In the minds of many first-time startup founders, there is no significant difference between angel investors, seed funds and VC funds. As a result, they often adopt a scattershot approach to raising seed-stage capital, sending out their funding requests far and wide, hoping against hope that someone — anyone! — I will write them a nice, fat check. But that ignores the fact that there are some vast differences between angels, seed funds and VC funds.
Let’s start with the basics: check size. Angel investors write checks for anywhere from $10K to $250K, while the typical VC funds like to write checks for $3+ million, and sometimes much more than that. Somewhere in the middle, you have seed funds, which are usually on the hook for anywhere from $50K to $2 million. Yes, there is a bit of an overlap here, but you can see that each of these seed-stage investors has staked out a particular territory.
And each of these territories comes with their own specific set of rules. (Some of which are unwritten, of course). For example, both angel investors and seed funds conduct relatively little due diligence. You might have a check in your hand after just a single meeting and a span of a few days. In contrast, venture capital firms have much more money in play and are likely to take a much closer look at your company before deciding to invest. In the business, it’s called “kicking the tires,” and trust me; sometimes those tires get kicked very hard indeed.
As a general rule of thumb, the more money that a deep-pocketed investor is giving you, the more strings that will be attached to that money. You didn’t think that a big-time VC investor would show up at your door, write a massive check in excess of $1 million, and quietly fade away into the background, did you?
In exchange for handing over money to a completely unproven company still in the pre-revenue stage, venture capitalists will likely demand a few things in return. It’s not so much that they have any evil designs on your company — it’s that they want to have the greatest chance of cashing out sometime down the road. In order to do that, they will likely ask for a board seat on your company. And they will take a much more hands-on approach to make sure that you are meeting the right people, launching the right products, and following through on all the promises in your business plan.
The good news is that, once you’ve gotten the first seed-stage financing, large VC funds are almost contractually obligated to follow on with later rounds of financing. Once they’ve signed up for an “A” round, they are usually going to be there for a “B” round and a “C” round. In contrast, angel investors are basically “one and done.” Think of them like a wealthy uncle who decides to write you a one-time check, and who might not contact you again until the next big family gathering.
If you had to boil it down to three key factors that differentiate the various types of seed-stage fundraising options, it would be (i) check size (ii) investment process and (iii) post-investment commitment. Make sure that you fully understand each of these factors before reaching out about potential funding commitments from angel investors, seed funds and VC funds.