How can an entrepreneur use AngelList to raise money for a startup?
Many founders in my audience are raising money using AngelList RIGHT NOW. Others have seen my interviews with entrepreneurs like Gagan Biyani who raised funding within a few weeks on AngelList.
They asked me to do a session on how to use AngleList effectively — and even gave me questions they wanted answered. So I went right to the top. To answer those questions I invited Naval Ravikant, the cofounder of AngelList, a community of startups and investors who make fund-raising efficient.
Watch the FULL program
Naval Ravikant, AngelList
All right, before we get started, imagine you have an idea for a new product. Maybe it’s a mobile app for students, and you need feedback. Well, you can ask you friends, but few of them are still students, so what do you do? That’s where this site comes in.
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Go to AYTM.com, here let me scroll up to the top, there it is. AYTM.com.
Next: Do you want to know a secret for customer service that will actually wow your customers? Check out Assistly. With Assistly, not only can your team respond to email in an organized way, but it can field issues on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, and Assistly comes with a build-in help center, which means you’ll have searchable knowledge base, community Q&A discussions, contact forms, optional live chat and so much more. Go to Assistly.com.
Finally, who is the lawyer that entrepreneurs like you and I trust? Well, I’ve said this now, I think it has been years that I have been saying this, I will say it again: Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. I keep getting feedback from entrepreneurs who have worked with him who are grateful to me for making the introduction so I am going to keep making it. Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law is the Entrepreneur’s lawyer. Check him out, and let’s get started.
Andrew: Hi everyone. I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How can an entrepreneur use AngelList to raise money for a startup?
Many founders who are in my audience are raising money using AngelList right now. Others have seen my interviews with entrepreneurs like Gagan Biyani who raised money in a few weeks on AngelList. They asked me to do a session on AngelList, and they even gave me questions ahead of time that they wanted answered. So, I took those questions and I went right to the top. I invited Naval Ravikant. He is the co-founder of AngelList, a community of startups and investors who make fundraising efficient, and Naval, thanks for doing the interview.
Naval: Thank you for having me again. It’s a pleasure to be back.
Andrew: Yeah. People loved the first interview you did here.
Naval: Well, you are a good interviewer.
Andrew: Thanks. In the first interview, I asked you: how did you invest in Twitter, and we found out about your other investments. I think we talked maybe about Heyzap and Gambit and so on. You made all those investments before AngelList.
Andrew: You raised money for your own companies before AngelList.
Andrew: So if the world works without AngelList, what is the problem that you are trying to solve?
Naval: We’re trying to make it more efficient, more easy, bring it online, make it faster and give you more options. Before AngelList, it was all serial. One meeting at a time, going from one introduction to the next. It was often a multi-month process just building up the contacts and the network. At the end of the day, you never had that many options to choose from. If you were lucky, you would end up with two or three. With AngelList, we create more of a marketplace dynamic so things happen quickly. When you are ready for financing you put your company up. We get you a lot of investor interest right away. You do get to pick and choose as to who is a better match for you because you are casting a wider net. Then, hopefully, you can do your meetings simultaneously, so you compress your fundraising cycle.
Andrew: Compress your fundraising cycle. How much time would an entrepreneur have had to put in without AngelList in the past typically?
Naval: It actually depends on how extensive the entrepreneur’s network was and how many options they wanted. So if you have been in Silicon Valley for a long time, you have an extensive network and you really don’t care about valuation, or who’s investing. You just want to get it over with. You can probably get a good company funded in three or four weeks, and that would be the same speed you would get it done with AngelList.
The difference is if you’re moving in from out of market. If you’re in New York, or London, or Estonia. If you just are more of a developer type, and you’re not that connected to VCs, but you have a good product or you have some traction, we might be able to flood you with introductions to the point where you could basically be picky and choosy.
The overall caveat is, we can’t do it for everyone. Most companies are not fundable. Most companies are not venture fundable and most companies are not far enough along for funding. But if you are ready, and you’ve got something to show that’s good, then I’m pretty confident AngelList can generate you a lot more options in a lot less time.
In terms of the exact time itself, which is the question you asked, you still need to meet these people; physically talk to them. Go through due diligence. There is no shortcut for that. We can get you a lot of meetings and introductions within two to five days, where normally, working your contacts, that process alone might have taken you some time. Then the normal diligence and closing process you have to go through on your own.
Andrew: I actually, instead of doing a pre-interview with you, I did a pre-interview with Andrew Cove, who works with you at AngelList, and he said, over and over, ‘AngelList does not replace hustle. The entrepreneur still has to hustle.’ You’re just making it easier.
Through this session, I want to learn how to make it even easier still for people to understand AngelList well. How about we go with, before we get into the tactics, can you give me one example of an entrepreneur who went through AngelList and what happened in that process?
Naval: Yes. One example is Bertram Meyer. He started a company called Taulia, which was an enterprise discounting network. It’s a European company, originally, that moved to the United States.
He didn’t have many contacts, didn’t have a huge network. Basically, he decided rather than spending three or four months going to conferences and making friends, he just put it on AngelList. He already did have some small commitment from Angel Capital Group and he was just looking to fill out the realm. Instead, he got a pretty good reception. He ended up doing a series A round with Trinity And Matrix.
Then, when he was doing his Series B, he actually came back to AngelList and he went through AngelList again, this time to drum up more support. I can’t talk about that financing because I’m not sure if it’s closed, but he had a good product. He was making money, he just wasn’t connected and he didn’t want to go through multi-market process of getting connected. So that’s one good way to exploit it.
Another similar company would be Pipe Drive. They came in from Estonia. They described themselves as the Apple design sales force, uni-fold site, product traction. The week they arrived in San Francisco, they already had dozens of leads lined up, thanks to AngelList.
Andrew: This is one of the reasons why people are so inspired by what you’re doing. I can see the pain that entrepreneurs go through when they go through the process. If you can alleviate it a little bit and make it more a meritocracy, I feel that you’re changing the game here.
Before the interview started, I think I started talking in that kind of language and you said, ‘Hold on, Andrew. We haven’t changed it yet. Don’t get ahead of us.’
Naval: It’s a slow process, right? We’re not changing the world. The world is changing. The world is changing because of more fundamental reasons that us.
It’s changing because the cost of starting a company has gotten a lot lower. So, because companies can get started a lot more cheaply, they can get by on a lot less money. The number of funding sources that are available to them go up and they have more to show before they go raise money.
