This is part two of a multi-post series where I try to learn more about angel investing from a “retail investors” point of view. If you missed it, you can read part one here.
The reason my brother and I started this blog was to learn about the topics we’re interested in. I like the pressure it puts on me to formulate ideas and better understand any given subject. It also lets me meet cool people. One of those subjects is investing - and the holy grail of investing might be investing in the private markets, in early-stage companies, also known as angel investing.
More risk, more reward, and definitely more rockstar vibes.
I figured the best way to learn was to speak to people who live that life. People that could answer all the stupid questions I have. How much money do you need to get started, and is it really a good idea to start?
I managed to track down three active angel investors in Sweden who would be kind enough to talk to me, an absolute beginner. The first thing I noticed was how different they were.
Let’s see what they had to say.
Anna Svahn is CEO and Portfolio Manager at Antiloop Hedge. She has done several angel investments in the past 5 years and today she is specialized in investing in alternative markets such as commodities through her hedge fund.
JG: How did you get started with angel investing and investing in general?
AS: I was studying business administration at the time, and I don’t really come from any investment background. My family didn’t speak of it at home. I got to know a friend who was working as a stockbroker when I lived in Malmö, this was around 10 years ago. And then I kind of just fell in love with the markets.
I was very lucky with how I was trading. I invested in small-cap stocks, medtech and energy companies. Then I decided to set up a more structured strategy and that also went well. And that’s also what we are using today in the hedgefund I’m running now.
I think it’s hard to analyze companies listed on the markets, that’s why I like commodities and I’m looking into the crypto space. I’m more into the alternative investments.
AS: Then I decided, because I had friends starting companies and they were reaching out to me for investments. And I put them in contact with friends of mine that were already doing angel investments. That’s kind of how it evolved from just being kind of like monkey savings in the stock market into actually looking more into privately owned startups.
JG: Interesting! Tell me about your first angel investment. What was it like?
AS: I did my first angel investment 4 - 4.5 years ago and it did not end well at all. It wasn’t a lot of money but still. It actually came down to them being fraudulent in the numbers they we’re presenting. So that went to court.
JG: Oh really?
AS: It turned out they had done that before as well. In the beginning, when you meet startup founders, they are so passionate about what they’re doing that it’s very easy to fall in love with their idea and with the founders and, and really be like, okay, this is going to be huge.
JG: I see.
AS: But this company said they were post-revenue, meaning they already made money, which turned out to be false. It was not a great experience, but I learned a lot! I learned to read between the lines and to be more skeptical of ideas and founders and do even more due diligence. It was a very good lesson.
A good question to ask is: Why does this person want me to invest in this company? Most startups want to go with a VC to keep the cap table small, also as a sign of credibility.
Note to self: I found this insight super interesting. I would definitely also fall for this. If someone asks you for money, it’s probably because they couldn’t get it anywhere else.
JG: Cool. Why did you start angel investing?
AS: I didn’t really have an option, I was so interested in investing in general. It really became a lifestyle for me. I worked with investor relations at the time and wanted to start a hedge fund going forward. I realized that I had to leverage my capital to build a network around me and also to meet like minded people. So that’s one of the main reasons I kept doing it. Angel investing was a good way for me to network and it enabled me to do what I do today.
JG: Would you recommend getting started with angel investing?
AS: Yes and no. It’s not something you do because you think you can earn a lot of money, simply because most companies fail. I mean, they say that 1 of 10 startups are successful, but I mean, that’s when you’re looking at VC firms and they are very good at what they’re doing. They have a very high success rate. So I would say that the average angel investor does not have a success rate of 10%. I think it’s even less. But you only really need one that succeeds.
AS: If you do have money that you can allocate to something and you are not going to need the money for say at least 10 years, and you can actually live without it - then definitely go ahead. But make sure you do enough due diligence. Look up the company, talk to the founders, and really get to know them, and don’t make any investments too quick.
JG: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me.
AS: Thank you!
My thoughts after my video call with Anna was that she seems to be a powerhouse of a person. She has accomplished a lot in her quite short career and I will definitely keep a lookout for what she is investing in going forward. After this very inspiring call, I scrambled my notes together and got prepared to talk to my second angel investor.
Filip Larsson is a successful angel investor and entrepreneur. Active in southern Sweden (the Malmö region), he was an early investor in companies such as Storytel, Debricked, 46Elks, and many more. He is today involved in owning and managing properties, as well as investing in disruptive technology companies all over Sweden.
JG: Hey Filip, thanks for taking your time talking to me!
JG: How did you get started with angel investing?
FL: I started an internet company when I was 14 years old called DLL-files.com. This was in 1998. Long story short, doing this and being an entrepreneur made me very aware of trends in technology. So when I started making a bit of money and got into investing, I realized that I had an edge in my knowledge of technology. Most angel investors at that time had more industrial expertise.
JG: That’s really cool. So you used this edge when scouting investments?
FL: Yes. It helped me spot good companies and that is what made me spot Storytel for example. Today, on the other hand, most angel capital comes from people like me, who made money on internet companies. So it’s different today.
Note to self: This idea got my head spinning. I wonder if there are any new trends that you could spot and invest in today.
JG: If the internet companies were the new trend when you were starting, what’s the next big trend?
FL: Oh I have no idea. I don’t think you can predict that.
JG: Why do you angel invest?
FL: I have always felt that I was better at being involved in companies at an early stage. I think investing in the stock market is very tough since you have no idea what’s really going on with the company. Investing 500K in Ericsson’s public stock won’t get you a board seat. In the early stages, you can literally call the CEO and ask them what’s going on.
