All–Time Best Venture Capitalists & Angel Investors
Ranking of Top VCs and Angel Investors by ROI, Early Investment Success and Portfolio Performance
Searching for the best venture capitalists and angel investors? Venture capitalists don’t usually become widely known celebrities, although a few do achieve the status of celebrity. Others start out as celebrities and become known for their astute investing in various sectors. Ashton Kutcher comes to mind. Still others, such as Warren Buffett, are the stuff of legend for investment prowess and down home wisdom. Angel investors and venture capitalists come from all over and have fascinating and varied backgrounds. Here is a look at some of the all-time top venture capital investors.
1. Marc Andreessen
Marc Andreessen has one of the highest profiles among angel investors. Andreessen was one of the founders of Netscape Communications, which introduce the browser that made the Internet accessible to regular people who were not technologists. Netscape Navigator, the browser originally called Mosaic, eventually lost its dominant market position to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which Microsoft bundled free with Windows. As Navigator’s market share dwindled, the company sold it to AOL. Andreessen went on to found a software company, Opsware, which he later sold to Hewlett–Packard. He also founded LoudCloud, a Web hosting service and a company widely credited with starting the current trend toward cloud computing. Andreessen serves on the board of several companies. He is a founding partner in Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most prolific and widely respected Silicon Valley investment firms. Andreessen Horowitz counts Actifio, Airbnb, Asana, Box, Bump, Coho Data, Digital Ocean, Facebook, Fusion IO, Groupon, Jawbone, Oculus, Pindrop, Pinterest, Platfora, Rockmelt, Shapeways, Skype and a host of other prominent technology firms.
Andreessen was born in Iowa in 1971, but he spent his childhood in Wisconsin. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he received a B.S. in Computer Science.
As far as investing philosophy, Andreessen focuses on the people with whom he invests. He has been quoted as saying he looks for the “magic team” – a group with the drive and business sense to make a go of an endeavor. He also concentrates on a firm’s burn rate, and he has been known to slam “spendthrift” entrepreneurs who spend wildly on non–essentials. He predicts that these startups will “vaporize” quickly.
2. Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel is the cofounder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, so he knows his way around technology. Born in 1967 in Frankfurt, Germany, he was raised in California. Thiel attended Stanford University and Stanford Law School. His current net worth is over $2.2 billion. He is president of Clarium Capital and a managing partner in Founders Fund. He founded Thiel Capital Management in 1996, before starting PayPal. In 2012, he opened Mithril Capital Management.
He has received numerous awards and accolades, including a TechCrunch Crunchie Award as venture Capitalist of the Year in 2013. Thiel has special interests in technology, including machine intelligence, anti–aging research and seasteading.
His investment philosophy is to invest in smart people who solve difficult problems. His portfolio has included Airbnb, Facebook, Palantir, Spacex, Spotify, Stencenrx, Stripe and ZocDoc.
Recently Thiel’s interests have turned strongly to biotechnology and he joined Y Combinator, a startup incubator. He has invested in Cambrian, Emerald Therapeutics and Stem CentRX through Founders Fund.
His investment philosophy is that it’s better to have a dominant share in a small market than a small share of a large market. He also enjoys investing in contrarian concepts and hard tech startups. He does not currently invest in social media, websites or IT. He invests based on the people involved, and he believes in the creation of actual value as a basis for investing.
Perhaps the most telling anecdote about Thiel is that he handed unknown and unproven Mark Zuckerberg $500,000 to fund Facebook because he believed in Zuckerberg. He also runs a “20 under 20” project to encourage promising young people to start a company.
3. Fred Wilson
Fred Wilson is a managing partner at Union Square Ventures. The fund has holdings in Disqus, Canvas, HeyZap, Zynga and Twitter, among others, and he is on the board of Etsy.
Wilson was born in New York City in 1961. He was educated at MIT and the Wharton School. He got his investing start by founding Flatiron Partners, which specialized in follow on investments. In 2004, he started Union Square Investors. While he’s not against investing in technology or social media, his criteria include both a large network and engaged users. He also checks out a company’s social media presence before committing.
4. Ross Blankenship ("The Startup Expert")
Ross Blankenship has been a successful entrepreneur and founder of several online companies. In addition, Ross Blankenship has invested in startups around the world.
