One of the good things about the steady success of the Alliance of Angels (www.allianceofangels.com) is the visibility it gives the Managing Director to virtually every deal in the Northwest. However, this also means that the AoA Managing Director is a highly sought-after professional. Our current managing director, Greg Huey, has decided to move on to become the President and COO of Glassybaby (http://www.glassybaby.com/). While we are exceedingly sad to see Greg leave, we are delighted that the Seattle startup community has a new and competent executive. Over the last two plus years, Greg has ably driven the AoA program to new heights, contributing to innumerable companies and making sure the very best were well represented to the AoA. The AoA set new records for annual investment in two successive years with Greg at the helm, a significant achievement while simultaneously navigating the organization through the economic downturn. We look forward to building on the progress AoA has made under his leadership. Greg leaves AoA having firmly established our program as a national model for entrepreneurial investment. While he leaves some big shoes to fill, we are confident that the opportunity to work with one of the most active angel groups in the nation will attract a successor who will continue this great work.
So now it’s time to find Greg’s replacement. The ideal candidate should have several years of business experience, and have substantial knowledge of the investment business (especially early-stage investing) either representing a venture capital or other private equity firm. An MBA would be a plus. The job description can be found here: AoA Managing Director Job Description.
Many entrepreneurs, when they take outside money into their company, want to protect themselves. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
The investors putting the first money into the deal also want some protection, especially when the founders own a vast majority of the overall stock and probably have a majority of the board seats.
One of the items that entrepreneurs sometime request is a severance package. In Washington State DO NOT DO THIS. I don’t know about other states, but in Washington, the law apparently makes individual board members liable for any salary owed employees and not paid. For historical reasons, severance was considered salary in Washington. That would mean that board members might become liable for the severance of a fellow board member and company executive.
Clearly, this is a bad idea and the law needs to be changed.
But in the meantime, do not agree to a deal where there is a severance agreement.
Typically, most angel groups or VCs see about 25-40% of their deals die in the first 4 years. (This is called the J curve, since the portfolio value goes negative for the first 3-5 years and gets positive when you begin to get exits in year 5 this valuation curve looks like a J.) The AoA has what appears to be unprecedented results almost all of our investments in the last 5 years are still alive! Many people have asked my why we did so well in a crappy market. I’ve certainly spent a great deal of time thinking about this. I believe that there are four principal reasons that caused the great year.
World-class, innovative deal screening process. The AoA sees great deal flow, largely because we have a reputation of being savvy investors, who bring lots of value, and do “write checks.” One of the true core competencies we have developed over the last 15 years is our ability to take all the deals that are submitted and invest in the very best. This takes a lot of work, starting with our selection of our staff (both full-time managing director and 2 part time program managers) who have the right skills and knowledge to help startups be ready to enter our process, continues with preliminary screening by the staff, through the selection by our screening committee (the 10-15 most experienced angels in our group), and finally the presentation to our members who invest in good deals. This process is both efficient and respectful for both angels and entrepreneurs. And, it is complemented by a rather extensive knowledge base of market terms, deals and conditions. All of this leads to great companies, presenting well to our members, and being prepared for due diligence and investment.
Get the deal terms right. We work with entrepreneurs to set terms and valuation that are deal and market appropriate, which allows companies to endure. In the past, too often investors didn’t understand the impact of setting a price too high, raising too much or too little money, and/or having either investor or entrepreneur-unfriendly terms. While they can often be seductive at the outset, bad terms lead to long-term problems at companies. The AoA has taken a lead role in the Pacific Northwest in bringing forward deals that make sense for both investors and entrepreneurs. By setting terms correctly, companies can survive and thrive even after market or strategic problems push the company off track.
Active, engaged investors. The AoA members not only write checks, but often get actively involved in the companies in which they invest and often take board seats. As a group, we bring a ton of knowledge and experience the kind of experience that many startups couldn’t afford or acquire any other way. This knowledge often helps our portfolio companies avoid mistakes, see them earlier, or find more innovative solutions to fix them. We are also a source for follow on rounds, especially at this time when VC financing is either not forthcoming or inappropriate. This pool of active, engaged investors helps companies survive and thrive.
