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Main article: Angellist

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Felix Capital closes $300M fund to double down on DTC, break into fintech and make late-stage deals

12:49 | 15 January

To kick off 2020, one of Europe’s newer — and more successful — investment firms has closed a fresh, oversubscribed fund, one sign that VC in the region will continue to run strong in the year ahead after startups across Europe raised some $35 billion in 2019. Felix Capital, the London firm founded by Frederic Court that was one of the earlier firms to identify and invest in the trend of direct-to-consumer businesses, has raised $300 million, money that it plans to use to continue investing in creative and consumer startups and platform plays as well as begin to tap into a newer area, fintech — specifically startups that are focused on consumer finance. 

Felix up to now has focused mostly on earlier-stage investments — it now has $600 million under management and 32 companies in its portfolio in eight countries — based across both Europe and the US. Court said in an interview that a portion of this fund will now also go into later, growth rounds, both for companies that Felix has been backing for some time as well as newer faces.

As with the focus of the investments, the make-up of the fund itself has a strong European current: the majority of the LPs are European, Court noted. Although Asia is something it would like to tackle more in the future both as a market for its current portfolio and as an investment opportunity, he added, the firm has yet to invest into the region or substantially raise money from it.

Felix made its debut in 2015, founded by Court after a strong run at Advent Capital where he was involved in a number of big exits. While Court had been a strong player in enterprise software, Felix was a step-change for him into more of a primary focus on consumer startups focused on fashion, lifestyle and creative pursuits.

That has over the years included investing in companies like the breakout high-fashion marketplace Farfetch (which he started to back when still at Advent and is now public), Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP, the jewellery startup Mejuri, trend-watching HighSnobiety, and fitness startup Peloton (which has also IPO’d).

It’s not an altogether easygoing, vanilla list of cool stuff. Peloton and GOOP have had been mightily doused in

and sharky sentiments; and sometimes it even seems as if the brands themselves own and cultivate that image. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press, I guess.

Although it wasn’t something especially articulated in startup land at the time of Felix’s launch, what the firm was honing in on was a rising category of direct-to-consumer startups, essentially all in the area of e-commerce and building brands and businesses that were bypassing traditional retailers and retail channels to develop primary relationships with consumers through newer digital channels such as social media, messaging and email (alongside their own DTC websites). 

This is not all that the company has focused on, with investments into a range of platform businesses like corporate travel site TravelPerk, Amazon -backed food delivery juggernaut Deliveroo and Moonbug (a platform for children’s entertainment content), as well as increasingly later stage rounds (for example it was part of a $104 million round at TravelPerk; a $70 million round for marketplace-building service Mirakl; and $23 million for Mejuri.

Court’s track record prior to Felix, and the success of the current firm to date, are two likely reasons why this latest fund was oversubscribed, and why Court says it wants to further spread its wings into a wider range of areas and investment stages.

The interest in consumer finance is not such a large step away from these areas, when you consider that they are just the other side of the coin from e-commerce: saving money versus spending money.

“We see this as our prism of opportunity,” said Court. “Just as we had the intuition that there was a space for investors looking at [DTC]… we now think there is enough evidence that there is demand from consumers for new ways of dealing with money and personal finance.”

The firm has from the start operated with a board of advisors who also invest money through Felix while also holding down day jobs. They include the likes of executives from eBay, Facebook, and more. David Marcus –who Court backed when he built payments company Zong and eventually sold it to eBay before he went on to become a major mover and shaker at Facebook and is now has the possibly Sisyphean task of building Calibra — is on the list, but that has not translated into Felix dabbling in cryptocurrency.

“We are watching cryptocurrency, but if you take a Felix stance on the area, it’s only had one amazing brand so far, bitcoin,” said Court. “The rest, for a consumer, is very difficult to understand and access. It’s still really early, but I’ve got no doubt that there will be some things emerging, particularly around the idea of ‘invisible money.'”

 


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These new data sources are creating high-impact tools for investors

22:39 | 4 December

David Teten Contributor
David Teten is an advisor to emerging investment managers and a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.

