We need to focus more on returns!
As angels we want to create value. We get an immediate sense of satisfaction when that value is reflected in the social and economic outcomes of our engagement – developing entrepreneurial skills, creating jobs and supporting innovation.
But in fact if we really want to make a difference and keep making a difference, we must generate financial returns on our angel investment. It’s only then we will truly maximise – and sustain – the social and economic outcomes we seek.
It takes focus and discipline to generate a return on angel investment. As we’ve heard so often, this needs to extend from the founder to the board and shareholders. It’s easy to get excited about where the next sales are coming from, who the next hire going to be, when do we set up offshore and is the next iteration of the product a real game changer. Of course these things are all important but they must be set firmly in the context of their contribution to maximizing the financial returns.
So what does this mean in practice?
As well as the focus from day one, there needs to be an awareness that if you are building a business to generate a return to shareholders, you care less about tactical cash – solvency parameters not withstanding! – and more about the capital strategy.
There are of course different pathways to a return, all of which will give you a different result. Your strategy might entail securing follow-on angel funding, it might entail looking for VC involvement, it might include an exclusive contract arrangement with a potential acquirer or it might be bootstrapping and leveraging grant money. These will all have their own outcomes and impact on the returns you eventually make as an angel investor.
All of these strategies require a laser focus on the sort of business you are building and for who. At every board meeting time should be set aside to revisit the capital strategy to address what it is going to take to secure capital and from who, to ensure that you are building relationships with the right people and that you are doing so well in advance of calling on funds. All these things are vital because they make sure the company is focusing on generating the value follow-on investors are looking for.
I also can’t help wondering if, as an industry, we need to start thinking about potentially saying “no” to new investments to ensure the deals we’ve already done have the necessary capital and capability applied to succeed. We would be doing this on basis that we are getting more mature as an industry and have a better sense of which companies are going to generate the returns we seek. I think its time to be taking a proactive approach to portfolio rationalization.
How about an investment evening exclusively for these “elite” companies? Such an evening would be all about the “return on investment” proposition and what’s needed to get there. These “elite” companies would be pitching for funding to get to an IPO or a trade sale for example, and would be telling us what it’s going to take to get to these end points within say 1-2 years.
I’d love to see what this might achieve!