Measuring Impact has become a major challenge for impact investors.  The main reason is that for all their good intents, organizations that develop impact metrics ultimately end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Impact metrics systems struggle to compare apples and oranges in order to demonstrate that the social and environmental benefit can be measured in the same way that financial benefits can be.  As our Impact Landscape canvas shows, “impact investing” is not a vertical market. It is futile to try to compare the metrics for bringing education vs. clean water to a community. Both are important and someone will focus on each.  Ultimately, the metrics for both must be different. 

A lot of great work has gone into developing metrics for impact.  There are templates, sample measurements within various verticals, and thoughtful approaches to measuring impact without drawing too much energy away from the impact organizations whose outcomes are being measured.  

Our metrics thesis is not superior to nor a replacement of other metrics. We appreciate the values and intents behind GIIRS, B Corp Certification, IRIS, Guide Star, SOPACT (Actionable Impact Management), GRI and the SDGs, as well as gender lens metrics, diligence metrics, reporting metrics, performance metrics and others.  These are all great frameworks for a Rockies Impact Fund portfolio company to use in determining the best key metrics for themselves to use, along with their investors and stakeholders, to guide their actions.

Regardless of the metrics system used, one important principle is to think of metrics as something that happens on the front-end of a transaction, not just one of measuring whether the outcomes were successful or not.  Students of business process will remember the revolution that occurred in American manufacturing when W. Edwards Deming studied manufacturing process and found that in the 1950’s people were engaging in “quality control” by culling out the defects at the end of the manufacturing process.  He envisioned building quality in from the beginning of the process and greatly improved efficiency of American manufacturing.

What if we applied those same principles to impact investing metrics?  Instead of making investments and waiting to see if they produced the outcomes we had hoped for, we build impact metrics in from the beginning?

We view metrics in two ways.

Inbound Metrics – Is it an “Impact Investment” According to our Thesis?

Impact companies do not always present themselves with an “impact” label and it is important for us to be able to determine which companies from the flow of deals will qualify as “impact” investments. As such, we expect many companies approaching the Rockies Impact Fund and qualifying for investment will not need to present themselves as “impact companies”.  They may be focused on health, education, environment or other impact causes, but they present themselves primarily as a business enterprise. Because of this and because the Rockies Impact Fund will invest across multiple markets ranging from healthcare to education to agriculture, the Fund’s managers do not arbitrarily choose any one system to measure whether something is an impact investment or not.  Most existing impact metrics systems have a hard time telling us whether it is better to invest in a company that can provide education to one hundred students or to provide clean water to those same people. Instead the Fund’s Management uses a simple version of metrics based on Utilitarian Ethics founded by 17th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham[1] in which the moral choice was one that benefited “the greatest number of people with the greatest good.”  Rockies Impact Fund managers have added a venture capital twist to make it a three-fold metric that includes “…at the greatest financial return.”

The Rockies Impact Fund intends to measure each incoming opportunity against these three criteria of number, impact and return, each scored on a one to ten scale.  A company needs to have a score of 19 or greater, without a large standard deviation among the three scores to qualify for investment. For example, in the “financial return” category, potential for a 10X return in five years falls at “7” on the one to ten scale.

IMPACT
ASSESSMENT
SCALE
# of peopleDepth of ImpactFinancial
Return
(Multiple)
1UnknownNegativeNone
2TensNone0-1
3HundredsVery Low2-3
4ThousandsLow4-5
5Tens of thousandsLow Medium6-7
6Hundreds of thousandsMedium8-9
7MillionsHigh Medium10
8Tens of MillionsHigh20
9Hundreds of MillionsVery High30
10BillionsCritical50+

Rockies Impact Fund’s managers have evaluated their past investment portfolios and have found that approximately fifty percent of the portfolio companies under management in the Rockies Venture Fund I (32 investments) and Rockies Venture Management (40 investments) would qualify under these measures as being Impact Investments. The Rockies Impact Fund will invest in impact opportunities using these metrics where companies qualifying score at 19 points or greater.  Our goal is to create consistency in determining the amount of impact so that investors and Limited Partners can calibrate with a scale that is understood to all.

By “beginning with the end in mind” we believe that we can maximize social and environmental impact in the investments we make.  With a clear path to outcomes and pre-established metrics, we can create an “Impact Proforma” that we use just like the financial proformas that model future revenues and expenses for a Venture Capital Portfolio company.  By using the impact proforma we can help companies to adjust their strategies to maximize impact while also pursuing 10X investment returns.

Post-Investment Metrics – Is the Company’s Execution Creating Good in the World?

We develop post-investment metrics for each portfolio company based on their Primary Impact.  We use guidelines from existing metrics systems such as GIIN’s IRIS+ Thematic Taxonomy (Global Impact Investing Network) which provides suggested metrics for many, but not all impact types. 