Venture capitalists tout themselves as frontier technology investors, but most of us are using the same infrastructure tools we’ve used for the past 20+ years — Excel and recent college grads searching Google .

We’ve seen some modest progress in people upgrading from Excel to Google Sheets, along with the use of CRM and cloud-based storage services, but according to Sebastian Soler, who oversees data science at Lux Capital, less than 5% of American VCs have a full-time team member who’s focused on technology.

“While the arguments for adopting the latest technology are now too compelling to ignore, finding the required budget for specialized tools can often prove to be a major challenge, especially for smaller managers,” said Tim Friedman, founder of PEStack. “Comprehensive market data can cost upwards of $25k for a leading service, portfolio monitoring can be double that, add in front office tools and you’re quickly into six-figure sums. My advice is: there are now more products than ever which focus on quick implementation and offer a lot of functionality at a fraction of the cost of some of the larger legacy providers.

TotemVC* is one example of a high-quality solution that offers a powerful platform with a transparent, affordable monthly rate. One piece of advice would be to use a service like [PEStack’s] free Vendor Profiles platform to identify viable providers and build up a shortlist. We also track sample clients so that our users can see what their peers are using. I would always advise managers to talk to other professionals to get the real inside scoop on which products work well, how painful the implementation was, and how good the ongoing support is.”

Jonathan Balkin, founder of Lionpoint Group, observed that the highest-impact technology initiative for a new PE/VC fund is typically to configure and enforce usage of a CRM system. The next most impactful initiative is usually to create an easy-to-use LP portal.

 


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Decide which type of investor to target for raising capital

00:20 | 15 November

David Teten Contributor
David Teten is a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a Partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.

I recently wrote Should you raise venture capital from a traditional equity VC or a Revenue-Based Investing VC? Since then, I’ve talked with a number of other firms and greatly expanded my database: Who are the major Revenue-Based (RBI) Investing VCs?

That said, venture capital is just one of many options to finance your business, typically the most expensive. The broader question is, what type of capital should you raise, and from whom?  

I find many CEOs/CFOs default to approaching investors who have the most social media followers; who have spent the most money sponsoring events; or whom they met at an event. But, fame and the chance that you met someone at a conference do not logically predict that investor is the optimal investor for you. In addition, the best-known investors are also the ones who are most difficult to raise capital from, precisely because they get the most inbound.

The first step is to decide the right capital structure for your financing. Most CFOs build an Excel model and do a rough comparison of the different options. Some firms provide tools to do this online, e.g., Capital’s Cost of Equity estimator; Lighter Capital’s Cost of Capital Calculator; 645 Ventures’ cap table simulator. A similar, open-source, highly visual tool focused on VC is Venture Dealr.

For each of the major categories of investors, you can find online databases of the major providers. Major options include:

  • Traditional equity venture capital and private equity. For early-stage startups in particular, I suggest Foundersuite*, Samir Kaji’s Master List of US Micro-VC’s and Shai Goldman’s database of VC funds at/below $200M in size. You can find other databases of investors at AngelList, CB Insights, Crunchbase, Dow Jones VentureSource, Pitchbook, Preqin, and Refinitiv Eikon
  • Revenue-based investing VC. See Who are the major Revenue-Based Investing VCs?
  • Venture debt. See FindVentureDebt and this comparison guide of debt options for SAAS companies. Watch out for double dipping, or interest on interest.
  • Merchant cash advances/factoring. See Debanked’s list.
  • Small Business Association Loans. Ravi Bhagavan, Managing Director, BRG Capital Advisors, said, “a low-cost and often convenient form of capital for small businesses is SBA loans, which are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. SBA loans are $5k – $5M in size and are typically at a lower cost of capital compared to alternate forms of debt, since up to 85% of the loan is guaranteed by the SBA. Additionally, SBA loans have longer payment periods (5-25 years) than traditional forms of financing and come with less onerous ongoing disclosure requirements. However, SBA loans typically require a personal guarantee (PG) from the founder(s), who are scrutinized for income and credit history at the time of application. PGs can be quite daunting to founders because it puts their personal assets, including homes and investment accounts, on the line. SBA loans are available through SBA-approved banks and SBIC funds. SBICs make equity and debt investments of size $100k – $10M in qualifying small businesses. A good resource for looking up SBICs is here.” 
  • Crowdfunding, e.g., Republic*, Indiegogo*.  This option provides you capital and also market validation for desire for your product.  

