FOUNDER PROFILE: Jason Lotoski, Tonit

Jason Lotoski, and his company Tonit have been huge beneficiaries of the process behind the Valhalla Angels. Tonit, a motorcycle rider meetup and performance app, is the result of years of entrepreneurship and passion by Jason. The company and the app has flourished since early 2018, when Tonit and the Valhalla Angels first crossed paths and as Tonit began to take shape as both a business and a product. Although the Alpha took six weeks and the January 2017 projected launch took slightly longer to complete, Jason’s vision and application to meeting the deadline always kept the project moving steadily forward. As the finishing touches were put on the Tonit Alpha prototype, he was ready to pitch to the Valhalla Angels at the October 2017 Forum in Kelowna.

After the pitch, Jason received the feedback that they were too early in the process to receive their first round of funding. “This was really difficult to hear, but the fact is that it was also true. More importantly, I was extremely grateful for the thorough feedback that all of the Angels communicated to me, because it helped shape our future pitches,” says Jason. Once they had implemented the changes that had been discussed in Kelowna, he pitched to the Valhalla Angel’s Forums in Calgary and Edmonton in January 2018.

At the conclusion of these pitch opportunities, Tonit had raised $46,000 from Valhalla Angels. “This gave us credibility when we approached other investors and helped us raise another $114,000”, said Jason.

As a follow up, Jason has been able to give an update at each of the three Chapters on Tonit’s progress and status. Today, Tonit is bringing on 250 new users per day, with 3000+ active daily users. Their focus is on development over winter 2018, with extreme growth the objective for spring 2019. They recently received another $600,000 in funding, which is estimated to run them through until May.

His current success is the fruit of entrepreneurial labour that began at an early age. Ever since he was a kid, Jason Lotoski wanted to own and run his own business. Growing up in a household where both of his parents ran their own companies, it was clear from an early age that this entrepreneurship gene had been passed on to Jason. He started his first company when he was only 14, a glow stick retailing business that helped him earn money by selling them to concert-goers.

With his goal of being an entrepreneur still clear at the front of his mind, Jason went to Okanagan College, to pursue a degree in Civil Engineering. After graduating, he began work as a civil engineering technologist. His drive to be a business owner was not dampened as he worked dutifully as an employee for several engineering companies. One commonality between each of these jobs was Jason asking his bosses about the possibility of an ownership stake or equity in their company; he always wanted a stake in whatever he was involved in. However, the owners of these various companies didn’t want to give up a portion of their company to someone who had only been working with them for a short time period.

As the path to ownership through employment began to look less likely, Jason decided to return to Okanagan College to continue his studies. While working towards earning a Bachelor of Business Administration, specializing in Accounting, his aim at this point was to take over the family accounting business. During his time at Okanagan College, Jason began another personal project, one which would foreshadow the meteoric rise that his entrepreneur’s journey would take.

Sport Bike West is a motorcycle club that Jason began as a passion project. It began as a meetup group for motorcycle enthusiasts in Kelowna to ride together and talk shop, but as would be expected of someone with Jason’s entrepreneurial drive, it quickly blossomed in many other areas. They began attending big sport bike shows across Canada, even selling merchandise.

After beginning to collaborate with a friend of his father’s on the idea, it became increasingly clear to Jason that he had come across an untapped space in the market, which was much bigger than his current motorcycle club could fill. What they saw was the possibility of a larger scale platform for motorcycle enthusiasts to connect on, eventually settling on the idea of an app that could help riders meet other riders wherever they were located globally.

In order to gauge demand for a product like this, Jason conducted market research surveys, including among the current members of Sport Bike West, and used the 1000+ survey results to mock up and validate this concept as a real opportunity in the motorcycle market. With this reassurance in his back pocket, Jason began the process of developing an Alpha prototype of the app, which he was now branding as Tonit. Eight months were spent setting out the design for the app, before they moved on to the development stage.

This was where the first bump in the road occurred for Jason. After hiring a local web developer to help program the app, this investment turned out to be a failure, eventually losing $64,000 for the company. In the face of adversity, Jason’s enthusiasm and drive helped him through the setback. He decided to hire another developer, who is now Tonit’s CTO, to run the development team, with the goal of having a finished Alpha for January 2018, when he wanted to take his idea before the Valhalla Angels.

In his experiences with the Valhalla Angels, Jason has had the opportunity to become a more confident, savvy, and hardened pitchman. “The number of opportunities that Valhalla gives you to pitch is awesome, and the feedback that they give helps to build on each successive pitch, until all of the kinks are ironed out,” says Jason. An example of this is how Tonit fared after receiving feedback at one of the Edmonton forums that their valuation was a little too high. After adjusting it as had been advised, Jason’s pitch in Calgary was hugely successful, and gave him a more realistic view of the prospects for his company. “Whether it’s being introduced to interested angels, or interacting with Valhalla leadership, attending the Forums has given me an outlet to be social, learn from past entrepreneurs, and work with investors to put Tonit in the best position for success.”