The right strategy, done early enough to make a difference. About 4 years ago, we realized that our investment results then were mostly dependent on a few of our most active members investing in a lot of companies, but this wasn’t sustainable. We realized that we needed to increase the “capital capacity” of the group, if we were going to remain relevant. We were fortunate to ride the trend of the “professionalization of angel capital,” where individual angels realized that working together led to better results. Over the last four years, we have succeeded in (a) reformulating our strategy, vision, and mission, with a rebranding of the AoA; (b) recruiting a continuing stream of new members; (b) putting in place education programs that help our new and existing members know how to do good deal; (c) putting in place an angel term sheet (http://drosenassoc.com/Draft%20Term%20Sheet%20for%20Alliance%20of%20Angels.pdf) that helps angels get deals done quickly and at low cost; (d) train our angels to be good deal leads, board members, and investors; and (e) be an advocate for better communication from startups to their investors.
While the ultimate measure of success is a positive return through lucrative exits, we also know that for these early-stage startups have a long period to exit typically 7-10 years. Since our data prior to 5 years ago isn’t very good, our surrogate measure is the “J Curve.” The fact that the AoA has succeeded in dramatically changing the J Curve implies that the strategy is working.
The Seattle Alliance of Angels had a wonderful 2010. To quote the headline: Alliance of Angels Invests Record-high $10.3 Million in 2010; Group hits new milestone with investment in 33 Northwest-based startups; surpasses previous investment record by more than $1 million.
I was quoted:
“Once again, our angels have set a new standard for investing in innovative, young companies,” said Dan Rosen, chair of the Alliance of Angels. “For the second year in a row, AoA has cemented our position as the most active angel organization not just in Washington, but in the whole of the Pacific Northwest.”
“What is especially gratifying,” he continued, “is that 95 percent of our members have made at least one investment in the past two years. Even as the economy struggles to rebound from the recession, our members continue to support the AoA portfolio with initial and follow-on investments.”
“That is a testament to the quality of our deal flow, the value of our screening and coaching, and the eagerness of our investors to support entrepreneurs with promising ideas.”
Seems that angel investors are once again full of hope for the future.
Greetings from San Francisco, where I am attending the Angel Capital Association (ACA) annual meeting. This afternoon, the ACA introduced a new award named after Luis Villalobos, one of the nations’ most prominent angels and founder of the Tech Coast Angels, who unexpectedly died last Fall. I was asked to introduce Christina Lomasney, the Modumetal CEO. Here are my remarks and the ACA press release:
Thanks, Richard [Sudek, the chair of the TCA and outgoing ACA board member].
It was just one short year ago in Atlanta that Luis and I decided to walk back from dinner and discuss our shared passions for Angel investing and innovative companies.
It is my distinct pleasure to introduce Christina Lomasney and Modumetal both of whom embody my discussion with Luis and a great example of Peter’s [Diamandis, Chairman of the X Prize Foundation, who had just spoken] exponential company.
In more than 25 years of investing in and starting companies, it is rare to see an idea that can create and industry and change the world. Modumetal is such a company.
Christina has inspired the Alliance of Angels and other local angels with her vision to invest more than $4.9M. And inspired her employees to achieve great things with limited resources. And inspired large customers to bet on this early stage startup. Modumetal is a great example of why we angels do what we do investing in innovative startups and helping them change the world.
Join me in recognizing the 2010 Luis Villalobos Award winner Modumetal and Christina Lomasney.
Contact: Erich Mische
Modumetal Named 2010 Luis Villalobos Award Recipient
National Award Recognizes Most Innovative Idea Financed by ACA Angel Group
San Francisco, CA, May 6, 2010 The Angel Capital Association (ACA) named Modumetal of Seattle, WA, as inaugural winner of the Luis Villalobos Award.
The national award, which was established in 2010 to honor the late Mr. Villalobos, founder of Tech Coast Angels and a true “leading light” in the angel field, recognizes the most ingenious and innovative idea recently financed by one of the member angel groups of the Angel Capital Association.
Christina Lomasney, Modumetal co-founder, president, and CEO was presented the award at the 2010 ACA Summit in San Francisco, CA. The Summit was attended by 400 angel group leaders and investors from the United States, Canada, and 23 other countries.
