“Should I approach angels or venture capitalists?” is the question many early-stage startups start their journey with. The importance of this choice goes beyond finances, potentially affecting the company’s future development, culture, and scalability. 

Aligning with the right investors is key to fueling growth, receiving strategic guidance, and opening doors to further opportunities. Conversely, a mismatch can result in financial strain and strategic conflicts, hindering the startup’s progress and potential. 

Understanding the difference between angel investors and venture capital firms will help you make the right call, fundraise successfully, and move your business in the right direction. 

We’ll break down the differences, revealing the characteristics, perspectives, preferences, and benefits of these two equity investors’ types.

Defining venture capitalists

Venture capitalists (VCs) are business professionals who invest in high-risk/high-reward ventures with steep growth potential in exchange for equity or an ownership stake. Their capital comes from wealthy individuals and third parties such as corporations, foundations, and pension funds. 

Role in the business ecosystem

VCs play a pivotal role in the business ecosystem. Besides providing capital for startups that wouldn’t be able to get financing, they also equip them with strategic guidance, contributing to their growth, stability, and innovation.

For a startup, getting funds from a prominent VC proves its potential, helping attract top-tier talent and business opportunities.

The mentorship and advisory that typically come with the funding are equally valuable. The type of guidance you can get depends on the specific VC and their experience, from process optimization to GTM strategy and product development. Some VCs will help startups set up and optimize their operations and processes, while others will help fine-tune their GTM strategy. In some cases, VCs even advise on product development.

Typical investment phases and amounts

VCs invest through various funding stages, from pre-seed to Series C and beyond, as long as the startup fits their venture business criteria: it must be scalable in a large market and bring $100M+ in revenue. The funds poured range from a few hundred thousand dollars to tens or even hundreds of millions. 

Here are the key stages:

Pre-Seed and Seed stage: 

Investment focus: product development, market research, and customer acquisition. 
Average check: $100K-$1.5M

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Early stage (Series A and Series B):

Investment focus: innovation, market expansion, and team growth.
Average check: $3M-$5M

Later stage (Series C and beyond):

Investment focus: business scaling, global reach, and product diversification.
Average check: $10M+

Growth stage and special situations: 

Investment focus: accelerating rapid growth and/or restructuring.
Average check: varies based on the company’s specific needs and business valuation.

Understanding angel investors

Characteristics of angel investments

Angel investors are wealthy individuals investing their money into promising ventures, including high-risk projects. In return, they get a convertible debt or equity. 

Angels usually enter the arena during startups’ nascent stages, providing pre-seed and seed funding to help companies get off the ground. They hold smaller amounts of money than VCs, ranging from thousands to a few million dollars (on the condition that a couple of angels are working together). 

The average check is between $100K and $1M (made up of individual injections between $10K and $100K). A single angel investor typically invests between $25K and $100K.

The personal approach of angel investors

Angel investors often value a personal touch in their investments. Most are founder-oriented, meaning they invest in people rather than companies. Many are seasoned entrepreneurs, offering not only capital but also strategic guidance and mentorship coupled with valuable business insights and industry connections. 

Although business angels invest their funds, they usually do it as members of a collective network of fellow angels.  

A notable tip: Angles don’t simply invest in business – they invest in you, financially and emotionally. Being involved in the earliest funding stages, they need to rely on their gut feeling as much as on typical investment criteria, such as having vouched for you, and they send a signal to their whole social network. So, make sure to leave an impression of unwavering commitment, strong business acumen, and contagious enthusiasm.

Comparative analysis: Venture Capitalists vs Angel Investors

Investment size and stage

The first aspect that separates business angels and venture capitalists is the size of the investment they are handing out. Given the pools of money from third parties, VCs have far more to offer to their darlings ($5M-$10M on average). 

On the other hand, angel investors have slightly tighter pockets as they invest their own money, giving less generous financial injections ($25K-$100K on average).  

The second aspect is the funding stage, on which both types focus. VCs can invest in opportunities across every stage of a company’s life cycle—from pre-seed to Series C and beyond—emphasizing ventures that have generated some traction and developed a clear path to scalability. 

As for angels, they are more like a startup’s fairy godmother that helps them get off the ground. They predominantly support startups through pre-seed and seed stages and rarely go beyond that.

Here is a quick recap of angel investors vs venture capitalists:

Angels: small amounts only during the early stages;

VCs: large amounts during all stages.

Return expectations and risk appetite

VCs and angel investors are sitting at different sides of the return expectations table. Although both enter the startup world with high expectations, the percentage of returns is different. VCs expect a notable 57% annually (on average) before the company is sold, while angels anticipate annual returns between 20-40%. 