Once you decide on the right category of investor, here are some tools I suggest using to find the optimal capital provider:

  • Most important, reference checking. I have a whitelist of investors I recommend to my portfolio — and a blacklist which I guide them to avoid.
  • Comparison websites: BitX, Fundera, GUD Capital, Lencred.com, Lendio, and NerdWallet Small Business Loans are all resources which can help you evaluate different options for small business financing, typically within a defined category of financing. Braavo specializes in financing app companies.
  • Financing supermarkets: Most investment firms start out with one asset class, and then over time they often add others. There are countless examples, e.g., most of the large B2B banks, Kapitus, Kalamata Capital, United Capital Source, etc. These firms can give you an apples-to-apples comparison of what different capital forms, albeit all from one provider, will cost you.

 


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Spearhead will give $1M to 15 founders to invest freely

19:00 | 15 October

Spearhead, an investment fund launched by AngelList’s Naval Ravikant and Accomplice’s Jeff Fagnan, plans to raise roughly $100 million for its third fund to provide founders $1 million each to invest in technology startups of their choosing.

The firm, created in 2017, initially provided founders $200,000 in investment capital sourced from Spearhead I, a $25 million vehicle, followed by Spearhead II, a $35 million vehicle. The group now plans roughly $100 million to give its founders 5x more capital to play with.

Each founder is allotted 15% carry in his or her fund, while Spearhead holds on to 5%. This time around, says Spearhead’s Jeff Fagnan, standout “leads,” or those tapped to deploy capital from the fund, will also have the opportunity to receive another $10 million to invest at the end of the two-year program during a culminating demo day-like event.

Spearhead is designed to train founders, who tend to be well-connected to the tech ecosystem and knowledgeable about startups, to be effective angel investors. Previous Spearhead leads include Shippo co-founder and chief executive officer Laura Behrens Wu, Scale AI founder and CEO Alex Wang and Rippling co-founder and chief technology officer Prasanna Sankar. To date, 35 founders have completed the program.

Applications to join Spearhead’s third cohort will become available this week. Those who participate will be encouraged to write checks at the pre-seed stage.

“There’s starting to be gap opening up again at the pre-seed,” Fagnan tells TechCrunch. “Founders are the right way to fill that gap. Founders backing their most talented friends … founders backing founders is the right way for this to go. We need to redefine who thinks of themselves as an angel investor.”

To be eligible to become a Spearhead lead, you must live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston or New York City and run, or very recently have run, a startup. The firm plans to accept around 15 applicants.

“We are trying to build an active community within the leads and we’ve found smaller equals better; fewer people coming together and taking deeper accountability,” Fagnan said.

Spearhead leads can invest their capital in any tech startups, so long as there’s no existing equity relationship. Existing Spearhead investments include ZeroDown, Altitude Networks, Scythe, Airgarage, Cloosiv, Height, O.School, PopSQL, Superplastic and Sword Health.

 


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The rise of the new crypto “mafias”

23:48 | 27 June

Ash Egan Contributor
Ash Egan leads crypto investing at Accomplice. He formerly was a VC at ConsenSys Ventures and Converge.

In the early 2000s, journalists popularized the term “PayPal mafia” to describe the PayPal founders and employees who left to start their own wildly successful tech companies, including Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Elon Musk. Drawing from that idea, this article seeks to cover the formation and flow of talent within the crypto landscape today.

The crypto world is in a constant state of flux, with new startups entrants joining the industry every single day. These new startups have the potential either to be superstars within a portfolio company or to start the next Coinbase. Additionally, there are already impressive spin-outs from some of the more established crypto companies.

For ease of framing, I’ve separated these early-forming mafias into four categories: CryptoTechWall Street, and Academia. Since 2009, there have been 186 spinout companies originating from those four categories (33% from Academia, 28% from Crypto, 24% from Tech, and 15% from Wall Street).

crypto mafias

Obvious but important disclaimer: this article does not intend to promote organized crime within crypto.

