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Nisa Amoils has a background in law, entertainment, and beauty tech. Nisa is an advisor on four boards and discusses the importance of entrepreneurs utilizing their advisory board’s expertise, on today’s show. She started investing when she went through the 37 Angels boot camp and, through her unique experiences in law, has a ton of helpful advice and pitch secrets to share with our listeners.
NY Angel Pitch Secrets – Interview with Nisa Amoils
Hi. Welcome to The Successful Pitch Podcast. Today’s guest is Nisa Amoils who is in New York City. Nisa has an amazing background from being a lawyer to working for NBC and Time Warner to now being at the heart of all things Angel investing in New York. Nisa, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
It’s a pleasure. I always like to ask my guests about their background and the journey they took to becoming an investor. Can you take me back to your decision to become a corporate attorney? Did you have anywhere at the back of your mind that, “Someday, I’m going to be an investor,” or was your plan just to work in law forever?
My plan was definitely not to work in law forever. I did not have a plan to become an investor, it just happened along the way. I had gone to business school before law school, so I always knew that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. The reason that I went to law school was I was graduating from business school, it was a recession and I thought, “This is a helpful degree. If I could get into a good enough school, I’ll go and I’ll take it. I can always use it somehow in business.” That was the plan.
Basically, I practiced law for a couple of years and knew that it wasn’t for me in the long term. It was really valuable because it really teaches you how to think and how not to get ripped off by other lawyers. I actually use it a lot when I’m doing either investing or I help startups with some of their legal questions or sometimes I can even draft documents if it’s an area that I know about or I’ll work with their outside counsel for some of the companies where I’m on the advisory board. It actually is really helpful, I find.
I’m sure. What were some of your favorite projects you got to work on, either at NBC or Time Warner?
Actually, I would say at Time Warner, I was designated as the movie and television person. It was a corporate group that was set up to serve all the different divisions. It was right at the time when Lord of the Rings was coming out. That was great because I got to work on those movies and I was able to do big partnerships around them, promoting them and product placements with them. There were so many great movies. Devil Wears Prada was another one coming out at the time. I really had a lot of fun when I was working in the entertainment industry, being able to do those kinds of partnerships.
I was at Condé Nast when Devil Wears Prada came out, which is, for those who don’t know, all about Anna Wintour as the editor-in-chief of Vogue. Gosh, there was a ton of product placements in that movie. It was just ripe for fashion and beauty and all kinds of things.
In fact, there’s a funny story about that movie because we were working very closely with Mercedes-Benz at the time and they put a car in the movie that was … They had to cut it in half in order to film Meryl Streep playing Anna Wintour. That was something. They never cut cars in half but for that particular scene, they had to do it.
Wow, that’s fascinating. That’s a pivotal scene in the movie when she’s thinking about what’s going to be in her next move. What a fascinating background to have. One of the keys that I talk about all the time on The Successful Pitch is helping founders with their pitch and making it a story. You just gave us a great example of storytelling at its best. You took us back, you created a scene, you cut the car in half, you took something that could be very dry, like law, and made it very interesting. Thank you for that wonderful story and example.
We’re sort of glossing over. First of all, it’s very difficult to get a job at those studios. Entertainment law is very challenging. My sister’s a lawyer, that’s why I know, and I have a friend that works in law at Fox. What did you do to get your foot in the door? Because I’m thinking that there might be a story there that founders could be inspired by, much like how they have to get their foot in the door with investors. Was it some tenacity involved? Was it some connections? How did you get into getting to become an entertainment lawyer?
I actually started out as a corporate lawyer. I was doing mergers and acquisitions, contracts, all types of corporate law, working with SEC filings. I knew that I wanted to leave a law firm so I was just looking around and I saw this job posting. It was for an entertainment company. I thought, “Oh,” and it was USA Networks at the time, which was subsequently acquired by NBCUniversal, which is now spun out into IAC. It’s got a bunch of iterations. Basically, I just thought, “This is interesting and I like movies. Why don’t I go into this?” I wasn’t really an entertainment lawyer. I was using my business background more at that point. Just doing deals and it was Internet 1.0 and it was Barry Diller and he was acquiring a lot of different internet assets at the time. That’s how that happened.
Wow, I love that. I know what it’s like to work for Barry Diller. I helped launch The Daily Beast when Tina Brown was the editor-in-chief there.
Oh, yes. Of course. That’s great.
All right, then you make the decision to leave all that, entertainment law and all that, and go and become an investor. What made that decision?
There was actually one step in between. I’ve always been based in New York and I knew that I wasn’t going to move to LA for family reasons. I decided that I should put entertainment behind me. I had always wanted to do something entrepreneurial, so I ended up partnering with somebody on the launch of a skincare company. I did that for concept through to launch and that got me involved in the whole beauty industry. It was great because I was investing and I was able to learn a whole new industry and I was able to be even more operational than I had been in the past. That was a great experience. I decided, at the same time, that I wanted to start investing in other businesses. My time wasn’t scalable, so I knew that I had to be able to just either be on advisory board or invest in other people and that’s when I started to do it on my own. That led me into a bootcamp called 37 Angels.
