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Seven tips for novice angel investors so you can take advantage of the innovation statement and “Atlassian effect”

Tuesday, 2 February 2016 | By Rayn Ong

The innovation statement tax incentives and Atlassian IPO millionaire effect will create a new wave of tech startup investors in 2016.


These are the strategies I wish someone had shared with me when I first started my angel investing journey.


This is a discussion around risk management and deal flow, not specific advice. Please consult your financial, tax and legal advisor before you make any investment decision.


Use a portfolio approach

I have seen investors bet big on one single startup, then when the startup didn’t work out the investors would claim that angel investing is complete bullshit.


The portfolio approach minimises this risk- you can invest the same amount in 20 companies over a number of years. Evaluate if the company can return 20 times the investment.


This way, you can be wrong 19 times and still get your money back. If you get two right, congratulations, you have made a 100% return on your whole fund.


Set aside capital for follow-on investments

Startups send monthly updates to their investors. While reading the updates, investors usually have two different reactions. Either “Damn, I wish I hadn’t have invested in this disaster”, or “Damn, I should have put more money into this gem”.


To double-down on the good companies, you can invest the same amount in 15 companies over a number of years, and set aside some capital to invest in the next financing round (usually Series A) of the top five companies.


This way you can concentrate on the winners and you’ll have more confidence in the team after tracking their progress and execution for a while.


Make sure it’s a group effort


Some investors are like great poker players: they can quickly categorise founders and they can call a bluff.


Some investors can tell if the excel spreadsheets make sense or not. Some investors can look at the tech stack and know if the development team is doing a good job. Some investors know how to achieve a good balance on the investment terms: not too predatory while having enough down-side protection. Are you all of them?


Angel investor groups are great because you get to meet people with different domain expertise. I am a member of Sydney Angels and I have learned a lot by participating in the syndicate due diligence meetings over the years.


This way, you get to see the different perspectives, hear about the different investment theses and then get to your own conclusion. This is also an economical way to go, unless you can afford to hire an expert team to do the investigation for you.


Look at accelerator programs

Do you have the time to read through 200 pitch decks every year, meet the founders for coffee, evaluate their businesses, call some experts for a second opinion and get to an investment decision?


That is about one deal a day if you don’t plan to work during Christmas.


Accelerator programs are great because a group of smart and experienced mentors filter through 200 applicants each year, the mentors interview 20 of them, and eventually take 10 startups through a six months program and give them access to the mentors’ international business network.


You can pick a company from the batch of 10 at the demo day and follow up.


There are more than 10 accelerators in Australia now. A simple way to assess the quality of an accelerator is by looking at the number of companies that have successfully raised money after the program. You can also ask founders that have been through the program for a reference.


I work with Startmate and muru-D. Subscribe to their newsletter and they will let you know when the next demo day is.


This way, you only have to look at the vetted top 5% companies that have the support and network to progress further, the cream of the crop.


Get referrals from founders


Startup founders work closely with other startup founders - they are constantly evaluating tools that could help propel their businesses.


As a result, founders are more likely to come across a really good product before an investor does. This is especially true for the business software and developer tool category.


If you are likable and can add value to a startup, founders will refer good teams and products your way. This way, you will be able to keep your finger on the pulse of the market and the ecosystem better than anyone else.


Follow the super angels


Super angels are usually entrepreneurs that have successfully built, scaled and exited their previous businesses. Armed with a lot of time, cash and experience, they now want to actively invest and help the next wave of Australian entrepreneurs.


Super angels are the most valuable kind of investors because they have deep empathy for the founder’s journey. They know how to solve a problem because they have done it before, and they have relevant business contacts that can help.


Leave it to the professionals


Proximity is very important for angel investors, if you are not close enough to the best deal flows, the startup you get to meet will likely be the “left overs”.


The best investors attract the best companies because they help the companies to sign up anchor customers and partners, hire super star employees and close later-stage investors. If the best investors pass on the opportunity, the companies will talk to the next best investors - simple as that.


Venture fund managers are the professional investors with the big cheque-book and brand presence. The best startups usually talk to them first. You can invest directly into a venture fund, or cherry-pick and co-invest in some of the deals with them.


There are 17 registered ESVCLP funds in Australia now. A simple way to assess the quality of a venture fund is to look at their IRR, try to aim for at least 20% net IRR. You can also ask founders of their portfolio companies for a reference. I invested in Blackbird Ventures and I am always very happy when they send me my NAV statement.


This way, you can piggyback off the fund managers’ hard work and still learn a lot by reading the investment updates. They are also more likely to find the successful bootstrappers before you do because this is their full-time job.


Rayn Ong is an angel investor and a member of Sydney Angels, working closely with the Startmate and muru-D accelerator. This piece was originally published on Medium.