Five years ago, AngelList could not have worked because most companies needed to raise $3 million before they could launch their product. So it was all based on personal relationships. Someone you’d never met before, or who had just met you, couldn’t build up a trust with you quickly enough to give you that money.
Combined with the fact that you would not want to show it to anything more than two or three people because you were afraid of your idea leaking out. Of course, these days, we know ideas are a dime a dozen. You can build it, launch it and then go and raise money as opposed to the other way around.
Andrew: All right. I want to get into tactics and understand the process really well. Instead of me going straight to my list of questions here, can you tell me what the first thing an entrepreneur would want to do if he was going to use AngelList to help with fundraising?
Naval: I would basically make sure my business is ready to fundraise. I would not throw it up there.
Andrew: You’re saying don’t even put up a profile until the business is ready to fundraise?
Naval: You can put up a profile, but definitely don’t set your expectations that you’re going to raise money just because you put up a short profile.
Our worst case scenario is when a good company comes in, but they are either a little too early and their expectations are off or they’re just lazy. Frankly, sometimes, we have to have a standardized format and we have that for a number of reasons.
One is, it’s as good as executive summary or email topics are built around it. We have some verification and reference checking built into the system. It does it a good service when an entrepreneur comes in and they say, “I’m a visionary. I’m a technologist. I’m incredible. I’m going to change the world and I should get funded because I’m going to go do blah. There’s no actual evidence if I’m lazy about it. They don’t put any work into the profile.
Andrew: I see. And, so, you would like to see a company already off the ground at that point when they’re putting their profile up?
Naval: It actually depends on the sector. That’s hard to say, but if you’re mobile, local, social, whatever, you should have probably built and launched a product. It needs a prototype and you should have some early evidence of traction. If you’re building hardware or pharmaceutical or something more difficult that might take more capital before you can get it launched. You at lease want to have some clear evidence that your team has the right background for this and that you’ve been validated in some other way either you’re good advisers or someone’s written a white paper review of what you’re doing or you’ve won some award or something of that sort.
Andrew: Got you. If it can’t reasonably be built easily and quickly we understand, but we want to see that you’re capable of doing it. If it can be we want to see that you’ve already started this; otherwise, wise it in your head if it’s possible to build it.
Naval: Exactly. These days it’s so cheap to build most, especially software and virtual products, that it’s uncommon to use an entrepreneur to actually build it before you go raise real money.
Andrew: OK. It just occurred to me, I assume that everyone knows what Mobilist is, but maybe we should talk about, just a little bit about what it is, so that someone who comes in from Mars or somewhere else would understand it and doesn’t see this as just a social network. What is it?
Naval: A match.com for entrepreneurs and startups and investors.
Naval: So, it introduced investors and entrepreneurs to each other.
Andrew: OK. Right, they put a profile up. Good, I was a little worried that maybe we’d take too long explaining what it is. I like that. OK, so, you want to see that. What about this? You can have a profile private or have it public, right?
Andrew: We’ve got an entrepreneur here who sent me a question that said, “What are the top three things that I need to nail before making my profile public?”
Naval: Right. So, it’s actually just a little confusing. We get kind of sophisticated because we have to obey and respond to lots of users needs. But one of those is that there’s a draft mode and a publish mode. So, you can keep your start up in the draft mode while you’re working on it and only you and your team can see it. And then when you publish it, it’s available to whatever investors want to see it. There’s a different public and private section, so basically every start up profile is broken into a public section that anyone in the world can see. There’s very little in there. It might be your name, your logo screenshot’s location, a short product description, your team members.
Your previous investors from previous rounds will be in there, if that crunch base [??]. But then the real meat of the fund raising information, the confidential section is locked out and you control who that is visible to. So, that will include how much you’re raising, what the evaluation is, which investors already committed to the round, have you launched, what’s you traction, customer distribution strategy, technology secrets, [??] and so on.
So, you can actually publish your profile anytime. And you can control the visibility settings and there won’t be any confidential information anytime. We of the [??] trying to review everything pretty quickly although we’re often backlogged. Even when we review it we feel like it’s promising or it’s too early, we’ll tell you it’s too early and we’ll leave you a message there that you can use to ping us back when you’ve gotten more information up there or you’ve gotten further.
So, I don’t think there’s any negative to posting earlier. You know worst case if you’re decent looking company with good people, worst case we’ll tell you it’s early just ping us again when you feel it’s ready or best case it might be ready to go earlier than you thought. Maybe your own expectations of yourself are too high. Often time that’s happened. Sometimes a company will come in and they’ve got great tech, some kind of an award winner, they might have some traction and they’re mode to go out yet because they’ve heard too often, “Oh, I need to the investor first.” And then you then just [??] around. And we say, “No. No. This can get done on it’s own as is. We can find a re-investor.
So, I don’t there’s too harm in putting something up there early as long as it’s relatively complete. You give us enough to go on. If all you do is you come in and call yourself a visionary and then throw a one line description and that’s it, it’s like some really lazy thing and then say, you know, launch in 2012, well, you know, that part we’re not going to take to seriously.
Andrew: I see. So, there aren’t items that they want to make sure to get done, are there, before they go through that process?
Naval: If you actually want to get funded that’s a different process. So, publishing your profile and your list you can do that earlier than [??].
Naval: But if you’ll say, “OK. I’m ready. I want to go raise funding. I’m ready for funding.” What do you want to do? They always say make sure your profile is complete, fill out all the details. The number one mistake people make is that they actually don’t put good bios of themselves, which is unbelievable to me. They think the investors going to click through and read their Linked In profile on each one, and they’re not.
Investors are bombarded with start-ups. They want to see information up front. We had this beautiful little section where you could put 160 character bio of yourself and say CS MIT product engineer Yahoo. You can summarize your background that way, but people don’t.
Usually they just put down “founder.” Of course you’re the founder. Everybody knows you’re the founder. That’s meaningless. What did you do before? So fill out really nice bios that show why your team is credible.
In the product section, screenshots are very important. Investors are highly visual. Don’t just put up videos. Videos take 5-10 minutes to watch, and it’s often very hard to do a good video. If you have a pretty product or a big designer, you might even have a hardware device, put up some pretty screenshots.
