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Thorough Search May Turn Up Angel Investors Where You Least Expect Them

May 24, 2000|JUAN HOVEY

The entrepreneur goes up against big odds when searching for an angel investor. The key to overcoming those odds is to turn the craft of networking into an organized, day-by-day process--and to continue networking even when it seems likely to get you nowhere.

The payoff? If you network as well as the people behind a West Los Angeles "dot-com" start-up called RightPro Inc., you, too, may find your angel investors where you least expect them.

Ironically, the RightPro people found their angels by networking among those who depend on networking and yet consider it a bothersome chore--slow, cumbersome, inefficient, uncertain and frustrating. The RightPro team found them eager to help get RightPro off the ground.

RightPro (http://www.rightpro.com), founded in November and due to open its doors for business this summer, is an interactive Web-based database that will match people with the attorneys, accountants or even psychotherapists they need. It's a "new-economy" dating service, as it were, for clients and professionals.

Barak Lurie, a Stanford alumnus who holds a UCLA law degree and MBA, and Jerry Bregman, a Berkeley graduate and, like Lurie, the holder of UCLA law and MBA degrees, founded RightPro in Lurie's garage with a simple mission in mind.

They would create a database detailing the expertise, methods and even fees of a wide variety of professionals. To it they add a search engine that matches clients with the professional qualified to meet their needs.

Lurie and Bregman figured they needed $300,000 in seed money--a comfortable sum for the angel investors described in this space in recent weeks. To raise it, Lurie, Bregman and RightPro vice president of marketing and business development, Norbert Tan, devised a networking strategy so effective it took them only 60 days to raise $415,000.

What went into that strategy?

"We well understand the value of good contacts," Bregman says. "We tapped into our personal networks, contacting alumni friends from UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford and members of our professional associations, business associates and former clients."

They also approached the lawyers, accountants and other professionals in their target market and presented RightPro as the solution to their networking problem. As it turned out, these professionals were the first to open their wallets, many of them becoming angels for the first time.

"We asked them about their personal difficulties in finding the right lawyer, accountant or whoever," Bregman says. "And as professionals ourselves, we shared our own difficulty in finding not just business, but the right business.

"We even asked our own professionals--our lawyers, our accountants, even our bankers--point blank to help us make our vision reality by hooking us into their own networks. The key is not to be shy."

In all of this, the RightPro people did nothing ad hoc. They kept notes on their contacts and followed up with e-mail and telephone calls in a disciplined effort to keep RightPro in front of people likely to benefit from its success. Once they had their angel money in the bank, they hosted a reception to thank their backers and keep them abreast of progress.

"The people we contacted were busy professionals, and we wanted them to help us get other people into our network who could benefit from our idea," Bregman says. "We took time to make lists of our goals and share them with our potential angels. The e-mail and follow-up phone calls were also key.

"Networking was everything."

RightPro's angels opened their wallets because they believed in the company's potential to make a difference in their own professional lives, Bregman says. Old-fashioned networking was the key to showing them that it would.

"Investors buy jockeys, not horses," Bregman says. "We sought out those who truly understand the pain of networking. We knew our market and we did the homework and put in the overtime. The money followed."

*

Next: What makes an angel investor tick?

Juan Hovey can be reached at (805) 492-7909 or at jhovey@gte.net.

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