Jan 20, 2017
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How I Became an Angel Investor

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One day during my senior year in university, I got a mail from my friend David who grew up with me but separated after we both entered colleges.  He invited me to join him for a dinner in D.C.  A few of his close friends would be joining us too.  It was a little disappointing to me because I was hoping to have a one on one talk with David after 4 years’ separation.  However, imagine my surprise when the other four guests arrived and it turned out that every one of them was a billionaire!  How did my friend David end up with friends like this!

David told me that he started to pick up entrepreneurship after he entered college.  As an entrepreneur, he managed to found a couple of companies with his older brother Sam. But the most interesting thing to me about David was his propensity for finding and supporting a wide range of technological innovation. It turns out that this boy with little technical education but boundless energy and curiosity, had met with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. He described himself as an innovation catalyst decades before the term angel investor was coined. He would learn of a potentially exciting new technical development, bring it to the attention of an appropriate technical companies or institutions, and provide the seed funding that would enable them to research and commercialize it.

With David’s inspiration, after finishing my MBA in the early 1980s, I cofounded my first technology-related business. By that time I was fully engaged in my day job of real estate development, but continued to start tech companies on the side. One of them developed enough traction in the nascent wireless communications space that I finally transitioned into the tech world full-time.

Thanks to an amazing amount of luck, my first business managed to get funding from a top-tier venture capital fund in the early 1990s, and eventually grew into a multinational, Internet-based communications company with 120 people on staff. But when the dot-com crash came along with the new millennium and wiped out a decade’s worth of effort, my long-suffering spouse suggested that I take a vacation from entrepreneurship and get a real job.

So I became an angel investor.

The result is that over the past 15 years I have had just about as much fun as it is possible to have with your clothes on. I’ve invested in over 90 innovative companies, and had exits—making millions of dollars—from acquisitions by companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Intel, CBS, Kodak, and others. Along the way I’ve met some of the most extraordinary entrepreneurs and investors in the business.

These experiences on both sides of the entrepreneurial finance table have provided me with a unique, birds’ eye view of the world of early-stage investing, and made it clear that angel investing has moved from being a casual sport of the super rich to a legitimate asset class for everyone with a level of assets or income that would qualify them as an accredited investor.

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Joseph Thomas

    Angel Investor

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