Sceptic to Champion: Air Ticket Arena on Angel Investment Network

Fundraising on Angel Investment Network – A User Story:

Kresimir Budinski first reached out to me through LinkedIn. He is the founder of Air Ticket Arena – the first fully-automated platform allowing passengers to bid for unsold seats on scheduled flights; and helping airlines to recuperate some of the £120 billion in lost sales each year through unsold seats.

He recently closed a £350,000 of seed fundraising through Angel Investment Network.

Kresimir, or ‘The Bishop’, as he is affectionately known by his team, complimented me on my article about SEIS & EIS Tax relief. He had apparently used it as an explainer throughout his fundraising. Both for investors he had found through Angel Investment Network and other channels.

I thanked him and wished him luck with the fundraising. And we left it at that.

Messages like this are relatively frequent (depending on the quality of my article!). So I didn’t think any more of it.

But I was to hear a lot more from Kresimir and the story behind his fundraising. A few months later, pleased with his progress (now overfunding), he shared his fundraising experiences with me in full. It struck such a chord that I had to share the story.

It’s a tale of how courage through scepticism can bring great opportunity. And it’s a useful case study for anyone considering looking for investors on the Angel Investment Network platform, and more importantly, for anyone fundraising in general.

So, in the charismatic words of their Head of Marketing Grgomir ‘George’ Garić, the story of Air Ticket Arena’s fundraising journey from intense initial scepticism to success….

Air ticket arena fundraising

Part 1: Fundraising Scepticism

I had always considered investors a type of mythical creature, living somewhere in a distant fantasy land, creasing themselves with derisive laughter at most investment proposals. By investors, I mean real investors who can offer advice as well as capital. Not just people who masquerade as investors because they have a bit of cash.

Of course, I had heard about the likes of Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and hundreds of other projects backed by investors – but I had never met anyone who would actually boost my bank account.

Except for my wife, of course.

In my life before Air Ticket Arena, I had met many who claimed to be investors. But few of them understood the symbiosis required between entrepreneur and investor to make a partnership mutually motivating. The interaction between idea and capital needs to be good for both the idea and the capital. The idea needs to grow and so does the value of the capital.

Too many investors wanted to buy into projects at way below the value of the idea and all the preceding hard work. They refused to realise that this was not optimal for the business and therefore not optimal for their investment.

Given these early experiences with “investors”, my approach to any kind of investor was always going to be like visiting an 18th-century dentist. Suspicious in the extreme.

Part 2: Misplaced Hope

So, when I started working on Air Ticket Arena and Kresimir, suggested fundraising our seed round through Angel Investment Network. I thought it was the beginning of the end.

I sincerely believed that Angel Investment Network, despite their 13-year history and impressive track record, was just another portal where anyone – even my mother – could masquerade as an investor.

So why did we go with them?

Sometime in 2009, a seemingly beautiful thing happened. Kickstarter kickstarted. This was the first time I had heard about crowdfunding.

The theory seemed inspired to me. This was a real innovation in the investment scene which promised a more efficient process for both investors and entrepreneurs. And promised to harness the power of the crowd with all the social proof that can bring.

Then equity crowdfunding platforms like Crowdcube and Seedrs emerged. Icing on the cake. Or so I thought.
Fundraising through crowdfunding

I had heard complaints about these platforms from founders who had tried them. But I dismissed them as over-fussy.

When Kresimir asked me to prepare a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube for Air Ticket Arena, it was a joyous occasion and I dove into the work with relish.

We prepared almost everything for the campaign and then one week before the launch, Crowdcube refused us. Their reason? We didn’t have a high street bank account. Right.

Not to be deterred, we immediately approached Seedrs hoping to re-purpose the material we had put so much effort into for the Crowdcube campaign. After a 15-minute call, they claimed that our valuation was too high to run.

My high hopes were thoroughly misplaced and I found myself floundering in a sense of gloom about the prospects of fundraising. Not simply for myself, but also for other regular people who do not have access to investors through their personal network.