We’ve struggled, as many have, to develop or select an existing single set of metrics for impact companies which we believe is impossible. One simply can’t use the same metrics for edtech and agtech and metrics that CAN be applied to both, would be Secondary metrics about how the company operated, thus ignoring the most import Primary impact output that the company creates. At the end of the day, we’ve determined that each company needs to set its own metrics for impact as a part of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that they measure on a regular basis as a part of managing their business. That being said, using a consistent set of metrics, when available, such as IRIS+ can be useful, ultimately, each company has its own outcomes that it tracks and by focusing on Primary Impact, investors will settle on investment metrics that are based on the individual company’s outcomes.

So, for example, a company that uses telemedicine to reduce the cost of healthcare by keeping people out of emergency rooms and to increase access to health care by underserved and rural populations might set about measuring:

●        Number of people diverted from the emergency room (and the cost savings because of that)

●        Number of people in rural communities served.

●        Number of other underserved communities who gain access to healthcare.

Because the Rockies Impact Fund focuses on Primary Impact, these mission specific metrics make sense.  Each company is creating good by what it does when it carries out its mission. Additionally, these company-specific metrics are also their commercial raison d’etre, and thus, should be measured as part of their commercial KPIs even if they are not demanded for by the Fund.

The Sustainable Development Goals categories, for example, provide a good framework for understanding the scope of most impact investments. The metrics that fall under these categories will be well understood among investors who are analyzing various investment opportunities.  The Rockies Impact Fund’s management finds these categories to be useful and comprehensive and therefore we strive to work within this framework, while measuring each investment individually.

At the end of the day, impact investors want both a significant social and/or environmental impact, plus market rate returns.  Impact investors who develop inbound metrics find that they are investing in companies that create significant outcomes which can be modelled using an impact proforma.  Others who invest based on passion and cause alone may find that the impact they create is not as great as they had hoped.

All impact investing can be divided into primary or secondary impact and impact investors should understand the difference.  We define “primary impact” as impact that is caused by the company carrying out its mission.  Whenever a primary impact company sells its goods or services, there is social and/or environmental good that comes from it. Secondary impact companies, on the other hand, are measured by their practices rather than their business product.

We make the distinction between primary and secondary impact by noting that primary impact is created by “what” the does as opposed to “how” they do it. For-profit companies that have positive environmental impact by creating carbon-free energy, for example, create impact by the very act of carrying out their business and reducing carbon emissions. The more that the company grows and carries out its mission, the more positive impact there is in the world. 

Many impact investors focus on secondary impact, or “how” the company carries out its mission, than the mission itself. Certified B Corporations (B Corps) are a good example of this.  The qualifications to be a B Corp focus primarily on metrics surrounding business operations such as diversity, pay disparity, green business practices, etc.  These are laudable goals and are accompanied by rigid sets of metrics to assure compliance. 

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) became popular in the 1970s and was known more for what investors did NOT want to invest in. An example of this is the elimination of investment dollars by SRI funds into the tobacco, alcohol and other industries perceived as negative by SRI practitioners.  ESG, or Environmental and Social Governance strategies, are more sophisticated and believe that companies that intentionally measure and act with environmental and social outcomes will do well in the long run.  Many practitioners however have found ways to meet the standardized ESG metrics while not passing the “sniff test” of more discerning impact investors.  Examples include British Petroleum, Slumberger, Clorox, Coca Cola, Conoco Phillips, Nestle and XCEL Energy. Clearly, there’s something that could be improved with ESG metrics and the companies that can manipulate the data to fit them while potentially harming society and the environment.  This practice of using metrics and certifications to make carbon generating companies like British Petroleum and Conoco Phillips is called “greenwashing” and impact investors should keep their eyes out for true impact vs. greenwashed impact.  By distinguishing between primary and secondary impact, we eliminate much of the opportunity for greenwashing.

Measurement of primary impact,  tells us what the company does and how it impacts communities, economies and the environment.  Take, for example, PharmaJet.  This is a company that makes a needle free injection system for vaccines.  The PharmaJet injector is small, requires no batteries or electricity to run, can be operated with minimal training and can be used thousands of times before replacement is needed.  The PharmaJet capsules that hold the vaccine have no needles, so every time one is used, there is a diminished likelihood of needle pricks suffered by health care practitioners.  They also cannot be reused by drug abusers or reused by healthcare practitioners in undeveloped countries.  Other benefits include PharmaJet’s more efficient delivery which cuts the amount of Polio vaccine needed by up to 30% for each injection.  Given the world-wide shortage of Polio vaccine, the impact of being able to inoculate 30% more people with a given amount of vaccine is significant.  The time to administer a shot with PharmaJet’s system is almost half of that of using needles, so healthcare workers can provide twice as many vaccinations in a community in a given period of time.  Additionally, many people are needle-phobic and they fail to get regular vaccinations for influenza and other diseases, leading to global health vulnerabilities when significant populations are unvaccinated.  The pain free, needle free PharmaJet system eliminates the excuses for these people to avoid vaccinations and can have massive impacts in global health outcomes. 

These are all Primary impacts that come from using PharmaJet’s system.  The company is not B Corporation, SRI or ESG certified, but it does more good with each unit sold than BP does in a year.  If we are going to understand what we mean by impact, we will need to distinguish between Primary and Secondary Impact, because they are clearly very different metrics and will have very different impact outcomes.

