AngelList “corporate policy” is that team members should ask forgiveness, not permission.

We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it.

Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome.

We would rather have people ship to production whenever they want, than go through an internal review process. We can fix it on production. We prefer the customer’s review process. And it isn’t too hard to reveal a new feature to a small portion of our users and iterate on it as we expand it to more users.

Eliminating permission increases speed and diversity

Eliminating permission increases the speed and diversity of our decision-making. Our incubator applications are a good example of diverse decision-making: one of our team members built it even though I was telling him, “This is fine, but I don’t think it is that important. Why don’t you work on something else.” It ended up being very important to our users and mission.

There are some sensitive parts of our product that are walled off from this “ask forgiveness” policy. There are some things we want reviewed by the people who “know better”. But it’s really rare.

How it works

This policy only works if you hire insanely smart and capable people, and let go of the ones who are not. We also filter for people who are mission-oriented, care about our customer and want to learn more.

And it doesn’t mean that the founders aren’t standing over your desk telling you, “this isn’t good enough to ship”. That’s why we write down and promote these ideas. Because there is always pressure from someone important to do it another way.

It also wouldn’t work without these other items of corporate propaganda:

You break it, you bought it

If you break something or your stuff is buggy, please fix it. As in straight away mate.

Sweat the details and corner cases

If people are going to ship whatever they want, we need them to sweat the details if they’re going to avoid mistakes.

The best way to do that is to have the rest of the team constantly complain that your code and/or design sucks or, in polite terms, “contains opportunities for improvement.”

Actually, mistakes are fine. They’re something you trade off for other variables like speed of iteration. We just want people to sweat the details because we care about the details.

Be real

Again, if people are going to ship whatever they want, whenever they want, how do we get them to make good decisions? One answer is that we ask them to “be real”. As in, treat our users like real people. Treat your teammates like real people. Just be real and do the right thing.

Do what you think is right (and be right)

If you have the freedom to make decisions, you also have the responsibility of being correct.

S/he who codes, rules

Another way we promote good decisions is by pushing the decisions down to the people doing the work. We memorialize that with the motto, “s/he who codes, rules”. As in, when we disagree, the person doing the work makes the decision.

Own the result

Pushing the decision-making down to the worker works best if the same person is responsible for the metrics. So we try to have 1-wo/man teams whenever we can, and we ask them to own the result. We also hire people who care about our customer and want to solve problems for them.

Freedom and Responsibility

All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does Valve. Peter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. We didn’t invent this stuff, we don’t claim to know what we’re doing, nor is this a perfectly accurate or complete model of how we operate.

Freedom

  1. Ask forgiveness, not permission
  2. Do what you think is right (and be right)
  3. S/he who codes, rules

Responsibility

  1. You break it, you bought it
  2. Sweat the details and corner cases
  3. Be real
  4. Own the result

If you’re interested in working with us, we’re always hiring.

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“He cares deeply about… the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands.”

Laurene Powell Jobs on her husband, Steve

Startups aren’t here to change the world, they’re here to save the world—by bringing us innovation that advances humankind.

Our universities, labs and garages create enormous amounts of innovation—and there’s more coming every day. Today’s challenge is delivering it to customers in ways that advance humankind.

Super companies

Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon all deliver innovation at scale: they reliably bring it to the whole world at once. I call them super companies. (And there are many more in information technology, hardware, healthcare and energy.)

It might seem impossibly difficult, but super companies can be built. And the only way they get built is by starting a startup.

Our duty

If super companies are saving the world, and every company started as a startup, then it is our moral duty to remove the frictions along the startup’s way.

That’s our duty at AngelList: to serve the startups that are saving the world. By eliminating the frictions along their way, in the most meaningful way possible.

It is also the duty of every service provider in the startup ecosystem: investors, incubators, advisors, lawyers, recruiters, etc.

Entrepreneurs

If the service provider’s duty is to eliminate the frictions in the startup’s journey, then it is the entrepreneur’s duty to only start companies that can make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of humankind. That means saying no to businesses that are the Internet equivalent of McDonald’s.

And it is our duty as entrepreneurs to never sell, shut down or give up until we’re delivering innovation at scale.

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How to make money with pro rata rights:

  1. Exercise the pro rata, no matter the valuation, as long as the company is underpriced. Heuristically: a smart VC is leading an up round in the company.
  2. Lead an inside round so you can buy more than just your pro rata.
  3. Get a supra pro rata. Alternatively: convince the company to cut out other investors who have pro rata rights, so you can buy more than just your pro rata.
  4. Sell the pro rata right.
  5. Buy so much of the company in the first round, at such a low price, that you don’t need a pro rata. This probably isn’t realistic, but incubator investments are a little like this.

“You can be so bad at so many things… and as long as you stay focused on how you’re providing value to your users and customers, and you have something that is unique and valuable… you get through all that stuff.”

Mark Zuckerberg

“The problem with the Internet startup craze isn’t that too many people are starting companies; it’s that too many people aren’t sticking with it.”

Steve Jobs

It’s the AngelList centi-sesquicentennial and we want to share some stats with you. After 1.5 years, AngelList has seen…

  • 8,000 intros. An investor has asked for an intro to a startup on AngelList over 8,000 times.
  • 400 investments. A startup has been introduced to an investor and subsequently closed that investor over 400 times.
  • 8 acquisitions. At least 8 startups on AngelList have been acquired.

But who are these fine folks?

See all the startups and the investors they’ve closed here.

