Investing - 0 to 100 Million: How to Get Invited to the Table, or Build Your Own
February 28, 2024
Ashley Flukes and Nneka Ukpai are making waves, moving needles, and shifting narratives by leveraging the power of community and collective investment.

Ashley Flukes brings a track record of over 250 start-up investments. She founded Flucas Ventures, a syndicate of ~4,000 venture capital investors (and growing) that has deployed $100M+ since July 2020. Nneka Ukpai is the Head of Financial Innovation at public company Better, where she advises the tech unicorn on business and legal strategy, new financial technology products, and strategic investments.

"Because we have that relationship, and we were all forever students and willing to learn together, we were able to share resources, and sort of go on this journey together, where we were learning and putting our capital at risk together. "

There was a time a few years ago, when we had all this cash that we're sitting on in our accounts, and were askinghow can we leverage that? What can we do to make the money make more money for us? 

This opportunity came about where an acquaintance had a funding gap, and was under a tight timeframe, he didn't have enough time to get a small business loan. And his funding gap was about $300,000. We looked at each other. And we said we have some cash that we can we can deploy, and negotiated terms on getting the capital back. Long story short, he ended up returning the capital to us with 20% interest in just six months. And so on an annualized basis, that would have been 40%. That's actually quite huge. 

We looked at each other like, well, what's what's next? To Ashley's credit, she w really dove into learning about the space about the mechanics and fundamentals. But because we have that relationship, and we were all forever students and willing to learn together, we were able to share resources, and sort of go on this journey together, where we were learning and putting our capital at risk together. 

Then we started investing on AngelList. We have collectively invested in 300 startups. When you have a network of people who have the liquid capital to deploy,  to syndicate rounds, and help companies close out rounds very quickly, that becomes very important. 

 I will not beat a dead horse but we know that the majority of capital goes to founders who look the same. But, I think that when you more women and people of color, who are actually writing checks, and actually sending wires and deploying capital, the outcomes are better for everyone. 

Who do we angel invest with and in?

I want to disabuse anyone of the idea that you have to have a certain profile, or a certain look, or even a certain amount of money to be an angel investor. The fact is that you can be an angel investor, no matter what you do for a living, if you have disposable income. We see a lot of corporate executives, we see a lot of high net worth individuals, we see the term accredited investor thrown around. And a lot of times it looks like these are gating items. But really, it's all about your network, and about being able to access the deal flow.

It's important to get to know the founders when you're talking about early stage investing, because a lot of the proof points, traction points that VCs and other institutional investors look for do not exist at the earliest stage of investing. When you're trying to underwrite risk, you're trying to figure out whether or not this is the right founder. There are a number of traits and characteristics that are common to really successful founders. Among them: creativity, vision, hustle, grit, resilience. Being a founder is not easy. You have to be strong, you have to be mentally tough. You have to remain coachable, and humble and be able to take the advice of others who have done this before you and others who have domain and subject matter expertise. So you know, bravery, passion, resilience, boldness, these are all traits that I look for when I'm thinking about who to invest in. 

Find the patterns and the outliers. 

What can be an advantage of investing as a woman or a person of color is that a lot of venture is characterized by pattern matching, and going after founders that all look the same. To me, finding winners and outside investments is also about finding outliers as people and looking around the margins at different characteristics. And because I don't go into it with a mindset of it's going to be a white male who graduated from Stanford, who went to blah, blah, blah.  I look at an index around some of these things. I think it helps identify people who are outliers, which, to me increases the probability of an outlier type of income, which is, you know, what, what venture is all about? It's a home run style of investing.

"If you have fundamentals, and you have principles, and you don't deviate from that, you'll have a stronger portfolio, and a stronger chance of picking winners. "

Take a chance.

I challenge people to to get outside of their comfort zone. And one way that I've done that is through community.  I do not have, for example, a biotech background, but I have a significant exposure to it. Because through building community and building a network  I do have people in my network, who are who are who are expert at biotech and, who I can trust to help me look at something from a technical diligence standpoint. I have a number of investments in space. I have a company right now, that just signed a spec deal with us backed with Alex Rodriguez. That's in space tech called Link Global and they're a Starlink competitor. It's very much not in my wheelhouse in terms of my technical background and ability. But there were folks that I networked with who I trust. At the end of the day, , that there's still underlying themes to all my investments. So even if they might seem like they're in disparate categories, in some ways, I'm still screening them the same. 

And, work with a syndicate to reduce risk. Citrine. Golden seeds. Also shameless plug Lucas Ventures, as she mentioned, she does SPVs as one roll up vehicle. And so she's able to have minimum investment amounts of $1,000 or $2,500. And it is not cost prohibitive to get started when you go with a syndicate.

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