Investors are just as visual as users are. On the traction section, I definitely recommend putting up graphs. Now what’s being used? They can be micro-economic graphs, or graphs of growth and usage. Finally, the much maligned social [??] section is essentially where you add in your current advisers, and hopefully they have nice bios too.
We send them emails to confirm, and when they confirm we also ask them, ‘why are you advising this company?’ When they put that down, that goes in a permanent place in your profile. Same thing goes for investors you might have from previous rounds or that you have permitted already to this round.
You add them to your profile, we send them an email to confirm. When they confirm we actually get from them their investment thesis, which other investors want to know. In a way, the profile is half done by you as the entrepreneur, and the other half is self-assembly where we have tools built in where your team members and advisers and so on will put the rest together.
Andrew: I see. When you say, ‘we’re going to check with the advisers and see who they are,’ that’s just automated, right?
Naval: All automated. Basically we’ll fire emails automatically. Their social graphs are connected, so we know how credible they are in the community and all those sorts of things.
Andrew: Before they take if off of graph mode, should entrepreneurs nail down a few advisers first, and maybe even find an investor or two so that there is some social proof early on?
Naval: They don’t have to. We’re always changing the system, which is unfortunate because it’s a moving target. The way it currently works is that if you add an investor to your company, let’s say George Zachary from [??] Adventures has committed from his quick start fund to invest in your company. You add him to your company even if you’ve been published or a week.
When he confirms, we’ll ask him, ‘George, why are you investing in this company?’ He’ll say, ‘well I love the entrepreneur. It’s the best thing I’ve seen in location sharing,’ whatever it is, right? George has hundreds of investors following him on Angel List. We will send an alert to those people. They will each get emails saying, ‘George is investing in this company. Here’s why he’s doing it.’
Even if you add somebody later, we still trigger those messages to their followers. So, social proof is a rolling thing. What that means is while you’re doing your rounds you’re adding more and more people, their followers are getting notified and people that trust those investors are getting more and more intrigued as to what’s going on.
Andrew: I see. Then maybe even if you get five investors all on the same day, maybe you want to space it out to make it feel like another, and another, and another coming in? Or no?
Naval: No, not necessarily because the emails aren’t all going to the same people. Different people follow different people.
Andrew: Got it.
Naval: It’s like Facebook or Twitter. You might be following one investor and somebody else might be following another.
Andrew: What do investors care about, and what do they not care about?
Naval: I think what investors really care about is show, and what they don’t care about is tell. At the end of the day, you want to show investors things. For example, in product, show them a working product or screenshot, or prototype or a markup. Don’t tell them how great it’s going to be.
On team, show them the things you guys have done before. This is a [??] project I hacked together before. This is a problem that I solved before. This is a school that I went to. Don’t tell them, ‘I’m a visionary, I’m incredible, I’m really capable, I’ll break down barriers.’ Everybody says that.
On the traction, don’t tell them, ‘oh, we have seven customers pending to go.’ Show them. Say, ‘these are the names of the customers, this is how much they’re paying, this is when we launched with them, and I can give you contracts on request in a physical meeting.’
Finally, in social proof, don’t tell them, ‘oh I’ve got three guys ready to go.’ You can actually add them to your Angel List profile and have them confirm. By the way, if they don’t confirm, we show a big ‘unconfirmed’ next to their name.
Andrew: You do?
Naval: Yes. This is something that investors have insisted on because a lot of time entrepreneurs will exaggerate. In a physical meeting, very often an entrepreneur will say, ‘Scott Bannister is going to invest.’ Then they’ll call up Scott and Scott will say, ‘I’m not going to invest,’ or ‘I’m still thinking about it.’ People sometimes push the envelope on that. So we kind of force the verification.
Andrew: You know, I’ve actually been on the side of the investor. I’ve made a small investment in a company called Fast Customer. They said, go to Angel List and confirm. I know I was on vacation and away from the computer for about a week, and didn’t confirm for maybe two or three days.
And he took me off. I said, ‘wait, you didn’t give me a chance to confirm.’ And then he gave me another opportunity to do it. Now I understand. He didn’t want that big black hole of Andrew is not admitting that he’s part of this company. I see.
Naval: And he has better things to do than confirm that he’s investing in my company.
Andrew: I didn’t even think of that. I just said I’ll wait a couple of days, he’ll be OK with it. Now I understand.
Naval: He did extremely well, by the way.
Naval: He did extremely well on Angel List.
Andrew: Oh, he did? We’re talking about Aaron. What do you mean by extremely well?
Naval: I think he put up some tweet saying, ‘wow, hitting publish on Angel List is like getting in the bat mobile and hitting the rocket booster.’ He was a unique case, not the normal case. He came in with a lot of investors already committed to his [??]. He was just looking for the last little bit from value-headed investors.
I think he had room for one or two more investors. We probably got him in the order of 40 introductions, and then we had another 50-60 investors following him for updates. In other words saying, ‘we’re interested, but keep us posted.’ So what he did was he closed out his [??] with really good people that he wanted, well over subscribe.
That wasn’t a challenge from him, he could have already closed the [??]. What he did was he got a lot of attention in the investor community and started building relationships for his next round, for his bigger round.
Andrew: Oh, I see.
Naval: So he’s already got [??] who are talking to him and who are interested.
Naval: So at least now when he goes back to them six months from now or a year from now with progress, he’s not a stranger. He’s a familiar face.
Andrew: Fast Customer is a service that allows you to not wait on hold. You just say call Citibank for me, the system will wait on hold for you for five, ten, half an hour, however many minutes it takes, and then you’ll get a phone call as soon as you’re connected.
Now, if he did something really well, I want my audience to copy and learn from his tactics so they can do it too. How did he get all those investors so quickly so that when he hit the publish button he was able to just add rocket fuel to an already taking off rocket?
Naval: He probably got those through good old fashioned networking. My guess is it took him months. It wasn’t the classic Angel List process. Now, there are other companies on board right now that are doing or have done their rounds entirely through Angel List. They didn’t come with any investor social couth.
But they could come in with really strong products. For example, there was a guy who came in a while back, Scan, which had two million downloads for their QR code scanning app in the iPhone app store. Even though he was talking to a bunch of investors, no one actually confirmed when they came in.
Even when they were in Utah, there was this great team of very smart, young, hard charging, and they got two million downloads from the app store. They just killed it. They did really well. So what I actually tell people is that it’s not a checklist.