Criteria

 


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How to scale a start-up in school

21:57 | 25 June

Julianna Keeling Contributor
Julianna Keeling is the founder of Terravive (sustainable packaging company). Formerly Product at Juicero.

If you’re serious about starting and scaling your business in school, treat your time in school like an extended incubator. While you may experience high levels of academic stress, your “real world” financial stress and transition to adulthood are buffered.

Understand why you’re in school

The key advantage of starting your business in school is that you have the time to test different ideas and evaluate which idea generates traction without high stakes. You will also gain key subject matter and operational knowledge that you can carry throughout your career.

The challenge of starting a business in school is that it is not easy to devote adequate focused energy to the growth of that business. Student founders cannot attend to the needs of their business whenever they feel like it. It’s a 24/7, 365 job that needs to be managed on top of rigorous schoolwork.

When I started Terravive, I spent at least 4-5 hours throughout each day speaking with our partners and customers and solving problems. Sometimes you must leave class and drop everything to put out fires.

The key to surmounting this challenge is to understand why you want to start this business. If you just want the recognition of starting a business, then I would recommend a different line of work to get the recognition you’re seeking.

GettyImages 515528128

Image via Getty Images / creatarka

If you want to solve a problem that you see in the world and are willing to do anything and everything to realize your vision, then starting a business may be the right path. When you run into problems in the future or question why you’re making all these sacrifices, remember why you started.

 


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Flipkart co-founder and other top names join AngelList’s first investment syndicate in India

06:39 | 2 April

A little over a year after it introduced Syndicates to the India market, AngelList — the U.S. service that helps connect companies with investors — is rolling out its own fund in the country with the backing of some stellar names.

Dubbed ‘The Collective,’ the syndicate includes money from Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal — Flipkart, of course, sold a majority stake to Walmart for $16 billion last year — and VCs Salil Deshpande of Bain Capital Ventures, Matrix India trio Avnish Bajaj, Tarun Davda and Vikram Vaidyanathan, Navroz Udwadia from Falcon Edge Capital and Rahul Mehta of DST Global. There’s also involvement from funds that include Kalaari Capital, FJ Labs and Beenext.

The Collective will be managed through an investment committee that is Utsav Somani, a partner with AngelList who launched the service in India, former 500 Startups India partner Pankaj Jain and Nipun Mehra, who has worked with Sequoia Capital, Flipkart and payment startup Pine Labs.

The size of the fund is undisclosed, but Somani told TechCrunch it will likely back 60-80 companies over the next 12-18 months. Syndicates interested in engaging The Collective can draw up to $150,000 per deal, according to an AngelList India announcement.

“The fund will exclusively deploy on AngelList India. This is to give more power to the most active GP base we have through our syndicate leads,” Somani explained.

Utsav Somani launched AngelList’s syndicates product in India last year and he will now look after the company’s first managed fund in the country

More generally, he said that the first year of Syndicates in India has seen more than $5 million deployed across more than 50 publicly announced investments, including deals with BharatPe, HalaPlay, Yulu Bikes and Open Bank. Six of those startups have already raised follow-on capital. Somani said AngelList India Syndicates have invested alongside well-known funds that include Sequoia Capital India, Matrix Partners India, Omidyar Network, Blume Ventures and Beenext.

To date, AngelList has helped deploy some $1.09 billion to over 3,100 startups, according to its website. The company claims its portfolio has raised close to $9 billion in follow-on funding. AngelList is primarily focused on the U.S. market, but India is fast becoming a majority priority. Like the U.S., the Indian service is open only to accredited investors so it isn’t a crowdfunding service.

 


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Uizard raises funds for its AI that turns design mockups into source code

02:21 | 22 May

When you’re trying to build apps, there is a very tedious point where you have to star at a wireframe and then laboriously turn it into code. Actually, the process itself is highly repetitive and ought to be much easier. The traditional software development from front-end design, to front-end html/css development and to working code is expensive, time-consuming, tedious and repetitive.

