By now, I’m sure most of you have read about the ongoing debate about charging entrepreneurs to pitch. I’ve tried to put together a chronology of links about this, but I’m sure I’ve missed some great ones. You had:
- An angel group that makes me vomit – Brad Feld (97 comments)
- Jason Jihad: Keiretsu Forum Must Be Stopped – Jason Calacanis (14 comments)
- Why startups shouldn’t have to pay to pitch angel investors – Jason Calacanis (174 comments)
- It’s ridiculous startups have to pay to pitch – Scobelizer (37 comments)
- Paying to Pitch – Fred Wilson (125 comments)
- An offer to Funding Universe – yours truly (28 comments)
- Why it’s ok to pay to pitch – Andrew Hyde (18 comments)
As with many things, it’s easy to bitch. So when I heard that Jason Calacanis was attempting to actually do something about it, my ears perked up. I started following his new concept, the Open Angel Forum. By email, I somehow got myself invited and I flew to LA yesterday for the inaugural Open Angel Forum. It was held at a beautiful home with one of the angels playing host (thanks Matt!). It was a great event and both the angels and entrepreneurs seemed to really love it.
Jason describes the Open Angel Forum this way: “The Open Angel Forum (OAF) is dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with free and open access to the angel investors that they need. We are firmly committed to fighting against “pay-to-pitch” schemes.” You can read the full mission and rules here.
While it’s hugely important that OAF is free to entrepreneurs, there are a few other things that strongly attracted me to the format of the Open Angel Forum. First, each chapter was to be organized by a well-connected angel investor and was to be limited to about 15-20 angels in attendance. Every one of those angels had to qualify as someone who has made at least four angel investments “of note” in the last 12 months. Because of this, the turnout in LA was truly stellar. It wasn’t just locals – many others had flown in like I had. Ron Conway, Chris Sacca, Shervin Pishevar and many more joined an awesome local crew including Mark Suster, Matt Coffin, and many more. Jason did a good job of sticking to his guns, turning down a bunch of late requests by angels to attend. Because of that, it was a manageable but top notch crowd of about 20 very active angels. Frankly, I was pretty blown away and honored to even be there.
Next, rather than some artificial process for selecting companies to pitch, the local OAF chapter just collaborates to invite companies that they’re seriously considering funding. Essentially, all the presenting companies are sponsored by one of the angels in attendance. This stops the angel group meeting from being the typical “watch and snicker” event which is not helpful to anyone. Rather, every single one of the companies presenting is a legitimate investment opportunity. Certainly, I think there’s a place for “unknown” companies to present at angel groups, but I’ve always said that if you can’t impress just one member of the group, perhaps you really shouldn’t be there. Pitching to a room full of strangers is also generally not helpful. In fact, this is one of the core things we teach at Techstars about the fundraising process.
But then came a moment at the Open Angel Forum last night where I knew this was a fantastic event that had to be replicated. I think it was the founder of Backupify, who, right in the middle of his pitch took a swig from his beer. I remember thinking to myself “I’ve never seen THAT at an angel event before.” Trivial right? I don’t think so – this was the first angel event that I’ve ever attended where the entrepreneurs who were presenting actually seemed comfortable. Relaxed even. I think it was a tribute to the atmosphere. Sipping your beer while presenting sort of became an instant tradition at OAF.
I’m proud to announce that Jason has asked me to run the Colorado chapter of Open Angel Forum. I instantly jumped at the chance to try this in Colorado, and I fully intend to transplant the “sip of beer” tradition here. I’m announcing today that the first Open Angel Forum Colorado (OAFCO) event will be held on February 3rd in Boulder. Jason Calacanis will be attending in order to help us kick it off right, and I’ve also talked him into talking about the Open Angel Forum and why startups should avoid paying to pitch at the February 2nd New Tech Meetup.
At the first OAFCO event on the evening of February 3rd, we expect a similar format: 10-15 angels and 5 companies. If you’d like to attend as an angel investor, please let me know. Likewise, if you’d like to present your company at the first OAFCO event, please fill out this form. Note that presenting companies and angels don’t have to be from Colorado. Like the LA event, I’m hopeful that we’ll have great angels and companies from all over the country at the first Colorado meeting. If it’s interesting to you, come join me, Jason Calacanis, Brad Feld, and many more investors at this special first OAFCO meeting in Colorado. There are also tickets available for service providers – as Jason explains on the Open Angel Forum web site – this is how the event is supported. Only five tickets are available, so if you’d like to attend and help sponsor the event, head here before they’re gone.
I’m excited to try this new format out here in Colorado. There are a bunch of other chapters being started in cities all over the country, but I won’t steal their thunder. Suffice it to say that each chapter is being run by some great local investors. So again, I feel honored to be given the baton for Colorado.
I’d welcome your thoughts in the comments!