Faces of Entrepreneurship: Chelsey Roney, Proxi

Cofounder Chelsey Roney brings her business-building and strategy experience to Proxi, where she serves as COO and leads a team of five, growing the business through sales and marketing. Proxi is a free, no-code tool for making custom, interactive maps. After graduating from Texas A&M, Chelsey joined Boeing where she worked in financial planning and analysis and Microsoft where she worked in a demand center that focused on B2B omnichannel marketing. She grew and sold two businesses: a SaaS business in the University space, and a local services business. Chelsey is also an active member of her community, dedicated parent, and passionate supporter of women and business.

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Chelsey Roney: Entrepreneurship is like a jigsaw puzzle. Entrepreneurs sort through the pieces of their business to determine which one to place next. In puzzles, some pieces are easy to place and others are difficult. Some pieces give you more clues than others about what to place next. The process of building a business is similar. There are times when knowing what comes next is simple, and others when you’ll be up all night agonizing over the right choice. The business is likely to succeed when the go-to-market plan is repeatable and scalable. This is like when you finally put together a certain mass of puzzle pieces and the rest of the puzzle goes smoothly. As a ‘business puzzler’, I see every day as a new piece to be placed towards the completion of the whole.

Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
CR: During my senior year in college, I founded a company called Select-A-Sis. The company sold a software solution for sorority recruitment. Before our app was launched, sororities selected new members manually through paper and Excel documents. Our app allowed chapter members to manage the member selection process from any internet-connected device. Select-A-Sis developed features for our key customers for 7-8 years. Before we sold to a private equity firm, we worked with more than half of the sorority chapters in the country. Finding product market fit was my favorite part of this venture. Your customers become your evangelists when you find product market fit.

What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
CR: Proxi launched in October 2020 during the first pandemic Halloween. One of my cofounders saw a Facebook post that asked homes to add their addresses to a list if they participated in distance candy delivery. Her previous work involved building geospatial tools for US intelligence agencies, and she knew the list of places should be on a map so that people can determine their proximity to each. Her solution was to cobble together a variety of technologies so that homes could be added to a digital map. The map had over 2500 homes and 500k views, then was featured on GMA! I have known her for over a decade, and she knew I had prior business experience (by this time I had sold a company and was building my next). We partnered together to create the foundation for our current mapping technology, Proxi. Our team is now funded and we have several members, so we’re growing quickly!

Early days were lean and scrappy. After our other jobs, we sometimes worked out of Panera Bread and stayed up late working. As early as possible, we listened to what our customers had to say about creating maps online and publishing maps. As a result of these discussions, we learned to stay close to the customer and build what is most valuable to them.

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
CR: My cofounders and I are always following data, which I love. Our decisions are based on data, and we look for clues in the numbers about what to do next. Our pivots are always driven by the best clues in the numbers. Because we run our business on data, it’s hard to feel like we should’ve done anything differently.

What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream?
CR: Proxi is poised to change the world. As we become the platform to organize, store, and share this spatial content – we also build our position as a place to find, bookmark, and use these curated guides as you move through the world – replacing Yelp and Google maps’ local recommendations. With our powerful geospatial database, we become an api-accessible data layer that populates other geospatial advancements happening in AR, 3D maps, and even your car dashboard.

What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
CR: Connecting with people is my superpower as an entrepreneur. In business, it’s all about providing value for people and connecting to people, and that’s what I love! My proudest moment was learning how to navigate venture capital. There is a steep learning curve involved in obtaining funding, and for women it is even steeper. My cofounders and I have navigated this space effectively and with integrity. In my darkest moments, I can’t see the forest for the trees. In the one year that we’ve been working on Proxi full-time, we’ve come a long way. It’s easy to lose sight of the incredible progress you’ve made so far when dealing with a relatively small problem.

What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
CR: Integrity and grit are my driving principles. As I navigate challenging circumstances, I place a high value on doing the right thing and being patient. My kids are my why. My hope is that they witness their parents working hard to make the world a better place.

What’s it like to work alone or with your partners?
CR: The Proxi team consists of two other cofounders and several employees. Our company culture is characterized by open communication, teamwork, and innovation. I enjoy working with our team every day! The experience of working on a huge goal with talented people who understand the vision is incredible.

Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
CR: Proxi has some fantastic mentors. One is focused on product, while the other is focused on fundraising. Every month, they spend several hours working with our team on strategy development and execution.

What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
CR: I am currently in a learning mode. Scaling a company is something I am learning. Despite the fact that I have built and sold two companies, every company/product has a different way to achieve product market fit and go to market, which is what I’m working on right now for Proxi. The mentors I have are willing to share their experiences with me so that I can implement what makes sense for us. I believe that being the best is all about having a growth mindset, and having great mentors is a key component of that.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
CR: In the morning, if I’m not too tired, I get up before my young children. As soon as I get ready, I prepare our breakfasts so that when they wake up, we can spend some quality time together. Cold brew is always my go-to beverage – I need caffeine. After that, I leave for work!

It is important for me to get a workout during the day. My health and strength are of utmost importance to me. I don’t take my health for granted!

In terms of food, I’m currently counting macros to ensure I get enough protein. Protein helps me think more clearly and helps me with my strength training.

After work, I head home to cook dinner and spend quality time with my kids. For me right now, this quality time is non-negotiable.

After the kids have gone to bed, I spend 50% of evenings relaxing and 50% finishing up the day’s loose ends. As a founder this is inevitable.

What are you reading or have read?
CR: Reading is one of my favorite things to do. I’ll share my current top three because my full list of recommendations is long.

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein
  • Candid Conversations by Joseph Grenny (Author, Narrator), Kerry Patterson (Author), Ron McMillan (Author), Al Switzler (Author), Emily Gregory (Author, Narrator)

Where do you go for inspiration?
CR: The outdoors. When I’m jogging, inspiration strikes me regularly. Studying natural lighting at different times of day and in different seasons also inspires me.

Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
CR: “The middle is messy, but it is also where the magic happens.” Brene Brown

What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
CR: I feel guilty for feeling like I must work as if I don’t have kids and parent as if I don’t have a job. I know this feeling isn’t realistic, but it still drives me crazy.

How do you think about helping others through your work?
CR: It’s great that Proxi can be used by people from all over the world to streamline how they create content or decide where to go and what to do. Since I love productivity, Proxi’s ability to ease these burdens is very motivating for me.

What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
CR: Vet prospective employees by talking to several former teammates. It’s not always possible, but getting honest feedback about the person you are considering hiring will result in the best hires.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
CR: As a leader, I want to be known for pursuing the tasks that will provide the most ROI for the team. Hopefully I can show my team that if you choose the right things to work on, you won’t have to boil the ocean to achieve great results.

Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be profiled in our Faces of Entrepreneurship series? Please let us know by emailing media@thecenter.nasdaq.org or submit your nomination using this form.

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