Business angels are non-professional investors who invest various amounts in all kinds of startups in all industries. There is one common feature, though — they want to invest together with others. In other words, they seek to make up for the lack of expertise and time by investing together with more professional investors. In addition, they invest in spheres that they can relate to. That is, they are familiar founders, whose product resolves some issue that the investor may be facing as well, or delivers some kind of relatable message. Angels very often invest in something that, in their opinion, matters and makes a difference in this world.
In fact, the message you bring to the world is very important. The story that you tell the world, the story that you share with your employees, investors, clients, partners matters more and more to everyone, because people start to think about the long-term effects of the businesses. This begins to produce a direct commercial impact.
Micro-funds are USD 5 million to USD 80 million funds. They have a strategy and a clear understanding of what they do. Usually this is either the Spray and Pray strategy — making as many deals as possible and hoping that a certain percentage of them works out, or the “Trust me, I know what I'm doing” scenario, when investors have a narrow focus (I will invest exactly this amount in exactly these companies in exactly this domain). Funds have a strategy not only because they want to make money, but also because it is easier for them to raise this money themselves.
There are private fund investors and institutional fund investors — all types of non-profit organizations (for example, banks, credit institutions, insurance companies, pension funds, university endowment funds, etc.). They all invest according to the conventional “portfolio theory”, i.e. in various types of assets, one of them being venture capital firms, which invest in venture capital funds together with individual investors to share the risks and potentially gain substantial profits for a small investment.
In practice, investors do not look at a fund’s return rates; they are more interested whether a fund is profitable or not. Another important aspect for them is its success story, what message it delivers and in which companies it invests. It is sometimes better to invest in a fund that makes ethical investments (the so-called ethical investor) that invests in accordance with some ethical guidelines. There are ethical investors that do not invest in environment polluters, in alcohol, drugs, weapons, gambling, etc. It is often better to invest in such a venture fund as against a fund that will offer you an additional 1.5 pp profitability, but it is not clear where it comes from. You can invest in a fund that supports female entrepreneurs. The message is important because people make decisions about how to use their money, they want to do some meaningful things with that money, not just make money with money. Therefore you need to find the funds that suit you.
Small funds are interested in the number of so-called X's. What does the number of X’s stand for? It shows how many times a fund’s revenue exceeds the money invested. When investing, say, a million, the fund earned 7 million, which means the fund earned 7X. Smaller funds mainly invest their own money, and usually this is their managers' money. Managers are interested in ROI, and then in the Carry — the cost of their return. Another important characteristic of early stage funds is that they invest via warm intros. Warm intros are when someone you know recommends you to an investor. Cold reach out means trying to communicate with strangers. In addition, these micro-funds invest a lot through incubators and accelerators because it is a good hub for startups.
Classic funds are funds exceeding 100 million. If you drive to Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, there are many such funds to your left and right, many of which are very famous. These funds almost always follow an investment strategy and are not prone to cyclicality. Small funds have a period when they raise a fund, followed by an investment period, followed by a period when they only invest in companies in which investment has already been made, and then follows exit. Large funds, organize their work in such a way that their cycles intersect and money flows continuously, that is, by the time one fund comes to an end, another fund has already been made ready, and investment has already started. They are run by a large team of professionals usually willing to lead within a 10–12-year horizon. They are less interested in the number of X’s than the ability to invest heavily, because even if funds are large, there are still not so many partners. For example, 10 partners have a billion dollars under their management, so each partner wishes to invest $100 million. If a partner considers a company at an early stage to invest $1 million, then 100 transactions of this kind should be completed, and partners will not even remember the names of these companies. The second option is to look for a company in which to invest $30-40 million or more. If a partner invests $30-40 million in a single company, then, most likely, this company will raise investments from other funds as well, so it can raise, say, $200 million, which means that it is probably already worth about a billion. Therefore, looking at a project at the idea stage, at the seed stage, such an investor will hardly invest anything. Their first question will be “What are their chances to become a billion-dollar company?” A fund is interested in investing $30-40 million in a single company and then earning some X’s on it.
Investors that have captured an Uber tend to maintain their share. A lead investor usually enjoys the pro rata right, which means that during each subsequent round, they can invest in proportion to their original share. Small investors are not usually granted this right. Lead investors buy the right to be involved in such a deal with their initial investment, because competition at the Series B stage is cutthroat — they will either have to invest money at crazy rates or be rejected by founders. Therefore, they look for early stage projects and buy their pro rata rights. Classic funds search for unicorns. If you build a startup that will hardly ever become a unicorn, but will turn into a solid business that can potentially be purchased by Google, you should opt for small funds.