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Joseph D’Souza, CEO and Founder of ProNavigator, provides expert advice on the importance of putting customers first, and early stage investors second

As part of our investment fund launch, Velocity continues to share insights from founders on their capital raising journey.

Velocity Founders Fundraising Series (Part 2): Joseph D’Souza

Joseph D’Souza, CEO and Founder of ProNavigator, is a passionate business builder with over a decade of experience founding and growing companies; he sold his first company, LifeSong Events, at only 28 years old.

Four years after immigrating to Canada, he founded ProNavigator – a tailored digital assistant powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that allows insurance companies and brokerages to interact with their customers in real-time.

In 2017, D’Souza and his team joined the Velocity Garage in order to grow and scale ProNavigator into what it is today – an expanding company that has raised $2 million in equity funding.

D’Souza discussed what he learned during his seed funding journey and shared his advice with other startup founders who are beginning the same process.

Build AI that people want to buy

“If you don’t have a product someone is willing to pull out their wallet and pay for, then you don’t have a business. Fundraising is just one small part of the company’s success and ability to continue onto the next stage,” says Joseph D’Souza, Founder and CEO of ProNavigator.

D’Souza doesn’t look forward to the fundraising process, as it can be a grind and take an emotional toll. He prefers to be in front of a customer or talking to clients rather than sitting in a board meeting. He takes a lot of pride in caring about his customers and believes “…if you don’t have a product someone is willing to pull out their wallet and pay for, then you don’t have a business. Fundraising is just one small part of the company’s success and ability to continue onto the next stage.”

D’Souza’s investors have appreciated that he would rather be meeting with a client or doing something that can drive the company forward.

Ask investors to take a chance

Sometimes the most difficult sell isn’t to a customer, but rather to an investor. Since there can be a risk-averse mentality among many Canadian investors, D’Souza found that raising capital during the seed round was a challenging part of his startup journey. “The seed round is difficult because you don’t have the historical data, you probably don’t have product-market fit just yet or a lot of it in terms of traction,” says D’Souza, “As a result, investors are putting their money on the founder, the CEO, and the team to execute and take the business from seed round all the way to the next funding stage.”

Having a background in sales proved to be beneficial when speaking with investors. “As the founder and CEO, I was the one going out and selling and being the guy that needed to drive the business forward,” states D’Souza. At each meeting, he made sure he presented the company’s progress and sales growth. Investors are impressed when early stage companies can properly execute their mission/vision and continually move forward.

Save the best for last

It might seem counterintuitive, but D’Souza suggests starting the fundraising process by first pitching to investors that are not particularly interested in the business or product. He recommends that founders not go straight to their number one, or even top five, venture capitalists that they want as partners. Instead, they should practice ‘pitches’ in front of investors who they may not know, or may not be a fit, in order to gain confidence in themselves and their presentation. This will also help them to learn what questions will come their way.

Practice makes perfect, but D’Souza also recommends researching ahead of a big fundraising round. Founders should get familiar with terms and/or find key people, such as champions, that are willing to help mentor and support them throughout the process. Champions can help founders close a round and influence other key leaders to get excited and involved. In his experience, D’Souza has found that having well versed legal counsel to navigate the terms as well as best practices to follow in the industry extremely helpful. 

Next steps for ProNavigator

Being a founder is rewarding and exciting, but also a lot of hard work. D’Souza is embracing the reality of it all. He has big plans for ProNavigator to continue to expand into the United States. 

“We have a fairly big vision with a fairly large market,” says D’Souza, “but when you want to build a big company, especially in the early stages, it’s scorched earth. You have to eat rice and beans and get that company up and running. We’ve got a long way to go and we are just getting started.”

Resources D’Souza Recommends:

Jason Lempkin from SaaStr

LaBarge Weinstein

AVC Blog

Mark Suster