I know it well.
Which is a network of women investors in New York led by a fantastic woman, Angela Lee, who you know. We, after going through the bootcamp, just started investing in startups and started really seeing more and more technology startups. That’s how I got involved. Then I subsequently joined New York Angels, which is a long established group and sees a lot of different varieties of companies, but a lot of technologies. That’s what I’ve been doing since.
How exciting. Let me just give the listeners a little background on New York Angels. They’ve invested over $45 million in entrepreneurial ventures. They have over 75 accredited Angel investors and they typically invest anywhere from 100 thousand to a million in seed in early stage companies and syndicate deals with Angel group partners and VCs up to 2 million. That is an amazing, powerful group to be part of. I’m sure they don’t just let anybody in to become part of that group like you are?
They don’t. They have an admissions committee and a process. There are 120 members now.
It even grew. Wow. Your background from M&A, because ultimately most founders, especially for Angel investors, the goal is, “How can I have an exit strategy in three to five years?” The M&A background that you bring from your legal days to actually running a skincare company and knowing the operational to being part of 37 Angels makes you the ideal candidate, I would imagine for New York Angels, yes?
They took me. That was good.
You’ve obviously heard quite a few pitches over the years. What do you think makes a good pitch?
I think there is the usual checklist that you need to go through in your pitch deck and your pitch, which is your team, your market size, your product, your go-to market strategy, your financials, your investors, existing investors, or how you plan to use the money, how much you’re raising, your terms, and exit. That is your basic high-level structure to it. I think what separates people is really how they present and how concise they are in getting that message across and how authentic and passionate the entrepreneur is. That’s what I look for when I’m hearing pitches.
That’s so helpful. Concise, authentic and passionate. Those are three key elements, we’re going to tweet that out, to making a successful pitch. Do you have an example that you can share with us of a pitch you heard and you said, “Oh my God, what a passionate story? It was easy to understand. I saw the solution they were offering.” Anything jump to mind?
There are so many. I’d have to really come back to that question and think about it. There’s so many.
Is there anyone that you’ve invested in that you’re excited about that you want to talk about?
There is one that I actually did in the fall. It’s called Refresh. Basically, it is going to be starting in New York. It’s a one-stop club for women to be able to go in and change and buy whatever they need to be able to go out or go to work from there. It’s a women’s only club concept. There are a lot of different partnerships around it and it’s started by this great entrepreneur. What’s amazing about it is that she just closed her seed round, but 70% of the investors are women, which is a great example of how we’re changing the ratio and how there are more and more women investors out there. We’re really excited to see what happens with this concept. There’s some really, just a great group of investors behind it.
I know in LA and New York, these Blowout Bars are hugely successful where women can go in and get a quick blowout of their hair before going out.
Absolutely. This will include those types of services as well.
It’s almost like when you are traveling first class and you fly from LA to London and you get to go to the Virgin First Class Lounge and they have a complete place to take a shower, get your haircut, get a massage before you get back on the plane to go to South Africa or something.
Exactly. Part of the plan is, in addition to retail, there’ll be airport locations as well.
Who doesn’t want to get refreshed after a long flight?
How exciting. That could be very scalable, but not from a tech standpoint, which is always interesting to hear, but more of a, “This could just start popping up like Starbucks,” basically.
Exactly, or like SoulCycle.
That’s certainly a hot trend. Was there anything that you remember in that pitch that made you say, “Ahh,” you saw yourself using it and you knew your friends would use it. Is there something along those lines that you really related to from your beauty background?
There was definitely an element of that. The entrepreneur was great. When I look at investments, I always think about “why now?” because if you look at, historically, what are the best investments, it’s really a confluence of market forces coming together to make this the right time to build this type of business. I actually was just looking at the trends in terms of what women are doing and how they’re really clamoring for a club of their own. I think this is really the time to be launching something like that.
We’re going to tweet that out. “Why now?” one of the most important questions. I’ve heard other people talk about the success of Uber and Airbnb is because the timing was so perfect. Before smartphones, nobody could use Uber, to the scale that it is. When I hear about what you’re talking about with Refresh is it’s more than just a place to go and get refreshed but it becomes a club. That transcends just the small problem of, “I need a place to freshen up.” If you start to create a community where, from city to city, and people start maybe even networking at these Refresh places, then you’re really onto something.
Exactly. That’s part of the plan.
Love it. It’s so important to keep in mind, have passion, be really concise, make it authentic, make sure that the investor can see and understand the problem and the solution, but then take it one step further and explain in your pitch why now, that this is the time that people would use this. Take it beyond just the obvious problem you’re solving into a more secondary benefit to joining Refresh so that people could go, “Ohh.” You’re not even so worried about competition coming into play if you are at the place that’s creating a sense of community. Would that be accurate?
Would you mind talking about when you hear pitches, what are you looking for when people come and talk about competition? I know one of the biggest mistakes new people can make is to say, “We don’t have any competition.” Let’s assume that you’re talking to a fairly sophisticated founder or somebody who’s at least gotten some training so they’re not making that mistake. What are you concerned about when you hear or see their competition slide?
