When Angel Investing Isn’t Charity

Over the years I’ve gone on the record saying angel investing should be viewed as charity work for the majority of investors out there. Why? As an angel investor you get intangible benefits helping entrepreneurs and you’ll almost always lose all your money. Yep, sounds like charity to me.

Now, angel investing isn’t always charity. I know a handful of people in town — less than 10 — that have done well as angel investors. Here’s what they have in common:

  • Long-Term Focus – Angel investing has incredibly long-time horizons. An “average” investment takes 7-10 years to see a return, and most investments don’t see any returns. Angel investors that do it for fun when the market is hot — known as “tourists” — quickly leave when they see just how hard it is to make money, and how messy it is to build a startup.
  • Dozens of Investments – Angels often think that if they make three or four investments, one of them will do well. For angels to make it work, it takes dozens of investments. Think about investing $50,000 per deal, and saving 2x that for startups that go on to raise future rounds. Over dozens of rounds, plus a limited number of follow on rounds, it’s well over $1,000,000 to build a true portfolio.
  • Time Allocation – Sourcing dozens of investments, and talking to hundreds of entrepreneurs, requires a huge amount of time. Most entrepreneurs and ideas aren’t investable upon first meeting, and all investments take multiple meetings.
  • Defined Strategy – With tons of entrepreneurial styles, startup industries, and technologies, it can be overwhelming to pick investments. Successful angels define a thesis or strategy and use it to help in their decision making process. Most bet on people and markets.

For angel investors that have a long-term focus, make dozens of investments, allocate a sufficient amount of time, and have a defined strategy, angel investing isn’t charity work. For all others, they’re providing a charitable service.

What else? What are some more thoughts on when angel investing isn’t charity?

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