I love visiting startup companies in a mini trade show environment. It gives me an opportunity to meet the people who are working at the companies. I much prefer this as an initial introduction. To me, it is much more revealing, more intimate, than a formal seven-minute stage presentation. Such was the case at the Atlanta Tech Village Christmas party last year.
I walked into the community room and locked eyes with a young man standing in front of the TrustStamp booth. I walked over and introduced myself.
He said, “I’m Chris Kiser. I’m the Customer Success Manager for TrustStamp. I just today heard your name from Virginia Persons. She told me you lead a meeting called Angel Lounge at the ATDC for angel investors.”
“That’s right. We’ve been meeting weekly for the last three years. Our purpose is to become better angel investors,” I said.
Then he asked the $64,000 question, “What makes you want to invest in a company?”
I Want to Invest
It was interesting how he asked this question. He personalized it. Most articles you’ll read on this subject answer the question, “What are the criteria which make a startup attractive to angel investors?”
David Cummings answered this question in a blog he wrote back in November 2017. He came up with the three components of a successful startup. He’s beautifully captured them in the simple rhyme: team, stream, and not a meme. I like what he’s done here. A quick and effective checklist for evaluating deals.
I was stunned for a moment when Chris hit with such a direct and personal question.
In what seemed like an eternity but was a couple of seconds, the potential answers fired through my mind. I gave him the simple answer: great team, great idea, and great market. But here are my personal criteria.
If I can check these boxes, then I want to invest.
A capable and likable entrepreneur with proven character and clear customer-focused motivation.
A big enough, well-defined problem the entrepreneur is aiming to solve.
An idea which solves the problem and makes sense with the entrepreneur solving it.
Must know who they are selling to and why they will buy it.
A problem I care about and a solution that interests me.
An agreement on how this startup will eventually make a profit and what it will take to get there. This is sustainability.
I bring something to the table in addition to the money. I see it, and the entrepreneur sees it. I need to be valued in the deal.
I have invested in over 30 early stage deals over the last 24 years. I wish I had these criteria when I got started. But wisdom is what you get when you don’t get what you want.
Wisdom can only come with experience. And experience for an angel investor begins after you write that check.