To be clear, ESG, SRI and B Corporations have done good things to raise the bar for business practices in many companies but impact investors should understand the risks or relying too heavily on these metrics.  But a company can do both primary and secondary impact – Just because a company creates primary impact through carrying out its mission does not mean that it cannot also carry out secondary impact by following best practices for sustainable practices within its organization.

 By focusing on primary impact, impact investors could avoid the challenges of ESG metrics systems and the potential for greenwashing that they enable.  Investing in companies whose primary mission entails doing social and environmental good avoids the greenwashing and self-justification that dated metrics systems could allow. 

Rockies Impact Fund - Venture Capital Fund focusing on full market-rate returns on early stage Primary impact companies.

If you’re interested in learning more about impact investing in your portfolio, are an accredited investor, fund, foundation, family office or CSR investor, please contact us about becoming a Limited Partner in the Rockies Impact Fund.  The Rockies Impact Fund is a full market-rate return targeted Primary Impact Venture Capital fund that targets early stage private impact companies in the UN SDGs focusing on healthcare, education, agtech, economic development and sustainable cities.

Peter Adams is co-author of Venture Capital for Dummies and serves as the Executive Director of the Rockies Venture Club, the longest running angel investing group in the U.S. 

Peter serves as an Officer on the Board of the Angel Capital Association, the North American association of professional angel investing groups.

He also runs the Rockies Venture Fund, an early stage venture capital fund and Rockies Impact Fund, investing in social and environmentally oriented companies. 

Peter is also the founder of The Rockies Venture Institute, the Women’s Investor Network, and BizGirls.org, a non-profit CEO Development Program for young women.

It’s that time of year again! RVC’s HyperAccelerator is back for a fresh, new, June 18th installment focusing on Impact Ventures. This is our sixth run of the gamut, this time with the support BSW Wealth Partners and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.Take a look at these companies and see if you think they are all “impact” – doing good through social, environmental and economic development. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about impact and what makes for a good impact investment, so we’re excited to work closely with this cohort of impact companies to push their programs forward with strategy and venture capital funding readiness. You can learn more about how we think about impact investing here. Join us at the Soda Pop Garage (2150 Market) on Monday, June 25th at 2pm for our Demo Day, where our freshly (hyper)accelerated ventures will pitch for you, the public. Register today!

 

Achroma plans to develop a blockchain powered loan platform to help remove underlying bias in the loan system. Using a blend of anonymity and data analytics, this FinTech/blockchain hybrid is hoping to help loan seekers feel sure that the system is working for them.

 

Brainitz is an EdTech company building a platform for teachers to create interactive videos. CEO Clint Knox is a teacher by trade and set out with the goal of streamlining the teaching process by giving students the teacher tools to help them teach outside of the classroom. Brainitz achieves this by integrating questions directly into video lectures.

 

 

EnVision Meditation uses scientifically backed techniques in order to guide users through daily 10 minute visualizations meant to provide empowerment and self improvement. The benefits are meant to reduce stress, fear, worry, and doubt, and increase confidence, motivation, focus and awareness. The company reaches users through its app of the same name.

MFB Fertility creates affordable medical devices and digital health solutions to help women better monitor their own hormonal cycles. The Ovulation Double Check is the FDA compliant, flagship product the company produces to help women understand when they are hormonally prime for pregnancy. MFB is now producing a take home device and an app that will help women monitor their hormones for purposes beyond fertility, such as detecting early stages of menopause. MFB Fertility is a recipient of the OEDIT Advanced Industries grant.

Starfire Energy utilizes clean energy sources to in order to produce ammonia. Using proprietary technology, Starfire makes this process easier to descale and ramp. The company hopes that it can produce nitrate to help power companies generate clean power storage and fuel.

 

Storion Energy. is developing and commercializing advanced batteries for the large-scale storage and delivery of renewable energy. Storion’s redox flow battery provides a blend of economy, performance, and reliability. Storion continues development of next-generation technologies to increase performance and drive down costs. Storion hopes to drive a shift in the energy industry by solving the long known ‘peak hours’ problems of renewable energy.

Synthio Chemicals is a developer and contract manufacturer of fine and specialty chemicals. The company uses novel continuous manufacturing techniques to produce specialty chemicals on a continuous rather than batch basis. Synthio is able to produce chemicals at a price and purity ratio drastically superior to competitors using proprietary tools and techniques. Synthio has broken into the pharmaceutical industry with intermediaries as their opening move. Synthio Chemicals is a recipient of the OEDIT Advanced Industries grant.

 

In light of the recent SCOTUS ruling, we thought we would talk about an economic model that helps us understand discrimination and voting with your dollar. How your preferences affect the price you’re willing to pay for a product or service directly correlates to a business’s ability to stay open. You wouldn’t go to a burger joint that was dirty or had terrible service if the burger place a block away had the same prices and was clean or had better service, and we can explain it with economics.