I’m always asking how well-funded the competition is, the incumbents. It always comes down to even though they may have a slightly different attack on the market, they … It’s about execution. If one of the other companies is really much further along, that could be a real stumbling block. I’ve seen this happen over time where I invested in a company where I thought it was the greatest idea and nobody was attacking that segment of the market. It ended up that there was a much more well-funded competitor attacking a different segment of the market that ended up actually buying this company. They had raised a lot more money, they were much further along. Even though it wasn’t as great as what these people had done, they still won the game.
Interesting. That really speaks to, again, being Uber versus the competitor, Lyft. You want to be first to market whenever possible. Now, how important is it to you that the people you fund live within certain miles of New York? Do you only fund startups in the New York area?
No, I tend to also do a lot in Silicon Valley. It’s not necessary that they’d be in New York. It’s helpful if I am involved as an advisor. It’s definitely helpful because we’re on the same time zone. I could just go see them and go to meetings with them if necessary.
What percentage of the investments that you make do you end up being on the advisory board? You’re not just giving money, but you’re actually becoming part of the advisory board?
I don’t know the exact percentage. I’d say, right now, I am on four or five advisory boards.
You’ve probably invested in what? 50 or more companies?
Maybe a little bit less than that, but yeah.
Got it. People are lucky, A, to get you as an investor, and then, B, even really are luckier to get you on their advisory board. The numbers get smaller and smaller, don’t they? If one percent of pitches get funded, then out of those pitches that get funded an even smaller percent get to have you as an investor on their advisory board. Is that a key criteria when you’re looking to invest in someone? If they have a strong advisory board and the kinds of people they have?
Yes, definitely. Their extended team is very important. How they’re leveraging that advisory board is important. How much are they interacting, giving them information because there is this cycle of you give them more information, they tend to be more helpful. Then it’s a virtuous cycle from there. How strong the team is around, especially if it’s a first time entrepreneur, I think it’s really important.
Got it. Nisa, would you speak to the importance of a founder being coachable. You want someone who’s passionate and confident but not arrogant, right?
Exactly. That is a very fine line. Often you don’t know if somebody is really coachable until you’re already working with them. You just try when you’re in your due diligence process to figure that out based on are they willing to listen to suggestions from you? Are they willing to make changes to the things you don’t think are going the right way? It’s really your gut telling you if this person is coachable or not.
Nice. Finally, I want to ask you because of your M&A background, do you like to see someone that’s thought through the entire process and says, “In three to five years, we could possibly give you a three to five return on your investments because we’ve identified the following two or three companies that could possibly buy us.”
Yes, definitely. I think that’s always helpful for investors who want to know what the exit is. They may not be so happy if you’re saying, “I’m going to stick it out. I’m not going to sell. I’m just going to go IPO.” That might not happen. You want to see flexibility in terms of if they get a good enough offer, are they willing to take it?
Are there any things you could share with your M&A expertise of things that you could give advice on about what to look for, what to avoid?
Could you be more specific?
Sure. If someone says, “Okay, we’ve got someone who’s interested in buying us. How do we decide which M&A firm to use? What things should we avoid when someone’s going to buy us?” Anything along those lines.
I think you have to figure out what kind of an acquisition is it. Is it an acqui-hire? They’re buying you just to get you to sign up to be talent on their team? Is it they’re really valuing the business? Is it really strategic to what they’re doing? Is it going to survive in the long term in the acquirer? Is there a cultural fit? There’s all kinds of considerations in M&A that you need to look at to figure it out.
That culture fit is so important. I’m so glad you brought that up because if they have a completely different philosophy, you probably won’t be happy there. If they’re compatible then it’s a great fit. But you definitely need to look at that. The same thing is true with the investors you take on, there has to be a cultural fit with who they are and who you are so that you value the same type of things. This has been a fascinating episode where you really shared a wide range of expertise and experience with us about pitch secrets. Are there any books that you recommend people read, either about business, investing, or just life, in general?
Sure. There’s a great book called The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson, which you may have heard of, recently written. There’s also one that I love to recommend to entrepreneurs called The Startup Playbook, which basically goes through all the different founders who were very successful in how they got to where they are.
Of course, they’re not books, but I read a ton of newsletters. For investors, I would say there’s things like Mattermark and StrictlyVC and Ben Evans’ List and the Term Sheet by Dan Primack and TechCrunch and things like that.
Great. We’ll be sure to put all that in the show notes for people so that they can have easy access to both the books and the other things that you just mentioned. Nisa, what do you look for when someone wants to pitch to you? You want a warm introduction typically? What’s the best way for founders to get in front of you?
Generally, it is a warm introduction but I’m also on Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn. I pretty much answer every email that people send me. I try.
How nice. What is your Twitter?
It’s your last name, first name?
Okay, got it. That’s great to know. Is there any other piece of advice you want to leave the listeners with before I let you go?
I would just say I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs. I really encourage entrepreneurship. It’s a lot harder to be the entrepreneur than it is the investor. I’m definitely pro-entrepreneur. Keep at it.
That’s fantastic. You’ve been a great guest. Thanks for joining us today.
Thank you so much.
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