what angel investors do. They also want to know how pitching to angel investors differs from pitching to VCs.
What follows is a summary of the differences and a look at how those distinctions might impact your pitching strategy as a tech startup looking for different levels of funding.
What differentiates an angel investor from a VC
The lines have blurred over the years in the tech space, and there may be people who will disagree, but I see the fundamental difference between an angel investor and a venture investor as whether or not they’re investing their own money or someone else’s.
Angels generally draw from their own bank account, so they’re typically not accountable to anybody else (other than maybe a spouse or business partner of some kind).
Venture investors are managing a fund pooled together by multiple business associates or limited partners (LPs). The VCs invest on their behalf, trying to drive as large a return as possible for their investors. This essential distinction drives three big differences in how they invest:
1. Check size.
2. Overall investment strategy.
3. Speed of the transaction.
All of these will have implications for you as a tech entrepreneur pitching to them.
1. Check Size
Because angels are drawing from their own bank account, the checks they write tend to be smaller: usually in the range of $10K-$100K per investment, though of course that varies depending on the specific angel. The funds that VCs are working with have to be a certain size both to support the VC team and the general economics at play.
Operationally, it can be difficult to manage a lot of small checks because of the time involved, so VCs tend to make fewer investments, but write bigger checks compared to angels. There are always exceptions: some very early-stage funds work on writing many small checks as their strategy, so the size of an investment can potentially vary somewhat depending on the venture fund.
What does this mean to you as a tech start-up founder? Consider the amount you’re seeking to raise. If your goal is $250K, then two or three angels might be the best target. Getting a VC interested in a relatively small amount could be tricky. If you’re trying to raise $5 million, assuming an average of $50K each, you would need to get a hundred angels on board, which wouldn’t be practical; it would be better to talk to a VC in that case. Angel investors are typically involved in seed or series A rounds; in later rounds, as companies become focused on raising from institutional venture investors because of the larger round sizes, angels tend to appear less frequently.
Angels tend to have day jobs. So when it comes to investments, they focus on founders and markets they already know. This is understandable; investing is a risky business. While VCs invest in familiar teams and markets, they often deal with entrepreneurs they’ve never met before, operating in markets that are slightly unfamiliar. That said, there’s usually a common denominator that links all their investments.
At Storm Ventures, for instance, we have confidence in our knowledge of B2B SaaS and the go-to-market methods that make such subscription platforms successful. Understanding the strategy of a prospective venture fund is critical if you’re looking for an investment from them. Most funds try to avoid drifting too far away from their stated strategy for many reasons.
Angels control their own bank accounts. This means they can make decisions quickly, often within a single meeting. VCs are managing other people’s money and have teams, so they have more work to do. For many entrepreneurs, the VC decision-making process can be painfully slow.
At Storm, every investment decision involves the entire investment team. We work together and question each other to understand the relative merits of an investment, its fit with our strategy, and a host of other factors. Other firms operate differently: some are more organised by practice areas, investment stage, or even check size.
It’s extremely rare at a firm for one person to make a decision to invest on their own without any consultation with anyone else (the exception, of course, would be a single-GP fund that only has one partner). Being able to solicit input from others who can question your thinking is a useful process, so long as it doesn’t create unnecessary friction in making investment decisions.
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Angel and venture investors: the best of both worlds
There’s a myth in Silicon Valley that aside from investment, only VCs can bring value to a company in the form of advice and experience; angels, on the other hand, are said to invest and do nothing else. While this can be true, I’ve found the angel investors I’ve worked with to be thoughtful and helpful. Some of the best investors I’ve worked with have been angels who committed real time and energy to the companies they invested in. It’s always possible for angels to invest and become frustrating obstacles for the founders, but unfortunately, the same can be said about venture investors.
On the other side, there are VCs I’ve known who’ve been fantastic advisors, while others have been duds who contributed nothing — or even had a negative influence. Angel investors often have much deeper market knowledge than venture investors, and so can be helpful in that way.
The bottom line is that there’s no substitute for knowing your investors. If you know and trust that whoever’s putting money into your company has valid experience and your best interests at heart, it doesn’t matter whether they’re an angel or a VC. In many ways, having a combination of great angel and venture investors is the best of both worlds.