Risk appetite differs as well. While business angels are more inclined to take risky ventures, investing at the nascent stages (as we know, over 80% of early-stage startups fail), VCs have a slightly more moderate risk appetite, mainly focusing on startups that have proven their ability to execute.

Venture Capitalists vs Angel Investors: Risk and rewards

Assessing risk in different investment approaches

Although offering the potential of high rewards, venture capital investments come with a set of risks, with a standard deviation of around 100% (unlike the more stable S&P 500 stocks with only a 10% variation). 

However, VCs mitigate these risks effectively:

  • Their portfolio is diversified, so when some startups fail, those that succeed will compensate for the losses and bring profit.
  • They usually invest in ventures that have already shown early success or market fit. 
  • They vet potential startups rigorously before investing, diving deep into the startup’s business model, financial health, product offerings, market presence, management team, track record, and other relevant aspects.
  • VCs pay attention to startups with a clear path to profitability or exit strategy to balance risk with the potential for high returns. 
  • Venture capitalists often secure a board seat or some form of influence in the companies they provide financial backing to. This way, they are more in control of a startup, protecting their investment and reducing risk. 

In short, VCs focus on more mature ventures, typically engaging in a more risk-averse approach. 

Conversely, angles are more open to taking risks, and their choices are often driven by gut feeling rather than just financial metrics. 

Diving deeper, they:

  • Make smaller, personal investments: of course, the level of risk skyrockets due to the lack of diversification as a big portion of their funds may be tied up to a few ventures;
  • Involve emotional part into the decision-making process: most angels trust their intuition;
  • Have limited risk mitigation strategies: unlike VCs, angel investors don’t secure a place in the company, meaning they have less control over the startup’s decisions.

The reward perspective for investors and entrepreneurs

Venture capitalists typically get:

  • Significant equity stakes;
  • An ability to run the company partially and control their investments;
  • High financial returns;
  • A stellar addition to their portfolio, assuming the company will successfully exit through IPO or acquisition;
  • Reputation leap—the more successful their portfolio companies are, the better deal flow they receive, resulting in a snowball effect.  

Angel investors typically get:

  • Financial returns, although less substantial than those VCs get;  
  • Personal triumph—knowing you’ve made a meaningful mark in a promising field can be more rewarding than any monetary gain;
  • Networking and community engagement—angel investing allows individuals to join a broader community with extensive opportunities to collaborate and network.

Last but not least, entrepreneurs. Beyond financial backing, they also get:

  • Expertise and mentorship: timely expert advice and outside perspective help accelerate business development, increasing the chances for success;
  • Validation: getting funded from prominent VCs or angel investors serves as proof of the startup’s viability and potential, skyrocketing credibility with future investors, partners, and customers.

It is worth mentioning that the volume and nature of rewards for a startup depend on its stage of development and the kind of support it seeks beyond funding.

Future outlook of Venture Capital and Angel Investing

Predictions and emerging trends

Despite the current doom and gloom in the market, the future of both VCs and angel investors looks promising. Venture funding has come a long way from its early onset 70 years ago to the present day, where it’s seen as an innovation engine and value creation (even despite the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and FTX). Simultaneously, angel investing has cemented its position in the early-stage market. 

Both types of investors are to shine bright in the startup ecosystem and the broader economic landscape, driving the growth of tech-savvy advancements. 

Moving on, here are key trends reshaping the investment world:

  • AI and data analytics: they’re an emerging powerful cog of the investment ecosystem; leveraging them allows investors to make more informed decisions, streamlining due diligence processes.
  • Impact investing: sustainability matters, and startups prioritizing it become more attractive to investors. Both VCs and angels seek to generate returns and positive societal impact.
  • Global reach: You can start your business beyond Silicon Valley as VC keeps flattening worldwide; with more and more cities becoming venture hubs, the next generation companies will be launched worldwide (Africa, MENAP, Latin America, etc.).

Final thoughts on choosing the right investor 

Angels can be a perfect match for early-stage startups seeking smaller amounts of capital and benefiting from personalized mentorship. In contrast, VCs are better positioned to fund more mature businesses, ensuring more substantial financial backing, typically coupled with strategic guidance and more significant industry connections. 

With that said, think hard when choosing investors. Your investor choice is not only a financial but also a strategic shot. The difference between angel investors and venture capital funds is significant, so act smart.

Check if your funding request and vision align with the investor’s needs, requirements, and investment focus. Consider the following:

  • The amount you want to raise;
  • Your funding stage;
  • Your specific business needs.

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Hello! I'm Ruslana, a Content Writer at Waveup. Based on my background in marketing research and business analytics, and my current collaboration with the savvy team at Waveup, I'm excited to share my insights and learnings with you.