Bakers Green and Blue

Anyone who has sat through Economics 101 knows this graph. It’s a basic supply and demand chart with two bakeries and the market of buyers. Bakery Green is charging Y more than Blue Bakery for reason A. In a normal scenario, Green must lower their price or go out of business as Blue takes all the business they can handle (Blue could, in theory, raise prices to match Green, but that model gets complicated as we factor in behavioral economics and the price elasticity of demand.). In the traditional, basic model, Green just has higher costs. Maybe the owner wants a higher salary, maybe the business had to take out loans at a higher rate, with the result being costs that are higher. If that price is as low as Green can charge, then Green will eventually go out of business.

Now let’s abstract a little. What if reason the price is difference, Y, is not a dollar amount? Common examples of this would be that Green is further from town than Blue, or perhaps Blue is able to keep the line short while Green has a 30 minute wait. In this case, we’ll say that Y is difference in beliefs between you and Green Bakery’s management. In some cases business will fail slowly as a result of this type of disagreement as social norms shift, while in some cases firms go out of business rather quickly. For some customers, Green will not have this additional cost Y and will cost the same as Blue. For some customers, Green’s preferences could even align with theirs, adding to business, but so long as a critical mass of Green’s existing customers have beliefs and a demand function like the gray one above, Green will lose business to Blue and be forced to shutter their doors. In this case, hinging on the critical mass of disagreement, the free market at work will reduce business for Green until the day they no longer breakeven.

We see a similar story in the allocation of venture capital. Plenty of research has shown that women executives and female CEOs outperform the indexes of male dominated companies. Women are managing to be a better bet than men by as much as a factor of three, and yet they only make up about 6.5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and only 20% of VC deals, or 2% of all venture capital. They drive additional value, outgrowing their male counterparts by 63% in the case of First Round Capital. In other words, women founders cost VCs less, earn them more, and yet, they still don’t receive equal funding. This is a lot like our bakers Blue and Green. Blue is the VC funds putting capital towards women founders and seeing results. Green is the funds that follow the industry standards and miss out on the returns of investing in female founders. Angels and venture capitalists are suffering a huge opportunity cost in not servicing the demands of female founders.

Various reports of discrimination in the community help to explain some of this. In some benevolent cases, discrimination occurs as an accident, as Katrina Lake outlines in conversation with NPR, pointing out that many VCs have pitch requirements that could exclude the growing industry of so-called mompreneurs. The offices are highly male dominated, with only 6% of VCs being women as recently as 2016.

Compare these averages to the Rockies Venture Club. Of our 31 portfolio companies, over half star female founders running companies ranging from tech solutions for kitchens to FinTech answers for any early stage startup. Enter RVC’s Women’s Investor Network, or WIN for short. Headed up by Director Barbara Bauer, WIN was founded to increase the number of active female Angel’s working with RVC. Something Barbara has identified, and highlights regularly at RVC events and talks, is the need to fund female entrepreneurs to make sure that women have the capital and the experience to be informed Angels. As an experienced entrepreneur with a background and education in science and engineering, Barbara represents the best of the best to lead RVC and the venture and Angel communities as a whole towards a better, more diverse future.

Know someone interested in working with Barbara as a WINtern? Have them send a resume to info@rockiesventureclub.org!

Most interns don’t expect to learn from the Executive Director or their CEO. Fewer get to. Fewer yet get to sit through a five hour seminar on financial strategy with said executive. This is what the analysts at RVC got on Tuesday as Executive Director Peter Adams walked a group of entrepreneurs and investors through a CFO’s role in acquiring funding. From how to build adequate proformas to when to schedule your raises, the RVC Financial Class Cluster threw us into the fire of financial strategy. Sitting in with a group of investors and entrepreneurs alike, here’s a look at what we covered.

Financial Strategy

Diligence is the name of the game at RVC, with every prospective deal getting a full diligence report drafted up for RVC members. For Peter, this means believability and accuracy in the numbers. In the case of financial strategy, this means clearly defining your major milestones, your key hires, when (roughly) you’re going to raise capital, how you’re going to raise it, and the nitty gritty of each of those things. Peter’s philosophy outlines all of these alongside clear exit modeling as fundamental to a success for prospective founders. What stood out in this densely packed granola bar of venture capital knowledge? The paradox of uncertainty.

Peter made clear that a company and its founders won’t have a clear date on which they will need to raise the next round, hire that new sales star, or sit down with their dream acquirer. Peter also made clear that a company needs to have an idea of what those events look like, and while precision is not present, they key came down to milestones. Bringing on new team members shortly after key product launches, identifying the scalability inflection point, and raising enough money to pave a long enough runway are his tips for a successful financial plan.

Valuations

Part of diligence is accuracy and reasonable goals, which for valuations means a lot things. One of Peter’s highlights is that while Angels would absolutely love it if their firms all became unicorns, unless that conversion happens in a fairly tight window, doing so isn’t best for the Angel. Rather than lofty goals that may provide a bigger sum after a decade, Peter instead argues for reasonable exit strategies. Acquisition by key distributors or large firms with histories of choosing the buy side of the buy-or-build dilemma, Peter argues, can result in faster turnarounds and safer strategies for both Angels and entrepreneurs.He defines clear ranges with key milestones for reasonable early valuations, and outlined a number of models used at RVC to determine those early valuations.

