Angels Rush in Where VC Fear to Tread 0

About three years ago I attended a Web 2.0 conference at which a couple of professional venture capitalists and a couple of successful angel investors talked about trends. This was before the great recession, but in the middle of the explosion of web apps and social media.

One thing that came up repeatedly, then, was the impact of steeply declining web development costs on professional investment. People were getting real web apps up and running in a few months with a few people and a few hundred thousand dollars, instead of in a year or two with a few dozen people and a few million dollars. This was a problem for a few, and an opportunity for many. And the beneath-the-surface rumblings were about how it was screwing up the venture capital business model. VCs needed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars every couple of years, and liked to go into groups and syndications, which meant they wanted deals for a few millions dollars. But entrepreneurs, meanwhile, were looking for a lot less.

Then came the big recession, and everything got crazy. Trends were broken.

Now, however, it seems like the world of web-oriented angel and venture investment is in fact shifting toward angels, and smaller amounts.

In “The Rise of Super Angels” over at Small Business Labs, Steve King offers a good summary of a new trend. He cites “Seed Deals Account for 26% of Early-stage Web Investments” in which Giga Om points out the rise of a relatively new class of angel investors, which it calls super angels. He says, summarizing the Giga Om post:

Unlike traditional VCs, super angels actively invest in seed-stage companies. They also invest lower amounts of money than traditional VCs, between $25k and $250k.

The article suggests–and we agree–that angels are disintermediating traditional VCs in many cases.

Before we take that too far, it doesn’t mean that more companies are getting outside investment. It’s more about the changing texture of investment, and the relative weight of angels vs. venture capital. In the same post that talks about super angels, Steve King also quotes from “Calling All Angel Investors” on Forbes.com that points to how few companies actually get angel investment.

The article uses as an example Pasadena Angels, an angel investment club that reviews 400 to 600 business plans a year. Of those, roughly 20 percent are invited to present to the club, and only about 15 percent of those get funded. If you do the math, this means roughly 97 percent of the companies submitting plans get turned down.

Frankly, those numbers don’t surprise me. I think that’s been true for a long time: Only a very small minority of startups actually land outside investment.

I’m wondering whether what seems to be a general decline in venture interest in web apps, and an increase in interest in clean technology and medical technology and clean energy, might not also be a matter of risk-return ratios on larger investments with longer cycles. That’s where venture capital is normally strong.

No, I don’t have data. I’m just wondering.

About the Author Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry. Follow Tim on Google+ Read more »

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