This is the data that the startups and investors have kindly reported. The actual numbers are probably 25%-100% higher (especially the investments). We don’t have data on every single intro, investment, or acquisition. For example, startups don’t always add investors to their profiles (hint).

Top markets and locations

The top 5 markets are Mobile, E-Commerce, SaaS, Digital Media and Education. And the top 5 locations are Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, London and Chicago.

Rock on, please get in touch if you have any questions. And thanks to Colleen at GigaOM, Pascal at Business Insider, Jolie at VentureBeat and Brad Feld for the coverage.

Before product-market fit, find passion-market fit.

Building a product is a process, not a discrete action. And the Internet is efficiently arbitraged. Every single simple thing that can be done is being done, or has been done. The lesson of history is that product-market fit is very precise—one wrong tweak or slightly bad timing and you can miss the whole thing.

So the only way you’re likely to find product-market fit is if you’re almost irrationally obsessed with the market and if you’ve been working on it for a long time. Where the journey is the reward. Then, you’re likely to have unique insights (in the details) and consistent execution, through thick and thin, to find fit.

Often, the best companies are ones where the product is an extension of the founder’s personality, which shouldn’t be a big surprise, since everyone is passionate about themselves.

We post links to the very best startup advice on Twitter at @venturehacks. We read Hacker News, the best blogs, Quora, and everything else startup-related. Then we tweet about the best content we find.

But maybe you don’t use Twitter. Or you don’t want to follow us there. Or you hate us.

Well then, you can subscribe to a daily digest of the links we post on Twitter via email or RSS. Here’s a pic of the email version:

Subscribe via email or RSS.

Naval and Mark Suster recently gave the keynotes at the 7th Founder Showcase. Andrew Chen did a better job of describing Naval’s keynote than I ever will:

“People spend a surprising amount of time on things that will contribute little or no value to getting them to a seed round, and this talk is the best I’ve seen in terms of presenting the issues in its entirety.

“Naval broke down the 5 main qualities of an ‘exceptional startup,’ in the following order:

1. Traction
2. Team
3. Product
4. Social Proof
5. Pitch/Presentation

“And while all these qualities are important, Naval explained, the most important thing is to understand that: ‘Investors are trying to find the exceptional outcomes, so they are looking for something exceptional about the company. Instead of trying to do everything well (traction, team, product, social proof, pitch, etc.), do one thing exceptionally. As a startup you have to be exceptional in at least one regard.’”

Here are the video and slides:

Some of my favorite quotes from the presentation:

“If you can’t generate traction, do you really want to raise money?”

“If you need money to recruit the best, you’re not ready.”

“It’s easier to pitch a new investor than to convert one.”

“Capital is mobile, but capitalists are lazy.”

“Every time the other party says ‘I want’ in a negotiation, you should hear the pleasant sound of a weight dropping on your side of the leverage scales.”

– G. Richard Shell, Bargaining for Advantage

Most entrepreneurs don’t understand the power of positive leverage. Here’s a typical situation:

After weeks of fund-raising, you find a brave investor who says “Yes, I want to invest.” He says he will give you an offer soon. You’re excited. A few days later he delivers a term sheet that you don’t like. The valuation is really low. Or the non-economic terms aren’t favorable. Your excitement turns to disappointment and frustration. This is the only offer you have so far. What do you do?

First, we hope you’ve been talking to several investors at the same time and creating a market for your shares. With an adroit touch, you can use this first offer to create the scarcity and social proof that drives other investors to say “yes”. At a minimum, you can use this offer to drive investors to make any decision at all — up or down. And keep improving your alternatives until you’ve a signed term sheet.

But let’s assume you don’t have any other offers and you have to negotiate with this investor. Or that this investor is your first choice — whether or not you have alternatives.

Positive leverage

This type of negotiation is similar to a hostage negotiation because you can’t walk away from your opponent. You can’t say, “Yeah, it’s okay, go ahead and kill the hostages, we’re not interested in your demands.”

When you have to negotiate without good alternatives, the tools of positive, negative, and normative leverage are essential. Positive leverage is your ability to provide things that your opponent wants. You have positive leverage when your opponent says, “I want to buy your car”, “I want you to release my friends from jail” or “I want to buy your shares”.

As soon as your opponent says he wants something from you, you have some positive leverage. You control what they want. You can grant them access or deny it. That’s why experienced opponents delay making offers — they don’t want to give you leverage.

In practice

How does positive leverage work in practice?

First, positive leverage should improve your psychology during the negotiation. You’ve gone from a situation where you want something from the investor to a situation where you both want something from each other. Your psychology is critical in a negotiation because “leverage often flows to the party that exerts the greatest control over and appears most comfortable with the present situation.”

Second, you can now identify other things that your opponent wants and deliver them. Maybe you’re working with a partner who is trying to get his first deal done at the firm. Help him succeed and help yourself in the process. Maybe you’re working with a firm who is excited about stealing a deal from a top-tier firm. Help them succeed. Maybe you’re working with a firm who wants to co-invest with a top-tier firm so they can show off to their LPs. Help them succeed.

Third, even before investors makes an offer, you gain a little bit of leverage every time they ask for something. Don’t try to use it after the first meeting. But if you’ve been talking to them for three weeks and they’re getting deeper and deeper into diligence, you should recognize and use your leverage. At a minimum, you should ask for information about their process and thinking at every step of the way.

The prime time to negotiate is when your opponent says, “I want.”

“If they’re talking to you, you have leverage.”

– Christopher Voss, FBI Negotiator