The “Yes, and” of Women Angel Investors

Venture capitalist Dave McClure gives women who care about business and/or technology lots to chew on in his post, “Women in Tech: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” I like some of what he’s saying, disagree with parts of it, and am enormously psyched that he cares enough about the issue of gender equity in the tech industry to write about it.

At the heart of his argument is the notion that women ought to invest their money in ways that align with their values – and here, I couldn’t agree more. Women who have the means to invest some cash into businesses – and, I would add, nonprofits – that benefit women (whether as leaders, or in other ways) – do themselves and the rest of womankind a great service. Where we invest our capital matters, and I love that McClure is using his significant reach to remind us of that.

When I imagine the powerful changes that could be created if women invested more in one another, I get very, very excited.

And like Minda Zetlin at Inc.com, the wheels in my head really started turning when I hit the point in McClure’s article where he suggests that $15,000 is enough to get started as an angel investor. With a bar that low (yes, this is low for the audience McClure is speaking to, i.e. successful Silicon Valley workers – I recognize it is very high for most people), I know a number of women and men who could potentially join the angel ranks – people with solid values and ethics who would love to be early investors in a company that could change the ratio.

But here’s the thing: Having run my own business, I know that money is far from the only asset one looks for in an investor. Is anyone with $15k to invest a good prospect for an entrepreneur looking for investment capital?

Hell, no.

Surely, when Dave McClure started out as an angel investor (he writes in the article that he began by investing $25k/year in 3 companies), he brought more than cash to the table. Any entrepreneur who’s ready to take on investors ought to be screening potential funders for more than money. (That’s right – finding an investor is a two-way street: They evaluate your business, and you evaluate them right back.) When entrepreneurs take on investors, we are also looking for:

  • Access to networks.
  • Good advice, which comes from rich experience.
  • Visionaries who can support us through failures and pivots, and see the potential in an idea or MVP.
  • Everything we might seek in a business partner – shared values, ease of communication, and that elusive quality called “fit.”

Surely McClure doesn’t value his contributions so lightly that he believes just anyone with $15k to spare could fill his role.

Another way to put this is – to quote a guy named Tobias Lutke who was profiled in this Globe and Mail article on the Canadian tech sector“Would you pay money to have dinner with that person? If the answer was yes, we would want them to invest.”

Now, I’m not saying McClure is totally off-base; there’s real value in women (and men) adjusting our assumptions about what it takes to be an angel investor – and I’ll admit, my assumption was that one needed a lot more than $15,000 to join those ranks. So it’s both liberating and inspiring to rethink that, and to consider seriously the notion of investing cash in a few startups.

What I take exception with is the argument that what separates angel investors from the rest of us is nothing but money. (Well, that and the implicit suggestion that increasing the number of women investors will magically solve all of the gender discrepancies in the tech sector. I agree it’s a piece of the puzzle, but I don’t believe any problem this complex can be solved with a single fix. The answer to bringing more women into tech is not women becoming angel investors. It’s also not recruiting women to comp sci programs. It’s not any one thing. It’s all of these things together.)

So, women with disposable, invest-able cash: Without wanting to trigger anyone’s imposter syndrome, I invite you to ask yourselves what you can offer as an angel investor, besides cash. I think we can all agree that we won’t be doing each other any favours by jumping into angel investing without thinking a little bit first. The last thing women entrepreneurs need is money without access, vision, or values. (Remember, those investment dollars come with strings attached; they need to be repaid. When you enter into a relationship with an investor, it’s a pretty serious one on a lot of levels.)

Let’s do this. But let’s do it right.