You don’t have to say, ‘I’m going to add a few screenshots, I’m going to put up some bios, I’m going to put up a little bit of traction, I’m going to put in a few advisers.’ It doesn’t work that way. What investors are actually looking for is they are looking for exceptional companies, because the outcomes of this space are so exceptional.
One out of 100 companies just kills it, ten out of a hundred do OK and then 90 fail. Or even nine fail. They are looking for exceptional companies. There has to be one thing about you that is off the charts. That could be an incredible team. We’ve got a company called Good Plates which we named [??], they came to Angel List from Boston.
They had no real traction. They didn’t have many committed investors, if any. But the team was all MIT, advisers of Facebook and Google. They built really cool technology to automatically scan menus and format them and put them online. They had really cool core tech.
They had a very credible tech team. They did equally well or better than Fast Customer. It’s not that you have to have your investors already lined up; you just have to stand out in at least one way. Fast Customer was standout in at least two ways, and was not standout in one way, and that hurt them.
They were standout in the sense that they had a great investor/adviser list already on board, including yourself. Actually, when you invest, I love Dave McClure, he’s one of my favorite people, but when Dave invests it doesn’t send the same signals as when Andrew invests.
For Andrew to invest a little bit is a big deal. Andrew invests very rarely.
Andrew: I see.
Naval: David invests very often. So, he came in with great social proof of investors. The only thing he came in with was a great concept. Everybody hates waiting on hold. That was the first company of its type that the Angel List community has seen, so people were just really excited. It’s a very novel concept.
So, I think that the combination of the two just killed it for him. The negative for him is that I think he’s in DC. He’s a little out of market, which means that some New York investors would invest in companies in DC, a few Bay Area ones will, but really you’ll rely on regional investors. That just limits the scope of how many people would be interested.
Andrew. Oh, interesting. And he still was able to do it?
Naval: He still was able to do it great. He is one of those inspirational cases. But if he was sitting in San Francisco, he would have had two or three times as much invested interest [??].
Andrew. Interesting. Let me move the mic a little closer. It looks like they’re making noise so I’ll lower…
Naval: Sorry, I can’t hear you.
Andrew: There we go. I was moving the mic closer and lowering it’s pickup because there was noise back here. He started out in DC, then he moved to Phoenix, AZ. Can you hear me ok?
Naval: Yes, I can.
Andrew: All right. People want to know should they follow other people?
Naval: It’s like Twitter. You’re following people to get their updates and to see what they’re up to, but we’re not like Facebook. We don’t do the high pressure friending thing where you get that email saying, ‘Naval says you’re his friend. Are you his friend or do you want to disappoint him?’
We don’t do that kind of thing. Following is simply if you’re interested in the company, or person, or a market, or a location and you want to see or learn more about that company, person, market, or location. It’s not a pressure mechanism. It’s not a way for you to make friends. It’s not a way to for you to get people to follow you. It doesn’t work that way.
Andrew: So there’s not real value in following except for what you learn by following the person or the industry?
Naval: So the investor follows a company. If that company adds more investors or adds an adviser or team member, it will notify the person following. If the company updates a status message or there’s a big change in the profile we’ll notify them in a weekly email. But we’re not going to pressure people to follow each other.
Andrew: Gotcha. What about having people follow you? Does it make sense to push people to hit that follow button?
Naval: You don’t want to pressure them, but certainly if there are people who are supporters of yours and want to keep up-to-date with what the company’s doing, they should follow you. One of the little hidden features we have, because there are so many on the site, and we play around and try them, is LinkedIn’s InMail, where you can basically forward a message from one person on LinkedIn to another person on LinkedIn through a common contact.
This is part of LinkedIn’s business model. They let you do this a few times for free, and then they charge you because you’re basically a recruiter. We have a free simple version of that that runs along not your social graph, but your start-up’s social graph.
For example, let’s say that you Andrew decide to start advising Fast Customer. You’re not even an investor, you’re just an adviser to Fast Customer let’s say. Well, when you add yourself to Fast Customer’s profile, now Aaron, the founder of Fast Customer, can reach anybody who follows you.
Andrew: Gotcha. Anyone who follows me?
Naval: Correct. You can send a message to anyone who is following and connected to Fast Customer. So it makes sense to add your advisers, team members, investors, and supporters and friends. If someone is following your company, you can contact them. If someone if following you, you can contact them.
The observation here is that the entire start-up has an extended social graph and anyone who follows anything in that start-up social graph can be reached by that start-up.
Andrew: I see. Then for investors and for advisers, it makes sense to get others to follow them because it gives them more clout for start-ups…
Naval: No actually the same for entrepreneurs in start-ups…
Andrew: I see, because then they can reach more people. Got it.
Naval: They can reach them [inaudible].
Andrew: I remember one of the first things that Mark Zuster [sp], the investor, told me was if you’re a start-up and you’re trying to reach me, don’t do it through a friend of a friend on LinkedIn. Notice who’s connected to me on LinkedIn, and then go via email because LinkedIn feels a little gimmicky. Go more personal.
How are you finding it on Angel List?
Naval: We find on Angel List that those messages, the LinkedIn InMail messages if you will, we call them nudges. They nudge you, Andrew, to please introduce me.
They are very different from the LinkedIn messages, and here’s why: the way the LinkedIn messages work is, you build your LinkedIn social graph in a high pressure friend way. So a lot of these people you’re not actually friends with or you don’t really care for. Then some colleague you haven’t talked to for 10 years says, ‘hey I want an introduction to your most valuable contacts.’
Andrew: Yep. That’s it.
Naval: Andrew, I want to meet Mark. I know we haven’t talked since high school, but I really want to meet Mark [??]. Can you please introduce me to Mark [??]. Right? That’s what happens. That’s why it fails. It’s a different social dynamic here.
The social here is, you’re advising or investing in a company, so you’re obviously already committed to helping the company and you obviously believe in the company. It was a recent interaction that you voluntarily entered into. So when Aaron says, ‘Andrew, can you introduce me to Mark [??]?’ one of two things is going to happen.
Either you really believe in the company and you want to send the company to Mark [??] because it makes you look good too so you pass it on, or if for whatever reason you decide this is not the right contact, you can just silently delete the nudge request and no one will ever know.
Andrew: I see.
