Training

Do we know what a Business Angel is anymore?

0 Comments

The conventional definition of a Business Angel has been:

“an individual investing their own capital in an unquoted business with which they have no prior (especially family) connection and to which they make a value-added contribution through active involvement in the business”.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey has blurred the distinction between the ‘classic’ disinterested business Angel investment and kinship and affinity-based ‘family and friends’ money to the extent that no more than 10% of informal investment reported in GEM may meet the definition of classic Business Angel investment.

Local culture also plays a part, with Angels in some countries much more likely to form syndicates with family members, and to invest in business they have a family connection to.

The growth of Angel syndicates and equity crowdfunding has also thrown doubt on the continuing relevance of this definition.  Within European Angel networks, groups and syndicates (and those of other countries outwith the USA) a large proportion of members seem in practice to be relatively passive in terms of both the investment process and post investment support of investee companies. Most of the “work” is done by a small number of “Lead Angel” investors. This, at least in part, reflects the nature of many of the European Angels, who are often still in some form of full time employment and do not have the time to take on the lead investor role. It also reflects the growing number of individual Angels that are now likely to syndicate in any one deal. Too many for all of them to be particularly active in the process[1].

Angel investing is very much a personal activity. An individual voluntarily choses to invest their own money in companies they select.  It is extremely rare to find an individual who is a full time Angel investor (some individuals are full time Angel group / network managers), so the activity is typical practiced on a (very) part time basis, and could be likened to a “hobby”. Angel investing is often also referred to as “informal” investing, and this combination of self-motivation and determination within an informal framework is often a key attraction to individuals to become involved.

Angel investors also have varying motivations. Many Angels do not have profit maximisation as their principal motivation. They may simply like being involved in the process, or being part of the Angel club. As a result, it would be inappropriate to suggest that there is one “correct way” to be an Angel investor, and attempt to enforce a rigid training structure on all. Just because an investor does not adopt a particular technique or strategy does not mean that they are a “bad investor”.  For example, while many would recommend Angel investors mitigate their high risk by having a large portfolio of investments (and this advice is likely to form part of an Angel training program), if the investor is investing for largely non-pecuniary reasons they likely, and to them rationally, don’t care about optimal portfolio sizing. If investors are not trying to maximize their financial returns, then there is no reason for them to have large portfolios. Some may specifically want smaller, concentrated portfolios because they enjoy working closely with the entrepreneurs or just want to invest locally so that they can give back to their community.

The traditional, “western” definition of an Angel is increasingly being diluted – and this is a good thing. It allows more individuals to be comfortable bringing increased amounts of capital to fund new and expanding ventures.

[1] Bridget Unsworth who manages the New Zealand Angel Co-investment Fund estimates that as few as 5-7% of Angels in groups are truly active Angels.

How Do Angels Deal with High Risk Investing?

0 Comments

Angel investors make decisions to invest under conditions of extreme uncertainty. Angel investors face cases in which uncertainty is so extreme that it qualifies as unknowable: they decide on investments in ideas for markets that often do not yet exist, and they propose new products and services without knowing whether they will work. For experienced Angel investors rather than being undesirable, unknowable risks are deliberately sought, on the basis that it is by investing in companies with unknowable risks that they can find the most attractive, most profitable investments.

Experienced Angels do not seek to maximize each decision but instead seek potentially extraordinarily profitable opportunities and accept a high failure rate. They rely on building a large portfolio to spread risk and accept that the overall failure rate, by number of investments, may be as high as 70%, even in the most developed capital markets[1], with 85% of all returns coming from just 10% of investments made. They are willing to accept that most of their investments will be total losses.

A key role for “training” therefore needs to be providing nascent Angels with an understanding of the characteristics of the Angel market, tactics to deal with the high risk, and thus confidence to join with others in making their first investments.

Experienced Angel educators suggest that individuals new to Angel investing tend to seek out training on subjects such as valuation, looking for the “correct” valuation method or formula, reflecting a desire to reduce uncertainty (and perceived risk). In practical terms valuation training will likely highlight that there is no “right” answer, instead presenting a number of different methodologies, and suggesting that several should be used in each case and the results compared, but that local comparatives are likely to be the most significant influencer. Many of those new to investment struggle with this lack of a definitive answer but gain confidence when they see that all Angels face the same issues.

[1] 2016 Angel Returns Study, Angel Resource Institute, 2016.

Angel Decision Making – How do they get to Yes?

0 Comments

Reading the available  academic research and discussions with experienced Angel investors suggest that “technical” subjects (valuation, financial modelling, technical due diligence) play a relatively limited role in the overall decision-making process, significantly due to the lack of “hard facts” in so many aspects of an Angel type investment. It is not a formalistic driven process. There is no proven formula for success, and no hard data to put into a formula should one exist.

Rather, decision making is based on a mix of technical analysis and intuitive assessment (what Angels frequently refer to as their “gut feeling”), with recent research suggesting that intuitive assessment is favoured over technical analysis[1].

The typical Angel decision making process begins with a subjective assessment as to whether the investment is likely to ‘fit’ with their personal investment criteria rather than a technical analysis. This may include location, amount sought, knowledge of and interest in the sector, and their own ability to add value.

Experienced investors rely heavily on their prior experience and previous investments to inform their present decision making and typically prioritize their intuitions about the entrepreneur over process and “hard fact” (e.g. business viability data).  Finance, in terms of the financial structure of and projections for the venture, is the most important criterion for both nascent and novice Angels but ranks only fourth for experienced investors[2].

The Learning Process

Investors who may now be classified as experienced consistently said that initially investing with other, and then more experienced, Angels had been their most valuable source of learning.  A number added that they had learnt more from failed investments than successful ones!

This suggests that the most effective way to improve the skills of new Angels is through engaging with experienced Angels in actual real investments. How do they get that engagement? Join an existing, active local Angel group, attend their meetings, help with the due diligence and join in a few syndicated deals.

 

[1] Managing the Unknowable: The Effectiveness of Early- stage Investor Gut Feel in Entrepreneurial Investment Decisions, Laura Huang and Jone L. Pearce, Johnson Cornell University, 2017.

[2] Heuristics, learning and the business Angel investment  decision-making process, Richard T. Harrison, Colin Mason & Donald Smith, 2015.