Outliers 60: How AngelList works

Pankaj Mishra June 21, 2018 5 min

Organisations, like people, can be outliers too.

Since December 2016, I have had conversations with 59 individual outliers; a journey where me and hopefully you too, have learned with each episode.

With this episode of Outliers podcast, we’re breaking away from the mold and expanding these conversations to companies and organizations that are outliers in the way they behave, their mission, and so on.

AngelList has been an outlier from the start in February 2010 when Naval Ravikant along with his co-blogger at Venture Hacks Babak Nivi, started with a group of investors.

“AngelList was started to help startups with their most difficult tasks, helping them do that with internet at scale and with the matching engine that makes it possible,” says Ravikant.

“AngelList can stumble, AngelList could fall, but I don’t think that will be because technology stops being interesting. It will be because of us,” he adds.

So how does AngelList stay relevant?

“Relevance just means you change with the times. It’s a hard problem,” says Ravikant.

For its part, AngelList has been trying to stay relevant. For instance, AngelList hived off CoinList last year; a step towards shaping the future of investing, according to Ravikant. Then, in 2016, AngelList acquired Product Hunt for $20 million.

Inside AngelList’s future: Naval Ravikant

Now, AngelList is looking to conquer India–a market that can be painfully slow and chaotic, especially given its unpredictable regulatory environment.

For AngelList though, India is an important market not just for the sake of the narrative, but because Naval and his team picked signals of future growth from the country. In August 2016, AngelList hired Utsav Somani to lead its India operations. According to Somani, Indian startups raised close to $2 million in less than 5 months on AngelList India from domestic investors.

“When we launched AngelList Talent, it (India) rapidly grew to be the second largest market for us. Right now we are living through the age of China ascending. I think India is going to go through a similar transition. It’s obviously slower than all of us would have liked, but it looks like the giant may be awakening,” says Ravikant.

“India’s issue has always been that it’s held back because of regulations and bureaucracy, and unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be getting that much better. “

AngelList is a startup too; an 8-year-old platform born as an email list that has watched and enabled the biggest startups such as Uber and Airbnb.

A lot to learn from what AngelList does right, and wrong.

Here’s Naval Ravikant on the future of AngelList.

Inside engineering: Sumukh Sridhara

Most organizations have separate engineering, product, and business teams. At AngelList, engineers are the owners of the product too. When AngelList started building out a product for India, Sridhara led the product development.

“That doesn’t mean you have to do all that (product, business, legal) all by yourself, but it’s pretty much like running your own company,” says, Sridhara, a University of California, Berkeley graduate in computer science.

Inside investing: Jake Zeller

At its core, AngelList is all about matching the most promising startups with the investors they deserve. What is a syndicate? How does it work? What happens in the background while matching startups with potential investors? These are among the questions you will hear him answering in this podcast.

“I think we are democratizing access to LP capital. We’re gonna raise all the money in the world and we are gonna allocate according to meritocracy,” says Zeller, a Stanford University physics graduate.

Inside AngelList: Kevin Laws

With Naval becoming the chairman and moving away from day to day running of AngelList, Laws has perhaps the toughest job in the startup investment world. For many, it’s difficult to even think of anyone else as the face of AngelList. It’s a challenge that Naval himself recognizes.

Globally, AngelList moves about $175 million every year into startups, which is about 600-700 startups annually. And more than half of them use AngelList for their hiring too, according to Laws.

“There is a misperception that we make it easier for startups to raise money. Not any more likely that you will get to “yes” if as a startup you’re using AngelList. That said, the time that you spend to get to the same answer you would have got any time…..that’s a lot less,” says Laws. “Same thing for hiring. The idea is to make that time much smaller proportion of the total time spent to get to a good match.”

“The biggest challenge for us is that people think AngelList is a place where if they go, suddenly the startups get funded. That’s not quite the way it works.”

So how do you spend your time? What does a typical week look for you? These are among the questions I ask Kevin to understand AngelList works on a daily basis.

Inside Product Hunt: Ryan Hoover

In March this year, we published an Outliers podcast with Ryan. It also gives you a sense of how long we’ve been working to get these conversations. We’re sharing it again as part of “How AngelList works” story to give you a complete inside view.

In many ways, Product Hunt completes AngelList’s quest to become the one-stop platform to help startups focus on their core product and not bogged down by funding, hiring needs.

From a small email list launched in November 2013 by Ryan Hoover, Product Hunt has now helped discover over 100 million products with more than 100,000 new product launches on its platform.

P.S. Additional reading: I found this Fast Company story and this HuffPost blog helpful while researching about AngelList.


Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.