On Investor Differentiation

Earlier today, VentureBeat wrote about the dirty secret behind the incubator boom. Francisco raises an important point: other than initial money, what do these incubators bring to the table? The broader question is, what value do all investors bring to the table? As access to early stage deal flow opens up to more potential investors (see: AngelList), investors are being forced to prove their value. Especially if you want to get into the best deals.For early stage investors, differentiating on access to capital is no longer enough — focus on building a solid brand. As my partner Dave recently tweeted:

At 500 Startups, I’d like to think that our founders see us differentiated via the functional expertise that we bring to the table. (Though, I suspect a number of them would argue that our ability to throw good parties is differentiation enough… but I digress.)

We’ve spent an incredible amount of time building a network of 150+ mentors with expertise with data, design and distribution. More recently, we’ve been building tools to help our network of 500+ founders and 150+ mentors connect with each other via discussions, office hours and other events. We even have a full events team that helps us build thought leadership within the verticals that we invest in — that’s directly useful to our startups via access to investors, companies and other smart folks that care about those same verticals.

If you’re an angel group, I’d bet good money that your brand is probably something along the lines of “a bunch of people that move slow and/or never make a decision.” If you’re an angel investor or VC fund, it’s not uncommon to be lumped into the “dumb money” category.

At the end of the day, your brand isn’t what you think it is… your brand is what founders think it is. If you’re an investor (or even thinking about getting into the game), please understand that your brand is the most important thing you should build and protect.

The smartest founders in the world will have no problem raising any money, make sure they wantyour money.