Startups Anonymous: The time a 14-year old invested in my startup
[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we’ll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]
Several years back, while raising money for one of my previous companies, we had a fair amount of inbound interest.
It's without saying, but I'll say it anyway: if you're going to raise money, having inbound interest is the way to go.
Among the intro requests we'd receive on AngelList, we'd also get random, unsolicited emails from angel investors. To be honest, we had enough tire kickers and faux investors reach out during our raise that we started to really discredit these inquiries.
On one of these occasions, we had received an email from someone I'll call Anthony Green. He had simply asked if we were raising — no sales pitch, just a simple question.
Suspicious this was yet another tire kicker, I nearly didn't respond. On a whim, I decided to respond with, "yes, why do you ask?".
Shortly thereafter, I had received a response from Anthony stating that he and his father invested in companies together and really like what we were doing. We set up a call.
As most founders do, we did a standard Google search to learn as much as possible about this potential investor in advance. With a rather common name, the most that we could conclude was this was an accountant from Southern California. Probably a $10 - $25k investor at best.
It's worth noting that the search also turned up a result from the New York Post about a young kid, covering his extravagant bar mitzvah, but I wouldn't have assumed it was relevant.
Research complete, but still skeptical, we scheduled a call for a Sunday afternoon.
At our scheduled time, I called the father/son team and Anthony answered. After exchanging a bit of small talk, it was clear that something was off. Unless my ears were deceiving me, it sounded like I was talking to either a grown man with a pinched scrotum, or a 12-year old kid. I was utterly confused.
After about 15 minutes of discussion, the father finally chimed in and said, "we're in".
At this point, I thought I was being punked.
First off, a decision normally doesn't come that quickly, especially with such little discussion. Pair that with the fact that I believe I'm talking to a 6th grader, I was about to call bullshit.
Instead, I went with it and took it as an opportunity to learn a bit more. I asked if they could tell me more about themselves and their investment background.
This is where Dad took over.
"As Anthony mentioned, we're a father/son team that has invested in a few companies over the past two years, most recently X and Y. My son, Anthony, is 14 years old and has a knack for picking investments. My name is Josh Green (not actual name) and I'm the former President/CEO of (Huge Media Company) ..."
I heard nothing past that. I was blown away.
Turns out that Anthony was a kid. Just finishing up 7th grade. In his free time, rather than playing Playstation, he was reading tech blogs and playing with new products. Instead of playing pick up basketball after school, he was learning how to code. He aspires to be a venture capitalist someday and is already well on his way.
As fate would have it, he turned out to be one of the most active and useful investors we had on our side.
This was an extremely important lesson for us: From that moment forward, I never discredited any inbound inquiry from someone again.
Since that time, I've been through numerous fundraises, none of which have been easier then the first. I come back to this experience often to remind myself that opportunities are occasionally where you least expect them.
Startups can bring about really fascinating encounters sometimes, all you have to do is be open to accepting them.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]