As usual, we had a great turnout, over 100 entrepreneurs and investors came out for the amazing view of Raleigh's ever-changing skyline, a night out on the deck with perfect weather, great beer (their Scottish is fantastic), and a lot of new faces.
Blah blah blah.
But this time out, a disproportionate amount of these new faces were investors. Sure, we had quite a few regulars -- for example, it was awesome to see SouthCap/BullCity's Jason Caplain back after a couple months hiatus -- but several new Angels and VCs introduced themselves to me that night. I knew their names and their firms, but this was the first time I had met a few of them face to face.
That's always a cool thing, but not a very odd thing.
The very odd thing was that two of the new Angels, one each at two different times, interrupted the cordial conversation to let me know that they were actively looking for new investments, and anyone I could recommend would get a good look.
My reaction was as follows: 1) I've never gotten this request from Angels before and 2) I just got two.
So on one hand, I was intrigued that there was this new hunger for deal flow at the Angel level. But at the same time, it underscored the fact that seed stage investors are having a tougher and tougher time finding the right deal flow.
And I can't decide if that's a good thing (demand) or a bad thing (supply).
The Angel community has a reputation here (and everywhere, for that matter, but more so here) of being less than active at the seed stage.
I've never truly been on board with this.
Up until very recently, the Triangle didn't have the froth that would suggest that investors should be throwing money at any fresh-faced kid with an app idea.
We're older, we're more steadfast, we're pretty much customer-first, and we're somewhat connected. In other words, the entrepreneurs here who needed that kind of seed money were usually the ones who could almost guarantee a return on it. And they could usually get it.
Customers were the primary source of seed funds, then friends and family (I've both made and received F&F investments dating back to the early 2000s), and savings accounts, mortgages, and credit cards aren't too hard to tap if you're a 30-something having been at a steady tech job for 10 years.
But then, just when the Startup thing started to take off on a macro level in the Triangle, our cart and horse kind of got in lockstep. As the number of potentially fundable early stage startups increased, the options for seed funding also increased.
The seed stage market became crowded, with VCs playing earlier and earlier, incubators and accelerators popping up, and Universities and other organizations holding pitch contests and giving away cash, sometimes in the five-figure range.
Remember when there wasn't a Startup Weekend here every quarter? Or at all?
THEN, to make matters worse, in a kind of build-it-and-they-will-come-out-of-the-woodwork scenario, once seed money seemed plentiful, every wantrepreneur with a half-baked social network idea and ten bucks to spend at GoDaddy started a revenue-challenged, feature-light, unspellable company.
"It's called friendddd.ly, with four Ds."
So yeah, I'm not surprised Angels have been reticent. I can imagine they must feel like independent record labels when Nirvana broke.
And I might be the only one to get that joke, but it's a pretty valid point.
Let's not even talk about the changing face of crowdfunding, the red flags with IndieGogo or the fact that the SEC wants to make it harder for Angels to even exist.
I get it. I understand what these seed-stage investors are going through.
And it reminds me that there is still a ton of opportunity here to make connections.
Look, none of this is easy. It's rough being an entrepreneur in the Triangle. It's rough being a VC here and it's rough being an Angel.
The primary reason I started ExitEvent, and especially the entrepreneur-and-investor-only monthly Social, was so that solid fundable entrepreneurs with great ideas could connect with longview VCs and eager, helpful Angels.
The reason we have all these Startup Weekends and accelerators and pitch contests and meetups and beerfests and showcases and what have you is to make these connections easier.
It's not about filling the room. It never was.
So if we're still having a difficult time connecting the right startups with the right funding sources, or even the right advice or help or network or program -- whatever it's going to take to keep creating successful startups in the Triangle, we need to double-down on the focus. Myself included.
So yeah, I can make individual connections and I'm more than happy to do that.
However, these kinds of requests should be wake-up calls. Hey entrepreneurs, Angels are looking hard for investable startups. Hey investors, there are events like the Startup Social and a ton of other programs you should be involved with.
And finally, to those of you running all these events, programs, beerfests, showcases, meetups, and what have you -- connections are still begging to be made.
Time to double down and focus.