Lili Balfour: The Best Investment Is from Your Customers

By Lili Balfour, WSJ Blogs, 25-10-2013

'The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make during fundraising is taking too much money too soon and from the wrong people.' Lili Balfour, founder and CEO of Atelier Advisors

Seed Funding
I believe the best money you can raise is from your customers. With the increasing popularity of crowd funding, and the new legal changes, it has become easier for entrepreneurs to secure non-dilutive funds for their idea.
If crowdfunding is not a fit for your company, you can attempt to seed your company by solving a real problem for a paying customer. This strategy is also a non-dilutive event that allows you to avoid accepting the wrong investor(s) too soon. A paying customer also provides credibility to your idea and valuable feedback.

If neither of the options above work well with your funding strategy, you can always raise money through a convertible note. A convertible note will allow you to avoid placing a valuation on the company and issuing equity. It is still critical that you select the right investor(s) and negotiate the right amount, as note holders do have the right to convert into the next equity round.
Once you’ve successfully seeded your company, and have demonstrated growth, you are ready to look at Series A investors.
Series A
There are three things to consider when selecting Series A investors.
Board Seats – Most venture capital funds will require a board seat for the partner who leads the investment in your company. Naturally, you will not want to give away more than three board seats during your first institutional round, so you will need to structure this accordingly. Prioritize your list of investors, and select based on fit, not deal terms.
Expertise – As you bring on more investor, you bring on more opinions. Be certain that each investor you bring on is adding value. You don’t want to add an investor who is bringing capital only. Passive money seems like a good idea at the time, but those who do not have domain expertise are likely to become a liability when they decide they want to exercise their right to provide input into managing the company.

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