Speed your way up the AngelList learning curve with this advice.

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By Sarah Granger (Digital Media Advisor & Entrepreneur, SarahGranger.com)

When I founded my first company in 1999, the high-tech bubble had yet to burst and ample opportunities existed to meet potential investors at events, but the process of identifying angels who might be a good fit was tedious. Combining professional networking skills with extensive research, this process was extremely time-consuming. The events with angel investors reminded me of fish feeding frenzies. Dozens of hungry entrepreneurs would gather around potential investors waiting for crumbs to fall their way. The system worked, but it lacked efficiency. Luckily, today we have AngelList, an excellent tool for entrepreneurs, advisors and investors to connect and learn about each other online.

AngelList isn’t like any other social network. It’s a smaller, more targeted environment catered to entrepreneurial endeavors. Anyone who has ever worked for a startup should take advantage of this opportunity, especially women. While it has similar features to LinkedIn like a bio summary and a list of companies, all features have been developed to connect people working for or with startups. I actually think you’re at a disadvantage if you’re not on AngelList right now, as the network is bustling with deals. Even without joining, you can view companies and job opportunities on the site, but a dedicated presence leads to greater benefits. The site showcases a wealth of company information for those willing to take the time to sift through it.

Like any new social network, AngelList has a learning curve and requires a commitment to building a profile, researching people and companies, and studying how they’re connected. The site navigation isn’t immediately apparent, so it takes a little time poking around to get your bearings. (I highly recommend signing on at first on the native website and downloading the Angie app if you want to keep tabs on AngelList from a mobile device.) If you are a founder or member of a startup team seeking investments, I also recommend at least three members of your management team build profiles, in addition to the company profile. Investors want to see who’s involved and that they are engaged.

Diane (Bisgeier) Tate, Program Manager for Mozilla’s WebFWD Accelerator, raves about AngelList. “I encourage all of our portfolio companies to use it HEAVILY as it allows entrepreneurs to identify investors aligned with their interest through its own ‘social graph’, eliciting patterns and activities not surfaced by traditional media or funding models. One of our teams entered discussions with investors after being featured on AL – it was a huge boost to both their credibility and exposure to the proper investment audience they were targeting.”

Joining Angel List

You can sign into AngelList through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to automatically attach those networks, but you still need to add an email address and password. You can also join with a unique username and password and later connect your account to existing social networks. It’s to your advantage to fill out your profile as thoroughly as possible, selecting companies where you worked and any companies you’ve founded. If a photo isn’t automatically attached the way you join, I recommend adding one. (As a woman, I’ll admit I’m much more likely to follow other women and the easiest way to find them is through photos when I’m scrolling through lists of people on the site.)

Building a Company Profile

Once your user account is established, then you can go on to create your company profile or profiles for past companies. Past companies don’t need to be too detailed, but if you’re seeking funding with a current company, look at what other companies have done with their profiles as examples. Think of the company page like an executive summary – you need your overarching business concept, your team, your business model and what financing you’re seeking. Most companies post a link to their pitch decks for investors.

One thing to note: if you’re seeking funding, you need to be able to answer questions about the type of funding you seek and your timeline. If you’re not prepared to answer those, your profile will be incomplete. “Make sure you have a well prepared pitch deck,” advises Tatyana Kanzaveli, a 500 Startups mentor and entrepreneur now seeking funding for the Open Cancer Network.

Building a User Profile

Your mini-resume is like a Twitter profile – 160 characters – short and sweet. The “What I Do” section is more like the LinkedIn summary, where you can go into detail about your professional history. You can select whether you are an Investor, Entrepreneur, Developer, Designer or Advisor. Some people fall in multiple categories. You can only select two. For example, although I’ve been an entrepreneur in the past, I’m currently advising and seeking to invest, so I had to choose ‘Angel’ and ‘Advisor’ over ‘Entrepreneur’ for my profile. This matters for search terms, but the Mini-resume is what mot people read first. Asking people who have worked with you previously to provide references also provides some credibility. Even if you have recommendations listed on LinkedIn, those will not transfer to AngelList.