“Luis was an innovator and a ferocious learner and tireless entrepreneur supporter,” said Richard Sudek, chairman of Tech Coast Angels and chair of the Luis Villalobos Award committee. “He started one of the early angel groups, and was intrigued and excited about innovative technology, science, and new ways of doing things. It made so much sense for ACA to honor Luis with this award which recognizes entrepreneurs who make very unique contributions that are disruptive or game changing.”
Modumetal is creating a new class of ultra-high performance nano-laminated materials.
“The leadership and support that Mr. Villalobos represented in helping entrepreneurs to realize their visions for the world echoes clearly today for Modumetal in his stories, his example, and in his own perseverance in realizing the Tech Coast Angels.” Lomasney said. “The Modumetal team is grateful for Luis’ inspiration and is honored to be the first to receive the Luis Villalobos Award for innovation.”
The Modumetal by Design process uses electricity instead of heat to grow metal from the ground up, in nano-scale layers. Modumetal, a revolutionary nano-laminated alloy system, is stronger and lighter than steel, can run longer and hotter than nickel-alloys, is more corrosion resistant, and costs less than stainless.
Alliance of Angels (AoA) of Seattle, WA co-led a multimillion-dollar Series A investment round in Modumetal. The syndicated round included significant investment from AoA members as well as from co-lead investor Second Avenue Partners and the Washington Research Foundation of Seattle.
“Between the people, the product, and their approach, I think Modumetal is one of the most creative and innovative companies in my twenty-five years of investing,” said Dan Rosen, Alliance of Angel chair.
Modumetal’s nano-laminate alloys have the potential to create an entire multi-billion industry that will transform transportation, aerospace, energy, and defense industries.
“This is exactly the sort of deal that Luis would have loved,” Rosen said. “Modumetal has inspired its employees to achieve great things, its investors to believe they can change the world, and its customers to work with this small startup to implement this striking innovation and change the way things are done.”
The Angel Capital Association (ACA) is a trade association that supports angel investment groups in North America. ACA was founded by angel investment groups located in the United States and Canada to help maximize the success of group based angel investors. (www.angelcapitalassociation.org)
Modumetal of Seattle, WA, is realizing the commercial potential of a unique class of nano-laminated materials. The Company is creating materials that will change design and manufacturing of metals by redefining structural, corrosion, and high temperature performance. Modumetal is made by a “green” electrochemical manufacturing approach, which reduces the carbon footprint of conventional metals manufacturing at the same time that it revolutionizes materials performance. (www.modumetal.com).
As those who are following this topic know, the Senate Finance Committee moved Dodd’s Financial Reform bill out of committee without any amendments. This unusual move means that the three sections that might cripple angel financing remain in the bill. It becomes more critical than ever that we notify our senators of our adamant opposition to these sections that could have disastrous effects on early stage companies and financing.
Bills of the magnitude and length of Dodd’s financial reform bill achieve many important reforms, but it cannot be allowed to pass in its current form and cripple something that is both vital and working, like angel investing.
This open letter was sent to Senators Murray and Cantwell, Secretary Locke, and Representative Inslee. Please feel free to forward this to any other Senators or Representatives.
I chair the Alliance of Angels in Seattle. We are a not-for-profit group of over 60 individual and small institutions that invest in early stage startups in the Pacific Northwest and are one of the most active angel groups in country. In the last 3 years (2007-2009), we have invested $7.3M, $16M, and 17.5M in 44, 36, and 29 companies respectively. In almost all cases, we were the primary source of financing for these 109 new companies. The Alliance of Angels has been widely recognized for the benefits it provides to the community, to startups, and for potential economic development these startups bring with their new and innovative products and services.
I believe that Sections Sec 412 and 413 (pages 380-381) and Sec 926 (pages 816-819) of Senator Dodd’s Financial Reform Bill will have a significant negative impact on Angel investing, and might even cause groups like ours to no longer be able to function. While I applaud many of the goals of Senator Dodd’s bill that lead to better visibility and accountability, the three sections cited will have many unintended and disastrous consequences. This cannot be allowed to proceed.
