By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
This is the third interview in our series on seed financing and angel investing. Today we are talking to Paul Olliver, cofounder and CEO of Wider Wake Networks, Inc. and Steve Stratz, Wider Wake spokesperson. Wider Wake is headquartered in New York City, its member network is global, its members think of themselves as a trans-Atlantic angel forum, and they invest predominantly in digital media advertising.
Irina: Hi, Paul. First, where did the name Wider Wake come from?
Paul: The name Wider Wake is a play on words. I’m a sailor and a wake is the waves that a boat leaves behind as it’s traveling through water, so if you’re leaving a wider wake, it means you’re getting bigger . . . the whole idea is that we [Wider Wake] come with a sense of influence and we can create a larger entity for a startup, so therefore, as the boat gets larger, it creates a wider wake.
Irina: Nice analogy. And where are you from with your charming accent?
Paul: I’m from England. Born in Birmingham, moved down to London in my early 20s, then I lived in Hong Kong for a couple years. But I’ve been in New York City for the past 12.
Irina: Now, could you help us to understand the structure of Wider Wake Networks?
Paul: There are five founding members to our angel group: me, Chris Young, Joe Apprendi, James Aitken, and Thomas Falk. We’re all successful entrepreneurs who built and sold businesses in the past, all within digital media advertising. Most of us got our initial windfalls in and around 2006. At the end of 2006 and through 2007, all five of us had been making our own angel investments because once you’re deemed in the market to be a winner – in other words, you have exited – you tend to find yourself e-mailed by a bunch of other entrepreneurs looking to raise money, looking for you to be on their boards, looking for cash for and influence on their businesses. So, at the end of 2006 and through 2007, we’d all made quite a few angel investments in a very ad hoc and informal manner. But in early 2008 we decided that we need to bring some efficiency to what we’re doing.
We liked the idea of angel investing, but we didn’t want to put together a fund; we wanted to keep things flexible. We were also approached by quite a few other high net worth investors looking for access to deal flow. So we thought the correct structure for what we’re trying to do is very much an angel network, and that’s very different from a VC fund in the sense that we don’t have a pool of cash that we need to spend, so we don’t have to get a deal done, but we’d still like to aggregate our investments in order to provide a significant amount of financial firepower.
The way it currently stands is that there are five founding members. Those founding members act as the quasi executive committee. We’re the ones who find the deals and put the deals together. Then, if we’re going to invest in the deal, we send it out to the rest of the group. It’s important to note that there is no commitment for them to coinvest with us. But it’s highly likely that they will. So, that’s kind of how it’s set up. The five of us, the founding members, we’re the sort of executive branch. Then, there are another 20 or so individual investors who come in with us when we go into deals together.
Irina: So, each of you invests individually, but you’re kind of a screening committee and you help others to validate the deals?
Paul: Yes [laughs]. You just summarized what I’ve said in about 10 words. That’s basically how it operates.
Irina: And you now have about 20 of angel investors in your network, in addition to the five founding members, right?
Irina: And is Wider Wake registered as a nonprofit, a for-profit entity, or something else?
Paul: Yeah, the entity itself is set up as a neo not-for-profit. Wider Wake itself is not an investment vehicle. It is just a forum in which people gather to make their own decisions on investments. So, the entity itself is actually set up as a not-for-profit. We do charge our members a membership fee because there are costs and bits and pieces relevant to actually running the organization. But it’s not designed, in and of itself, to make money. The money is made at the individual level when we invest individually and then hope to make capital gains out of the companies we fund.