How I raised $400,000 in two weeks, from 61 investors, through AngelList

Lessons learned through the ups and downs of raising money through AngelList.


A brief history:

I’ve been trying to get one of my startups featured on AngelList for a long time. I first tried in 2011 with a previous company and I got my first rejection:

“too early” is a common theme throughout this blog post.

I did circle back, but our metrics were never material enough to be featured.

At the time I lived in the same condo complex as AngelList’s headquarters. Their office view looked directly down on to a small piece of land that was only accessible from the unit I lived in.

Every day while I took my dog out for her daily routine I could see the AngelList team working hard and I was reminded daily that my company wasn’t good enough to be seen on AngelList… Even though they saw me everyday.

Bliss Syndicate — The Pursuit

The AngelList model has changed significantly from when I first tried to get featured 5 years ago. These days, the best way to raise money is through a syndicate.

In May, when Bliss first started efforts toward raising a seed round, I wanted AngelList to be part of the overall fundraising strategy, but I knew we were too early to get an investor to lead our syndicate, having only generated $1k in revenue and zero investors (we were self-funded), but I wanted to start planting the seeds.

I immediately thought of the SaaS syndicate as a good target to go after. I had been actively keeping track of their investment activity on AngelList and I knew this syndicate was active in funding early stage recurring revenue startups.

Upon further research, I identified Kyle York, one of the founders of the SaaS syndicate and Chief Strategy Officer at SaaS-based Internet Performance company, Dyn, as the person I wanted to talk to.

The things that stood out most to me were the references he’s received and given on AngelList and LinkedIn. Combine this with his Twitter feed (I did thorough due diligence), I felt I already knew him even though we had never had a conversation. Not to mention, he has such a fantastic surname… we were meant to work together!

I combed through my contacts and found a warm introduction:

Thanks for the intro, Arjun, but am I wonderful too??

The above email correspondence was handled by Kyle’s executive assistant, Ashley, rather than Kyle himself. We had arranged an introductory phone call, but Kyle rescheduled three different times…through Ashley!

We finally had our call on June 9th. It was a short and sweet 18 minute call. Kyle showed a tiny bit of interest, but told us that we were too early for the SaaS syndicate and suggested I get back in touch with him when Bliss reached $8k a month recurring revenue (MRR).

Not a great start, but at least I had some direction.

PERSEVERANCE

A lot of entrepreneurs would get discouraged here, but I made sure to stay on top of Kyle’s mind. For the following months I kept Kyle informed of relevant business updates and thoughtfully engaged him over Twitter. Once we hit $8k MRR in October (5 months later) he started to show interest in Bliss.

This time around Kyle dove deeper into understanding the business and became excited about what we were working on. With $8k MRR and strong month over month revenue growth Kyle presented Bliss to the SaaS syndicate, but ultimately they determined that Bliss was still too early for them to lead the investment.

Determined to raise through AngelList and work directly with Kyle, we came to a solution — Have Kyle lead the Bliss syndicate personally! Needless to say, we were excited that Kyle took this on. He was the partner we wanted from the get-go and the 5+ months of patience and commitment paid off. We had our lead investor to raise money on AngelList!

Starting From Scratch

One potential downfall of being the first deal through a syndicate is that it might not be mature enough to drive a lot of investors into the deal. With that comes more grassroots efforts to drive awareness.

Kyle started his syndicate on October 12th and we got to work generating support. Over the following few weeks I reached out to my contacts asking them to sign up for Kyle’s syndicate.

I sent messages to my contacts through Slack, email, LinkedIn and more.

This was an unsuccessful campaign for me, but I learned some key lessons that should be helpful to anyone who finds themselves in a similar circumstance.

Because AngelList still hadn’t yet approved the Bliss deal, there was no direct link to have investors show interest in or start investing in Bliss. I was sending my contacts, who didn’t know Kyle, directly to his syndicate, which had no mention of my company. On top of this, most people weren’t overly familiar with how AngelList syndicates work, which only further complicated matters.

Lesson learned: wait until the deal is approved and live!

