Good Business Plan not Enough for SuccessMARKET CHANGES CAN DERAIL THE BESTLAID BUSINESS PLANS. TO SUCCEED AS AN ENTREPRENEUR, BOCCONI ALUMNA DE TONNAC ADVISES SELFAWARENESS, THE RIGHT PARTNER AND PASSION
Alisée de Tonnac is CEO and Founder of Seedstars World, a global startup competition started in 2013 that helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets get started. Born in France, she graduated the Bocconi with a Masters in International Management in 2010. She has been nominated Social Entrepreneur Forbes 30 under 30 and as an Innovation Fellow of Wired UK.
➜ You did a Master in International Management at Bocconi from 2008 to 2010. How did that help you start your career?
It helped because the job placement network at Bocconi helped me find my first job, at L’Oréal. It was on online portal and we could see the announcements. I answered, and I got the job.
➜ Did the degree later help you in becoming an entrepreneur?
The Bocconi brand certainly helped at the start. And now I really can see that the courses helped too. When I was in class, it was all theoretical at the time. Now I understand what we were talking about when we studied cash flow, brand values and things like that. It would have helped if I were doing it simultaneously with the startup. One of my co-founders did the course as he was building up the business.
➜ Anything else in the Masters that was useful?
We did have an entrepreneurship course, even though today I would not say the business plan would come first!
➜ Why do you say that?
You can’t really see your product at five years out and then at seven years out. The market doesn’t work like that. The market does not fit into a five-year plan. You have to fit the market and tweak your plan as you move along. A good business plan does not guarantee success.
➜ But you do need one, right?
Yes! But it’s not because you have the plan that you succeed.
➜ Do you have advice for entrepreneurs starting out today?
It is very important to understand what type of person you are. I am not comfortable if you give me a blank sheet of paper where you build from scratch. I am comfortable with scaling up. So when you know your comfort zone, you can pick the right team to support you.
Then, secondly, align yourself with the values. It is so much more important to find the right partner. Do you have the same vision of work? How much work? The same principles? This is what makes the difference, day in and day out. Because you will have a lot of long days, and a lot of stretches where nothing much happens.
Then, thirdly, find something you are passionate about. I think that the word is overused. But it needs pointing out.
➜ Are startups different today from when you began five years ago?
I don’t believe that’s the case. One thing I can say is I believe the voice of the Millennial generation is becoming louder and louder. Looking at studies, the Millennials starting out now as leaders have a strong sense of doing well by doing good. So I am very optimistic about this.
➜ Did you ever find it difficult being an entrepreneur as a woman?
No, it has never been an issue. Maybe that’s because in my family we didn’t distinguish. So I simply didn’t pay attention. Now that I am a manager, I find at the start that I had an unconscious bias and I am working on that. I see that women tend to under-sell themselves.
➜ Why did you leave L’Oreal for the startup? Did you feel stuck in a rut?
I knew my partners from university. I felt I was in a separate work world from people who were deciding for themselves each day what they want to do, and it was frustrating. I left L’Oreal to join them. It was an easy decision, because I was 24. I had no real responsibility. That is compared to others who make the choice against family and community. It is not the same thing.
➜ Let’s talk about Seedstars, which is a global entrepreneurship competition selecting the best ideas, held each year. What do you look for in an idea?
We’re actually looking for more than an idea. They have already done a fund raising. They have a unique selling point already. So it comes down to the team. Are they right to grow the business over the next 5 years? We try to start early and can invest as little as $15,000. We can go up to $500,000. The amounts invested don’t necessarily make the difference. In some cases what they need are people or access to markets.
➜ How do you tell if the team is right?
By looking to see if they have complementary skills, a track record as a team, and how they look at their strategy. It takes time to understand.
➜ What sort of trends are you seeing in the startup world?
We see a lot of fintech and insurtech. Education and health care. In some markets where there haven’t been tech changes, we are seeing leapfrogging where new technologies can be adopted more quickly. So all the major sectors that have a strong sustainable impact on the ground.
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