JG: Haha that’s true.
FL: My reason for starting angel investing was to put leverage behind my money through my competence. Angel investing is not just about money but also providing something more, adding knowledge - in my case by having that technology knowledge and by being an entrepreneur myself.
JG: Interesting. And how would you recommend people getting involved? How do you start?
FL: First of all I would never recommend anyone to be an angel investor.
FL: But if you’re not scared off yet. Maybe you should try it. Yes. It’s very rare to make money doing this. The statistics that show average returns are skewed since a select few find unicorns (A startup company valued at over $1 billion) and make returns in the 100x-1000x range, while a big majority won’t make anything at all. But we need more good angel investors that are hands-on.
JG: I see.
FL: The best way to start is to join an angel investors network. There are networks all over Sweden. I joined the network Connect Sverige and found many investments through them. The membership price you pay to get that sort of access is a great deal. That’s a good way to start.
JG: Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to me today Filip.
So many questions, so little time.
Filip is an incredibly cool person and I love his views on being an active angel by helping the companies you invest in succeed. I got excited to start developing my edge through knowledge.
Last but not least, I spoke to perhaps the most contrarian angel investor of the three.
Argentinian-born Juan Manuel Serruya is CEO and Co-founder of the sustainable finance startup Datia.app and active angel in Stockholm. Before starting Datia, he worked at Spotify as a Head of Engineering at Creators Studio.
JMS: Hey Jacob!
JG: How did you first get interested in investing and finance?
JMS: When I had been working as a programmer for a few years, I had a few dollars saved up. This was around 2013 or 2014. I started buying mostly companies that I thought were cool. And that was basically my whole thing. So I bought Apple, Google, you know, like that era where like I was using the iPhone, I was using Google. I was like, these guys are probably going to do good.
Then, I was at Spotify for a long time, and after the IPO, I suddenly had a lot more liquidity. So I started thinking, how can I grow this further? How can I gamble less, maybe put some time into the process behind what I choose to buy. So I started studying investing more seriously around 2018, basically.
JG: You had some sort of employee options program at Spotify?
JMS: Yes exactly.
JG: How do you find angel investment opportunities?
JMS: I think the broader question is how to get good deal flow as an investor. Which is kind of the hardest thing in angel investing, actually getting high quality deal flow and access to these companies.
And for me, you know, I’m an active entrepreneur myself in the startup scene and I meet other people by being in the accelerators, working in coworking spaces. I don’t really go to conferences, but I like to introduce myself to people that I think are interesting.
JG: Do you recommend getting involved with Angel Investing?
JMS: I think that there are two things that you need to be able to do to be an angel investor.
First, you need to be able to make at least 10 bets, you know, 20 is better just because you’re going to be wrong a lot. The winners are going to pay for the losers. But you need to have at least 10 to 20 for this to work. Otherwise it’s too risky. You know, you can be wrong five times in a year and then you’re fucked.
And then the second thing is besides access to the deal flow, you need to be able to identify good cases before anyone else sees them. Cause if you have a case that is obviously hot, because it’s obviously a good company, then you are most likely going to be competing on valuation or going to be a bullied by a bigger investor, unless you have a lot of cash, but you know, someone can come in and buy the whole round and kick you out.
JG: I see
JMS: Deals get very competitive once the consensus is that they are good deals.
So how can you be non-consensus right? No matter what discipline, you basically need to be strong enough in the discipline that the startup operates in so that you can identify that this is a good thing before the world tells you this is a good thing. Are you comfortable enough in your contrarian view that you can make a non-consensus bet on something?
Note to self: Super interesting take. He really says that you can leverage your specific knowledge to find ideas inside of your discipline. I wonder what the disciplines in which I’m good at spotting new trends are.
JG: Now to the golden question, how much money do you need to get started angel investing? How big is the average investment?
JMS: That depends a lot. If we are talking Stockholm, a pre-seed angel typically writes tickets around 200K - 1 million SEK ($25-125K dollars) So if you wanna make ten of those, you would need 2 million SEK minimum.. However, that could obviously be spread out over a long period of time if you have a steady income.
JG: Cool, and a ticket is just a part of the investment round?
JMS: Right so basically a typical pre-seed round, which is where most angels participate, is like a couple million SEK. And then you either have one pre-seed fund or more commonly, four or five angels doing the round.
JMS: And then I would say you need more because you don’t want your entire portfolio to be in angel investing. That’s pretty risky. If you say you want 20% of your portfolio in angel investing, you would then need 10 million to start. It’s pretty expensive to start.
JMS: That’s why you typically see that angel investors previously have started a company and have done an exit. And the best angels are typically operators. people who were in a VC that was successful or that has started a company. Because you need to be actually good as well, not just have the cash.
JG: That’s super interesting. Thank you so much for speaking to me.
JMS: See you.
Juan is a very curious and interesting person. We also talked about what he is doing with his company Datia.app, helping fund managers analyze their portfolio in terms of sustainability and environmental impact.
Angel investing seems to be an interesting and challenging way to allocate and grow your wealth - that is, if you already have a lot of it and want to take on that sort of risk. Even though I set out to learn more about the investing side, that’s not what stayed with me after the conversations. My biggest take-away is that knowledge is power. Being an expert in any area means knowing things that others don’t, which you could then leverage into value. Be it investing in the right companies, or just simply working at a company that you know will be doing well in the future. After all, you could invest your money or your time. But knowing what to invest in is a major key, and that comes from knowledge.
I’m eager to spend more time learning and researching, positioning myself so I could angel invest if I ever had the money to do so. The road ahead stays the same either way. Networking and learning brings opportunities to do great things.
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