In hindsight, as a founder of a company that is about to get syndicated, there’s not a lot that you can do before a deal goes live; as anxious as you might be to generate interest. Avoiding friction with your contacts is of high importance, so it’s better to just wait until the deal gets approved by AngelList and there’s a direct link that sends investors to invest in your company.

On the flip side, one thing that did work well for me was directly talking to investors letting them know that Bliss would be live on AngelList soon. It allowed me to gauge their interest and answer any questions in preparation of the syndicate going live.

APPROVAL PROCESS

Getting the Bliss syndicate approved by AngelList was not a straight forward process either. Kyle spent a couple of weeks communicating with the AngelList team explaining the opportunity, walking them through our business and showing them his new syndicate had enough support to ensure a successful fundraise for Bliss.

Fortunately, Kyle had a lot more success generating interest and support for his syndicate than I did. While I only got 2 investors to sign up, Kyle grew the syndicate to more than $300,000 from backers.

In terms of Kyle and I collaborating to streamline the administrative process, we utilized Google Docs to efficiently create the ‘Deal Overview’ for Bliss. This overview gets sent out to all investors that backed Kyle’s syndicate to explain the investment opportunity — so it’s an important task and piece of collateral.

I use Google Docs for everything.

Using this approach, we were able to finalize the write up in 2 days. I highly recommend taking advantage of Google Docs.

With a backing of over $300k and our deal overview set, finally, on November 9th, Kyle’s syndicate for Bliss was approved!

yay!

Syndicate Launch — The 24 Hour Sprint

On Tuesday November 10th, we launched Kyle’s syndicate to invest in Bliss.

At 9am PT (Kyle suggested this time as he felt this was the optimal time for all U.S. time zones) Kyle kicked things off by emailing roughly 400 investors who had backed or followed him on AngelList. To our surprise, we raised over $100,000 from 8 investors in 5 minutes!

We communicated over text and phone calls all day.

My immediate strategy was to reach out to investors that I have a close relationship with, including investors from the Batchery, who had already invested in Bliss through it’s accelerator program and where our team is headquartered.

The Bliss team at The Batchery!

By lunch, a few of my contacts jumped in and invested and our total amount raised grew to $129,000.

Adding fuel to the fire, we were lucky enough to be a featured investment on AngelList. I leaned in through social media, emails and texts highlighting the exposure.

The first Tweet I posted for the day.

You can’t plan to be featured on AngelList. This was pure luck. It may have helped that we launched the syndicate close to Thanksgiving. Fundraising around the holidays, in general, is challenging, so perhaps there was a slow down on other syndicates investing in new deals to avoid slow traffic.

I stayed in front of my computer until 2am making sure I quickly responded to any inbound emails from investors and reached out to individuals that downloaded our pitch deck to review.

Tip* Allow your pitch deck to be downloaded from your AngelList profile. This is great for investor lead generation. Here’s the deck we used during the syndicate https://docsend.com/view/xgmz8hp

Screenshot from my inbox on day 1 of the syndicate.

We had 43 investors check out our pitch deck on day 1 and I reached out to them all with a personal email. I took their information (name & email) provided by DocSend and found out more about them on Twitter and LinkedIn. On average each initial email took ~5 minutes to write, given the research I did to add a personal touch. In total this took me about 3.5 hours on the first night of the syndicate.

It takes time, but personalization wins!

Day 2 — The Chaos Continues

I woke up Wednesday to find the syndicate maxed out at $200,000! More than $50k came in from another 15 investors.

A handful of the investors were completely random, but others were a direct result from my email strategy (from DocSend) from the night before. The personalized emails paid off!

Because it had only been 24 hours since we launched the syndicate and we felt there was still strong demand, we increased the syndicate allocation to $250,000.

Once again, I spent most of the day in email — answering one-off questions from potential investors and reaching out to people who downloaded our deck.

Adding to the craziness, a few syndicate investors unexpectedly started to Tweet about their investment in Bliss.

Thanks David, but my Twitter handle is @yupyork! Too much ‘work’ on your mind? :)

This inspired me to reach out to other Bliss investors encouraging them to drive awareness to the deal as well.

Bhavin was one of our first investors in Bliss a few months ago when cash was close to $0!

We ended day 2 with $223,000 raised from 29 investors.