It was in this state of despondency that Kresimir insisted we chance our hand on Angel Investment Network. You can imagine my reaction.

I already considered this platform inferior to the likes of Crowdcube and Seedrs who had just thoroughly disappointed me.

Thus, it was without much hope and intense reluctance that I agreed to create a pitch on Angel Investment network…

Part 3: Faith Rewarded

fundraising

Six months later, we have raised £350,000 and filled our seed round. The strength of the discussions means that we are now overfunding as I write this.

At this point, while we enjoy the security of fundraising mission accomplished and while the experience is still fresh in our minds, I thought it might be helpful to share some key findings from our campaign on Angel Investment Network.

– Are the investors active and real?

Most of the investors we spoke to were active and engaged in the investment community and had the capital to invest. Even those investors who did not ultimately invest provided useful feedback for us with which we were able to improve our pitch and even our business. The platform also monitors the activity of investor users. Anyone suspicious is removed pending investigation.

– How can I tell if an investor is really interested?

It will be straightforward to identify investors who are seriously interested. They will have read your pitch in detail and will ask the most pertinent questions so will stand out from the others.
It is also very important to do your own due diligence of any investor contact – you can be sure they’ll be doing it on you. So, don’t be afraid to ask people to identify themselves if their profile is not clear.

– How can I keep prospective investors interested?

When you are happy that a prospective investor’s interest is genuine, engage in dialogue with them in a clear manner. Your job is to clarify what you have written in your deck. Keep focused on it. Try to also give the impression of progress and momentum – update investors you’ve not heard back from as well as ones you actively talking to.

– What should I say about valuation?

Avoid any talk about valuations after a one-minute talk or a first email response. Send an investment package and give them up to a week to investigate the opportunity. An excellent counter-question is to ask them how much they want to earn? None of them gave us an exact answer.
When you do come to declare your valuation make sure that your reasons for it are clear and grounded in the reality of the space in which you are operating.

– What sort of investors should I aim for?

Expect that your investors will more likely be from a similar industry to your project. If it is a project from the travel industry, then more than likely the investors will come from the travel industry. These investors will certainly be most helpful to you. However, there are many investors who are interested in investing in an area but are not necessarily experts e.g. Bankers interested in AI. So be prepared for this too.

– Do I need to have all the legal stuff prepared?

Make a clear legal pathway for investors who make you an offer of investment. Your investment contracts need to prepared and ready to send. An offer is never really finalised until all the forms are signed and the money is in your account, so you don’t want to have any delay in sending over the necessary documents when an investor declares an offer.

– How much effort is required?

Prepare to invest time and some money to ensure your pitch is as good as possible and that it gets the exposure it needs to raise the capital you need.

To be successful your pitch needs to be excellent and you need to market it well. We wrote 50+ articles explaining our concept from a variety of angles which we shared across social media channels. Angel Investment Network were very willing to re-share these posts which helped to create a buzz.

What I want people to understand from our story is that anyone with a good idea can raise money from angel investors. It requires dedication and hard work, but so does running a successful business!

At this point, on behalf of the whole team at Angel Investment Network, I’d like to thank Kresimir, George and the guys at Air Ticket Arena for taking the time to share this. All the best with the business!

Want to know more about Air Ticket Arena?

Check out their explainer video below:

Want to share your experience on Angel Investment Network and get featured as part of this user story series?

Please contact me on oliver@angelinvestmentnetwork.co.uk or on Twitter

How do investors evaluate startup pitches?

An angel investor’s task is to predict the potential of a company based on early indications and very little else. There is no infallible process for doing this. This is the risk investors face; and the fear they must overcome to invest. Only then can they give themselves a shot at the returns available from a shrewd investment.

Your task as an entrepreneur seeking finance is to mitigate and alleviate that sense of fear and so lower each investor’s risk threshold. The two basic ways of doing this are:

1 – Demonstrate that the perceived risks are smaller or more easily overcome that they initially appear.

