Understanding Different Types of Angel Investors

Topics: Fundraising

We at NextView Ventures invest exclusively in a startup’s seed-stage round, meaning that many if not most of our deals are made alongside individual angel investors. These angels, however, come in many different shapes and sizes.

So to successfully raise a seed round of capital, founders should possess at least a basic understanding of the different types of angel investors they’ll encounter. Doing so can help entrepreneurs not only secure funding in general but better recognize the pros and cons of taking money from certain types of individuals. It can also help founders better approach angels in the first place.

Along those lines, here are a number of different angel investor types and categories.

The Super Angel

Much has been written about this category, so I won’t belabor the description except to say that the defining characteristic is the large number of investments that they makes.

Pros of taking their angel money include the feeder system to venture financing of the next round and the vast network of portfolio CEOs which can be tapped into for connections and help.

Cons of an investment from a Super Angel include potential lack of “value-add” because his or her time is spread so thin amongst many portfolio companies.

The Domain Angel

Investors in this category are usually operating executives who have spent their entire careers in a specific industry vertical, like internet travel, for example. They will have the ability to “see” the opportunity that the startup is going after unlike anyone else — aside from the entrepreneur — because they inherently get the space.

Pros: Industry-insider who serves as a validator for the rest of the investment syndicate, extremely helpful advice and network connections.

Cons: May be more proactive in “offering” advice that is uninvited (since they know/love the space and live and breathe it every day).

The Previous-Colleague Angel

Having someone who the founder or founding team has worked with before can be a good validator to other syndicate investors and future investors that they all work well together.

Pros: Nice signal to other investors, who always pay attention to that sort of thing.

Cons: Potentially not much value-add beyond initial financing round.

The Friends & Family Angel

These are the proverbial first-commit investors.

Pros: Known quantities who are usually the first people who are willing to write a check.

Cons: No value-add after the check has been written (given their typical lack of domain or business knowledge). They can also potentially and needlessly interject into operations or future financings in ways that are destructive for the company.

The Grouped Angels

Especially here on the East Coast, angel investors have formally grouped themselves together for various reasons. This can benefit entrepreneurs because of a one pitch/many investors process, but it can be challenging too. (Elaborating on both the pros and cons here are probably the topic of another post.)

The Fellow-Entrepreneur Angel

Entrepreneurs know other entrepreneurial endeavors best and can be great backers of other businesses. They’re also likely to be among the first to take the leap of faith and the first to help, which are just two of the Pros.

Cons: Depending on the size of their previous wins, they may not have a large checkbook. Additionally, if the relationship is more of a peer than an advisor, they may not be constructively critical.

The “True Believer” Angel

These angels are can as difficult to find as a diamond in the rough, but there are those angels out there who hear a startup’s story, instantly believe, and want to immediately invest sometimes in spite of the financial risks.

Pros: Over-the-top encouragement and support; a cheerleader as a balancing voice among other, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately investor syndicates.

Cons: They may lack a critical eye and not challenge an entrepreneur after the investment has closed.

The Financial Angel

There is a small cadre of angels out there who are diligently and intentionally, but also quietly, building a diverse list of early stage startup investments through the lens of a portfolio allocation model. Rather than investing in a fund manager to do the work for them, they are instead doing it themselves for the purposes of disbursing their personal capital.

Pros: Validation for other financially-savvy syndicate investors; lack of intrusion to let the entrepreneur run his own business.

Cons: Often very little help or involvement with the company post-investment, if at all. They’re typically focused on financial returns and little else when it comes to the entrepreneurial community.

The “Sport Fisherman” Angel

These mega-wealthy individuals, sometimes not from the startup world, invest an extremely small portion of their net wealth into early-stage startups so that they have something to talk about with their friends at cocktail parties. They do it merely for the entertainment value of participating and care very little if their investments actually yield a return (though that would make for even better conversation fodder).

Pros: Sometimes these individuals are well-connected or have a public persona which could be helpful to the business.

Cons: Potential lack of concern for the entrepreneur or the company, as there is always another fish to try to catch.

The Foolish Angel

Often bucketed with others above into a “Friends, Family, and Fools” category, I think that the truly naïve, blind, supporter-type angel deserves his own category.

Pros: Money is money.

Cons: Many cons, as a foolish owner of your business can influence it in foolish ways.

If, as an entrepreneur, you’re currently seeking and pitching angel investors, and he or she doesn’t fit into one of the above categories, then there’s a good chance it’s going to be tough to get them over the line and commit to writing a check. All of the people in the above categories have their own different motivations, but they at least have somewhat obvious motivations as drivers towards investing. Without a specific rationale, it’s an uphill battle to convince an angel investor part with his own personal capital.

Conversely, when starting a financing process which includes raising money from individual angels, using the above schema as a guide to thinking about who within your network (and your network’s network) might be interested in participating as an early investor is a good first step.

At the end of the day, all money is green. But if you have the fortunate ability to be oversubscribed in a seed round and are selecting who you let into limited space within the round, it’s important to think about composing a syndicate of angel investors according to their motivations. By selecting deliberating from a range of the above categories, you’ll maximize the benefits and hopefully diffuse some of the potential drawbacks.

This is an updated version of a post written on David’s blog, GenuineVC.com.