Naval: But we do find that when those nudge requests go through, they are the higher conversion rate of anything on the site.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Naval: In terms of the recipient responding with an intro or a follow-up. We send out start-ups by email, and you watch those conversion rates all day long. The conversion rates on these nudge emails are insanely high.
Andrew: Convert to clicks?
Naval: No, convert to intros or follows or meetings.
Andrew: Oh, interesting. I see.
Naval: So basically, these nudges we find convert at a rate of over 25%, especially if they are well written and personalized. If what you’re doing is saying, ‘I’m trying to reach every one of Andrew’s contacts’ and use some generic email, it’s not going to work very well.
If you say ‘I’m trying to reach Dave McClure, and I noticed he’s really into metrics and design, so you say, ‘Dave, you want to talk to us. I asked Andrew for this introduction because we have all this cool stuff in metrics and here’s where you can find a screenshot and [??] designer,’ one quarter of the time that will result in a meeting with Dave. Or at least a conversation with Dave online. That to me is the most efficient possible way to get introductions. Think about this.
Andrew: One quarter? Go ahead, that’s huge.
Naval: Every start-up is surrounded by people who say, ‘I want to help. I want to help. Let me know how I can help.’ Right? They all say that, everyone you meet with, ‘let me know how I can help.’
Andrew: I say it. I don’t know what else to say when I’ve got nothing else to do.
Naval: How can you help? They say, ‘well who can you introduce me too?’ Off the top of your head you can think of one or two people. Well, on your Angel List profile, you can connect your LinkedIn, your Facebook, your Twitter, you can follow a whole bunch of people and people can follow you.
We already know every investor you’re connected to. So we let the start-up self-service go through your network and get introductions without your really having to do anything other than hit ‘OK’ in a few emails.
Andrew: I think LinkedIn makes me write a sentence or two. You’re saying I don’t even have to do that?
Naval: You don’t have to, but it probably looks good if you do.
Andrew: I see.
Naval: Essentially what we’re doing is, start-up is surrounded by people who say, ‘let me know how I can help,’ but they really don’t have the time or the brain power to figure it out for the start-up. The start-up is incented, right? To get to these people’s connections.
So we give them the tools to allow them to go through their social network’s connections out to more investors.
Andrew: I see. On LinkedIn I feel the obligation to add everybody, and like you said, the person I don’t know, who I just added out of obligation is asking me for the best introduction ever. By the way, one person, Reed Hoffman of course, is the one guy who I was told he wants an introduction through someone else, he’ll read it, and I did that.
Sure enough, he responded within 24 hours when I did that and the email went through one other person before it reached him.
Naval: Well, of course Reed’s going to read his LinkedIn.
Andrew: Right. All right.
Naval: The easiest way to reach me is through Angel List.
Andrew: Right. Now I’m wondering, did I do that or not? Who should not use Angel List? You mentioned earlier that there are some people who shouldn’t, and Andrew Cove kept saying that too when I talked to him before.
Naval: I mean, there’s a lot of companies for which it’s not a fit. If you are a pre-launch and you’re in social, local, web, mobile and your team is relatively unknown and this is your first start-up and you haven’t done a lot before and you don’t have any committed investors, right?
If it’s sort of concept stage, or if it’s at the very early prototype stage, it’s not ready for Angel List. It’s probably better off at one of the incubators. So you’re probably better off going to a TechStars or a White Comet or [??]. And we often refer companies to those incubators.
Very often companies will come to us, and we’ll say, ‘the team is promising but you’re not ready for the larger Angel financing, so do you want to go to the incubators?’ So we send them to the incubators instead. Service companies are not fundable by tech investors, so the dry cleaner down the street, the hair salon.
There’s a smooth gradient between service companies to backable tech companies. Very often you’ll have what looks like tech companies but they have four products, they’ve been at it for five years, they’ve got a consulting business on the side set up as an LLC, those are very hard to find.
Then if you’re the nth entrance in a space that’s gotten hot, peaked, and crashed, you’re another daily deals site, you’re another group-on clone, you’re another local social analytics platform for small businesses, you can come to Angel List, but you’re going to have to have pretty exceptional results for us to help you get funded.
Content business, movies, things like that are better off with KickStarter or IndieGoGo or some other crowd source platforms where you can sell them the product in advance.
Andrew: Right. If Mixergy were raising money it would be a terrible fit for Angel List. It would not work.
Naval: Mixergy would not work.
Andrew: What about if you’re a consulting company? Say you’re building web apps for clients, and you’re starting to build your own apps. Will it not work?
Naval: No. Investors won’t invest in product companies.
Andrew: What if you spin the product out and you put the product business on Angel List?
Naval: Make sure it has good founders attached to it. That you’re not doing your consulting company on the side.
Andrew: Gotcha. Speaking of founders, what’s a good number? How big should the team, not just the founders but the overall team, be?
Naval: We encourage at least both founders or two or more founders to be on there because investors don’t like single founder companies, though there are exceptions. There are some great single founder companies. But two is a good number and then you can add one or two other key team members. Definitely have your core technologists on there.
If your team is CEO marketing, COO [??] you don’t want to look like a tech company, so my favorites are two to four person teams tech and design heavy with backgrounds clearly laid out.
Andrew: I see. You want the two co-founders and maybe the designer and the developer to all be represented on the site?
Naval: The key team members. Anyone who was credential or really important, working on big things. Most start-ups are small, so they don’t have the eight to ten person teams. It is actually bad if you put up a ten person team and eight of them are thinkers and two are doers. You definitely want a high ratio of doers to thinkers.
Andrew: You mentioned founder institute, [??] who I mentioned in the introduction, went through The Founder Institute and then got funded through Angel List. The Founder Institute is a little different than TechStars and the others where they put money in and make introductions.
Founder Institute is more about getting your first product. If you don’t have a product, what do you think of Founder Institute as a step towards Angel List.
Naval: I think Founder Institute is a very large program. Some people have gotten amazing experiences out of it. I think, RinseCycle, which came to Angel List and did extremely well, and had a lot of very notable people invest including [??] Horowitz and so on. They were an award winning Founder Institute company.
Founder Institute is very large. They have a lot of people, they have a lot of chapters. It’s sort of modern education. They are trying to redo the educational system. I think it depends highly upon which instructor, which class, are you with [??], are you in Seattle, are you wherever?
It’s school for entrepreneurs, right? You get out of it what you put into it. It’s not the same kind of program as White Comet or TechStars are, you’re right about that. They’re structured differently.
