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Start-ups must remember that the ‘customer is still king’ to succeed.

Precious time and company freedom is being wasted by start-ups who only set their sights on venture capital for funding.

By John Mullins . 02 September 2013

Precious time and company freedom is being wasted by start-ups who only set their sights on venture capital for funding.


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Today’s idea that a business idea plus venture capital equals instant riches might be misguided. While many start-ups overlook it, the customer is still king and in more ways than one.  Getting cash from customers to support a business is extremely helpful. It eliminates the need to spend precious time attracting investment dollars which are hard to come by these days and investors often want control in exchange for their financial support which doesn’t always align with the founders’ vision for the company or their customers’ interests.

In my latest edition of The New Business Road Test I identify five customer-funded business models. 


  1. Matchmaker models: Match making buyers and sellers. Fees or commission earned from customers provides cash to launch the business. (Airbnb, Dog Vacay).
  2. Pay-in-advance models: customers pay the supplier for at least part of the good or service before receiving anything (Via, Costco, Threadless).
  3. Subscription models: allow for a steady income with new customers turning profitable almost immediately (TutorVista, Yammer).
  4. Scarcity-based models: customers buy now and pay now, motivated by scarcity of good or service (Zara, Vente-privee, Gilt Groupe).
  5. Service-to-product models: developing and providing a service for individual customers from scratch which gives you raw material to develop products later (GoViral, MapmyIndia).

Customers are the key to a company’s success and by involving them from the start of an entrepreneurial venture it can help to work out the kinks and improve the business for future growth. In my analysis, the companies that had customer-funded businesses shared two attributes. They required little to no external capital to get started and having proven their concept to existing customers all of the businesses raised institutional capital eventually and on much better terms!

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