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Open Source Investing: Announcing the AirTree Explorer Program

Published on
September 11, 2020
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Angel investors are the lifeblood of a healthy startup ecosystem. They’re often the first port of call for new ideas, and they play a critical role in supporting founders.

But while most parts of the Australian tech ecosystem are growing in leaps and bounds, the seed and angel investment ecosystem is at risk of sliding backwards. Angel and seed-stage investing have dropped off a cliff in the last three years, and despite a few notable exceptions, the level of diversity amongst angel investors is still very low.

We’d love to help change this.

So today we’re announcing something new — the AirTree Explorer Program.

It’s a pilot program to help support the next generation of diverse technology investors in Australia and NZ, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. We want to work with you to find, fund and support great Aussie and Kiwi founders, and along the way give you real skin in the game and help you build an investment track record of your own.

We’ve been running the program in stealth mode for a few months now with a small group of people — but as we open it up to more and more future angels, we’ve decided to talk about it a little more publicly.

Why now?

We’re acutely aware that it’s bloody hard to become a tech investor. Existing Aussie VC funds are still small (at least compared to overseas), and while jobs do come up from time to time, there’s only ever going to be a small number of roles available. But if you want to go out and start a new fund, investors will usually want to see that you have some sort of investing track record. And that often means making investments with your own money. But let’s be honest — few people have the sort of cash lying around to invest in tech startups, especially early in their career. Once you’re done with rent, food and the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy, you either need to come from a pretty privileged background, or have had some real professional success (or luck).

And of course this means it’s pretty hard for a lot of people to even think about dipping their toes in the investing waters. We’re excited to see a shift in the types of people who can bring new ideas and understandings to the table though. And we know there are a whole bunch of people in Australia and NZ from very diverse backgrounds who would be great investors, if only they had the opportunity.

Who’s this program for?

We’re looking for people who are curious and hungry, who spend time with great founders and have a unique lens into the highs and lows of startup life. They might be a founder themselves. Or they might just be smart, curious people who are already in the ecosystem but want to start investing.

We believe these are the sorts of people that have a great chance at identifying and supporting the next generation of category-leading startups.

Does that sound like you? If so, we want to hear from you!! And we want to help you develop the skills to become a great investor.

The Explorer Program

We will initially pilot the program with 20 explorers from across NZ and Australia.

Here’s what it would involve:

  • Open source investor education program — We will host a series of private angel investing seminars and events for our Explorers. These will include fireside chats with some of Australia and NZ’s best angel investors such as Kylie Frazer, Suze Reynolds and Matt Allen and deep dive sessions focused on startup trends and markets, from Agtech to AI, from cybersecurity to fintech and everything in between. We want to help you answer questions like:

“How do I find great opportunities?”
“How do I evaluate markets?”
“What is the right valuation?
“Do the terms make sense?” and loads more.

  • Funding to invest — Many of our Explorers won’t have their own capital to invest, but we still want to help them build a track record of their own. So for any Explorer that introduces us to a company that we invest in, we’ll bring you in on the investment alongside AirTree by giving you a small cheque to invest. There are no weird complications — you become like any other shareholder on the cap table, and you maintain your own relationship with the founders. You can start to build your own track record — but without needing piles of your own cash to invest.
  • Open source IC meetings — From time to time we’ll invite members from our Explorer network to join our weekly investment committee (IC) meetings. The IC meeting is where a lot of the juicy stuff happens — it’s where we discuss new opportunities, markets and trends. For most VCs, what goes on in those meetings is usually a closely-guarded secret — but we’d rather open them up and invite our Explorers to come and play an active part. We all learn a tonne from each other in these meetings and would love to learn from our Explorers too. And if we wind up doing a deal together, we’ll invite you to take part in our full internal investment process including diligence, partner presentation etc.
  • Network — As part of the program you’ll get to meet the other Explorers, as well as the extended AirTree team and some of Australia and NZ’s best early-stage investors. It’s a great environment to learn from one another and share deal flow.

One more thing… our diversity pledge

As one of the biggest funds in the country, we feel it’s important to drive diversity on every level. This includes within our own team and the investments we make — both of which we continue to be very focused on. But it also includes the people we invest with.

That’s why alongside this pilot, we’re making an important pledge. For every investment we lead, we will bring at least one investor from an underrepresented group on to the cap table, provided the founder is ok with it. From now on, we will be adding this pledge to our term sheets for each investment that we lead. We’re also hoping that our Explorer program will help us build a deep bench of potential co-investors that we can bring into these rounds.

Our community is one of the things we love the most about the work we do, and we know that great ideas come from all kinds of places and from all kinds of people. If you’ve always wanted to know what goes on under the hood of angel investing, apply to be part of our Explorer Program and help shape the thriving startup ecosystem.

How to apply

If you’d like to get involved in the AirTree Explorer Program — apply here by 30 September.