Doing one thing a day that scares you.
Interview with Alisée de Tonnac.
|Interview by:||Pricilla Weixler||Edited by:||Valeria Pinto|
|Reading Time:||8 Min.||Date:||21.02.2019|
Alisée de Tonnac, co-founder and partner of Seedstars, deliberately chose to step out of her comfort zone. Now she is part of creating a multi-faceted company that seeks to enrich people’s lives by nourishing entrepreneurship and technology in emerging markets. Her vita is literally outstanding! Speaking to her gave us an insight into her personal opinion on gender equality and leadership as well as on her perception of work ethic. Modest and very straightforward, she speaks about commitment, being a mother and the importance of her team members. Overcoming her fears and becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable has had -and still has- true impact on her professional and personal development. Alisée de Tonnac constantly seeks to inspire as well as to be inspired by others. Get yourself a whiff of that inspiration and take a look at her interview!
Q: Would you introduce yourself and tell us about your current projects?
A: My name is Alisée and I am one of the co-founders of Seedstars. Seedstars has the objective to have a large impact in emerging markets and if possible to support entrepreneurs in building companies in different regions around the world.
Q: Where is your main target region at the moment?
A: Emerging markets – that’s our niche.
Q: Where did you see yourself in the future when you were in school and later while studying?
A: Unfortunately, I never had a very strong passion or vision of where I wanted to be at that age. I was more focused on having the right school grades and getting into the good schools and then, I continued trying to get good grades in order to get a good CV, in order to jump into what was trendy at that time.
Q: Was that still your focus when you started studying or did it change?
A: I kept my focus very large because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Thus, I did a Bachelor’s degree in economics and then a Master’s in international management.
I was really shocked with myself about how little I was scaring myself
Q: At some point, you decided to switch where your career was going. Could you explain why that was?
A: Well, it has been a little bit romanced with that one specific anecdote. Truth is, there were many other stories around it, too – and of course – moments of doubt. I think it did come down to when I came across a quote of Eleanor Roosevelt which states: “Do one thing every day that scares you”. I was really shocked with myself about how little I was scaring myself in the sense of putting myself out there and getting uncomfortable with new initiatives and new adventures. Therefore, from there on, I made it a principle that I had to scare myself every day. In that specific month I was very fortunate to meet one of my co-founders and the rest is history.
Q: Where did you meet him?
A: In Switzerland, actually. My co-founders are Swiss and we had already known each other through university and our personal network.
Q: Once you stepped out of the corporate structures and decided to found ‘Seedstars’ with your team, what was the reaction of your friends and family like?
A: There were two very clear groups. The ones that thought I was crazy and the ones that thought it was the perfect next step. There were very clear contradictory responses but most people thought it was quite a crazy idea. I am still a rational person and it wasn’t completely spontaneous. We had put something into place already; we had a clear idea of how we wanted to launch. At that time, the first initiative which was a Startup competition. Even though it sounds spontaneous in the sense that you go from a corporate job to being an entrepreneur of your own, it was planned out – if I may say so. My family was very supportive, so I had it quite easy if I may say so. I had no major responsibilities because I started it when I was 24 and I have a family that supported me. It is still an easy decision to make compared to other entrepreneurs that I meet about, who had to go against customs, against family, against community – that’s a much braver decision to make compared to what I did.
Q: You have achieved so much – what do you think about trying to reach a level that is close to perfection?
A: No, no, no. It is very relative what success means to each one of us. I felt like I was pursuing the right indicators of success, which were, the good grades in school plus extracurricular activities and similarly, in university. I understood that in the job the mission that you put yourself on might be important to have a job which isn’t completely separate from your personal life. That was very important to me and it is even more today with Seedstars. It interlinks a lot in terms of the values that I preach, the lifestyle I want to live and the values I want to bring to others. It became something fundamental for me and with that a strong sense of finding the right team to work with came along. Luckily, at Seedstars I am very fortunate to have found my co-founders.
Our challenges are huge, so it is very exciting, terrifying and motivating to try and tackle them on a daily basis. It’s very ambitious and it is also a lifetime story that is being created.
Q: What motivates you the most in your current job?
A: Our challenges are huge, so it is very exciting, terrifying and motivating to try and tackle them on a daily basis. It’s very ambitious and it is also a lifetime story that is being created. And, of course, the team, the people with whom I interact most of the hours in my day motivate me. Thus, it is very important that we get along and that we challenge each other and that we’re building this together.
Q: What exactly of the things you mentioned motivates you the most?
A: If I had to choose one – it would be my team.
Q: What was the inspiration to found ‘Seedstars?’
