The Inside Scoop on AngelPad
When I first applied to AngelPad, I had a really hard time finding enough information to satisfy my curiosity. Y Combinator is a publicity machine, and there’s plenty of information about TechStars that’s available if you google hard enough, but, for some reason, it’s very difficult to find information about AngelPad.
Now that I’ve gone through AngelPad, I understand exactly why this is the case - it’s a reflection of the AngelPad founders’ personalities. They’re doers, not talkers. They prefer for their actions to speak louder than their words. Ultimately, though, I think this hurts would-be AngelPad applicants that are thirsty for information. So I decided to write this post to lift the curtain a little bit and talk about my experience as one of startups in the 7th AngelPad class.
AngelPad was founded by Thomas Korte and Carine Magescas. It’s a 10-week long intense program that is meant to whip early stage startups into shape and prepare them to raise money. The premise is simple: startups enter at various stages (from barely an idea to substantial traction) and emerge ready to become a venture-backed Silicon Valley startup.
The format is pretty straightforward. There are approximately 12 companies per class (ours had 11), and each class works together in office space that AP provides. Throughout the 10 weeks, you’ll have frequent one-on-one meetings with Thomas and Carine during which they’ll help you figure out who you want to be when you grow up (but you only have 10 weeks to grow up). There are also lots of dinners where you’ll eat pizza, drink cheap beer, and have informal discussions with Thomas about all sorts of interesting topics (mostly about fundraising and the world of investors, since it tends to be the thing that new founders know the least about).
The class culminates with Demo Day, where each startup pitches in front of a room full of 200 investors. Each pitch is extremely quick (5 minutes), and is meant to give investors a taste of all of the AP companies from the current class. Afterward, founders and investors mingle and fundraising season officially begins.
What Makes AngelPad Great
There are plenty of articles out there that talk about the benefits of joining a top-tier incubator, so I want to focus on the things that make AngelPad unique.
Thomas and Carine
Thomas was at Google in the early days, and is a wealth of information and connections as a result. Moreover, he’s a really great guy - he’s extremely helpful during the day, and a ton of fun to grab beers with at night. Carine has a ton of startup experience, and is very helpful when it comes to things like branding, messaging, and storytelling. They also work very well together as a team (which makes sense, because they’re married).
Throughout the program, they’ll manage to completely kick your ass while also remaining totally respectful and helpful. For most startups, Thomas and Carine will be the most well-connected and knowledgeable connections they’ve made to date. They’ll also be some of the strongest connections, since they get quite close with startups throughout the program.
Thomas and Carine have seen a LOT of companies - they look through several thousand applications for each AngelPad class, have mentored seven groups of a dozen or so companies each, and are prolific angel investors. They also treat you like a total insider - the dinners are full of completely off-the-record advice where Thomas gives you the inside scoop. It’s not like reading a blog post written by a VC, it’s like getting together with a good buddy and shooting the shit, but your good buddy happens to be a well-connected Silicon Valley investor. I could write a book about all of the things I learned from Thomas during these dinners, but all of the dinners are off the record, so you’ll have to apply to AngelPad if you’re interested in hearing more ;-)
True one-on-one mentorship
All incubators/accelerators have a mentorship component, but not all styles of mentorship are equally useful. Some incubators have giant classes, so it’s just not logistically possible to truly mentor all of the startups. Typically, those incubators will give general cookie-cutter advice to everyone in a batch (i.e. at weekly events), and then focus on giving one-on-one advice to only a few of the companies in the batch. That’s great for those companies that actually get focused on, but not so great for everyone else. Other incubators focus on the quantity of mentors rather than the quality of advice. This can be really cool, since you end up meeting with a bunch of high-profile people, but ultimately can lead to information overload.
Thomas and Carine really take the time to understand your business, and they limit the size of each class to a dozen companies so that they’re able to truly mentor companies and give one-on-one custom advice. They don’t force anyone into any particular model, and they’ll spend as much or as little time as it takes with each company to turn them into a fundable startup by Demo Day.
Unprecedented investor access
The AngelPad seal of approval goes a long way with investors. Our AngelPad class was the first New York class, so we flew to San Francisco about halfway through our 10 weeks in order to meet with a few “friends of AngelPad”. Over the course of three days, we met with Bryan Schreier, Brendan Baker, Keval Desai, Tom Tunguz, Chris Hutchins, and Adam Smith (Partners at Sequoia, Greylock, Interwest, Redpoint, Google Ventures, and Bowery Capital). We also met with the folks at Innovation Endeavors, Naval Ravikant (founder of AngelList), Jeff Schox (an A-grade patent attorney), and Wesley Chan (early Googler and Google Ventures partner). These weren’t superficial meetings where these guys were just showing their face because someone called in a favor - they were truly helpful meetings, where the investors took off their investor hat and put on their “friend of AngelPad” hat. They provided us all with incredibly candid advice, helped us refine our pitches, and helped us prepare for Demo Day. They all had phenomenal things to say about AngelPad, and seemed to be genuinely looking forward to seeing us all at Demo Day.
And then there’s Demo Day itself. It’s a massive event with hundreds of investors, and the energy is extremely high. Ultimately Demo Day is nothing more than a way to kick off your fundraise with a bang (there’s tons of hard work between Demo Day and a successful seed round), but the bang is quite loud. It’s a great way to drum up investor interest and get you to your first 30-50 investor meetings. It’s an amazing feeling when investors reach out to you cold because they’ve heard of you.
You get whipped into shape in a safe environment
The main purpose of AngelPad is not to hold your hand, it’s to kick your ass so hard that no investor meeting could possibly shake you. The key to making this work is the safe, collaborative environment. Once again, the small class size comes into play here. Some other incubators have enormous classes, which can cause them to feel kind of like a funnel. Out of thousands of applicants, 25-50 of them are selected for a class. Not all of them end up raising a seed round, and significantly fewer of them end up becoming big successes. That’s pretty great math compared to the odds of a typical startup succeeding, but its not so great for the companies in each batch that don’t get funded.
Here’s the math for AngelPad: Out of 2,000 applicants, 12 companies are selected for each class. Of those 12 companies, they all raise a seed round. That’s right, every single company in the last AngelPad class raised a meaningful seed round. Those numbers are incredible. Of course, raising a seed round doesn’t make you a successful company, and getting accepted into AngelPad is definitely not a guarantee that you’ll raise money, but the numbers are extremely compelling.
Because AngelPad is less of a funnel than other incubators, the environment feels much more collaborative (whereas I’ve been told that other incubators can feel very competitive). This gives companies a safe environment in which to fail, pivot, and struggle so that when the time comes to get in front of investors, they’ve already experienced all of their growing pains.
The alumni network
I am consistently surprised and impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the AngelPad alumni. There are a lot of amazing companies that have come out of AngelPad, and the founders are extremely helpful when it comes to investor intros, partnerships, and general advice.
Hopefully this post gave you a good enough flavor of AngelPad to help decide whether or not it’s right for you and your company. The goal was to give as unbiased of a look as possible, but at the end of the day I’m extremely biased: AngelPad was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
If you think AngelPad might be a good fit for you, I encourage you to apply. I’m planning to write a followup post at some point with tips for applying, but in the meantime don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you’d like feedback on your application.