10 Moments of Hell in the Life of an Angel Investor

Dervil angel

A year-and-a-half ago, I started with some friends of mine an angel investment firm called Co-Creation Ventures , dedicated to helping food entrepreneurs, and my life has not been the same since. Here are the ten worst moments of the last year.

  1. The Malden River decides to flood our commissary kitchen, threatening the very existence of the business we’ve just started. We attempt to locate Moses, or alternatively a water pump and some rags.
  2. The Food Trucks Brotherhood in our kitchen is complaining that the Prepared Meals Union is hogging the prep tables and the ovens. We invite John Kerry to come mediate in Malden.
  3. One of our food truck tenants receives great acclaim from the Boston media, but in the ensuing two weeks, the truck loses its chef, cracks its windshield, punctures a tire, and struggles to find a manager who can both cook and drive at the same time (OK, maybe not quite the same time). We place an ad in Monster.com for the usual mechanic- driver-chef-team-building-consultant.
  4. The company-owned catering truck beats all sales records for food trucks in Boston in its first two months, creating a combustible mix of exhaustion, panic and inefficiency. Back-of-the-house blames front-of-the-house for overselling, front-of-the-house blames back-of-the-house for not delivering. Everybody agrees that investors are ultimately to blame for all evils.
  5. We discover that some of the trucks we have painstakingly gotten out of the gray economy through advice and support are taking short cuts again. We seek a compassionate retired IRS agent to get them back on track.
  6. Some of our most successful food truck entrepreneurs, knowing they are close to graduation and ready to move into their own place, decide to trash the kitchen and block the street at loading time. We are summoned into the landlord’s office and read the riot act. We hire a former Stasi employee, multiply patrols and install cameras for our newly established Kommandantur.
  7. As a mission-driven, for-profit fund, our investors are a mix of soft-hearted humanists and tough-minded money managers. The mission investors would like for us to compost more and count jobs enabled by the commissary, while the profit-minded investors want us to explain why cleaning costs and repair interventions have increased in the last month. Our financial director becomes appropriately schizophrenic.
  8. One of our rookie food trucks is violating some food safety rules. We coach, coach and coach again. Things do not improve. We finally have to cut kitchen privileges, knowing this effectively shuts down their business. There are tears in the commissary. A few months before that, we have had to fire a wonderful service provider who does not have working papers. This is not what we had in mind when we got started. Searching for a tough love nurse that can teach us how to cope with business death.
  9. The same entrepreneur-tenant can go from effusively thankful to our staff one day for finding him a catering gig, a new street-vending location or a real estate partner for their next brick-and-mortar project, to treating us like the vilest slum lord the next day because the dishwasher is out-of-order or there is a lingering chicken smell in the walk-in. We all rapidly move from the “uninformed optimism” stage to the “informed pessimism” phase of the emotional cycle of change. Is “hopeful realism” around the corner?
  10. Some of our projects fail or morph into something different, requiring different people in our operation. Creative destruction is most painful when it leads to separating from staff members who were early companions in our adventure. It is a weak consolation for them to know they will be in our heart forever when they’re no longer on the payroll. Why does it have to be that way?

2 Responses to “10 Moments of Hell in the Life of an Angel Investor”

  1. Robert Babine says:

    Hi Francis
    My name is Bob Babine I operate a USDA commercial kitchen in South Boston
    I would very much like to get together with you some day if even to discuss stories
    Boy can I relate to this Ten moments in hell story. I was also in the food truck business
    for 25 years I owned trucks in Boston, Metro West and Worcester. My trucks did most of
    the Big Dig and major projects in the city. Right now I manufacture grab and go products for
    Supermarkets and Convenience Stores. I can relate as I have been running a commercial kitchen for over ten years and experienced a lot of what you have.
    Again enjoyed the story
    Bob Babine

  2. Francis Gouillart says:

    Hi Bob,

    I am delighted to meet you through this blog entry. I would indeed love to meet you. Sounds like we have been on parallel paths, and you’ve been at it much longer than I have. I will try to track you down and we can exchange war stories.

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