We made our investors our best source for customer feedback – TechCrunch

As my co-founders and I founded Equi, we both committed to putting 80% of our liquid net worth into the investment platform we were building.

That made sense because we originally built the product for ourselves. We knew what investment strategies would produce the best returns on our savings, but without $100 million in the bank and a family office to manage the funds, it was impossible to use those strategies.

We also quickly learned that the big banks and private wealth managers really didn’t have much when it came to great alternative investments. They all had the same big brand names, but they didn’t deliver the performance to back it up.

Our current target customers are “Accredited Investors” representing approximately 10% of US households. These investors also represented 100% of the institutional and angel investors we were in discussions with when we launched our seed round earlier this year.

Since our future business partners also fit into our demographic target group, we asked ourselves: what if we asked our investors to bet on our product as much as we are?

We were inspired by Vanguard, which pioneered the collective ownership model to reduce spending on its funds. They chose to raise money from their customers to be owned by their founders, employees and customers, rather than taking capital from passive investors.

Vanguard has successfully aligned incentives between its shareholders and customers, and we have chosen to do the same. Our “Customer Promise” is a commitment to invest personal capital on the platform now or within the next two years.

Our $10 million seed round ended with hundreds of investors at the cap table. Partners from funds such as Foundation Capital, Hustle Fund, Montage Ventures, F7 Ventures, Gaingels and Calm Ventures as well as over 100 angel investors have taken our customer promise.

While we could have closed the round with a fraction of that many investors, we chose to take smaller checks from a larger number of people to gather as much feedback and input as possible. We also reserved 25% of our fundraising for groups that are underrepresented in VC so that the contribution would be diverse and varied.

That paid off. Our shareholders showed unprecedented commitment. They went through the onboarding experience, they used our product dashboards, they received our marketing emails, and they interacted with our customer support.

Being technology leaders – and many having previously built or run their own successful businesses – their feedback was even more valuable than I expected. Not only can they identify and articulate problems clearly, but they can also use their expertise to proactively find solutions and solve problems.

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