Andrew: It also doesn’t give you the same social proof. If you come out of Founder Institute it doesn’t signal that you have a good product or you’re likely to have a good business. It just signals that you’ve learned the process and you know it better than most people.
Naval: I think there are some really good companies that come out of there. And they actually put out a [??] in Angel List that other top companies.
Andrew: Oh, they do?
Naval: Yeah. I don’t know. I haven’t gone to any of these so I can’t personally say which one’s better and which one’s not. Certainly, White Comet or Angel Pad have a very exclusive brand, but not everyone can get into those things. Angel Pad I think is only six companies, and usually you have to have some kind of [??] action.
Andrew: I took a bunch of Founder Institute entrepreneurs here in DC to dinner. They liked the program, they got a lot out of it. I don’t mean to knock it, I’m just trying to understand. [??] will be here, I think soon, and we’ll find out from him.
Naval: That’s the guy to find out. I give credit to [??] for being the first rabble-rousers in this space. He really thinks on a big scale and he sort of dedicated himself to changing the way start-ups get built and financed. He was there before any of us.
Andrew: You know what, he was. And he was a rabble-rouser in that he fought against adventure capitalists even though it endangered his career and his standing in his space and in the end he ended up making some changes happen, being part of a bigger movement. I feel like you would have that same attitude. Why doesn’t Angel List pick fights and rouse rabble? Why are you stayed and Andrew we have the next step, we’re part of a bigger movement, why aren’t you more of a cheerleader? You, personally.
Naval: It’s a philosophy. We are trying to be a neutral place for the community to assemble. We don’t want to have a point of view, we don’t want to have a voice. I know that runs counter to a lot of modern marketing and how community companies get built, but we don’t want to be the community. We don’t even want to be the voice of the community.
Andrew: You don’t want to stand up and say, ‘the old guard is old and they don’t get it.’ You don’t want any of that?
Naval: We’re the platform for the community. So if you’re old guard people who want to work with other old guard people, you can do it in our platform. If you only want to work with young hipster angels wearing plaid shirts and skinny jeans, you can do that too on our platform. We’re not judging.
We really try to avoid using the word angelist on Angel List itself. We don’t throw conferences, we don’t throw events, we don’t throw get togethers; we don’t throw alumni [??].
Andrew: Where is your money coming from? I mean, I know the investors, Dharma Ishaw saying he put money in the company, but what about your business model?
Naval: Ishaw was an investor from [??] a long time ago.
Andrew: Oh, so he doesn’t get any piece of Angel List?
Naval: Oh, no he doesn’t have a piece of Angel List. But Angel List kind of absorbed Venture Packs, so now it’s all one thing. But his money was long spent when we started Angel List. He was too foresighted. He’s a great guy.
Andrew: He seemed OK with it.
Naval: He’s a great guy. Most of our money comes from a costing foundation and we have a little bit of money from individuals as well.
Andrew: But there’s no business model in it?
Naval: No, it’s not a high cost business.
Andrew: Will there be a business model?
Naval: There could be, someday.
Andrew: Do you have something in mind? I don’t know what hours you keep, but here in this space we tend not to do things early in the morning. You got there to do this interview at 9:30 your time, you’re putting effort into this, you got Andrew Cove to do a conversation with me in preparation. You’re putting in a lot of work here actually, beyond Mixergy.
Naval: I’m on 24/7. You know, we haven’t really pursued it. In the investing business brand and reputation are everything. I think a lot of places talk about how they have a brand, but what is their brand? I think entrepreneurs are getting set and holding them to account for it in saying, ‘OK, how do you [??]‘
If you look at, for example, [??] and Horowitz, they have a very tight recruiting arm, they have PR, they have a lot of support for their start-ups. 500 start-ups helps you with metrics, helps you with recruiting, helps you with design. Paul Graham has his intense 10 week boot camp for start-ups. So we help start-ups by helping them raise money.
If we wanted to become investors ourselves, I think it gives us a very good brand to operate.
Andrew: I see. So this is for deal flow for you?
Naval: Yeah. Worst case we could operate a venture fund.
Andrew: I see. I gotcha.
Naval: [??] at all.
Andrew: All right. Onward with the questions I got beforehand. What would surprise entrepreneurs most about this process? What would someone who’s gone through it be surprised by? I guess this guy wants to know the surprises ahead of time. What don’t people know?
Naval: It’s a highly binary outcome. What happens is the number one comment we get is, ‘wow. If I had known how well this was going to work I would have come here earlier. I wouldn’t have waited this long.’ The number two comment we get is, ‘I put my profile up on Angel List and I got no attention. Nothing. Zero.’
What happens is, that’s the nature of the market. There are a few companies that are ready to get finance and for those we accelerate their financing tremendously. There are some companies that are not ready to get financed and we can’t do anything for them.
There are actually some companies in the middle that hustle their way through Angel List and eventually get financed and they run a process. There’s one company, I won’t name it but it’s actually pretty entertaining. This was back in the day when we had almost no self-service tools. Now we have a lot of self-service tools including the nudging email I mentioned to you earlier.
This company came in, the entrepreneur, we did not email it out. We didn’t feel like it met the bar or that it was easily fanciable. The entrepreneur stayed on Angel List. He kept hustling. He would get people to follow him, he would get meetings. Every time he got an adviser or investor added he would keep his profile up to date.
Turns out his background was in SEO. He’s really good at SEO. So he essentially SEO’d Angel List. Then one morning, I wake up and he’s changed his status message to, ‘we’ve got our financing done through Angel List. Thanks guys.’ I was like, we didn’t do anything. He just kind of worked the system and got it done.
And we see a lot more of that happening now. Two months ago, 90% of the introductions that we investors of stocks were driven by something that we ourselves had done. We had basically said, “Ok, we’re going to put this featured email and send it out.”
Well, as of this month, it’s actually less than 50.
Andrew: Less than 50.
Naval: Less than 50. So the majority of the interaction that’s going on between start-ups and investors was not triggered, assisted, helped, or anything done by us. It’s just going on its own.
Andrew: Dude, you must be so proud of that. To be able to build a business that depends on you, that your brand is so tightly identified with, and then let it become its own entity that stands side by side with you.
Naval: Well, it’s a constant struggle. It’s a lot of work. It’s an enormous amount of work.
