Where ‘Lean In’ meets ‘Startup Nation’

The following article was originally published on Geektime online version 

Mor Assia and Shelly Hod-Moyal are among a handful of female VCs in Israel. Their mission? To make angel investing more accessible through crowdfunding

It’s a paradox. In most Western nations women have caught up with and surpassed men in most professions, including medicine and law.

But when it comes to the hi-tech sector, the story is different. The number of women studying computer science is low and declining, while the number of women startup founders is under 10 percent. And the share of senior venture capitalists who are women is around 4 percent.

Mor Assia and Shelly Hod-Moyal are two of just a handful of women venture capitalists in Israel. Both are impressive 30 somethings: Assia has an MBA from Columbia and Hod-Moyal was an investment banker with Goldman Sachs. They were also recently nominated for Geektime‘s Geek Awards‘ Top Israeli Female Investor in 2014.

But if there is something that distinguishes them from the hordes of other women who didn’t become VCs, it’s their willingness to “lean in” and work hard. Visiting them at their hip Tel Aviv shared workplace on tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard, the pinnacle of startup cool, one can feel the ambition through the glass windows, ironic vintage knick knacks, and multitude of Macs.

Sixteen-hour work days were the norm before having children, and even now, Hod-Moyal joked that they work “double time,” first from 8-4 and then in the evening after they put their children to sleep. Even though both are mothers to babies under five months old, they did not let this stop them from pursuing their professional dreams. As Assia explained to Geektime, “We could have had a great career but no family, or had a family but no career. I’m unable to let go of anything.”

They also grabbed an opportunity that until recently, others had overlooked: angel crowdfunding. A year ago, this pain point spawned the inspiration for iAngels, a fintech startup that serves as a crowdfunding platform for angel investments.

Crowdfunding for angels

Angel investing – providing early stage financing to startups – is one of the most exciting and rewarding types of investing, but it’s also an expensive and risky proposition. It’s the equivalent of war reporting for a journalist, or high stakes brain surgery for a doctor.

Assia recalled how as a young professional, she caught the bug and felt frustrated at the lack of ability for people like herself to invest. “There are so many amazing startups and as young professionals, we’ve never been able to take part in that kind of investment opportunity.”

iAngels lets investors participate in funding rounds for a minimum of $5,000, as well as evaluate and choose those investments themselves.

“Shelly and I identified the pain,” Assia told Geektime. “There are some exclusive opportunities that close really fast. It can happen really fast, behind closed doors, nobody can get in. They’re usually oversubscribed. These are people that went to school or the military with us, that we know from our network. We realized we could definitely become that bridge and that access point.”

The company works with about 20 angel investors including Yuval Tal in payments, Gigi Levy in gaming and mobile or Tal Barnoach in adtech.

“We cherry pick from a vetted pool of startups that have the top performing angels and funds investing in them,” Assia told Geektime. “They commit their own money and lead the round. We come in hand-in-hand with them.”

Who qualifies?

To qualify, you have to be what is known in the United States as an “accredited investor” or in Israel a “sophisticated investor.” These are criteria set by financial regulatory bodies to make sure that regular Joes and Janes don’t lose their life’s savings investing in a startup, 75 percent of which fail.

What is an accredited investor? In the United States it means you have to earn a minimum of $200,000 per year (or $300,000 together with your spouse) and have a net worth of at least $1,000,000, not including your primary residence.

By contrast, experts such as blogger Dorie Clark estimate that for traditional (not crowdfunded) angel investing, you need a minimum net worth of $5 million, but usually a lot more than that, and you also must be able to “comfortably” invest about $500,000.

With iAngels, it’s enough to be an accredited investor to gain access to the Startup Nation.

“There’s a whole world out there of people who want to get more involved but don’t know how to do it,” Assia told Geektime. “They don’t have anyone here to really be their partner on the ground.”

Hod-Moyal explains that while the minimum investment is $5,000 for a single startup, the average investment is about $20,000, allowing the investors to diversify their portfolio. Their largest investment so far has been $200,000. iAngels takes a 5% commission on each investment to cover legal feels and monitor it for the next 7-9 years. If there is an exit, they collect 15% of the profits, after investors have recouped their investment.

The seed of an idea

The two co-founders met in 2008 in New York City when they were in their mid-20s. Assia was a mathematician and computer scientist obtaining her MBA at Columbia while Hod-Moyal was an analyst at a major New York hedge fund.

When Assia introduced herself at a networking event, Hod-Moyal immediately thought, “I want to be her friend.”

“She was sweet and had this technological background with a lot experience, and she’s also a ballerina.”

Both women eventually returned to Israel, where they are highly plugged in to the startup community.

“These are people that went to school with us or the military with us,” Assia explains. “We know them from our network.”

Assia grew up in Herzliya and served in the army’s elite 8200 intelligence unit, which is known as an incubator for startup entrepreneurs. It was in the army that she met her now-husband Yoni Assia, the founder and CEO of eToro, a social network for financial investment. Her father-in-law, David Assia, founded Magic Software Enterprises in 1983, a company whose current revenue is $145 million a year.

Hod-Moyal is also married to a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Her husband, Kfir Moyal, is a co-founder and general partner of Cyhawk Ventures as well as a co-founder of Matomy Media Group Inc., which was most recently valued at more than $300 million.

Not everyone has a network like this, but Assia and Hod-Moyal recognized its potential to facilitate such an investment business.

“If a startup approaches us, we do a 360,” Hod Moyal told Geektime. “We call the entire industry and ask their opinions, for instance, why certain angels decided not to invest.”

Once they are satisfied, they bring the startup to their advisory board, and then offer it to their investor community. They’ll offer the startup to their investor community by sending an email and scheduling a webinar with the CEO.

‘There are also elements of education to our job,” said Assia. “Investors learn how to create a portfolio, how to invest responsibly and intelligently, how to ask the right questions.”

So far iAngels have raised $5.5 million, including for their own company, from about 500 investors.

Balancing motherhood and starting a VC firm

As we mentioned earlier, both Assia and Hod-Moyal are the mothers of newborns. Assia has a 4-year-old, 2-year-old and a 5-month-old, while Hod-Moyal has a 2-year-old and a one-month-old.

“It’s part of who Shelly and I are,” says Assia, “we are very driven career women who are doing everything in parallel, motherhood and business.”

Like Sheryl Sandberg, who has been accused of being privileged, it’s a lot easier to “lean in” to your career when you have millionaire husbands and no shortage of help at home. But Assia and Hod-Moyal are doing their best to balance work and life.

“One of the problems with the corporate world is it doesn’t know how to take advantage of women who have the ability to be in management,” Hod-Moyal said.  “Because they don’t make it possible for them. They make all the meetings at 7 p.m.”

Hod-Moyal compares a career to a GMAT test.  “The first couple of questions are the really important ones that determine where you end up. You want to get the first 10 right. When you’re 29, 31, 32, it’s still too early to stop that elevator.”

But Assia and Hod-Moyal are optimistic for women in engineering and finance.

“We have noticed that there have been more and more women entrepreneurs. We hope they’re encouraged to continue to grow and advance.”