2 – Set out a credible vision for the success of the business such that the returns outweigh the risk.

This, you might argue, is easier said than done. And you’d be right.

In my experience, entrepreneurs who understand how investors assess deals, find it easiest to raise money. It’s part of the reason why people who’ve raised money before find it easier to do it again.

SO THIS BEGS THE QUESTION, HOW DO INVESTORS EVALUATE STARTUP DEALS?

As I touch on above, this is a hard thing to get right for investors – a company may tick all the boxes, but still fail down the line. But this is often a matter of luck and down to factors beyond the investors’ control.

In their evaluation steps, investors can take measures to ensure that the companies they do go into have the best chances of success.

So here’s a simple evaluation framework that we recommend to investors on Angel Investment Network. We base this on our own experience from 12 years’ hand-selecting startups for our brokerage division. Companies we’ve worked on include: SuperAwesome, SimbaSleep, Novastone, What3Words, Opun and Cornerstone.

Two of these were just named in the Independent’s Top 10 startups 2017.

A SIMPLE EVALUATION FRAMEWORK:

1. TEAM

A team for inestors

We interviewed Jos Evans who has made a number of successful investments through us. Jos gave the following advice:

“Everything comes down to the quality of the founders. If the people are excellent they will succeed regardless of whether the initial business idea works. Meet as many people as possible and cross check your network for people who might know the founders of a company you are considering investing in.”

This is sound advice from someone who is making a career from angel investing.

It is the people behind a company led by the founders and validated by their advisory board that will optimise its chances of success. If the founders are relentlessly resourceful they will find the iteration that makes the company a winner.

In their due diligence, investors spend a long time researching the founders’ backgrounds. They also often try to spend time with them on the phone and, if possible, in person. The qualities that come across go a long way to giving investors confidence and lowering their risk threshold.

Similarly, the strength of the company’s advisory board can be a very strong index of potential:

1 – It reflects well on the founders if they have managed to persuade impressive people to back them.

2 – The fact that impressive advisers have backed the idea lends credibility and validation to it.

3 – The financial and social clout of high- profile board members means that the idea will struggle to fail. propelled on by a strong support network, companies tend to find a way.

2. MARKET

Which is the more significant indicator of success – the team or the idea/market? This is an ongoing debate between investors.

Renowned US investor, Ron Conway, believes, like Jos, that the team are the foundation. The idea is liable to change, but the team’s motivation, talent and competence will remain to drive the project to success.

Other investors argue that great founders in a bad market are far less likely to succeed than bad founders in a great market.

But to polarise these two points of view misses the point a bit. Good founders will find good markets – otherwise they are not really good founders.

So, in your pitching docs you need to make sure you give clear details on the market opportunity. Are you pitching a scalable opportunity in a market of sufficient size and growth trajectory? And are you doing it at the right time?

Here is the advice we give to investors when they evaluate the market section of a pitch:

“…you want to research the market to ensure the opportunity is or will be as large as the founders claim. If your findings confirm theirs then you can feel comfortable that a) there is a significant market and b) the founders know what they’re on about!”

Remember, your pitch/business is as representative of you as you are of it. In trying to sell your pitch to investors you need to sell yourself and vice versa.

3. TRACTION

Investors want a startup investment to have as much real world proof of concept as possible.

What better way to give confidence? If you can exhibit positive feedback, high user retention, growing revenues, etc at an early stage, it proves the venture (as far as possible!).

The more traction a company has, the more ‘proven’ it appears and thus the less likely it seems that it will fail. When we remember that persuading investors is about lowering their risk threshold, it’s clear how important traction points are. Traction points instil confidence in the vision and its execution.

They are as close to evidence as an early-stage startup is likely to get.

An obvious concern for early-stage companies is that they feel they may lack traction. They are especially likely to feel this way if they are not generating revenue.

So what constitutes traction?

Traction is anything that validates your business. This will depend on the business: sometimes it will be revenue; sometimes it will be downloads or subscribers; sometimes it will be page views or awards.