Peter also faced the audience with a thought challenge. Imagine an entrepreneur trying to raise their first seed round. As the omnipotent spectator, we know this company to have a specific valuation. The question at hand? Is it better for the entrepreneur if the company gets valued at double that valuation, or 10% less than its true value? While the company would be able to raise more money at the double valuation, the answer would be the 10% reduction. Less dilution and a slower, more controlled value inflation would prove advantageous for the entrepreneur.

Proformas

Proformas are integral to the other parts of this class. They are the bridge between your vision as an entrepreneur and the funding to get you there. It is the blueprint of your business and your plans, the pictogram by which you assemble a successful company. This means years of financials, forecasts, milestones and targets, key hires, and more. Good proformas are believable proformas, argues Peter, utilizing reasonable projections and honest numbers to justify their claims and valuation. He argues that VCs and Angels alike would rather see that entrepreneurs have reasonable expectations and goals they know they can reach. In other words, be honest. If your burn is running $15k a month, don’t try to hide it. Instead, highlight where that burn is resulting in growth and is driving value. Show how you can scale back to balance if you need to slow down while seeking funding. Tell prospective investors honestly whether or not you have plans for future rounds. What milestones lead up to it? There are no ruby red slippers to take you back to the quiet farm in Kansas, so build the yellow brick road that takes you to Emerald City of successful exit, no matter how treacherous it may be.

In a panel on angel return data at the Angel Capital Association Summit recently the speaker went back and forth between data using ROI (multiples of the original investment) and IRR (internal rate of return).  These metrics are very different and it is important for angels to have a good understanding of how using each of these will impact their investment strategy – in many cases for the worse!

Why Hunting for Unicorns May not be a Good Strategy for Angel Investors

Angel Investing Unicorn

 

There is a mythology among angel investors about going for “unicorns” (private companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more) in their portfolios.  In many cases, real returns from unicorns may be less than hitting solid singles and doubles that exit at under $100 million. Here’s why:

 

While unicorns may appear to give great returns, our speaker gave an example.  He had invested in DocuSign which is now readying itself for an IPO.  (Initial Public Offering)  After multiple follow-on rounds after his angel investment, his percentage ownership had been significantly diluted, but even worse – it took twelve years for DocuSign to get to exit from the time of his investment.  While he expects to receive an investment ROI multiple of 4.8 times his original investment, that comes out to only a 15.3% IRR. Getting $480,000 back on a $100,000 investment sounds good initially. When the amount of time that the investment takes comes into the calculation, the unicorn doesn’t look as good as some of the same investor’s exits that came along in five or fewer years and yielded $100 million or less.  In fact, his average IRR over his portfolio was 27%, so this unicorn was bringing his average down!

 

Angel Investors should think about their investments from a portfolio strategy viewpoint.  

Smart angels will target 10X their investment back within five years or less – that’s a 58.5% IRR.  After calculating winners and losers over time, angels who invest through angel groups will typically see a portfolio return in the 23-37% range, or about 2.5X.  Getting 4.8X your money back sounds good, until you think about what you could have done with that money if you could have reinvested it after five years.  

 

What if the investor had taken his $100,000 and NOT invested in DocuSign, but rather invested in ten deals at $10,000 each with half of them returning nothing and the returns from the others averaging 2.5X return over five years?  And what if he had reinvested the returns from those investments? At that rate, including winners and losers, he would have received $850,000 at the end of twelve years for an 8.5X return or 27% IRR. Clearly, taking time into account, but also taking the opportunity to recycle exits into the next deal increases profits.  

 

The likelihood of any one investment being a unicorn is something like 1,800 to 1, but the most prolific angel investors I know have portfolios of maybe 100-150 deals.  On the other hand, getting a 2.5X in five years on a ten company portfolio is fairly common among angels. Unicorn hunting, even when successful returned almost half the cash that the diversified angel did.  Using IRR instead of ROI helps angels to understand the best way to think of their strategy.

How do Venture Capitalists Differ from Angels?

Venture Capital funds often talk about how they need to go for the big multiples “because they need to return large amounts to their Limited Partners.”  This is partly true, but not for the reasons they would have you think. Angels have the same return targets as VCs, and, when they invest in groups, they tend to outperform Venture Capital funds by a good margin.  Over the past fifteen years VCs have been hunting for unicorns and missing out on the singles,doubles and triples that angels enjoy, but their returns averaged 9.98% – less than half of what angels have earned during the same period.

 

VCs are limited by time in their investments.  The average VC fund lasts for ten years, and many funds have a policy of not “recycling” their returns into new investments, so they are motivated to get large multiples of ROI rather than focusing on quick returns with high IRR.  It’s better if a fund can recycle its returns into new investments, with the caveat that they must return all capital to Limited Partners within ten years.

 

VCs also shy from using IRR to measure their fund’s performance because of the “J Curve” which refers to the shorter period between investment and failure compared to the longer period between investment and large-multiple success.  Using IRR can make the fund’s performance look sub-par early in the fund’s lifecycle.

