Talking to Kevin Laws was a blast! Kevin is the COO of AngelList, an online matchmaking platform for founders, investors, and employees that makes creating a new company more efficient. The company currently has ~70 employees and to date has facilitated over 1M introductions between startups and job seekers. Simultaneously, AngelList has moved over $500M into companies and over 1,700 of them have found their investors via AngelList, including; Uber, Thumbtack, and Cruise Automation (which sold to GM for $1B). Impressive stats, right? Kevin refers to himself as the ‘Chief Everything Else Officer’ because on a day-to-day basis, he dabbles in very many things; from negotiating business deals to managing employees and being part of the investment committee. Most recently, Kevin was a featured guest at the quarterly Entrepreneurship Interest Group Event hosted by MIT Sloan NorCal Club.
Kevin was at MIT Sloan from 94 to 96 and his wife is a Sloanie as well. They only knew of each other at Sloan, but got to know each other better when they both moved to California after graduation, and eventually married. When I asked about his fondest Sloan memories, Kevin says: C-functions, friends, late night Chinese dinners, getting cars snowed in and not being able to get a taxi (pre-Uber), pretty much the same things many of us remember. He also has fond memories of his economics and marketing classes. This made me think of Prof. Roberto Rigobon and Prof. Tavneet Suri.
I must admit that I didn’t know much about AngelList (shame on me). The company initially started as a blog, Venture Hacks. The co-founders Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi started Venture Hacks in 2007 with a mission to help entrepreneurs navigate the world of venture capital. By 2010, they noticed an increased need to connect founders and investors so it made sense to start a platform that would facilitate this, but more importantly offer a streamlined process to accommodate even very small deals.
Given that this was a completely new space, there were no sufficient laws that would allow for this type of activity. Broker laws that govern companies like Goldman Sachs were too broad and designed only for larger deals so Kevin and Ravikant spent a good amount of his time in Washington DC working to get congress to carve out a provision in the JOBS Act for this type of online platform. Once congress made this change, AngelList could now officially start rocking and rolling and have money go to startups directly through the platform.
Given how much success the company has seen so far, I wanted to know from Kevin if anything can be attributed to luck? His response is yes – that’s how Silicon Valley works. To clarify though, to be lucky, you have to be doing good work first. Like karma, you eventually get rewarded for doing good things.
In addition, Kevin had this advice for people looking to start a business:
- Do something you are passionate about. Entrepreneurship is hard so you need to love it
- Listen and take coaching especially during the early stages. You will pivot a lot during this time and keeping true to your vision while still being able to act on good advice from those around you is one of the key drivers of success.
- 1% of businesses are venture friendly which means you should max out your funding options before exploring a VC. Presales, family and friends, debt, savings, – find out a way to get money without a professional investor or experienced angel – you need to not give up much of your company very early on
- Know why you are looking for funding from investors and why you cannot wait to grow. Growing quickly because competition will beat you to an idea is a good reason to accelerate funding – but otherwise you should think long and hard
- Don’t underestimate your network. Like Kevin, I don’t think I really understood what ‘networking meant’. Spend time with people you like and those that like you. These are the same people you might end up working with in the future.
Such great advice from Kevin! If you are a Sloanie here in the bay area and you’d like to be spotlighted, or know a great Sloanie candidate, feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on twitter @kibuanita