Eleven angels spoke at the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network (NJEN) Gathering of Angels event, held at the Princeton Marriott Conference Center on June 6, 2012, where each was asked to offer a single piece of advice to entrepreneurs. Many couldn’t stick to just one. The following is a summary of what they had to say:
“Don’t give up,” was angel investor and TechLaunch (Montclair) founder Mario Casabona’s advice. “I’ve been there and been through it. There is someone out there who will actually believe what you believe.”
“Think like an investor when you approach an investor group, Steve Nagler of TriState Ventures (New York) said. “Clearly you are going to look for funding from an investor in your sector,” he added. “An investor who invests outside his own sector is a fool.”
He advised that companies take their startups as far as they can without investor money, but if they are approaching profitability they are more likely to get a better deal.
Also, Nagler said, use your own head. You are going to get a lot of advice from many people, all of whom are experts. But you have to use your own judgment as to whose advice to accept. “Don’t change your spots every time you see a different zookeeper.”
Larry Hollander of Mid-Atlantic Angel Group Funds (Philadelphia) said, “Our investment decision is based primarily on implementation.” So when you meet an investor, keep in mind that he or she will want to ensure you can implement your idea.
“We don’t expect an entrepreneur to have all the answers and all the experience, but we expect you to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. We want you to have your team together, and where it’s not together, have those functions identified so we know you will be able to implement” your plan, he said.
Proof of concept is important to investors. You should be making sales from your product, Stephen Halasnik from the Angel Funding Network (New York) said.
Arve Hanstveit of New York Angels pointed out that startups should realize people tend to invest in things they know about and where they feel they have an edge. The membership’s background will indicate where most of the investments are being made.
Therefore, he advised, “When you are looking for money, try to find a group of investors looking to invest in the type of business you have, so you don’t keep barking up the wrong tree. Fundraising is a continuous business, and you can exhaust yourself if you chase the wrong leads.”
Katherine O’Neill of Jumpstart NJ Angel Network (Mount Laurel) said 50 percent of investments are made in healthcare and the Internet. She offered two tips. The first: “Put your address and contact information on your presentation and slide deck. If I can’t find your address I dump it.”
O’Neill’s second tip: “At the end of the day, the investors are looking at you. You are more important than the idea or business plan, which will change. You need to keep that in mind. They want to see you in command of the knowledge space and able to move it forward. Remember, it’s not just about the product.”
Craig Schroeder of Robin Hood Ventures (Philadelphia) addressed the “arrogant entrepreneur” issue: “Life is short. We look for entrepreneurs we want to do business with in the long term. We try to be nice and want to do business with the same kind of people.”
“Don’t burn your bridges when you are going to one angel group — it’s a very small network. Even if one angel rejects you, it doesn’t mean someone else will,” Jeff Snellenburg of Delaware Crossing Investor Group (Princeton) said. Angels talk to each other. Also, remember that getting funding could be a six-month process. Make sure you have some patents or other intellectual property that makes you unique and different, he added.
Yaniv Sneor of Mid Atlantic Bio Angels (New York), whose firm only invests in the life sciences arena, said, “A lot of people think all they need is money; if they had money, they’d be successful. While money cures a lot of ills, sometimes it can be burned without bringing any return. Sometimes what you need is a better strategy or better people or more expertise. Don’t look at money as the only thing that is going to solve your problems.”
“As passionate as you are about your entrepreneurial idea, be passionate about change and pursue the refinement of that idea, especially the business plan. It’s very likely the business plan is wrong and needs to be changed in some very serious aspect. So be open to change and be flexible,” Tom Sullivan of Innovation Garden (Princeton) said.
Art Gimenez of Investors’ Circle (Philadelphia), which considers entrepreneurs with a strong social mission, said, “We see a lot of great innovative solutions from companies, but sometimes they are just too complicated. So my advice is to keep it simple, especially with the revenue model.”