 

Finally, the institutional investors that are the VC’s Limited Partners often earmark their funds for long investment periods and the last thing they want is to get a 30% IRR on an investment that comes back in the first year.  They would rather deploy the capital for longer periods for larger returns. Because institutional investors have a high cost of analyzing investment opportunities, it’s not as easy for them to re-deploy as it might be for angels.

 

So, angel investors differ from VCs in investment strategy, and if they invest in groups and pay attention to using IRR as their performance metric, they can outperform VCs and create significant returns for their own portfolios.

If you’ve read ANYTHING about cryptocurrencies and ICOs (Initial Coin/Token Offerings), you’ve read opinions from people who believe that the value of these coins will go up 100 times and others who believe that they will all crash to zero because there is “nothing there”.  If you believe either of these groups, you’ll be in big trouble if you’re an entrepreneur or angel/venture capital investor in this space.  Some cryptocurrencies will indeed go to zero and others will likely rise by 100X, but out of thousands of deals, how would you know how to pick the right ones?

It’s not just cryptocurrencies that have a lot of uncertainty today.  We’re seeing unprecedented change in blockchain, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, self-driving cars and more.  These trends are all going to become a big part of our future, but which companies are the ones we should invest in?

Experience can be a guide in helping decipher the trends in fast breaking industries. The cryptocurrency ICO market reminds me a lot of all the dot.com startups in the 1990’s who were going public without having much more than a URL like etoys.com, socks.com, pets.com, etc.

What happened during the .com boom?  Lots of companies got funded quickly and at valuations that didn’t make sense.  It kind of looks like the ICO boom now.  When companies get too much money too quickly, they tend to accelerate their failure rate because they haven’t figured out their product-market-fit or how to scale up quickly.  We’ll certainly see some of that in the current ICO boom, but, just like in the .com boom, we’ll also see some VERY BIG winners. Google and Amazon looked crazy in the 1990’s  but now they are today’s biggest companies.  We will see the same thing with blockchain, cryptocurrencies, AI, IoT, intelligent cars and more.

The people who predict wholesale failure or wholesale success are bound to be wrong.  The people who are diligent in digging into who the winners and losers will be with a futurist attitude will succeed.  Investors who think like the hockey player Wayne Gretzky who famously said “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” 

Great venture capital investors have to be like great hockey players and invest where the market is going to be.

Predicting the future is hard, but we’ve got some help for you.  The upcoming Angel Capital Summit, produced by the Rockies Venture Club will be focusing on Funding the Next Wave of Innovation.  We’ll be interviewing CEOs of companies that have gone through major trends in social networks, cyber security and more in order to learn how to identify and ride the trends.

The Angel Capital Summit will also feature 16+ companies that are riding the trends of their industries, pitching to angel and venture capital investors.  The event is open to the public and is free for RVC Keystone and Active Investor Members.  (If you’re not a member yet, click HERE for more information).

The Rockies Venture Club is the oldest angel investing group in the U.S. and is a non-profit organization focusing on furthering economic development by educating and connecting angel investors and great startups.

We’ve known for years that Colorado has more startups per capital than anywhere else.  Yes – per capita.  It’s a great location to start up a company and maybe you’re wondering if there’s a Venture Capital infrastructure to support that?  Well, now there’s incontrovertible evidence for Colorado’s leadership position in MicroVCs and it all comes down to … beer.

Just check out this CB Insights research relating MicroVC Tech Deals to Microbreweries.  That’s right – the more microbreweries you have, the more MicroVC deals you get.  And take a look at Colorado’s number 3 position in Microbreweries – what does that tell you?

 

Yes – a vibrant MicroVC community is brewing here in Colorado.  We’re seeing a huge influx of MicroVC and NanoVC funds as the state begins to mobilize its local capital to support its burgeoning startup community.

Ok, maybe that’s just a facetious stretch of statistical comparisons – but there is definitely a rapidly moving trend in Micro Venture Capital and Colorado is feeling the benefits of new sources of capital coming on-line!

This trend mirrors a national trend in increasing Micro VC firms.  Following the drastic drop in VC firms from over 1000 to just over 500 after the economic downturn in 2008, MicroVCs have flourished.  There were fewer than fifty active MicroVCs in 2011 and today there are over 550 in the U.S. A tenfold increase in just a few short years and many of them are in Colorado.

MicroVC is changing the venture investing landscape and is responding to the needs of startups who need small amounts of capital to prove their product market fit and grow big.  MicroVCs offer a scale that the big firms can’t efficiently provide and they get companies up and going quickly and efficiently.

MicroVCs aren’t just for small companies though.  Check out these results from MicroVCs who are growing a new crop of Unicorns (private companies with valuations of $1B or greater)  It’s not just the big funds that are hitting the grand slams – the Micro’s are slamming it home as well.

MicroVCs are creating a huge impact in the startup world and Colorado is the place to see this transformation taking place on a rapid pace.

You can learn more about MicroVC, NanoVC, and how accelerator VC funds are changing how startups get funded, and how angel investors can get involved in new ways previously unavailable to them.  You’ve got just a few days to sign up for the Colorado Capital Conference coming up November 6-7, 2017 in Denver, CO.