In their efforts to provide traction points for their startup, entrepreneurs often make the mistake of relying on ‘vanity metrics’. For instance, an app may have had 100,000 downloads in its first month. But if 97% of those users never use the app again, the initial metric flatters to deceive. Most investors will work this out very quickly.

So the traction points you choose must actually prove the value of your business or they will undermine your pitch.

The best way to think about this, I have found, is to work out what your North Star Metric is. North Star Metric is a term coined by Growth Hackers to describe the one authentic value which shows that the business is doing what it set out to do.

4. IDEA

The points above help qualify the idea itself as valid. But we should not underestimate the effect of gut feeling when it comes to an investor’s initial assessment of an idea.

The timeless human fondness for the ego means that an initial gut feeling can have a powerful effect on the ultimate evaluation of the investor.

If an investor feels that an idea is good, they want to be proved right.idea for investors

So when an investor first reads about an idea, if they think it is a real solution to a real problem in a real market, they are likely to pursue the opportunity. They want to vindicate their instinct.

This is a classic example of cognitive bias. This is the term used in psychology to describe when it is hard to undo your initial judgment because your brain will keep finding evidence to support that judgement.

It’s why the hotel industry focuses so hard on the initial impression it creates in the lobby. If the atmosphere and décor feel high-end and luxurious and you are handed a complimentary glass of champagne, your whole stay will be filtered through the lens of this initial assessment. If the lobby is grubby, your bias will lean in the opposite direction.

This can be capitalised on by entrepreneurs. When you set out what your business actually does, do so in such a way that plays up to this bias. Make a clear and powerful first impression.

How?

The visual impression of the design of your pitch deck is very important. But so is the clear articulation of your value proposition.

We tell investors to assess whether the business is offering a real solution to a real problem. So, entrepreneurs should set out their idea using this ‘Problem/Solution framework’.

Here’s a quick example of what I could write for Angel Investment Network:

Problem: The startup industry is huge, but access to finance and investors remains difficult for entrepreneurs…

Solution: Angel Investment Network’s platform connects entrepreneurs with 130,000+ angel investors from around the world so that they can realise their potential and grow a lucrative and successful company….

The principal value of the service comes across clearly and concisely.

5. WHAT DO OTHER INVESTORS SAY?

We have seen how the advisory board can be considered a metric of sorts for future success. It follows from this that other investors can be invaluable sources of insight.

Many investors say it takes away a lot of the stress if you can share the experience. That’s why syndicates, both official ones and groups of like-minded friends, are so popular. Others may have spotted some key index of potential (success or failure) that one investor on their own may have missed.

If you already have investors on board, it is, therefore, a good idea to ask them if you can share their contact details with prospective investors.

This transparency is likely to give investors confidence in you. And allow them to allay any fears they may have by talking to people who have already invested. One caveat to this is that a prospective investor may point out a flaw that the existing investor may have overlooked!

Summary

There are many factors that any individual investor may take into account when they evaluate an opportunity. This article has aimed to cover the most general and universally useful for entrepreneurs.

But you should expect each new conversation to be different. Every prospective investor wants to see whether you are a good fit for their personal investment agenda.

On that note, it is worth saying that you should never take it personally when someone decides not to invest. It is a) a huge waste of emotional energy and b) pointless. There are so many reasons why someone may choose not to invest. One of our entrepreneurs once became despondent because a good investor had withdrawn. Little did they know it was because of a divorce!

Rejection is also a good opportunity to get candid and constructive feedback from people with real expertise – sometimes what hurts the most is the most useful in the long run.

I originally wrote this article for Toucan.co blog. It was well received so I thought I would share it again.

Is Growth the Best Measure of Startup Success?

Startup Growth & Traction
Growth gets a lot of attention in the startup world. A lot of attention. If you Google “startup growth“, you’ll find a plethora of articles, blog posts and tools all suggesting that growth is the most important measure of your startup.

Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, asserts that “The only essential thing is growth“.

