This isn't going to make me popular. Anticipating the reaction I'm likely to get has already made me defensive, so let me start by saying that, like a lot of misogynists, I've been married to the same woman for 37 years and I come from a family with 3 sisters and an intelligent, supportive mother. I know none of this will save me from rebuke. And to those who I make a passing reference to below, you're now all guilty by association - my apologies. And it's not that I don't believe in investing in women-led startups; out of more than 30 deals I can quickly name 6 women-led investments. The fact that 5 are dead is little concern to me; the 6th is doing very well and could make up for the others.
Why then so apprehensive? Previously when I raised concerns about a particular Golden Seeds' deal coming to my local angel group I quickly got in hot water. I was instantly vilified for doubting the worthiness of this deal; someone called me a bigot. I later apologized to my colleagues for my remarks that morning, but months later the concerns I attempted to express that day still nag at me and the skeptic within feels compelled to share.
This is not a reaction to a recent bad experience; I've molded my opinions over the course of the past year. It all began last June when I attended a Golden Seeds meeting in New York City as a guest of Loretta McCarthy. I enjoyed the meeting and attempted to participate, but my status as Chairman Emeritus of Tech Coast Angels and host of this Show earned me little distinction, "questions will only be taken from the members," was how they handled me after I asked one entrepreneur those pesky questions, you know the type: "What are your future cash requirements?" and "Do you intend to raise venture capital?" Apparently I was out of line. Maybe there is a protocol and I was breaching it, yet not one of the many members in attendance asked a single question about the long term cash needs of this ambitious startup, or any of the presenting companies that day, most questions were "How does it work?"
Myself, I seldom care about how a product works; call it a personal failing (add it to the list). I assume that it does, or it will before I write a check. Let me offer an example: last year I was invited to coach a team in the UC Irvine Business Plan Competition. In prior years I had assisted other coaches and these teams had placed 2nd two years in a row. I didn't get to choose my team (unlike some coaches); I take what they give me - last year it was a well thought out Bubble Gum Breathalyzer concept. I was very excited and the idea was so comic, but when I'd tell my fellow angels about the product they'd all ask the same strange question: Does it work? I was continuously flabbergasted at this inquiry and my response became increasingly strident. "It doesn't matter if it works; I'm going to win!" And I had the good fortune to be able to back up this arrogance with a 3rd place finish (right behind a coach with a hand-picked team, but I'm not bitter) and even though my string of 2nd place finishes was broken, I was delighted with the success of this bright team. Am I overselling here? I could simply say: it's all about execution.
So back to New York City - let me add that I cut my teeth on Wall Street, too, just like the preponderance of American Express executives that have retired to Golden Seeds. Impressive company to work for, down in the World Financial Center, I passed by it every day on the way to my office inside Oppenheimer & Company, but that affiliation and the fact there were so many members from Amex caused me some concern as well. What exactly did those quants and derivatives geniuses do in there, I wondered.
There's no two ways about it, the way to get more women involved in angel investing is by having more women-only angel groups. I learned this recently in speaking with Rick Vaughn at Mid-America Angels in Kansas City where there's a vibrant women-only angel group nearby; they syndicate deals together. At Tech Coast Angels, as well as at many other groups, we've failed to attract women in any meaningfully numbers. Either we don't know how, or there aren't any, or we intimidate them, or we're so boorish we scare them away. I was intimidated when I joined TCA; there's all that experience in the room and they're all using that early-stage jargon like 'pre-money' and 'cram downs' - I would nod my head and pretend to know what they were talking about. Plus we're mostly old and grouchy, which you've already figured out by now. Women we do attract don't stay long, with a few notable exceptions, but having anything around the national average of 2% women members seems like we're all doing something terribly wrong. Instead of trying to add women, Rick suggested we consider encouraging women-only groups; it makes sense and maybe that's what we should do in Los Angeles - start a Golden Seeds network.
So what is the source of my unwillingness to invest in a Golden Seeds' deal? "They do terrific due diligence," Lloyd Baroody told me last month at EBAN's Annual Congress in Warsaw. How would he know? He's a Golden Seeds' member. I've heard this before, but I take points off for this, too. Doing terrific due diligence doesn't correlate to great success in angel investing. Yes, you've all listened to Willamette University's Rob Wiltbank share his statistics that refute my seat of the pants point of view, but I've observed this from many in early-stage investing. "Be promiscuous," is Brad Feld's advice to angel investors. What does he mean? I'll say it for him: the only thing that matters in angel investing is a large portfolio - diversification and writing lots of checks is what wins the day, not analyzing deals and preparing terrific due diligence. Which makes me wonder, what was their expertise down there in the World Financial Center?
Analyzing and packaging is what I imagine went on. And that's what is consistent with the deals Golden Seeds gets behind today. When your mission is to fund women-led startups that can limit you as you look at the field of funding applicants. Even in a large market like NYC, there aren't enough qualifying deals, so what happens? Deals come in from all over the country. Good, I hear you say; the best deals from all over the country, from Milwaukee to Miami, but what I've seen is that many of these deals come in pre-packaged - half the raise may already be committed. In those cases it's a waste of time to haggle over the pre-money valuation or other critical terms - they're not changing; someone packaged the deal ahead of the angels. By way of contrast, in my local angel group almost no deal gets any serious consideration if we don't package it ourselves - there are just too many opportunities for entrepreneur-, or worse, packager-friendly terms to be part of the deal. That's what goes on down in the World Financial Center, deals get packaged then sold to investors and sometimes the deals are more Wall Street friendly than investor friendly.
Frank Peters is an angel investor, chairman emeritus of the Tech Coast Angels, and host of the Frank Peters Show, a podcast dedicated to angel investing and venture capital. This was also posted on his blog.