I don’t think the title angel investor is a helpful or accurate way to describe early investors in startups. Capital is crucial for all companies, but individuals and funds that invest in startups aren’t angels. There are many good reasons that drive people to invest that aren’t captured by standard financial return calculations, like paying it forward, learning new stuff, building relationships and making the place you live and work in more interesting. But angel? I think not.
Anyone who makes a little or a lot of money from a startup should do whatever she wants with it. Spend it on alcohol, men and fast cars. Or just squander it by paying off debts, making a downpayment on a mortgage, investing in the stock market or buying a well-deserved vacation.
But if there’s some capital left after personal needs are taken care of, a fundamentally good ethos in the startup world is paying it forward and investing in new companies. Recycling capital, as Fred Wilson puts it. But even more valuable than only investing capital is to also help a startup with relationships, experience and maybe even some wisdom.
Investing and advising can be very rewarding both mentally and emotionally in the short-term, and if you’re lucky financially in the long-term (startup investing is very slow money). But just because an investment isn’t entirely captured by a traditional valuation model and is personally rewarding doesn’t make anyone an angel, just a mensch.
(Originally published October 25, 2014.)