In some sense, this attention is well-deserved. But it is often misunderstood and taken out of context.

Growth is, of course, important. Growth is a telling measure of your product/service’s popularity; and, as such, strong growth metrics are invaluable when you’re trying to raise money from investors.

But growth can, and often does, flatter to deceive. And this is something both entrepreneurs and investors should be wary of.

Entrepreneurs need to be careful because “…many founders hurt their companies by focusing on growth too soon“. This is what Sam Altman, the founder of Loopt and President of Y Combinator, wrote in a recent article on the topic of growth.

His reasoning is simple: if you focus too much on early growth and not on actually building a product people love, then at some stage you will encounter the leaky bucket problem where the customers you worked hard to onboard, leave in droves ne’er to return!

But, if you focus on building a great product then you will have better customer retention and, as a result, growth should become increasingly easy as word-of-mouth spreads.

Consider the example of AirBnB who worked and iterated for years before they got the product just right; and then it spread like wildfire because people loved it.

Equally, investors need to be careful because there are often more telling metrics indicating the potential for success of a particular company. An app, for example, may have achieved 100,000 downloads in its first week, but if 95,000 of those users had stopped using the app by the second week, then the impressive early growth suddenly appears deceptive.

So there we have it. Growth should always be important, but it is also important that entrepreneurs and investors espouse a more nuanced attitude to it than believing it to be the ultimate measure of potential and success.

Angel Investment vs Venture Capital – Which would you choose?

VC's vs Angels
This morning I read a great post by Venture Spring. Venture Spring is a hugely well respected ‘venture development’ company which “helps Fortune 500 companies innovate like startups” according to their company mantra. The article is about the differences between venture capital funding and funding from angel investors.

Startups are often all too eager to take one option over the other based on their own preconceptions. It’s important to realise that one may be more suited to one type of startup over another (and vice versa. So, understanding the points of difference could be crucial to the way in which you approach your fundraise; and how your company ends up being run down the line. So it’ll be worth your while familiarising yourself with the key points…

You can read the full article on their site here. (It’s a 5-10 min read).

Or, I’ve summarised the key differences for you here and (added in a few that they missed!):

Angel Investors:
– are private individuals investing their own money
– can make quick decisions regarding investment
– can be flexible in the amount they invest
– can provide expertise, contacts and support as well as capital
– can feel personally attached to your business
– can be as hands-off or hands-on as you require
– can qualify for tax breaks like SEIS and EIS
– do not have to be given board positions

Venture Capital Firms:
– are whole companies that invest in startups
– are run by professional investors investing money from corporations, individuals, funds and foundations
– take board positions and have a strong say in how the company is managed and grown going forward
– invest much larger amounts than angel investors
– do not usually invest at seed stage
– generally invest not less than £1million
– take a longer time to make investment decisions and broker deals

What’s your take on the issue? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter

Success Story: Data Science marketplace Pivigo secures investment following rapid growth

Pivigo (http://www.pivigo.com/), a data science marketplace and training provider based in London, has announced the successful closing of its funding round with investment secured from high profile consortia including Angel Academe, Craigie Capital, Dubai-based Dunamis Ventures Ltd and London Co-Investment Fund, the Mayor of London’s early stage business fund.

Angel Investment Network is delighted to have made a significant contribution to this success story through its introduction of Dunamis Ventures Ltd.

You can view the full press release on the Pivigo blog here

Now that they are fully funded, they are well placed “to reach a much larger audience, help connect more people with each other and work with companies to gain value from data…” as Founder and CEO, Kim Nilsson, puts it.

We can’t wait to see the progress they make!

Proposal Tip of the Week

Some very exciting news in this morning about one of the companies we raised money for last year. BIG news! Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to disclose anything yet, so will have to announce when permitted in a later post…so watch this space.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve all been on tenterhooks waiting for the second in my series of 52 quick proposal tips. The wait is over…

Tip #2 “What Itch do you Scratch?”

