FOR ANGEL INVESTORS: THE CHALLENGE OF WORKING WITH FOUNDERS
By Eric Dobson
Sometimes when you see a great idea, it is easy to be captivated into believing all aspects of the venture are equally as well organized. However, you can’t take this at face value. If you do not validate your assumptions, you stand to earn a learning experience…and usually an expensive one! This is especially true of the management team. Several years ago, the Angel Capital Group, now a part of the Sheltowee Business Network, was working under its Version 2.0 business model for angel investment, setting up microfunds. We had six cities up and running and we traveled with the favored company of the month to ALL six cities to do a live presentation, which we called the “Road Show.” And, we accepted dealflow from all over the country. So, our challenge was two-fold with these companies. We had only 30 – 60 days to perform a deep diligence dive on them, understand their team dynamics, and travel with them to six cities. We focused less on investor- lead diligence in those days, which lead us to our Version 3.0 business model for investment from our microfunds, which focuses almost entirely on investor-led diligence.
We met a company with a great idea from one of our groups. The company was recommended to apply by a trusted source -- who was one of our angels in the group. The deal seemed like a “no-brainer.” They had a great, unique idea. They believed they had filed the seminal patent in the space. They had a rock-solid plan for building the device that would give them essentially a monopoly on a municipal market that was in dire straits and desperately in need of a solution on a national scale. And, this solution looked like a lock. The cost was right and the model naturally lent itself well to project-based financing or franchising avoiding the need for substantial further investment. In short, it had all the makings of a “baby unicorn.”
So, we dove in with verve. The local folks provided context for the deal and there was high praise for the charismatic new CEO. Only one report came back that hinted at problems between the founding team and their first outside CEO, forcing his departure. But, we largely dismissed it because
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