A: At the time it was my co-founders. Michael and Pierre-Alain had started the company and then we quickly joined with Adrien, myself and then there were Charlie and Louise which kind of became this founding team and we are all still here today. Pierre-Alain, who had already launched several companies ever since he was young, had a very clear vision of the importance of initiating this global community/network and understanding and building an expertise of these emerging frontiers and how we could become an important player to fill the gaps of helping to build mature innovation Startup ecosystems around the globe. That was inspirational!
You have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Q: What would you do if you weren’t afraid at all?
A: I don’t know because with Seedstars, we don’t have a lot of barriers. We just have to decide if we want to do something or not. Of course, we make certain calculations on the risks that we are willing to take. I have become quite comfortable with the uncomfortable. What potentially scares me is that I’m not able to give you something precise on what fear I have now – that I am not able to move forward. Professionally, I don’t have anything, it’s that kind of motto at Seedstars, to not put ourselves boundaries. We put ourselves to challenges every day and it is just that you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Q: Do you think you would be in another position if you were a man?
A: No. At Seedstars, fortunately, it never was a question of being a man or a woman. I realize that a lot of women tell stories that make me feel like I am an exception, which is a shame, but here it was never like that. It is always about one’s identity and strengths and weaknesses. Gender has never been a point of discussion. However, we try to be very conscious of the fact that there might be some unconscious biases. We know men have a tendency – and I don’t want to stereotype – to be much more aggressive in requesting benefits or in requesting different opportunities. We try to find solutions to balance this out and try to get the best out of our talents. We also raise the issue of starting a family as a talent: what are the implications for women or for men. I think that is the healthy way to approach it. For sure, we are still making mistakes but we are trying to be as transparent as possible and work on how we can improve.
Q: Why do you think there are so few female entrepreneurs in the tech industry?
A: I am sure that there are great studies about this that I don’t have in mind right now. It has to do with education and it has to do with the attractiveness of what the tech industry means for women at a very young age. So, for little girls, even though there are unbelievable initiatives that are trying to encourage them, I feel like it is rooted in general societal customs and habits that nurture their distance to the field. Today, how we incorporate technology in the national education system, is what I think will make the real difference.
Q: Could you elaborate more on how you try to generate gender equality?
A: It depends on the regions and on the jobs. In some jobs you definitely have more male applicants than female ones. In general, we just try to see if we are missing out in terms of the channels to source potential applicants. We use a tool that allows us to rephrase our job descriptions to make them much more appealing to both men and women. There have been studies that show that the words that you use automatically push away a certain target group. So we ask ourselves how to get inclusive also in the matters of our communication. Recently, we had a women empowerment panel and there are studies showing that in many regions, women don’t associate their young entrepreneurial business with the term ‘Startup’. So if you organize a Startup competition it also means that you are not necessarily targeting these female businesses. In terms of promotions and talents, we try to look at the compensations, on how we present the promotion and on how we react to someone within the interview. As I mentioned before, women tend to be less aggressive in requesting, therefore, we take that in mind and check if we see a discrepancy over time with regards to the compensation. Women have a tendency, when asked on a new project, to first sell why they can’t do it because they don’t have 100 percent of the expertise, whereas men would have the tendency to sell the 10 percent they have to contribute to the project and just be very confident about it. This doesn’t mean that they can deliver better; so how do managers approach this? We need to be conscious of these tendencies. It is not easy and now, being also a mother, I realize concretely what it does to your productivity level for a certain transition phase and how you cope with that because the business needs to run. The stakes are high – so how do you involve that element into your growth as a person leading the company? To be honest, we don’t have all the answers either but these are definitely subjects we try to tackle because from day one we started as an extremely diverse team in terms of geography, ethnicities, gender and in terms of backgrounds. That is definitely our strength and there also come obstacles with it. We look into how to make sure that you are able to support your talents and have them ultimately perform at their best.
Q: What does it take to be in your position? To be a CEO, a founder, as well as a mother at the same time?
A: For the past years I was concerned with the Startup competition. Now, I am more at the community level doing the business development. Every partner at Seedstars has a very clear, active role within one of our business units. It’s tough, I felt like -when I was reading Lean In from Sheryl Sandberg or works from other unbelievable women- that I could have it all. Today, I feel like you can’t, you feel short on all fronts. A day has so many hours and you definitely learn how to be more productive and efficient but in the end there is only a certain amount of hours in a day. So you really do have to decide on what the priorities are in specific periods of your time and with that, accept that you can’t give everything to family and friends and then, have the time needed for yourself and focus on the company and further more. There are elements in your life that you have to put on pause – if I may say so – in order to still deliver. It’s a tough realization but I think it is at least what I am experiencing today.
It’s about defining a new timeline for yourself.
Q: So, it is mostly about time management?
A: It’s about defining a new timeline for yourself and about really understanding that there are a few priorities that you can take on, it is not a list. It is one, two, three max.
Q: How long did it take you to learn that?
A: I am still learning it ☺