Ross Blankenship's background includes graduating from Cornell University (B.A.) and the Washington University School of Law (J.D.).
5. Naval Ravikant
Naval Ravikant is the founder of AngelList, a social media site whose mission is to connect startups with investors and investors with each other. The site makes money by taking a carry on all profits from the syndicate. He is the managing partner at Hit Forge and a well-known investor. He is interested in crypto currencies such as Bitcoin and he heads his personal website with a quote from author Neal Stephenson’s book, “Snow Crash.” Stephenson is the author of numerous books on cryptography and finance, including “The Cryptonomicon.”
Ravikant is the coauthor of “Venture Hacks” and a founder of Genoa Corp, Epinions.com and Vast.com. He advises many startups, including Bix.com, iPivot and XFire. His investments include Twitter, FourSquare, Docverse, Mixer labs, Jambbol, SnapLogic, PlanCast, Stack Overflow, Heyzap and Disqus.
Ravikant spent a great deal of time lobbying legislators to pass the JOBS Act, which enables ordinary people to invest in startups. He organized an e–petition to show support, and has been vocal about helping to open up the tight clique of angel investing and allowing entry to new blood.
Born in India, his family moved to America when he was nine. He lived in New York City. He later attended Dartmouth. He moved to Silicon Valley during the first wave of dotcom fever, and worked at @HomeNetwork, Intrinsic and eventually he founded Epinions.
6. Chris Sacca
Chris Sacca is the founding and managing director of Lowercase Capital. His top angel investments range from Heroku, Facebook, Twitter, Kickstarter, Optimizely, Twilio and Uber. He also has a phenomenal reputation as being an advisor and mentor for many startups across the country.
Chris graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, and worked at Speedera Networks and Google, before getting into major angel investments.
Any list that includes top VC and angel investors has to include Chris Sacca.
7. Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss was born in 1977 in East Hampton, New York. He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in East Asian Studies and is the author of several books, including “The Four Hour Workweek”, “The Four Hour Body”, The “Four Hour Chef”, and “Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich” which was on the New York Times Bestseller list.
His first company was BrainQuicken, which he founded in 2001 to sell nutritional supplements online. He sold it in 2010. He starred in two television series, Trial By Fire and The Tim Ferriss Experiment. In 2013, he began an audiobook publishing venture, Tim Ferriss Publishing.
Ferriss has been an advisor to Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Evernote and Uber. He has been an angel investor to such firms as Posterous, DailyBurn, Shopify, Reputation Defender, StumbleUpon, Trippy, Badongo, Foodzie, RescueTime, TaskRabbit, Uber and SimpleGeo. He worked with Shyp on AngelList. His current investments include Soma, Exo Protein Bars, SkyKick, grove labs, WealthFront, Expa, FOBO, Shyp, Zendrive, Sano, Blackjet, Cozy, Artillery, Duolingo, Milk, Unsubscribe.com, Vittana, SimpleGeo and DailyBurn.
Ferriss’ influence is widely felt. A blog post can send a book to the top of a bestseller list and his AngelList work with Shyp raised $250,000 in under an hour. As much a media star as he is angel investor, Tim Ferriss was named the seventh most powerful online personality. Inc. Magazine named his blog one of the, “19 Blogs You Should Bookmark Right Now.” New Yorker magazine called him “this generation’s self–help guru” and compared him to Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill.
8. Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher is a television star and an astute angel investor. He has invested in such success stories as Skype, Foursquare, Airbnb, and Path. Association with Kutcher gives a boost to companies because of his huge fan base from his acting career. He is also technically knowledgeable and works as a product engineer for Lenovo.
Born in 1978 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kutcher got into modeling and acting at an early age. He starred in That ‘70s Show and Two and a Half Men on television and in movies such as “Dude, Where’s my Car?” He was married to actress Demi Moore and is currently in a relationship with Mila Kunis, his 70s Show costar.
Kutcher is an avid social media user. He was the first person ever to garner more than 1 million followers on Twitter. His blog, A+ (a plus), has 50 million readers and recently raised $3.5 million. He also just started a new venture capital firm, Sound Ventures. Kutcher favors consumer technology and social media investments.