Section 926, entitled “Authority of State Regulators Over Regulation D Offerings” (pages 816-819) is the most problematic. Today, startup companies can raise money from “accredited investors” like the Alliance of Angels simply and easily. As a result, we have funded over 100 new, innovative, and high-growth companies. Senator Dodd’s bill will force these startups to have to make a filing with the SEC and the SEC will have 120 days to review the filing. And then, if the review doesn’t happen, the individual states could then apply regulation. Section 926 will replace an accepted and working system with one riddled with uncertainty and delay. For a startup, a 120+ day delay in financing is often a death sentence. From an investor point of view, many Angel investors, recognizing the increased risk of failure from this added costly and burdensome regulation, might make the difference between continuing support of the entire early-stage investment asset class.
Furthermore, an added layer of state regulation over angel financing that currently works well will put a chill on angles syndicating deals across state lines. At this time such regulation is as unwise as it is unneeded. At the Alliance of Angels, we consider deals from across the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana). If there is additional cost or restriction or time required, co-investment by angels in other state will be chilled. We need more angel investment, not less.
Lastly, Section 412 of the bill will change the definition of an “accredited investor,” adjusting this for inflation. Currently, and accredited investor must have net worth over $1 million or income over $200,000 ($300,000 for a couple) in the current year. People with this net worth or income are sophisticated financial investors. Do they need additional regulation to protect themselves from investing in startup companies?
According to Scott Shane, if you use a database on wealth from the IRS and calculate inflation based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the new thresholds for accredited investors would be $2.2 million in net worth, $450K in individual income ($775K in salaries for married couples). I believe that this will cripple groups like the Alliance of Angels and would cause a significant drop off in angel financing for startups.
In summary, “it’s not broke, so don’t fix it!” Angel investing in the United States has sufficient safeguards and does not need these provisions in Senator Dodd’s bill to make it safer. Instead, it will put a chill on the entire angel investing process, injecting uncertainty, excess costs and more risk. Please take whatever actions you can to make sure these provisions are eliminated from the bill.
In a previous posting/rant, I talked about Angel Groups that gouge entrepreneurs (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=13). Some charge over $10,000 for the right to present and that steams me. However, I have not directed my wrath at another group that gouges entrepreneurs even more brokers and small investment bankers. Note to entrepreneurs: Do Not Use a Broker (or small investment bank)!
Such firms typically charge an entrepreneur between 5-10% of the amount raised, in addition to expenses, legal fees, and a retainer. No angel I know wants to see the money they invest in a startup flow out the back door in this way. You do not need to pay to find angels and get them to invest in your company. If you have a good idea and a good business, approach us directly. The staff at the Alliance of Angels gives you far better feedback, based on angels who actually invest, than you will get from a broker. And it’s free!
The Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) and Washington Technology Industry Alliance (WTIA) offer seminars, networking events, and classes on how to raise money. They are low cost and valuable.
But.. no angel I know likes deals where there are brokers involved. We like to meet with and get to know the entrepreneur, help them get their company going, and build to a success. None of want or need someone in the middle.
There are many types of “green” companies or companies that help save energy. I have two contrasting companies in my portfolio that illustrate this well.
The first is Virticus (www.virticus.com), whose products and services allow owners of lighting solutions to reduce energy and maintenance costs by 30-50%. They sell to parking lot owners (e.g. shopping centers) and cities (for street lights). The Virticus communication and control system enables the management of lights individually and collectively. It is a really cool solution that has begun to get traction in the marketplace. This kind of combined software, hardware, and service solution can make a rapid and substantial difference in energy consumption.
The second is Modumetal (www.modumetal.com). I have written about Modumetal’s technology and potential before. One of the founders of Modumetal, John Whitaker, gave a recent interview (http://www.pfonline.com/columns/0210end.html) about their novel, nanolaminated Thick Thermal Barrier Coating (T-TBC) technology and its application for higher operating temperatures to improve diesel engine performance, give better fuel efficiency and lower emissions and noise. The Modumetal T-TBC will insulate critical engine components such as piston crowns, valve faces, and cylinder heads. This is expected to enable higher operating temperatures and protect against abrasion and temperature-accelerated degradation in diesel engines. It is innovation like this that is likely to have huge impact on energy consumption.
While neither of these are the kind of companies that one typically thinks of when you hear about energy or green companies. But these two companies point out that we should change our thinking.