But most approaches to solving this problem have been more complex than they need to be. What if you could just turn wireframes straight into code and then devote your time to the more complex aspects of a build?

That’s the idea behind a Copenhagen-based startup called Uizard.

Uizard’s computer vision and AI platform claims to be able to automatically turn design mockups — and this could be on the back of napkin — into source code that developers can plug into their backend code.

It’s now raised an $800,000 pre-seed round led by New York-based LDV Capital with co-investors ByFounders, The Nordic Web Ventures, 7percent Ventures, New York Venture Partners, entrepreneur Peter Stern co-founder of Datek, and Philipp Moehring and Andy Chung from AngelList . This fundraising will be used to grow the team and launch the Beta product.

The company received interest when in June 2017 when they released their first research milestone dubbed “pix2code” and implementation on Github was the 2nd most trending project of June 2017 ahead of Facebook Prepack and Google Tensorflow.

 


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Scout networks are latest VC salvo in war for founders

20:24 | 27 January

Founders are extraordinarily busy, even for their own investors. A decade ago, they might have had relationships with a handful of VC partners as they scaled their businesses and raised additional rounds of capital.

Today, it is hardly rare to see as many as fifteen or twenty investment firms and angels listed on the cap table following a seed round. If you add up all the partners at those funds, a first-time founder can have investment connections to literally dozens of VCs in just the first year or two of the company. That number can easily approach three digits as a startup grows.

For VCs looking to build deeper partnerships with their portfolio, that’s an incredible battle for founder attention, and it is only getting more keen. All the while, founders today increasingly want to receive investments from other founders — people who have been in their shoes and can speak to the challenges that they are facing. VC firms are trying to quickly adapt to the changing terrain, and so we are seeing the rise of “working networks” that blur the lines between founder, investor, and advisor.

Networking may be the bread and butter of venture investing, but the “VC firm as network” seems to be hitting a zenith. The clearest example of this is Spearhead, a joint initiative of Accomplice and AngelList. The program, whose application is open until Monday, seeks founders who are interested in becoming part-time angel investors. Each participant will receive $200,000 and potentially up to $1 million on behalf of the two funds to invest in startups, all the while receiving training on how to think and make decisions like a venture capitalist.

Spearhead is hardly the only program engaging founders and advisors. Sequoia’s formally stealthy scout program has been rolled into the firm’s new $180 million seed fund announced earlier this month. The fund includes more than 100 scouts sourcing deals for the firm.

On top of that, First Round’s Dorm Room Fund and General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures together have dozens of student partners who have sourced hundreds of deals on college campuses since their inceptions. First Round also has a network of product thinkers called Product Co-op which invests angel capital in a scout-like way. Village Global, founded by ProductHunt first employee Erik Tokenberg and others, is based on the adage that “Village is not a traditional VC. We’re a network.”

Why are these programs suddenly in vogue? It isn’t that VCs can’t keep up with the volume of new startups. Contrary to media excitement, the number of venture capital rounds has declined precipitously since a peak in 2014, particularly at the seed stage. Fully-staffed partnerships shouldn’t have an issue sourcing and processing startups for investment these days.

Instead, the motivating force here is competition for founder attention. Scout programs, advisor networks, and similar initiatives are designed to create a centripetal force for a venture firm, to keep your friends closer to the center lest they walk down the street to work with a competing venture firm.

Networks offer a way to stay engaged with founders, and they clearly love the attention. Spearhead, for instance, has already received around 750 applications as of yesterday. What’s even more interesting in their data though is that roughly half of the applications come from multi-time entrepreneurs. Even founders who have dozens of venture connections are interested in applying to become an angel investor with a set of firms whom they may have never met before.

That’s the power of these working networks — Accomplice and AngelList are not just building relationships with a dozen or two dozen engaged founders, they are also empowering a new group of angel investors who may well be sourcing deals and sharing them with their VC friends in a couple of years.

There are certainly benefits to the networked VC firm beyond winning the competition for attention. Diversifying the startup ecosystem and venture capital in particular is easier when the amounts of capital start at $200,000 rather than $20 million. Scout programs in particular can provide novice angel investors with an early track record that can make raising a VC fund easier, as well as offer peer support from other investors learning the trade.