9. Marc Benioff
Marc Benioff was born in 1964 in San Francisco California. Benioff graduated from University of Southern California with a B.S. in Business Administration. He is currently believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion as a result of his ownership position in Salesforce.com and other investments. Benioff founded Salesforce.com in 1999.
He worked at Oracle Corporation in sales and marketing for thirteen years before leaving to found Salesforce. He was named one of the fifty smartest people in technology by Fortune magazine in 2010 and one of the Top 50 People in Business. In addition to his business interests, Benioff is a philanthropist who pioneered the 1/1/1 business model in which companies give back to the community. He has also donated hundreds of millions of dollars to UCSF Children’s Hospital. He was one of Barron’s Top 25 Most Effective Philanthropists in 2010. In February 2014, he started SF Gives to fight poverty in the San Francisco Bay area, kicking it off with a $4 million dollar deposit and raising more than $10 million from other companies. He won the “Best CEO” award at the Crunchies in February, 2015. His company, Salesforce, was named “World’s Most Admired Company” for two years in a row. It is ranked as number seven on the list of the World’s Best Places to Work.
Along with Mark Andreessen, Benioff is an investor in Leap, the hip San Francisco bus service. He is on the board of CloudWorks, Brigade and Cisco. His investments include Highfive for $32 million of Series B, MileIQ for $12.1 million Series A, Hampton Creek for $90 million Series C, Connect for $10.3 million Series A, Helium for $16 million Series A, MetaMind $8 million in the venture round, 12 labs $765,000 in the seed round and Breezeworks, $5 million in Series A. His special interests include mobile, social and cloud in technology along with health.
Marc Benioff’s startup investing strategy includes five simple steps.
Do what makes you happy.
Put your priorities over your ego.
Get out of the stream of business.
Pace yourself and look at the long term.
10. Jeff Clavier
Jeff Clavier is the managing partner and founder at SoftTech VC. Softtech has closed more than 150 investments since its founding in 2004. Jeff has invested in such success stories as Mint, Kongrgate, Brightroll, Milo, Wilfire, Bleacher Report, Fitbit, EventBrite, Sendgrid, Poshmark, Hired, Postmates and Vungle. His exits have included acquisitions by Intuit, GameStop, eBay, Google, Groupon, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and AOL.
Clavier was born in France. After completing his education there, he joined a financial services startup, which was later acquired by Reuters. He moved to Silicon Valley in 2000.
Jeff is in demand as a speaker at conferences and events, as well as a frequent blogger.
And Honorable Mention: Warren Buffett – the original angel investor
While not considered primarily an angel investor he is considered the, “best living investor.” Buffett has investments in virtually every sector. He invests in startups as well as established companies. He prefers to invest in businesses with strong brands and simple business models. He is sometimes called the “Oracle of Omaha” because of his uncanny ability to predict the market. His personal net worth is more than $70 billion, making him the third richest person in the world.
Buffett lives in Omaha Nebraska and was born there in 1930. He was educated at Columbia Business School and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Warren Buffett prefers to invest in existing businesses that meet his criteria. He likes businesses with sustainable business models, and he likes the “razor and the razor blade” business model because of its potential for recurring revenue.
Although Warren Buffett invests primarily in existing companies, Buffett’s best advice for evaluating investments in startups follows:
Invest in a great team.
Invest in what you know.
Invest in companies with recurring revenue.
These investors have known amazing successes as well as a few failures. Each has a specific philosophy for deciding where to invest their money. Many of them speak about investing in the people, knowing that the right team will find a way to reach their goals. Nearly all express disdain for sloppy management and freewheeling spending. They look for the team at the startups they invest in to be able to execute against a plan, and all have expressed believe in having the right product for the market is important.
The most defining characteristic of the top angel investors is that they know how to:
1. Assess people and a founder’s potential for success.
2. Take calculated, early risk after doing their research.
3. Believe in companies with a greater mission.
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All-Star, Honorable Mentions for Top Startup Investors (Portfolio-Based):
David Cohen (TechStars)
Scott and Cyan Banister
Paul Buchheit (Y Combinator)
David Lee (SV Angel)
Dave McClure (500 Startups)
Jeremie Berrebi (Kima Ventures)
Joshua Schachter(Former CEO Tasty Labs)
Garry Tan (Y Combinator)
David Tisch (BoxGroup)
Christine Tsai (500 Startups)
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