A question that frequently pops up during our discussions with business angel network managers is how to activate and engage their members. Inactive angels rarely see the value in network membership and therefore are not the ambassadors to the network in a desirable way. Engagement also creates trust which is one of the cornerstones of an investor network and a prerequisite for syndication.
Let’s draw a parallel here from the sales psychology to highlight a variety of reasons that could prevent members from being active:
- they are strangers to each other and don’t have personal relationships (lack of contact);
- BAN offering doesn’t match the investor’s interests and needs at this specific time (lack of interest);
- the value provided by the BAN is not acknowledged (lack of need);
- members are not open to change and prefer doing business the old-fashioned way (lack of demand);
- engaging with the network is too inconvenient and time-consuming (lack of opportunity).
Although building connections in real-life is often quicker and more efficient, it is not always possible or even the most reasonable way of running an angel network. Networking is also only one of the values BANs can provide to members and there is a lot that can be done digitally to create an active virtual community. Here are a few suggestions on what BAN managers can do to create a positively buzzing angel group.
I - Create conditions for connecting
Open up the stage. New member highlight scheduled in at BAN events gives an opportunity for the newly joined angels to introduce their background and investment strategy making it easier for others to find common interests and pick up the conversation off-stage. Another way to encourage conversations is Open Mic where members can bring up topics that may not be directly related to BAN activities but which they would like to draw attention to (for example, how to improve financial literacy among the primary school students). This will create common talking points between like-minded members which is a very powerful way of building deep and meaningful connections.
Give members something to talk about. Relationships require a lot of upkeep to prevent them from fading away. How-do-you-do is not sufficient and does not develop the relationship further, instead, members need an object to discuss, analyse, co-invest in etc. Being an investor group, deal flow is obviously the main object members connect over. As BAN manager, providing a good deal flow is essential - there’s nothing more invigorating to angels than a couple of exciting deals in the funnel. Discussions don’t have to be limited to deals only - managers can draw members’ attention to any suitable topic and allow them to weigh in.
Mimic physical event dynamics online. One of the reasons physical events are more engaging is that they are more dynamic. In a standard group call, everyone is stuck to the same discussion stream which may or may not be interesting or developing in the right direction for them. It’s also very difficult to find a gap in the conversation flow to step in and speak up therefore most members resort to passive listener’s role. In real life, people move around, join smaller sub-discussion groups, or even create one-on-one pairs for specific topics and are thus able to not only listen but also to weigh in with their opinion. Mimicking the same kind of dynamic, free-flowing format in an online environment has been difficult so far, but luckily now there are solutions for this - for example, Wonder or Clubhouse.
II - Provide meaning and purpose
Exploit the initiative (in a good way). In every group, there are people with a sparkle in their eyes - they want to be more involved and contribute towards the common goal. Often they are newcomers, excited about being part of the group. As the BAN manager, your role is to recognise who these people are and include them in the processes. Give the initiators more responsibility, assign tasks and allow them to get stuff done. For example, when creating industry-based subgroups (e.g. health-tech) it’s important to make sure someone keeps the conversation going - a member excited about this specific vertical would be a great host. It’s a brilliant way of providing more value to your group without overloading yourself.
Advocate for the lead investor role. Lead investors are a BAN manager’s best friends. An experienced and recognised deal lead has the ability to attract other investors to the deal, drive the conversation, and activate passive members as well as create connections with investors and groups from outside. They are also authorities from the startup company’s and other members’ perspective who want to learn from them. Lead investors will appreciate the additional meaning and purpose in the community which will benefit everyone, but BAN manager must understand the responsibility that comes with the role and find a way to incentivise deal leads appropriately.
III - Encourage personal growth
Provide educational content. Educational content is especially important to new, novice members who want to feel like they are continuously growing as investors and can appreciate the value BAN membership will bring them knowledge-wise. Investor education is also a significant part of non-profit business angel associations’ activities who often have a lighter deal flow. There are many ways to share useful information with your members. Lectures and webinars on specific subjects, guest presenters at events who are successful in their specific field, sharing articles, and writing on related topics can all help transfer valuable knowledge to your members.
Make knowledge-sharing easy. Although chat is useful to manage daily activities, it is not the best way to handle meaningful discussions and experience sharing. A forum format with sub-headings and threads works much better for creating a community and a place to go for specific information. A forum where members can contribute builds a central, well-structured knowledge base for the group. It also allows members to earn visibility and credibility for themselves nurturing the growth of the future lead investors. In the future, we see that forum software should not be limited to one group only but would benefit from being shared with others for cross-group discussions on important matters.
IV - Digitalise
Make your group a focal point. It’s important your investors remember they are part of a group and a community that can benefit them daily. Good group management software serves as a communication tool that can be used to send out news, notifications, and other information members could be interested in. Frequent drip-feeding of information works well to keep your group on the picture - the only challenge is to find a balance and not overdo it (best if members can choose what kind and how much information they receive). A central platform where the community gathers to share information and cooperate on deals means more frequent visits from members and thus more opportunities for them to discover other areas of interest within the network.
Utilise your tools to the fullest. Everyone knows it’s important to gather feedback from members and involve them in the decision-making process. The problem is that formalised feedback questionnaires are not engaging and efficient enough - they usually come at the wrong time and feel like too much effort. With online tools, every interaction the members have on the platform - voting, discussing, indicating - or the lack of it serves as feedback and gives you valuable insight into the members’ mindset. Interactions also feed directly into the group’s knowledge base. Good management tools allow you to analyse information that is already existing without the need to ask for it separately every time you have a question.
BAN managers are often afraid that the members oppose changes, are not open to opportunities digital tools bring, or are simply not tech-savvy enough to use them. We’ve seen that members are actually much more likely to be active and engaged when using online tools because these can be conveniently integrated into their daily routines. The onboarding process is the key when adopting new tools or processes - training, encouraging and integrating the possibilities into existing processes will result in a vibrant community that is much more active than BAN managers could have ever anticipated.
A combination of physical and virtual environment works especially well to increase member engagement - for example, marking funding interests and voting for results during live pitching events, referring to the software to find additional info about the company, specific company or member profiles, sharing more documents and important information. A good digital tool can assist BAN manager in providing great value to the members and in the end, the more exclusively the chosen software is utilised, the more value members see in it.