So you want to be an angel investor. That’s great news for founders looking for capital to start their dream business. And it’s great news for you too—you’ve reached a point in your career where you can, and want, to help out new companies. But what would you do if almost every boardroom you entered, instead of being invited in to the meeting, you were instead asked if you were lost, or if you worked for someone already in the room?
If you’re Angela Lee, you create your own organization of angel investors.
“I wrote my first check as an angel investor in 2008. By 2012 I wanted investing to be a formal part of my investment portfolio, but after going to a bunch of angel networks, I couldn’t find one that was a fit for me. So I built what I wanted to be a part of,” said the founder of 37 Angels, a community of women investors.
“It’s bigger than I ever thought it was going to be. It has struck a nerve that a community for women investors was needed.”
Lee’s qualifications don’t end with investor, either. The Assistant Dean at Columbia Business School has also worked at UC Berkeley and NYU, and was named one of 2015’s six innovative women to watch by Entrepreneur Magazine. Education is Lee’s passion, and through Columbia Business School she’s able to share her wisdom on leadership communication, strategic problem solving, and how to invest in early stage startups.
Traditional university business schools haven’t really catered to the entrepreneurs in the startup world today. To counter this, a huge part of Columbia Business School’s strategy in the last ten years has been bridging theory to practice.
“We have no shortage of amazingly intelligent people teaching here,” Lee said. “My role with the school is faculty development—I help bring faculty from good to great and help them to connect classroom learning with real-world experience and scenarios.”
With her dedication to sharing the knowledge, her company isn’t just an investor community either: it’s an education platform all its own. While her classes at Columbia are jam-packed with 50 MBA students, 75-80 percent men, 37 Angels has the luxury of small class sizes totaling about 8 to 12 women.
And the company offers services on both sides of the coin—for investors and for founders. Prospective female investors learn the art of angel investing through an intense one-month boot camp; at the end, they invest. Prospective founders—men and women—pitch their startup ideas and have an answer within four weeks.
“37 Angels has always offered both—the two are symbiotic. I don’t think the boot camp would be successful without the angel network, and the angel network is stronger because of the boot camp. Half of our investors are either founders or currently running a business, so we really preach efficiency around the fundraising process.”
One of the biggest wins with both her MBA candidates and investors at 37 Angels has been when her students have finally been able to understand the complicated ideas and strategies of investing.
“Everyone is incredibly hungry for clarity,” Lee shared. “Some of our students have already invested, some have been involved in the space for years, but I often hear that it’s the first time they actually understand a particular concept. That’s hugely empowering. These aren’t just scary words on a screen anymore—they are ideas that they can apply to their own investing. We help build a framework around this crazy, messy ecosystem, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see the results of that.”
5 Tips from Investor Angela Lee
1. Think Win, Win, Win
“Investors in today’s economic environment have to think of their customer as the investor, the entrepreneur, and the investor in the next round. It has to be a win for the seed investor, a win for the founder, and a win for the later-stage investor. Entrepreneurs are betting on the investors just as much as the investors are betting on the entrepreneurs.”
2. Be a Multiplier, Not a Diminisher
“Early in my career I was told the best thing you can do is make yourself obsolete by becoming redundant. People horde knowledge because they think it’s valuable, but it’s more effective—and easier on you—if you’re a multiplier, not a diminisher. If other people know the information I do, I’m never the bottleneck, even if I’m gone for a month. The company can still run without me.”
3. Set A Timeline
“Don’t waste people’s time. Set clear expectations, set a timeline, and let your entrepreneurs know whether you’re interested or not by that deadline. It all has to do with mindset. If you think a decision will take four weeks, it will take four weeks. If you don’t give yourself a timeline, it can (and often does) take six months. A no rarely turns into a yes when you just sit on it—people just hate saying no. Get to a no quicker so you don’t hold up founders.”
4. Reduce Your Unconscious Bias
“I spoke at a Focus 100 event, which is an event for black female tech entrepreneurs. Usually when I speak at a conference I know many of the speakers because it’s not that big of an ecosystem. I walked into this room and I immediately thought ‘I don’t recognize enough people in this room.’ It made me realize that my network wasn’t racially diverse enough. That’s hugely embarrassing for someone who cares about diversity so much. I had to make an active effort to open up my network, which is something every investor should look at doing.”
5. Open Up and Leverage Your Network
“The great thing for female founders is they have gotten an amazing amount of media attention. For the next level though we need to move from talking to action. For us to move the needle on helping female founders, we need to provide access to our networks, access to capital, and access to revenue generating clients. Make the introductions that they need. Women are great at building networks, we need to help them be better at leveraging those networks.”