Q&A with Alisee de Tonnac

Q1. So, I’d like to start off by first asking you to introduce yourself and your organisation.
A1: My name is Alisée de Tonnac and I am one of the co-founders of Seedstars. Seedstars is a Swiss-based private group of companies with a mission to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. The groups’ activities cover over 80 emerging ecosystems through a variety of events such as the Seedstars World Competition, acceleration programs, physical hubs called Seedspace, venture capital investments and company building activities. Seven years ago with my co-founders, we launched Seedstars World and at that time we kind of knew we’re at this sweet spot between the rise of emerging markets, the democratization of technology and this new generation of millennials, but also more and more entrepreneurs that are wanting to change the status quo. With Seedstars we quickly started to build, on one side, supporting the entrepreneurs in emerging markets with training, network, mentors and different types of programs, and on the other side investing in these businesses, helping them scale so that they can become success stories of their regions.

Q2. What was your journey like to get where you are?
A2: My career started in the corporate world, I was working for L’Oreal in marketing. I think I came into the corporate world with the wrong mindset and wrong beliefs on what was important in a career. When I started there I thought that the status (title, income, etc.) and company name, for example, were the important elements to consider when making a career choice. That is why I worked hard in getting a nice CV with high grades and work in a well-known company. Many moments led to my realisation that it was no longer the right fit for me. I didn’t see myself fit in a big corporate where you tend not to be able to see the results of your work, you tend not to be heard… I wanted to do something more impactful. I was lucky enough to meet my co-founders then and jump on the first adventure at Seedstars without any second thought. It’s one of the few times I listened to my gut. For sure it was for me at that time a tough decision to make. But in retrospect it was quite easy…I was 24, I had no real responsibilities, I had plenty of years ahead to make many mistakes, I didn’t have to fight against family, community, values, like some do. It was by far the best decision I had ever made.

Q3. How would you summarize your company’s core values?
A3: We have 8 values that really define our culture and are part of our day to day (our assessment reviews, how we give feedback, etc). One of them is to stay outside of your comfort zone. I believe I have become a better person because of constantly pushing myself and staying uncomfortable enough to discover something new about myself, about the people I interact with. It’s really fundamental.

We also have a very strong lifestyle motto, which is “KIS KIL- keep it simple, keep it lean”. Fundamentally, that is how we should approach one another, how we do the job, how we communicate the job. It really goes in the kind of tools we use and how we try to experiment with new ideas, how we try to plan out things, how we organise our meetings. Do we do it religiously? No. But we try. It’s easy when it’s two or three people in a room, but it gets tougher when it’s 50 people remote across 5 continents. We try to repeat, we spend more and more time recruiting and retaining, because we realised that if we do a better job in finding someone who has a better cultural fit with us in terms of how they approach their work, in terms of their curiosity, their teamwork capabilities, their hunger, then we don’t need to communicate that much because they defend and represent who we are. But it’s very tough, it’s probably the biggest challenge we have and that we will continue to have as we scale the group in the coming years.

Q4. How exactly has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your operations and what are the biggest disruptions you have faced?
A4: The biggest disruption has been linked to our physical events and global competition in 80 countries. Right at the beginning of the pandemic when the Swiss government decided that public events couldn’t take place anymore, we had to organize our biggest event, the Seedstars Summit, online. This event is the culmination of our year-long search for best new startups so moving it completely online took a lot of flexibility and coordination from our side, but also from the startups, mentors, investors etc. ew had to become a media agency overnight more or less. In the end it was a success and we had around 20,000 registered participants. After that, we decided to move all of our events online this year and the first local events are happening this month so we hope to continue in the same tone as for the Summit.

We also launched a whole initiative since the pandemic outbreak called #SeedstarsCares where we offer webinars and other resources like podcasts and videos on how to deal with the current situation, but a lot of other topics too. Start-ups need investment, training, support and visibility now and our mission more than ever is to be delivered upon.

Q5. What do you think the way ahead will be once we come out the other side? Will it be business as usual? Or will the transition back to “normalcy” be challenging (will employees be eager to return to a formal workplace)?
A5: In fact, that step isn’t that big for us. Seedstars employs 200 people in over 40 countries. We work digitally and we use the internet not only for the exchange of knowledge but also for internal events such as a virtual “Friday beers” or “work-life balance sessions”. I think that a lot of businesses have realised that it is not that difficult to change your business model and switch to digital when you have to. It will be interesting to see how many will keep up with the changes they have made once the restrictions lessen. But let me be clear, you can’t completely replace face to face in business.

Q6. What is your vision for your company as we move toward a digital future?
A6: Nothing changes, we’ve just more aggressively put our programs and events online to respond to the current situation and more importantly the needs of our different stakeholders.

Q7. What are you really into outside work?
A7: Spending time with my family and friends. Travelling, movies, yoga and hiking when I have the time and energy.

Q8. When it comes to your legacy, how do you want to be remembered?
A8: I became a mother for the second time very recently and so my motivations have been redirected. More and more my actions are consciously made knowing that my children will have to live with the consequences. I want an exciting, loving and safe environment for them on this earth.
On the Seedstars level, we want to become the one-stop platform that supports the thriving entrepreneurs in emerging markets through our different programs and investment vehicles. We want to participate in life changing innovations and do this with great people from around the world. We’ve already achieved a lot but this will definitely be a life project and there is still a lot to be done. We’re putting together a framework and putting into place indicators that on a day-to-day basis will help us track this impact.