By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
This is the fifth interview in our series on seed financing and angel investing. Our guest today is Randy Williams, founder and CEO of Keiretsu Forum, a growing angel network that currently has 850 investors in 19 chapters around the world. The forum has made 265 investments since its inception in 2000.
Irina: Hi Randy, please tell us a few words about your background and how you came up with the idea to start the Keiretsu Forum.
Randy: I was fortunate to be able to semi-retire from a real estate career in the 1990s. Some of the investment banks were losing some of my money, and I thought a better way to be an investor is to invoke what I call the Wisdom of Crowds (which is a book by James Surowiecki), and form intelligence to help me be a better investor.
So along the way, in the 1990s, I said that one way to help me and to shape me to be a smarter, more efficient investor in the marketplace is to have friends, colleagues, and members of an organization and for us all to help each other to be smarter, more efficient investors.
Through my retirement from the real estate industry, I wanted to diversify into a portfolio of diverse, early-stage opportunities, but the investment banks would make money irrespective of if I lost money. I said, there’s got to be a better way to create an organization such as Keiretsu Forum so that we can help each other and then not take anything if in fact an investor decides to invest. What that means is we’ve never taken commissions, and we never will. So, the way Keiretsu Forum works is that we help each other be smarter, more efficient investors, but we don’t take anything back when our members invest.
Irina: And you came up with this idea of an angel investment forum?
Randy: Yes, I started Keiretsu Forum because of my lack of discipline and expertise as a private equity investor. I was fortunate to have success in other arenas, primarily in real estate, and I wanted to diversify into pre-IPO opportunities or early-stage investing and I didn’t have, at that time, hundreds of people to help me be a better investor. Now we have 19 chapters around the world with 850 investors. And we help each other, as we have from day one.
Irina: Tell us about how the Kerietsu Forum is organized.
Randy: The forum is organized by having local leadership. So we have places around the world that hear about us and how we do things. They may reach out, and I might spend three to six months interviewing that person to be the local leader of Keiretsu Forum, and then what we do is memorialize a relationship where we create best practices. We have a roll-out manual that dictates how the model works locally and then nationally, domestically, and internationally. In fact, on this call with me right now is a gentleman, our new Singapore chapter president, who has memorialized that relationship in Singapore. And we’re expanding throughout Asia. We’ve already been in Beijing the past two and a half years, and we’re opening Shanghai as we speak. This man will be creating leadership to open up many more areas of Asia in the next couple of years.