In addition, as founders have increasingly wrested power away from VCs, they increasingly demand that the people on the other side of the table share their operational experience. Some firms have virtually mandated that all partners are operators, but others are taking advantage of networks to surround themselves with similar talent in the hopes of engaging with founders on a more even level.

Finally, and perhaps the secret to many of these programs, is that they can ameliorate some of the questions around succession planning that have increasingly been aired by LPs in recent years. VC is a weird business in which every trend seems to constantly change, but the people running the venture firms seem to be as stagnant as the Soviet politburo. Networks allow for more dynamism and fresh faces to surround a venture firm without knocking anyone out of their perch.

Now, networks can have their downsides. One concern that has been raised by several VCs I have spoken to about this subject over the past few weeks is what might be called the “multitask” concern. The thinking goes that founders and advisors are increasingly burdened with more and more of these sorts of side projects, and that they are potentially shirking their primary duties.

That logic though ignores just how important networks are for executives as well. Raising capital used to mean heading to Sand Hill and talking with a dozen venture firms. Now, the typical seed-stage founder I talk to who has successfully raised a venture round might have talked to a hundred venture capitalists or more before securing their round. The more connections, and the deeper those connections, the better it is for the future of their companies.

The other criticism, which is usually voiced by experienced venture capitalists, is that the rush to give a bunch of newcomers checkbooks is harming the quality of venture capital dealmaking. Grousing yes, but there is some truth to this as well. Building an investment track record too early may hinder a venture career rather than help it, and certainly some founders and advisors may lack the skill to make wise investments.

Ultimately though, these networks are here to stay. Every VC learned the trade at some point, and the sort of win-win-win situation that networks offer is extraordinarily valuable in the otherwise cutthroat venture industry. Founders have limited attention, and the firms that engage them early and repeatedly through networks are going to reap dividends as those founders source and invest into the next generation of companies.

Featured Image: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

 


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AngelList launches Syndicates in India

10:29 | 16 January

AngelList has expanded its syndicates program to India in the latest overseas move for the US crowdfunding platform.

The launch comes some 18 months after we reported that AngelList had hired Utsav Somani to launch the service and develop its business generally in India, where it also offers its hiring product.

Syndicates was launched in the US in 2013 with the purpose of giving experienced early-stage investors more spending potential and allowing those with less experience to join them to put money into promising early-stage companies. Essentially they operate like mini funds, but they are focused on helping investors get into top deals that would otherwise be difficult to access.

Available in the US, Canada, the UK and now India, AngelList said Syndicates have raised $705 million from more than 1,870 startups. Those companies have gone on to raise $6.4 billion in subsequent follow-on funding, according to the company. Some of those startups include Uber, as well as India’s ClearTax — which is US-registered and took part in Y Combinator.

Now AngelList wants to upend India’s early stage market with Syndicates.

“Traditionally, an angel investor with conviction may write a single ₹10L cheque to a startup. With syndicates, that same investor can lead a syndicate and pool more capital from dozens of value-add backers who can help the company — all while having only one name added to the cap table,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Already, it has recruited at least half a dozen syndicate leads, including Saama Capital’s Ash Lilani, FreeCharge founder Kunal Shah, and Citrus Pay founder Satyen Kothari. Syndicates are open to Indian residents who meet certain finance requirements outlined on its website, including net assets of at least 2 crore, or a net worth of 10 crore.

Those certified in India will be eligible to invest in US startups on AngelList, and those of other countries, so long as they qualify for the relevant domestic investor status. In the US that means a net worth of $1 million or more, or an income over $200,000 per year for at least two years.

The timing seems ideal in India with reports suggesting that the number of startups landing angel or seed rounds halved during 2017 due to investor caution. That’s according to data from VCCEdge, the data business of tech media firm VCCircle, which found the number of early stage deals dropped from 901 in 2016 to 435 in 2017. The total spent by investors fell from $374 million to $245 million over the same period.

Featured Image: Jon Russell/Flickr

 


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