Day 3 to Day 6 — The Big Slowdown

Given the momentum from the past 48 hours, getting to $250,000 was a lot harder than we anticipated when we increased the amount.

Small amounts trickled in… $1,000 here, $1,000 there.

I realized I needed to step it up a notch. I blocked off the weekend to focus on investor conversations, taking Skype calls with interested investors from Singapore, London, Dubai.

I always prefer to do video chats over voice calls — you get to know the person better.

With a full week of sales meetings ahead (and my wife 40 weeks pregnant!) I had to make things happen over the weekend.

By Sunday (day 6) we maxed the syndicate out at $250,000 from 42 investors.

With a week left until we planned to close the syndicate and verbal interest still coming in from our contacts, we asked AngelList for one last increase on the syndicate allocation to $300,000.

The Last Week — Ups and Downs

At this point, a week in, the significant inbound investor interest was over, but because Bliss was still featured on the AngelList homepage we did generate a couple new investor leads each day.

Instead of a random, spray and pray, outreach strategy, I focused on existing interest from investors. I started by reaching out to investors that have backed Kyle’s syndicate, but were undecided on making an investment in Bliss.

I just can’t do generic emails… I have to get in a personal touch!

I also reached out to all investors that followed our profile page on AngelList.

Screenshot of investors that have followed Bliss on AngelList.

Both strategies yielded additional investors.

Ultimately, this last week was slow for the syndicate, with just a handful of investors participating for smaller amounts. 93% of the investments came in from the first week (what a wild ride that week was).

While the syndicate itself had materially slowed down it still had a major impact on our seed round in other ways. A few angel investors I had pitched prior to the start of the syndicate, and who had been undecided on making a direct investment in our seed round, ended up making the decision to invest! The syndicate helped get these investors to a “yes.”

Tip* It helps to close your round of funding near the close of the syndicate. This not only influences direct investors that you have been talking to, but it also helps you manage your time and energy with your capital raise.

Final Results from raising money on AngelList for two weeks:

> $268,000 raised from 57 investors through Kyle York’s syndicate.
> $140,000 from 4 investors with a direct investment in our seed round.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways

While raising this amount of money in a short time may seem easy to most, keep in mind that it took me 5 years to get featured on AngelList and more than 5 months to convince Kyle to invest in Bliss through his syndicate.

For most founders (including me), raising money on AngelList is not an easy task. Just like fundraising in general you need a great story, team and traction to have a chance at a successful fundraise. You also need perseverance and a bit of luck.

Like I said, I pursued being featured on AngelList for 5 years with multiple startups. I pursued our syndicate lead for half a year! And once we got Kyle interested, we still needed to convince him to lead the syndicate personally (remember — the SaaS syndicate passed on us — “too early”).

Luck played a big part in the success of our fundraise once we got started. We were lucky to be featured on AngelList for the entire two week period that our syndicate was live, which drove a lot of awareness to our deal and a ton of inbound investor interest that we otherwise, most likely, would not have received.

Top tips for having a successful AngelList syndicate fundraise:

  1. Chose a great syndicate lead. Kyle was simply awesome. He spent a ton of time before the launch of the Bliss syndicate getting investors excited about the deal, relentlessly hustling during the deal and was thorough in understanding our business (5+ months of due diligence!).
  2. Be responsive and thoughtful on communication. I made it a point to respond to all inbound interest quickly (same day) and I personalized all correspondence (by researching each person). This paid off — literally!
  3. Fill out your AngelList profile as thoroughly as possible. From the first day we launched Bliss, in March of this year, I’ve kept our profile up to date with complete details on our company, multiple screen shots of our product, new hires, revenue, etc. This saved me a lot of time when our syndicate got approved by AngelList as all of our company information was up to date.
  4. Close the syndicate as quickly as possible. Most of the momentum will happen in the first couple days, so wrap it up in short manner and get back to work! The Bliss syndicate was open for two weeks and it felt too long, if I were to do it over again I’d aim for 1 week.
  5. Be prepared for a lot of “No’s.” Most of my personal contacts said no and the reality is, most of yours will, too. Don’t get discouraged. Fight through the adversity. Persevere!