Andrew: You mentioned that there’s exposure. This is a question, actually, that came from my conversation with Andrew Cove. How do you get exposure on the site if you’re not one of the people who’s – one of the, I guess it’s 5% that’s picked to go in the email that AngelList sends out to investors? That email, we know, is very powerful. It results in a lot of introductions to investors and a lot of meetings. But how do you get exposure if you’re not picked to be in that email?
Naval: If you have advisers or investors or people in the community or followers connected to you, they can share your profile without involving us. They can share it with their followers, and those followers can reshare it out. It’s like a re-tweet. So they can tweet you out and people can re-tweet you out.
Andrew: So it’s basically asking them to re-tweet it, to re-send it.
Naval: You can ask them to share it, and their followers can reshare it. So there are other mechanisms built in. You can do the nudge mechanisms that I talked about earlier, where if you have people who are connected to other people, you can reach out through them.
Sometimes investors go on the site and they just search around. They’ll say, “Ok, I’m interested in wireless [?]. What are the interesting wireless [?] companies around here?” They’ll search, they’ll find something, and they’ll just go in and take a look.
A lot of companies, when they do their physical pitches these days, they put their AngelList URL at the end. I know, for example, all the 500 start ups companies [?] were doing this. So even when the meet the investor physically, that investor goes and uses their [?] list profile almost an executive summary, and if that investor ends up taking an intro or being added to the start up somehow, then that social signal propagates through the system.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that there was a guy who was good at SEO and that’s how he hustled to get investors. I don’t think I followed up with you and asked you specifically what kind of SEO did he do? How do you search engine optimize and angel list?
Naval: He didn’t actually use SEO. I didn’t say he was an SEO guy, he was an SEO mentality. An SEO mentality is “one little step at a time.” So what he would do was when he would meet with investors in the real world, he would say, “Ok, well can you follow us on angel list for updates?” and then he’d send them little updates. Eventually he’d say, “Ok, well if this is interesting, would you mind sharing it with your followers?” or “Can I send this message to your followers through you?” and so on.
So he basically just constant [?] on the process, making sure that he had all his support on the profile.
We have some start ups that actually use that as a way to keep in touch with their existing investors, not even looking for new ones.
Andrew: One entrepreneur said, “How do you pick from the angels that you end up meeting through angel list?”
Naval: Yeah, we try and give you community data, such as who’s following them, reviews, which we’ve ruled out as well, what investments they’ve made, etc. etc. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to meet and spend time with the person, get references, and do your own homework. Don’t take money from someone you haven’t met. I think that’s extremely dangerous.
Andrew: Don’t take money from someone you’ve never met.
Andrew: Why? What’s the danger there?
Naval: The danger is the person may turn out not to be sophisticated. They may turn out to be very difficult to deal with. If things go sour, they might start demanding their money back, threatening to sue you, and so on.
Private markets are still highly unregulated. There’s a lot of contracts, individual contracts between individuals. Your start up finance and documents, I would say as high as 20% of the time, your lawyer will screw something up, not by malice, but because these things are complicated, and everyone’s always negotiating and making up new things. There will be some term in there that you thought wasn’t in there or is open to misinterpretation, and then you have to go to your investors and explain that to them.
There’s one company where I was an investor in. The company got sold. It was a good outcome except that it turns out that they had miswritten the docs and the valuation that the investors got was half what they thought they were getting. So the investors were really happy, the entrepreneur’s really unhappy, and it was not written down anywhere. So the entrepreneur had to go around to the investors saying, “Do you remember the valuation was actually supposed to be six million, not three million?”
Andrew: Oh wow.
Naval: Luckily for him, we said, “Yeah, we do remember, it’s ok.” But [laugh] not a lot of people would do that. And that’s actually a benign case.
I just think that you can’t get divorced from your investors, right? It’s like marriage without the possibility of a divorce? So you definitely want to reference check them, you definitely want to get to know them, and you definitely want to trust them. The four things I look for in an investor, and I think we’re going to make this more clear on Angel List over time.
First of all, they have to be accredited. They have to legally be allowed to invest. They have to sophisticated, so they should have done a few investments before, and they should know that the vast majority of angel investments you’re going to lose all your money. Nine out of ten.
They should be recommended. So, someone you know knows them or they have good references that you can check out on them. Then they have to be connected. They shouldn’t be totally disassociated from the community.
Andrew: They should be connected?
Naval: Connected in the community that you’re in.
Naval: You don’t want someone who is a complete newcomer to the community because they won’t have the social and moral checks and balances on them that connected people do.
Andrew: I see. If you can get away with saying to an entrepreneur, ‘yes I do kind of remember the valuation was different, but look at what’s on paper. I want what I deserve from paper.’ If you’re not connected you can do that, if you are connected, people are not going to want to work with you in the future.
One entrepreneur wants to know, is there a way to test the Angel List experience over time? So not just, put it out there, but put it out there, adjust, get more feedback, adjust, and so on. Or is this one shot, you’re in or out?
Naval: It’s not one shot, but it kind of is one shot per round.
Andrew: One shot per round?
Naval: Yes. We’re not going to email the same person the same start-up twice unless something is materially, significantly changed. Investors don’t want to get an update on a start-up they’ve never heard of every few days, other than if they choose to specifically follow it. I think at least the moment it’s set up, you want to put your best foot forward.
Andrew: I’ve heard from a lot of people that you and [Nivi] would talk to entrepreneurs one-on-one and give them guidance. How does an entrepreneur become one of the people who gets to talk to you guys one-on-one and get guidance on the process?
Naval: Either way, whether you do physical conversations or phone calls, the easiest way with me is to say let’s do a phone call or let’s meet up. I don’t have time, there’s just too many companies coming in. So what Andrew and I will do as admins of the site, we’ll often give the start-ups tips on how to improve their profile.
Usually because of information they left out. We’ll say, ‘hey, you should add some screenshots.’ If we don’t think they’re ready for financing, we’ll be honest with them. We’ll tell them why. We’ll say, you’re in DC and you’re doing healthcare stuff, and we just don’t have enough investors in DC who do healthcare investing.
What we will not do is we will not try to help you hustle an investor. The goal is not to trick an investor into liking it enough to take an introduction. The investors are smart, they’ll take the introduction, then they’ll do a meeting with you, and in the meeting they’ll figure out it’s not true.
