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The check-list of a first-time angel investor to evaluate prospective startups

Shivani Gautam
4th Jun 2016
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Simple ideas work best. As a student of design and now as a sports retail professional, the idea of simplicity makes absolute sense. Over the years, this idea has crystallised into a principle that I follow religiously. These days, the main occupation for me is to apply this principle as I go about preparing myself for a fabled trip as an angel investor.

What-angel-investors-are-thinking

I began exploring the startup space only in the last couple of months, and I attribute this interest and leaning towards angel investing to the amount of chatter around it, both at office, amongst peers and in the media.

Investing in the next big startup is surely a big draw and I am prepared to take a few deadly knocks along the way. I am quite prepared to deal with the possibility of losing all or most of my investment too. Even with the inherent risks involved, I decided to at least start my research into the subject. Just to put things in perspective, the bedrock of even this exercise had to be based on the principle of simplicity.

I basically put together a simple to-follow plan on how I would approach angel investing. This is how my first draft of angel investing to-do list looked like:

  1. Get introduced to startup enthusiasts, evangelists and startup founders through common friends. I would like to highlight here that I have always preferred to make my investments after consulting my close friends. Then, as a next step, I take help of experts, venture out to do my research (both online and offline) and finally rely on the basics of economics to take a final call about investing into a particular asset.
  2. Understand the terms of engagement (including term-sheets, SHAs etc.), legal structure related to angel investing and best practices related to investing in startups.
  3. Attend a few well-known startup community events around Bengaluru.
  4. Google all you can about angel investing.

The timing of the list could not have been better. Several people from the ecosystem, since I first scribbled this list, have helped me get access to quality deal-flow.

In my case, I was very clear that I did not want my inbox to be flooded with proposals. I was keen to look at startup stories that came through common friends or ‘experts’ that I personally knew or had an acquaintance with.

The result is that I have looked at 37 interesting startup ideas in the past five months.

Here is a broad list of startup themes that have found their way into my inbox:

  1. About 30 percent of the ideas were related to foodtech.
  2. About 20 percent of the ideas were related to hyperlocal delivery.
  3. About 10 percent of the startups are in the micro payments space, fintech and peer-to-peer lending.
  4. About 30 percent of the ideas were related to startups coming up with platforms to connect consumers with handymen and service marketplaces.
  5. About 10 percent of the ideas pertain to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), edtech companies, virtual tutoring, and startups that are aiming to improve parent-teacher-school interactions.

While, I am enthralled each time I receive a new startup investment idea, I am clearly thrown off-track by pitch-deck after pitch-deck of flowery statements, like:

  1. “We started our operations in early 2015. Currently, we are clocking Rs 8.5 lakh annual revenue and we are projecting Rs 24 crore annual revenue in the next three years. For this, we require $500,000 to expand our operations and acquire customers.”For early-stage companies, all sorts of projections are becoming acceptable. But, in my view, a better approach for entrepreneurs would be to talk more about the unique features of their own product or service, product roadmap and the market opportunity.
  2. “We are the Uber of inter-city logistics.”

Imagine, hearing this from a three-month-old company blatantly stealing the thunder from an established global player. It would make more sense for founding teams to emphasise on how they intend to become the Uber of inter-city logistics and the reason for inter-city logistics space in India requiring an Uber-like player.

  1. “We have 10,000 registered users in the city of Bengaluru and we will be launching our services in 10 top cities by the end of the year.”

Imagine the plight of a prospective investor when he realises that the end-user base in a city like Bengaluru itself is more than a million and this early-stage company ‘needs funds’ to venture into other territories. Wouldn’t it be great for such a company to bring in additional cash-flow by acquiring more customers in Bengaluru itself than putting time and energy into fund-raising to gain entry into other new markets?

As I take stock of the situation, I am definitely excited by the changing landscape as far as entrepreneurship in India is concerned. But all I am hoping for is a simple, well-thought-out business solution (to a big problem) to jump out of my inbox and make me write that first cheque. Until then, I keep adding easy and exciting to-do items to my angel investing study list and I continue to look forward to the next startup investment opportunity that comes my way.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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