Female Founders: Alicia Hare of Tournesol On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
More access to role models: How can we provide aspiring founders greater and easier access to current female founders who are willing and open to act as role models and mentors to other women? Being a founder can be a lonely path. Having someone who’s done it and is available to walk with you is so reassuring.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Hare.
Alicia is the founder and CEO of Tournesol, a leadership consulting firm that partners with CEOs, their teams, and organizations in times of significant change. In addition to being a founder herself, Alicia specializes in helping leaders when a founder steps back and a new CEO steps in. Alicia’s clients include CEOs and C-suite leaders of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
In a million years, I never thought I’d be a founder. I was headed down a career path in corporate America, then made a detour to lead a consulting firm in San Francisco. That firm gave me the opportunity to split off and start my own consulting practice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Unlike the classic founding story, in which a founder decides to create a company and develops a business plan to bring it to life, Tournesol was more like a shotgun company. We had about six weeks to put it together, and had two significant clients for whom we were going to be initially working. So even though we had no office, no culture, no “ways of doing things,” no infrastructure, etc, we started almost 25 people immediately and had to figure out how to work together in real time while delivering the impact the clients expected. It was a crazy time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Because we had to hire so many people at the same time and right at the start — and we didn’t have any processes or culture to speak of yet — I relied a lot on my relationships and connections to get them to say yes. That meant almost everyone had a different expectation of what the company was and how it should operate, which led to a lot of creativity and trying different things. But it also created challenges because everyone had slightly different thoughts about how things were going to/should work. I learned quickly that setting clear expectations and being candid about them was essential to building trust, cohesion, and health amongst the team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I started Tournesol, I was invited to ask my current clients if they’d like to come with me to the new firm. One of my clients was the Chairman and CEO of an $80B health care company. I’ll never forget that conversation with him. We informed him of the change and asked if he’d like to come to the new firm I created. He looked at me and said: “Do you have a company name? A team? A legal structure?” To which my (very humbling) answer was “No…but I’m working on it.” I thought for sure he’d say no. But he called me a little later to say he was going to come with me to the new firm because he believed in me and thought I could do it. His confidence in me made all the difference.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
1- More access to role models: How can we provide aspiring founders greater and easier access to current female founders who are willing and open to act as role models and mentors to other women? Being a founder can be a lonely path. Having someone who’s done it and is available to walk with you is so reassuring.
2- Funding: While VCs are beginning to shift in this direction, women need more access to capital to start up their ventures. This means that VCs need to have more female investors. And they also need to be more open to and deeply understanding of potential business opportunities for women.
3- Caregiving support: If the pandemic has highlighted anything, it’s the major role that women play as caregivers in our society. Being a founder requires a lot of time and attention. Women need greater access to higher quality and more affordable caregiving so that they can feel ok about spending more time birthing their new ventures.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Founding a company is one of the greatest creative endeavors. Not only can you contribute something of value to the world, but you can also generate wealth and a meaningful experience for yourself and others.
The sky’s the limit for women founders because our perspective has yet to be fully offered. Not only are there so many gaps in the marketplace around issues that women care about and that women founders are uniquely placed to address, but women are also the primary financial decision makers in their households. In the future, I can see a virtuous cycle in which women founders are offering women more products, services, offerings and/or experiences that are incredibly relevant, which in turn leads to great success for these founders.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth that I grappled with is that there’s one way to create a company. I certainly felt that pressure when I began Tournesol and have since learned that there are as many paths as there are founders. I think the only right way is the one that’s right for you.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
For me, it all boils down to one’s ability to tolerate uncertainty. Starting a company is like going on a grand adventure. There are very few trails and lots of things that can happen along the way. You may or may not make it to where you want to go. Choosing this path requires you to have a steadfast belief in yourself and your idea and continually access your courage and grit to keep moving forward.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1- Believe in yourself: I’ve learned that as a founder, I’m the one that most intimately and passionately knows what we intend for Tournesol to create in the world. It’s so easy to get discouraged when you hear “no” or something you wanted doesn’t go the way you think it should. I’ve had to learn how, even in those moments, to stay connected to my conviction and my intention, and find the grit to believe in myself when it feels like no one else does. It’s a practice for me. But this practice is core to my sanity and confidence.
2- Surround yourself with support: I’ve never needed more support than I have needed as a founder. Building a company is the product of so many people coming together and doing their part to make it happen. For Tournesol, it’s been about building a great team and assembling the right external partners and advisors (i.e.financial, legal, strategic). Personally, I’ve needed my friends, advocates, cheerleaders, and caregivers more than ever before. Knowing I have this support is essential for me in order to show up as my best.
3- Allow yourself to dream: The dream I have for what Tournesol could become inspires me and keeps me going in the inevitable hard times. Allowing myself to imagine the brighter future that we can create by inspiring and equipping leaders to lead brighter fuels me through the day-to-day.
4- Do it your way: I still catch myself wanting to compare what and how we’re doing things at Tournesol to other consulting firms and start up companies. It’s such a joy-killer, and worse, it’s not helpful. Every company is unique and needs its own path. It’s only when I honor the path that is unfolding for us that I feel most at peace.
5- Be open to learn and adjust (all the time): Starting a company is inherently about offering the world something new. So, most likely, there isn’t a clear path to bring it to life. As we’ve been building Tournesol, we’ve had all kinds of goals and plans. But the magic lies in responding to what we’ve learned each step of the way — where is the flow and how can we ride that wave? Being open to learning and adjusting at each step along the way is how companies get built.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place? You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Tournesol is all about helping leaders lead brighter. When you lead brighter, you inspire your organization to create a brighter future — one filled with more shared prosperity, equality, connection, discovery, and joy. In our experience, when you make this choice to work toward that brighter future, you and your team have to create new offerings, experiences, and business models to make it possible. This allows you not only to generate more growth and profits, but make a positive impact on the quality of people’s lives for generations to come.
The brighter future we want to create is one in which many more leaders are leading this way. We want to live in a world where millions of leaders see it as their job to use the full power of the leadership and business platforms to create a brighter future. That’s the inspiration for the name Tournesol — which means “sunflower” and “turn towards the sun” in French. When I imagine what this looks like, I see a field of thousands of sunflowers all standing proud, tall, and beautiful together.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Brene Brown. I love her groundbreaking work on vulnerability and believe our views on what will be required for leading in the future are very complementary.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.