Last week’s tip recommended grabbing investors’ attention by starting your pitch/proposal with your company’s most impressive achievement or traction metric to date. But what next?

You’ve hit them first with some proof and validation, but now you need to make the explanation of your concept as concise as possible. Remember, you no doubt understand your business extremely well, but you cannot expect prospective investors to have the same level of understanding. So what’s the best way to articulate your concept clearly?

Generally, we encourage entrepreneurs submitting a proposal on Angel Investment Network to start with the problem. What real world problem do you solve? What itch do you scratch? What pain do you alleviate?

If I were the Founder of Uber when starting out, my proposal would start by setting out the problems that people who want a taxi face e.g. long waits, high fares, needing to have cash etc…

If you do this well, you will get investors nodding along as they begin to see the value of your concept as they relate it to their own lives.
That’s all for now. I’ll cover the next step next week…

Success Story: Reward Gateway acquires Yomp

Yomp • Engaging People • Rewarding Wellness from Yomp on Vimeo.

Yesterday Techcrunch posted an article announcing that Reward Gateway had acquired gamified health startup Yomp for an undisclosed figure. Techcrunch mention the £200k seed round that Yomp filled last year, but neglect to mention that £150k of that came through Angel Investment Network (the whole SEIS allowance) !

But that’s of little importance. Our investors are over the moon at such a rapid ROI. As you would be. The figure hasn’t been disclosed yet, but our £150k went in at a valuation of £1 million; and we’d expect someone of the calibre of Reward Gateway to be able to acquire for £3-5million. By that reckoning, our investors are getting a 3-5x multiple return in just over a year.

Fundraising Event Report: Last year’s successes encourage this year’s investors

Last Tuesday we held our first fundraising event of the year at the Olswang offices in Holborn. Treated to a complimentary feast of canapés and drinks on the top floor, investors enjoyed pitches from 7 of the hottest UK startups.

James Badgett, Founder of Angel Investment Network, opened the proceedings by calling to mind some of the notable successes from companies who pitched through us in 2015 as well as the general growth of our site.

Here’s an overview of what he said:

Our Website in 2015 – The Numbers
– Reached 450,000 registered entrepreneurs
– Reached 100,000 registered investors
– Averaged 1380 new proposal submitted each week by entrepreneurs
– Over 2 million proposal views
– 75,000+ connections made between investors and entrepreneurs looking for funding

Companies that Pitched in 2015 – Where are they now?

SuperAwesome, a child-safe marketing platform, completed a funding round with us at a valuation of $3million and subsequently completed a $7million raise at a valuation of $25million. They are now raising at a valuation of $70-100million. That’s a potential return for our investors of 20-30 times in a little over a year!

What3Words, an extraordinary piece of software that’s changing the world’s address system and for whom we filled the seed round, recently received $2million from Intel Capital. They also won the Innovation Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Acquisitions:
As covered in a previous blog post, Uncover were acquired by Velocity resulting in strong, quick returns for our investors.

Draper & Dash, a high-end business intelligence company with an absurdly impressive track record, and PASSNFLY, an innovative airport check-in application, are both under offers for acquisition.

After this introduction, it was fascinating to observe the investors sit forward in their seats and treat the latest cohort of entrepreneurs pitching to their undivided attention!

The future is certainly looking rosy for both investors and entrepreneurs…

Back-to-Basics: How to Start a Startup

Even though i’ve been in the startup business for a while now, when i stumbled across this infographic by Funders and Founders, it reminded me how useful it can be to glance back at the basics once in a while. In an increasingly fraught and complex world, it is not only extremely helpful, but also motivating to step back and see the workings of the bigger picture; to catch sight of the wood for the trees. Details are important; but occasionally we can get bogged down in them.

As every successful person ever will tell you – if you get the basics right, the rest will follow.

This is true even for the most seasoned of serial entrepreneurs. Especially as a number of the processes outlined in this simple infographic will remain crucial throughout the life of your startup, not just at the beginning. So whether you’re just starting out or a startup veteran, it’s worth casting your eyes over this one…