Visit www. coloradocapitalconference.org for more

information and to register.

The conference is hosted by Rockies Venture Club, the longest running angel group in the U.S.  Membership is NOT required to attend the conference, but if you’re an entrepreneur or angel investor, this would be a good time to look into the savings that RVC members enjoy on conferences, angel groups, workshops, masterminds and classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockies Venture ClubAs the cost of starting a tech company has gone down, VCs have moved upstream, funding bigger and bigger deals while angels and angel groups have taken up the sub-five million funding space. Meanwhile, accelerators and platforms have also taken a place with funds to jump start companies going through their programs.  MicroVCs are venture capital firms with assets under management of less than $100,000,000.  That sounds like a pretty big fund to angel investors, but in the big picture venture capital world, these truly are micro venture capital funds.

MicroVCs have taken on a huge role in filling the gap between seed and angel funding and big scale unicorn-track venture funding.  If you think about basic fund structure, a $100 million fund will invest about half of committed capital, or $50 million into its first round investments.  The fund will want to diversify to twenty or more investments, so you might see an average of $2 million for a first round.  Then they’ll have the remaining $50 million to continue investing in the top winners from the portfolio.  $2 million is a great amount for a post-angel round, but is far less than the $10 million that an average VC deal is doing today.

The MicroVC area is more understandable if we look at what kind of entities fill this space. There are sub $25 million funds, also known as NanoVC Funds which operate very differently than $100 million funds.  Then there are the accelerators which are actually MicroVCs.  Also, more and more angel groups are creating funds (Like the Rockies Venture Fund) and are moving upstream a bit to do larger deals.  Finally, angel groups are syndicating actively, so they can move into larger and larger deals.  Some examples of the power of angel groups leveraging their investments by working in syndicates include Richard Sudek’s work at Tech Coast Angels who syndicated a $10 million raise via syndication and similarly Rockies Venture Club Participated in a Series F syndicate for PharmaJet locally.  These are not deals that we would typically expect to see angels playing in.  This means that angels, when working together can start filling the space occupied by the MicroVCs.  Rather than competing, we’re seeing angels investing alongside MicroVCs at an increasing pace.

There are other considerations, however.  MicroVCs will typically hold back half of their fund for follow-ons, while angels are less predictable and many still use a “one and done” approach to their investments.  Even with MicroVC follow-on investment of up to $10 million, this is still not enough to propel some companies to the scale they’re shooting for, so they’ll still need to engage with traditional VC once they get big enough.

Angel investors should help startups to figure out their financial strategies so that they can work on building relationships with the right kinds of investors from the beginning so that they don’t paint themselves into a financial corner by working with the wrong investors.  Similarly, startups need to understand the goals of any type of VC so that they don’t waste their time barking up the wrong tree.

 

To learn more about the evolving role of MicroVCs, consider attending the RVC Colorado Capital Conference.  It’s coming up November 6-7th in Denver, CO.  Visit www.coloradocapitalconference.org for more information on speakers and presenters.  This event is on of Colorado’s largest angel and vc investment conferences of the year and there are great networking opportunities.   We hope that  the audience will come away with an idea about how all these types of capital are evolving and the different strategies that companies can take in choosing who they want to pursue for their capital needs.

Peter Adams

Managing Director, Rockies Venture Fund I, LP
Executive Director, Rockies Venture Club, Inc.
 Buy Venture Capital For Dummies on Amazon

 

Many professional organizations have a certification test of competency that members must pass to demonstrate their knowledge and ability to perform at a high level.  Doctors, Lawyers, CPA’s and other professions must also take continuing education credits as well.

The criterion for being an angel investor, however, has nothing to do with knowledge and does nothing to provide the knowledge that an accredited investor needs to know to both make good investments and to exercise prudence with regard to their portfolio strategy.  Accredited investors qualify to be angels simply by wealth (having assets in excess of $1 million) or income, (having annual income of $200K per year or more, or $300K for married couples)

The SEC has proposed recently that a knowledge based criterion for accredited investors be added.  This would allow people with expertise to participate in angel investments.  The proposal, however, suggested that existing certifications such as a FINRA Series 7 might be a good benchmark.  Having passed the Series 7 test myself, I can assure anyone that the knowledge one acquires to pass that test, though it is significant, has nothing to do with what someone needs to know to be an angel investor.   Angel and venture capital investing has its own set of language and guidelines that have very little overlap with what a Series 7 certificate holder would have.  If the goal of accreditation is to protect the investors from themselves, then providing a certification that tested knowledge that was relevant to the asset class would be most useful.

A good certification test for angel investors would include several parts.  Here’s an overview of what it might look like.

