Angel Odds Versus Venture Fund Odds

When I first tried to raise a small fund back in 2006, I heard about venture fund odds on investments which was that for every 10 investments a fund made, about half would fail, 2-3 would return a little bit, and then there would be the 1 that would return everything that was lost on the failed startups and then some.
It seemed to make sense and also drove the original reason why I thought I should invest more often than not. If I put more bets out there, then theoretically I should have more chances to make my money back…right?
To date, I’ve made 16 investments and two exits. I invested more broadly than most angels, except for the super angels. But looking at the internet industry, the sad state of the economy, and the way early stage angel investing has progressed for me over the last 3 years, I have come to the conclusion that the one in ten odds for this biz doesn’t apply to us; for us angels, it’s more like one in 20, or 30, or even worse.
Why do I think this:
1. The economy sucks. Probability of exits is much much lower.
2. The economy sucks. Making money is harder. Paying consumers are harder to come by. Businesses are already slow in committing to pay for a service.
3. The internet is too crowded. Me-too products are all over the place, creating blur in consumers’ minds, and making it harder to attract customers.
4. The internet is too crowded. Truly unique products and services are super hard to find now, so gaining a competitive advantage is tougher.
5. Too many small business opportunities on the internet. The probability of starting a great small business is a lot more likely. But finding a suitor with a small business is tough because it may not generate enough revenue to be attractive enough to be acquired.
6. Angel investors typically invest in the earliest, most risky time for startups. Venture funds (except for the early stage funds) usually invest after the very earliest money in. Once startups get to a size that is attractive to a venture fund, a lot of risk is taken out already; we don’t have that luxury. We typically go in when there is just an idea, and maybe a prototype built, and occasionally a business up and running. We don’t know if the startup will fail in a few months or not; there is no history that we can look at. With that kind of risk profile for our typical investment, it would make sense that their would be more failures in our portfolio than for a venture fund portfolio.
7. Those that survive have a high probability of needing additional rounds of funding for growth. If we can follow on invest, that helps a lot. But most of us can’t do that. We may have enough capital to put one round of investment, but most likely can’t invest more money in a subsequent round. Thus, dilution will limit our investment unless we get lucky and find a startup that does not require further rounds. The more investment rounds after the initial round, the more we get diluted.
So all this means that it’s super hard to find that Google super-investment that makes back all that we lost and then some.
Ron Conway combats this by going super wide and doing more investments than we could ever hope to do. This increases the probability of finding a Google in his portfolio.
We could try to find more startups that are capital efficient, and that make money from beginning. Those that do not require a lot of cash to scale means they may not need another round. If they make money, then this also reduces the probability of needing more rounds of investment. Of course, companies like this are incredibly hard to find. Nor can we accurately predict what amount of money they will need later.
If we could follow on, this would help a lot. How about playing Lotto and winning a bucket of cash to play with?
Now, if more venture funds played in the early stage space, combining broad, early stage investment with follow on investments into the winners, this would seem to be a perfect combination. However, in thinking how many venture funds operate, it seems like there are problems with making this approach a success.
Any other possible solutions?