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VC vs. Angel Money: A Primer

Don't blow a financing opportunity by approaching the wrong source.

As a venture capitalist, I get approached several times a day by entrepreneurs looking to raise money. One of my typical responses is, "You shouldn't be talking to me; you should be targeting angel investors."

The source of this confusion varies: Sometimes it's a misunderstanding of the different roles and expectations of a venture capitalist vs. an angel investor. Other times it's a lack of clarity on the part of the entrepreneur regarding what he or she wants to accomplish with both the business and the financing. Regardless of the source of the confusion, here are a few guidelines for determining whether you should be approaching venture capitalists or angels for your financing.

  • The amount of money you're raising in this round: If you're raising less than $1 million, you're likely wasting your time targeting venture capitalists, with two exceptions: 1) you specifically target funds that do seed rounds, or 2) you have a preexisting relationship with a VC firm and want to put together a seed round to get going quickly.
  • The total amount of money you're looking to raise over the life of your company: If you think you can get your company to a point where it's cash-flow positive on less than $3 million, stick with angels.
  • The type of company you're building: Venture capitalists love to fund businesses with the potential to be enormous. Angels love this, too, but they're much more willing to fund smaller companies that will presumably require less capital. In addition, most venture capitalists want to fund businesses that have clearly defined economies of scale (such as software companies) vs. ones that scale linearly with some factor (such as service companies).
  • Your experience: Successful serial entrepreneurs always find it easier to raise money from venture capitalists. If you're a first-time entrepreneur, that doesn't mean you can't raise VC money, but you're going to find it more difficult than an experienced entrepreneur will.
  • Your network: If you've never met a venture capitalist before and none of your colleagues have built companies with VC funds, you're at a disadvantage by having to start from scratch. In contrast, if your best friend's father is the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company, you have a good shot at quickly getting plugged into a powerful set of angels.

As with all guidelines, there are plenty of exceptions. One seems to hold in most angel financings: the rule of thirds. A third of your financing will come from one investor, the second third will come from a set of people following that investor and the last third will be random. So make sure you go hunting for your lead investor.

Brad Feld has been an early-stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. He is a co-founder of Foundry Group, an early-stage VC firm. Brad blogs at feld.com and askthevc.com, runs marathons and lives with his wife and two golden retrievers in Boulder, Colorado, and Homer, Alaska.

Brad Feld is co-founder of Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colo., venture-capital firm specializing in early-stage information-technology companies, and TechStars, a startup accelerator.

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This article was originally published in the February 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: VC or Angel Money?.

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