  • Portfolio strategy. The presumed reason for the accredited investor guidelines is that people of high wealth have excess money to lose and can withstand a complete loss.  Just having money to lose isn’t really a great way to build a portfolio strategy.  Smart investors will allocate approximately ten percent or less of their investable portfolio into the angel investing asset class.  Within that ten percent, they will be invested in a minimum of ten deals and preferably twenty or more.  That means that a marginally accredited investor with a $1 million in investable assets will create an angel investing portfolio of about $100,000 which will be in at least ten $10,000 deals or even twenty $5,000 deals.  Someone with a $5 million investable portfolio will put $500,000 to work in angel deals, perhaps with twenty deals at $25,000 each.  Some angels really spread out their risk with fifty or more deals and it’s generally agreed that the more deals you can get into the better.  Finally, angels should understand the difference between making a “one and done” investment in a company vs. follow-on investments and how they can benefit a portfolio.
  • Exit strategies. Angel investors have only one way to get their money back and that’s through an exit. Anyone investing in this asset class should have a sophisticated knowledge of how exits work, how to analyze the market for exit potential, what typical exit multiples are and what the typical exit amounts are for startups in any particular industry.  An angel who doesn’t understand exits will not likely do well as an investor and may end up investing in a lot of great ideas that never see a liquidity event.
  • There are some who say that “valuation doesn’t matter”.  These are the VC hacks who think they can make up for any valuation by investing only in “unicorns” ( private companies that reach a valuation of $1 billion or more).  That’s a great theory until you realize that only one in several thousand deals results in a unicorn deal and most that exit at all will exit for under $50 million.  For these, understanding valuation and putting together a fair deal is critical.  A smart angel should have a valuation toolbox under their belt with several different valuation methods available to them.
  • Due Diligence. Smart angels know that the more diligence you do, the better your chances for investment success.  Just having lunch with a startup CEO and getting excited about their passion and commitment is not a good way to do diligence.  Investors should thoroughly investigate the market, the team, the product, IP and legal landscape, valuation, comparable transactions, financial projections, competition, exit potential, key documents and agreements and much more.
  • Term Sheets. Investing requires good knowledge of the terms used in negotiating the deal.  These terms are far from obvious and many that sound similar can result in a difference of millions of dollars when the company exits.  g. “preferred liquidation preference” or “participating preferred”.   I’ve seen angels who have caused serious problems for themselves and the companies they invest in by creating situations that make follow-on investment by VCs all but impossible.
  • Securities and Tax Law: Angels should be familiar with the various points of securities law to understand the registration exemptions that offerings are using, and to know the boundaries of proper securities offering processes. They should understand the difference between Regulation D 506B and 506C registrations, the proper filing of Form D, numbers of investors allowed, and verification of accredited investor status.  They should also understand tax law as it applies to angel investment including Section 1202, 1244, and 1045 as well as state breaks for economic development and federal breaks for research and development.
  • Proformas and financial analysis. Like it or not, there’s a lot of finance knowledge required to be a good angel investor.  Being able to look at a proforma and understand if it’s believable, or just a “hockey stick” graph someone put together to make it look good.  A proforma is a treasure trove of information about the company, its strategy and how it expects to operate.  Even though it’s never going to be right, the way that the information is presented gives the investor a window into how the CEO and team thinks.  Finance risk is significant for most companies and understanding how many future raises will be required, how big they will be and what the cumulative dilution to both founders and investors will look like is critical to assessing the potential for the deal.
  • Market Analysis. Understanding the trends in a market, competition, actual pain points and return on investment for customers is one of the most important parts of understanding the viability of a deal.  These require sensitivity to the particulars of specific industries and are not easy.  Many startup founders are technical wizards and they may have some insight into the needs of their markets, but many have no idea about how to create a go-to-market strategy, assess which channels are appropriate for their market, or how to allocate scarce resources to create the lowest Cost of Acquiring a Customer relative to the highest Lifetime Customer Value.  Many startups are blind to their competition and claim that they “have no competition.”  This should cause any investor to run from a deal.  Creating “virality” is an art that is lost on many tech or healthcare founders and angels should be able to assess the viability of the market strategy.
  • Post Investment Management and Serving on Boards. The work of the angel investor is just beginning after the check clears.  Managing the investment after the check requires expertise to help ensure alignment and to guide the CEO towards the best exit opportunities.  Serving on boards carries fiduciary responsibilities.

Unlike the questions for the FINRA Series 7 exam, most of the knowledge required for angel investing certification centers more around principles, definitions and best practices rather than distinct points of law.  Only about 10% of the angel certification test is about specific regulations and point of law, yet the knowledge the test represents is what angel investors should know.  This ratio represents the ratio of technical to legal know-how in other professional exams and would represent a step-up in the professionalism of angel investing.

The SEC has set income and asset limits to the definition of accredited investors with good intention.  Unfortunately, simply having wealth does not make one qualified to make good investments and there are plenty of stories of wealthy people making imprudent investments that resulted in disaster.  Better to allow a criterion based on knowledge, so that investors understand how to balance risk and opportunities through diversified investments and well accepted principles of successful angel investing.  We hope the SEC will consider this certification as a means to becoming accredited, and open up angel investing to a broader audience while accelerating American economic development through greater investment in our job creating startups.

 

Peter Adams

Managing Director, Rockies Venture Fund I, LP
Executive Director, Rockies Venture Club, Inc.
 Buy Venture Capital For Dummies on Amazon