10:39 | 28.05.15 | Interviews | exclusive 30520

Alisée de Tonnac. Armenia can become a regional IT center

Seedstars Yerevan startup contest will take place in Yerevan on May 28. The winner will get a chance to showcase its startup during the Seedstars World contest in Switzerland in early 2016.

The event is organized by Microsoft Innovation Center-Armenia, in collaboration with Microsoft RA and Seedstars World.

Seedstars World is a startup contest meant for emerging markets and fast-paced enterprise eco-systems. The winners of the global contest will get up to USD500thousand, and the regional winners will be granted various prizes including consultancy from mentors, successful entrepreneurs and other investors, participation in acceleration programs etc.

Below is Itel.am interview with Alisée de Tonnac, CEO and Co-Founder of Seedstars World.

-This is your second visit to Yerevan. What did Seedstars bring to Armenia this time?

Seedstars World is a competition that we launched in 2013. This year, 55 countries are involved. The objective is to help entrepreneurs in the emerging markets and provide free promotion, investment and connections. In the whole world, we currently have a huge network of investors, accelerators, incubators, startups, entrepreneurs, and we connect all of them.

Last year, I was again here to organize Seedstars Yerevan. Now when I am back I am impressed on how fast Yerevan is growing. There are so many initiatives here. I have recently visited Ayb School and consider it an unbelievable initiative.

Armenia can be called an incubator but at a country level where you can build any imaginable things and test them in the market. The Armenian Diaspora has become more active and now they know how to invest in Armenian community outside or inside the country and, therefore, there are more and more success stories. When you see PicsArt, who has raised millions of dollars from Sequoia, moving to San Francisco but at the same time keeping big part of their team in Armenia, is really impressive.

I always say that in entrepreneurship one of the most important drivers to create a mature ecosystem are role models. We can see this very clearly in sports- when you have a famous footballer, suddenly all the children in the country want to become a famous footballer.  The same is about the entrepreneurship. The more success stories we have the more we will attract the young generation. I can see this happening in Armenia. I am also proud of Seedstars Yerevan’s last year winner SoloLearn, a startup which comes from MIC accelerator and their success is also very impressive. They were actually one of our 10 finalists in Seedstars World contest last year and one of our top entrepreneurs.

We are very happy to partner with MIC Armenia in scope of this contest as we think it is one of the main players building the Armenian ecosystem and making a positive change with the entrepreneurship. I love the model they use while working with startups in scope of their acceleration program. I am sure we will continue our partnership with MIC Armenia in future.

Alisée de Tonnac

-Armenia is planning to become one of the top 20 innovative countries already in 2018. Do you believe it has the potential?

-Yes it has. I think Armenia has something very powerful that not many hubs have. It is the Diaspora, which is so powerful.  What we see is just the beginning. There is still so much knowledge, money, potential, opportunities that will be used. We will soon see how much powerful the development will be.

-Can Armenia repeat the success of Israel in nearest future?

-I have heard a lot everywhere considering this or that country as the next Silicon Valley. I don’t believe in that. Silicon Valley is very unique and it was not build in 5 years. It’s a long process and goes back to the Gold Rush. So, it’s wrong to become what Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv are.

Each city has its own strengths and weaknesses. So, each hub needs to understand what local entrepreneurs bring to the international market. The market itself is not interesting in Armenia as 3 million population will not make you become a global company. But I think Armenia can become one of the strategic hubs of the region, a regional IT center, kind of a bridge for the companies for their next phase.

-Can we define main mistakes of European startups?

-The first one is not finding the right co-founder. You need to have a solid team of co-founders if you want to pass that extra mile. Also misinterpretation of the customers.  Sometimes when you hear startup speech and you dig it with your questions you understand that they actually do not know who their customers are and what’s more important they don’t have the so-called feedback system. The customer is not “a King” in their mind.  But you must know that the customer is the first one to tell you what is wrong and what should be improved and this distance between you and the customer can be very dangerous.

-So, before launching the product, do you advice the startup to do proper testing?

- I think the concept of building the minimum product and directly going to market as soon as possible to test it is good. I believe that if you wait for that perfect product and then launch it you will probably be too late.

-What would make you invest in a startup?

-If I have to choose one quality than it is the team. When you are such a young company everything is based on your team. Also, the capacity of the entrepreneur to “sell” you his vision and his execution plan is important.

-Women and startups. How active are they in Europe and world?

-I feel that I haven’t seen a lot of women co-founders in Armenian startups. In Europe on average women are less present in the sphere. I saw the most women entrepreneurs where I could least expect them- in Jordan, South Korea, Australia. But in Europe they are becoming more and more because there is support from governments and also because women become more career addicted. Entrepreneurship in general is becoming very trendy.

-Is it always good to have an investor in the early stages of development or it can sometimes make things worse?

-It really depends on who is your investor. Finding a cash for cash is a bad idea. If you need to find an investor try to find smart money, a person who will not only bring cash, but also a right network, connections, open the right doors in front of you, so you will be sure that there is a high chance that your business develops. Now we live in a world where there are so many grants, competitions, where you can freely win money. Free money started to get quite easy. Involving investors should be a strategic decision for the company to grow to the next level. I never saw good entrepreneurs to take investors just for money. It has always been a very strategic decision.

-What would be your main tip for Armenian IT sector representatives? 

-There are lots of amazing players in Armenian market who are doing really great job. There are many smart and committed people who are ready to stay here for a long time. The only tip I would give to entrepreneurs is never overestimate the US market and underestimate the rest of the world. Every Armenian I have spoken to was planning to target US market. Yes, it makes sense, because there is a big Armenian Diaspora and connections. But you have to know that there are also many opportunities in emerging markets, even in Europe. I feel like Armenians are underestimating this. Just take time also to see other markets. There isn’t just the U.S.

 Narine Daneghyan talked to Alisée de Tonna.