Following People and Companies

It’s easy to find individuals on AngelList. The search works well to find people by name. You can also connect to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to follow others you are connected with on those networks. Companies are easy to find through the search feature as well, and one of the great things about AngelList is the thrill of the hunt. You can come upon one person who looks interesting as an entrepreneur, see a company she previously founded, go look at that company, notice one of the cofounders was someone you know, follow her profile, find other companies she helped build or fund, etc… It can lead you down a rabbit hole, but as most successful social media applications go, this is an excellent way to find and nurture opportunities. You get out of it what you put into it.

Networking and Researching

I highly recommend listing as many previously funded companies you’ve been involved with, because that’s an excellent way to connect with people and investors on the site. The Home page can seem daunting at first – lists of featured companies you’ve never heard of before – but scrolling down or clicking through, you can see that these are featured and recommended for potential opportunities.

Take advantage of your education if you attended a college or university connected on AngelList. That’s a great way to find new people. Stanford grads, of course, have a giant presence on Angel List, but so do many other schools. I graduated from the University of Michigan, and at the time of my search, I found 623 startups, 1135 alumni and 109 jobs affiliated. It’s just one way to find new companies and potential investors, easily searched under More, Colleges and Alumni. The Startups and Jobs tabs on the site are self-explanatory. It’s also possible to research valuations and salaries.

Becoming an Accredited Investor

Accredited investors on AngelList are able to view what funding companies are seeking, how much they have received thus far, and any specifics of what they are seeking. If you don’t know the rules for becoming an accredited angel investor, look them up, but essentially AngelList adheres to these rules and has a process for vetting potential investors by reviewing applications on an individual basis. It’s required you add cities where you would consider investing, but it’s optional whether you wish to disclose previous investments or references. Once you are approved as an investor, your account has additional features available to it.

Maintaining a Presence / Watching Your Feed

The Activity page is like a Twitter feed or LinkedIn feed – it shows who’s doing what, who’s following whom, where they’re investing, who they’re mentoring and whether they’re hiring. You can also limit the feed by fundraising, updates, likes or comments. AngelList’s Notifications page, accessible with the lightning bolt icon, shows who’s followed you, and any private messages people have sent. Depending on your goals, I recommend signing into the site once or twice a week to begin, spending an hour at a time researching and connecting with people. Once you’ve gotten a decent number of follows and your profiles are completed, it’s easier to have an organic experience. Checking Notifications regularly and having them auto-emailed to you can be helpful if there are urgent requests from potential investors, partners, advisors, customers, anyone who might want to find you on Angel List.

Private Connections and Introductions

Most people on AngelList send private messages without introductions, but you can also go through an introduction process. Either way, it’s easy to reach out to others on the network as long as you follow the general rules of the road when engaging with prospective advisors and investors. Most pitches or introduction messages are short, sweet and to the point. Your Notifications page will likely include some messages from people wanting to solicit you that are not the right fit, but as with most social media sites, there’s no implicit expectation that you will always reply.

Also note: a lot of people are on AngelList as members, but not really active. If it’s incredibly important to get an introduction to one specific investor, don’t take a chance that s/he will be on Angel List and see your message. Find another way to get introduced as a backup plan. It’s always best to have personal introductions.

Getting Results

AngelList boasts some impressive success stories of people who have connected there, obtained funding, hired new staff, built advisory boards, and taken their companies to the next level. Participating in communications on behalf of your company can seem like just one more time sink pulling you away from the daily operations of your startup, but AngelList is becoming an outcropping of the existing startup ecosystem both in Silicon Valley and in other hubs of innovation. The key is to have realistic expectations. Don’t think you can come up with a business plan overnight, put up a profile and suddenly have $500,000 in the bank. AngelList is not a short cut to results; it’s representative of an industry and its subculture that already exist offline.

Has AngelList benefited your company?

Sarah Granger Headshot SmallAbout the blogger: Sarah Granger (@sarahgranger) is an award-winning digital media innovator, serial entrepreneur, global startup advisor and blogger in Silicon Valley. She has written for SFGate, Harvard Business Review, Forbes Russia, and The Huffington Post.

Photo credit: Elisabeth D’Orcy via Flickr.