Enso Connect: How a student software startup fund-raised during a pandemic

The U of T entrepreneurial ecosystem helped provide the tools that allowed Enso Connect to successfully attract investors to their short-term rental industry software startup.

Almost a year since the Enso Connect journey started, in the midst of a global pandemic, we’ve managed to close our pre-seed funding round backed by the Creator Fund in London and investors in Toronto and Vancouver. We are currently preparing to onboard over 40,000 licenses to our initial customers in the coming weeks.

I thought I would take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far and share some insights on what it is like to raise funds in a global pandemic.

Enso Connect started off as a class project in U of T’s Department of Computer Science and Innovation Lab at the University of Toronto, under the supervision of Mario Grech and Helen Kontozopoulos. After graduating with a double major in computer science and cognitive science, I decided to pursue this class project as my full-time job in parallel with my graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. From class project, to prototype, to MVP, to product, this journey has been one interesting experience.

Enso Connect is a home-management software that leverages smart home devices and AI communication to provide a seamless experience to homeowners, property managers, and guests in the short-term rental industry. Our vision is to provide a hotel-like experience, all while maintaining the community feeling of a short-term rental.

As a travel- and proptech- (property technology) focused startup, the pandemic was a sudden shock to our plans—things had to change; we had to adapt quickly. Fundraising during this global pandemic has been challenging and unconventional: no more in person meetings, no more investor events, no more pitch competitions. Zoom calls only. Here are our top three takeaways:

Ask for advice over money

The best lesson I’ve learned throughout these uncertain times has been from our mentor Daniel Dubois, a former Airbnb market manager and current co-founder of Key, a startup that is acquiring a $2-billion pipeline of multi-residential projects. He says: “Ask an investor for money and you will get advice, ask an investor for advice, and you will get money.”

This particular counsel has resonated a lot with us at Enso Connect. Fundraising is not about sending out glorified pitched decks with overvalued sales targets, but rather about getting people fundamentally interested in the problem you are solving. While my goal as CEO is to steer the ship towards those financial targets, the goal of the venture is to solve a Real problem (real with a capital R…).

By being transparent about the issues you are currently facing, you get investors emotionally involved in the problem-solving mechanism that is your venture. This emotional involvement drives them to help you with both advice and financial resources.

Be transparent, be you

By being honest about the questions that still need to be answered, you show investors the real you. No one has a clear final solution, and they know that; you know the most about your industry, so show that. The uncertainty behind entrepreneurship is something that both investors and entrepreneurs are fully aware of and this needs to be shared—your ultimate goal is to solve this uncertainty.

If an investor is not willing to help you solve issues, then they are not an investor you want on your cap table. If an investor believes you should have all of your uncertainties solved already, then they are not an investor you want on your cap table.

Seek smart money over dumb money

This leads me to my final point, something that I was taught at the University of Toronto, and reminded of at the University of Cambridge: “money is everywhere, get smart money”. Smart money is not just financial value, but everything else that money can bring. As an example, one of our investors, the Creator Fund, has not only provided us with cash investment, but also helped us with our financial models, our operational directions and our marketing strategies.

If you would like to learn more about our venture, or my experience fundraising as a student during this global pandemic, please do not hesitate to reach out via ensoconnect.com.

Francois Gouelo
CEO & Co-Founder, Enso Connect