We’re really not going to help you in any way exaggerated or be dishonest, or even position in such a way that’ll be seeing the better. That’s both for legal and moral reasons.
Andrew: I’m always worried in an interview that all I did was cover obvious stuff, or that I missed something that would really blow people’s minds. I’m just going to put it out there at this point and say how do I make sure to cover something that’s non-obvious that will blow people’s minds?
You’ve done this a lot, you know entrepreneurs who have gone through the experience, and you know that some of them are making the same mistake who are missing something over and over. What is that? What do we give really experienced Angel List users that’s going to make them think it was worth spending about an hour with Andrew and [??]
Naval: I think Angel List is an incredible database and people are going to take advantage of that. We’ve had about 13,000 start-ups apply to Angel List. Now only about 8,000 of them are in our current system because we had an older system, and only a few thousand of them have public profiles.
Public profiles don’t tell you much, but it allows in research, how crowded is your space before you get into it. If I’m starting a market place for chefs, well there are about a dozen of those on Angel List. That space is done unless you have some truly world meeting attraction, investors are not going to take you seriously. It’s a good source for you to just figure out the lay of the land.
I think that’s good for us recruiting, people don’t realize this. If you have 13,000 start-ups, and we’ve got about 500 or 600 funded. That means 12,000 [??] that haven’t gotten funded, most of whom got hackers, who are probably sitting around trying to figure out what to do next.
It might be a good place for you to go through and find this database of entrepreneurial hackers who don’t have money. So I think it’s pretty useful in that regard. The same way with investors, you can really figure out who investors listen to. LinkedIn is not the perfect way to do that. I connected to you LinkedIn because I was pressured in, because we met once; but I follow you on AngelList because I really care about your investment judgment. So you can see which investors truly listen to which other investors. There’s all kinds of information buried in AngelList that I don’t think people use properly, which would really be to their advantage.
Andrew: What about – we only have a couple more minutes together; what about for investors? What should they do to get more value out of AngelList? We talked about entrepreneurs wanting to fill out their profile, and so on. What about a couple of suggestions for investors?
Naval: Well a couple of things: one is we build investors these beautiful profiles where you can have tombstones of your startups and add logos and stuff. You can get reviews, list all your connections and so on. So it’s a good place for you to market yourself. A second things that’s good for investors is it’s great for research. You can see what other companies are in the space. You can get a sense of what valuations are, how they’re trending, and so forth. A third thing it’s also good for is recruiting for investors.
Our biggest tip to investors is don’t just wait for the [inaudible]. If you’re waiting for the emails, you’re missing out on 90% of the fun.
Andrew: I see.
Naval: There are a lot more startups; there’s a lot more activity; there’s a lot more diligence that can be done on the site. You can catch a lot of the good deals earlier, because it takes us sometimes a week or two to get around to it. Even when email the company out, we don’t email it out to everyone. We actually email to a small set of people we think are most likely to match in terms of preferences; and then based on its performance, it goes out from there. So investors should just use the site.
Andrew: It’s interesting to see how the site evolves. To know that you guys who’ve been studying startups for so long are now having to prove out your ideas, what you’ve learned on your own site; and then to see how you do it is really interesting. Especially since your site design is just so simple that I can actually follow what’s going on, see the changes, and understand what the thought process are in doing this.
Naval: I’m glad you see that because I think it’s a mess. [laugh].
Andrew: You do?
Naval: I mean in the sense that we’re always working on it. We’re always pushing new features and it’s always getting confusing.
Andrew: I’m so glad I don’t see it. All I see forever from you guys is just simplistic design…or maybe not simplistic – minimalist. Always minimalist. I like that. I, on the other hand, am going too much. I’ve got to take stuff away.
Naval: Yeah. Execution is the hardest thing, I guess, in terms of building AngelList itself. I’ve learned more about startups by building AngelList then I had ever…
Andrew: Like what? What’s one thing that you’ve learned that you didn’t know before?
Naval: Product execution is everything. Everything. So I’ll give you simple examples. We really don’t do [??] deals at AngelList. We don’t go to conferences. We don’t attend events. We don’t [??]. We try to do everything in a very scalable manner. We just code and design our paramount. We try to stay invisible, but it’s all about execution. Execution comes from very small, very focused teams. So we have a very small, very focused team and we just care about product.
Andrew: Small, focused team; how many people?
Naval: It’s actually nine people right now, so maybe its not that small anymore.
Andrew: All right. I’ll ask you for one final word in a moment, but let me speak to the premium members. We’ve got a course with Oren Klaff. He’s a guy who’s raised a lot of money. He says how much in the class. Do you know Oren Klaff by the way?
Naval: I don’t actually.
Andrew: He’s a guy who’s raised money. He wrote a booked called ‘Pitch Anything,’ and he talks to entrepreneurs on how to pitch to investors. His basic premise is that most entrepreneurs are wusses when it comes to investors, and if they just knew if they could push; and if they had a process on how they can interact with investors, they’d have much more fruitful conversations. I get emails all the time from entrepreneurs who use Oren Klaff’s system for talking to investors. Anyway, if you’re a premium member, go to mixergy.com/premium. It’s right there. You can take the whole course. You can watch Oren tell you what you can do, where you can push, and how to do it properly. If you’re not, I hope you go to mixergy.com/premium and sign up for it.
And [??], last time you were here, I talked to you about why you sell stuff and you told me, and I didn’t. Since then I’ve said, “You know, if Naval can do it, I’m going to sell online too.”
Naval: Well if nothing else, it lets people know that what we’re doing is valuable.
Andrew: Right! That’s one of the things that you left me with, one of the messages. You were selling PDFs, and I’ll let people go back and listen to that past interview. It’s really good. Read the transcript if you’re not into listening for an hour. It’s one of the best interviews here at Mixergy. Naval, final word: how can people connect with you, or what should they do next?
Naval: They can connect with me by going on AngelList and creating a profile.
Andrew: And friending you?
Naval: I mean, they can follow me…
Andrew: Follow you. Excuse me.
Naval: …my email address is obvious, but I’m going to be busy, so hopefully it’s transactional or important.
Andrew: All right. I do urge everyone who watches to not just watch, not just listen or read, not just take in; but find a way to interact. So go to AngelList. Create your profile. Check out Naval’s…you’re just angel.co/naval right?
Andrew: Perfect. Thank you all for watching. See you.
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