7 Lessons for Entrepreneurs From Naval Ravikant

Sam Flamini

Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, recently began a new project called Spearhead. The program gives founders $1M to start angel investing, and seeks to educate those who wish to enter the space. The Spearhead podcast, meant to scale these efforts, is a treasure trove of insights not just for those who wish to be angels, but for entrepreneurs looking to raise a Seed round. You can find the full podcast & transcribed episodes at spearhead.co.

Here are 7 insights for founders from the podcast:

Angels build brands. Be aware of who you’re associating yourself with.

Investors in early stage companies need not just deal flow, but access to the best deals. To get access, angels build brands. They do this in many different ways – Jason Lemkin built the SaaStr conference, Naval built AngelList, and Fred Wilson blogs.

You should be mindful that the brands you associate yourself with in the early days can have an impact on the future of your company. Angels with great brands can get you access to key hires, new customers, & helpful mentorship. Future investors may also use the brand of your angels as a signal as to whether or not they should invest. If your early stage investors have have a track record of success, securing later funding gets easier.

Avoid angels who put too much on the line. It can lead to bad behavior.

If an angel invests so much into your company that they stand to lose a large portion of their net worth if you fail, this could lead to tense situations. This applies to family member & friend investments as well. Angel investing is a high risk sport, you should only play with people who understand this.

Don’t use FOMO as a fundraising tactic.

The best angels refuse to be pressured into a deal. Telling a high level angel investor that they ‘only have 24 hours to get into the round!’ can backfire. There is a fine line with this, as social proof and scarcity are tools that you need to leverage when fundraising. However, being overly aggressive or pushy makes people hesitant about working with you – especially investors with experience and strong brands.

Social proof is key.

Angels are often wary about getting involved in deals where they have no network connections to the founders or fellow investors. Naval & Nivi explain this by saying that good angels should be cautious about deals that are made up of complete strangers.

If a founder is raising money and none of their direct connections or past investors are involved, that may be a bad sign. Similarly, if an angel with excellent judgement writes a huge check to a company, it sends a message to other investors that they’re a strong bet.

Cold emailing is part of the fundraising process, but you’ll have far more success with people you already know. Your network is critical. Build it before you have to.

Get your psychology right.

Great founders often toe the line between visionary & madness. To build a massive company, you need to attempt something that most people don’t think will work. It takes a special mindset to do this.

Naval explains that great angels don’t expect founders to be ‘coachable’ or have perfect records, as they sometimes have to operate as an outsider at first to be successful. Instead, founders should be aggressive and seek to build traction. However, you should avoid the perils of over-aggressiveness.

If you prioritize hyper growth at the expense of traction, you can end up ‘blitzfailing’ as David Sacks explains on a guest episode of Spearhead. You need to keep your genius in check, and ensure that you’re prioritizing the right things in your business.

Build a technical network.

Angels are looking for huge returns in exchange for taking a chance on you. This is an all or nothing game, and you’ll need to be very right when others are wrong. It’s often the only way to generate massive returns. This is why you should solve technical challenges where you have what Naval calls ‘specific knowledge.’

Many of the most valuable startup opportunities are in technology. Build relationships with scientists & technologists at the source of new developments. These people can give you access to angels who seek to invest in tech companies, in addition to talent and insight that comes from the source of innovation.

Get your team right.

Angel investors are betting on founding teams more than their initial ideas. Pivots are common in startups, and savvy early stage investors understand this. When a company pivots, the common denominator ends up being the team the angels invested in.

Naval explains that you should seek to create a company of world class builders, salespeople, & community creators. These are vague categories that take on different meanings in different industries. A builder could be a software engineer or a logistics expert, while a seller could be a fundraiser or a marketer. The key is to have both. An amazing product with no distribution won’t win, and Naval calls the outsourcing of product development a “red flag.”

Team up with skilled people who have the 3 traits Naval & Nivi look for in partners – intelligence, energy, and integrity. If you do this, you’ll attract investment, and be more likely to whether the inevitable storms that come with starting a company.

When marketing any product, you start by understanding your customer. Why wouldn’t you do the same when selling investment opportunities in your company? We think that Spearhead is a great entry point into understanding the psychology of an angel investor, and hope that you can use these insights when raising funding for your early stage startup.

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