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Vincent Touati-Tomas

Intro

BEN: So we’re doing the first community spotlight. What does it mean? We wanted to ask one of our members to tell us everything about his life and career and his relationship to the events. We have someone very good at this.

BEN: As usual we were saying hi to some guests (not members), and contributors or friends subscribed to SELECTED. And I hope some of them will soon become members as well to enjoy those sessions in the future.

[00:01:27] Meet Vincent

BEN: Our guest today is Vincent Toutai-Tomas, he’s French & started his career in tech as early as 2011.

BEN: With a very international angle working his way up from being an independent marketing freelance consultant to head of marketing and communication at Northzone – a big VC firm with more than 1.5 billion under management. And they basically back companies like Spotify, iZettle, Avito, Kahoot!, Klarna as well as helping the big event, platform unicorn Hopin.

BEN: We first met when I was hosting small events at the Silencio club in Paris. I don’t know if he even had the legal age to enter the club.

VINCENT: No, I didn’t.

BEN: Yes you see… And after that he joined France Digitale at 20 years old and then Daphne VC fund then Founders Factory before Northzone. That’s it. I want to do more of your bio Vincent, how you feeling today. Tell us a bit more about your work and why you’re here today.

[00:02:36] Vincent, in his own words

VINCENT: I’m feeling good. I think what you’re missing though, in, in the bio and our relationship is also the amazing radio show that we did a couple of years ago. And we, we, we, we asked, did this entrepreneurial show, I know Max, you would remember because you were also part of the game. “Let’s Talk About Web, Baby”

BEN: Yeah. Well, I didn’t forget it. I just kept teaching under my belt to make it surprise points enough. So yes, we doing a radio show a few years ago and Max was with us as a producer. Yeah. So, why did you mention the shows you want to launch a new radio show? You prefer to do a Clubhouse show, maybe?

VINCENT: So, you know what? I wish I could do radio another radio show. So it might be an open question because I do miss this regular catch-up with you guys, but I’m glad that I am here today and able to talk about my passion, which is comms and weirdly enough events as well as all of you guys. I was always passionate by just gathering people together.

VINCENT: And I think the startup & tech communities are the best communities to do this and to start putting together people because you are at the core of the innovation.

[00:03:56] Northzone

VINCENT: Maybe a bit about Northzone and what we do, and the reason why I’m ending up doing communication at this VC firm. So Northzone is a pretty old firm, I was one years old when the firm was created. So, you know,  it’s a pretty old firm. And they’ve been investing in defining category businesses such as Spotify.

VINCENT: And I think when I when I joined the VC community a couple of years ago, my role was very much a super junior role. Kind of like doing everything, a unicorn, doing everything, whatever you want to call it. But like doing everything from content to PR to, to basically everything related. And I think when I joined Northzone, it was very much this momentum of my career, where I realized that for maybe the first time I had a role that was fitting exactly the expertise I had.

VINCENT: But it took me a couple of years eventually to build this out because I learned along the way and appreciate, you know what I’m talking about.

BEN: So I guess that your job & your work at Northzone is also why people are joining us today. Like they want to hear more about what you used to do these VC firms, and also how it is to do these from how did I say that properly? Like a younger. Even like, you know, you’re, you’re probably under the millennial category, but like you’re borderline gen Z.

VINCENT: So I’m already out of the scope for TikTok.

[00:05:42] Vincent’s work @Northzone

VINCENT: I think if I go back to the basics and what I’m doing in terms of a daily job and basically in charge of everything that’s comes to the brand.

VINCENT: So, every time that someone wants to interact with Northzone or every time that we want to interact with, with a narrative, or basically communicate something to the markets, I just need to shape this into a format that is going to work for the audience. So that’s in a nutshell what I’m doing. Since I’m talking to marketing experts, most of the time that means doing PR.

VINCENT: I do work a lot with journalists, making sure that they know exactly what we are up to and the type of companies we back. Even more recently, creating original content and making sure that we had a process in place internally, so we can be editorial about it. Because that’s one thing to create content, but then you really need to have an editorial strategy in place when it comes to extracting opinions on deals, which are super financial or industry-driven, but you really need to shape the storytelling.

BEN: Wait, what are you trying to say? Is that how you make it interesting and sexy to talk about boring financial information, right.

[00:07:06] How to make boring financial information “interesting & sexy”

VINCENT: So the way I do this is that I run editorial sessions, which are by the way, sometimes boring, but I really try to make it good to make it sexier and sexier over time. But, but it’s very much a conversation with with the people that know better than me. And I just try to grill them with a lot of questions. And then I take notes. And then with this, I work with copywriters with my current agency and myself on a couple of either articles or opinion pieces or events.

[00:07:40] Becoming a Hopin manager or Zoom Coordinator

VINCENT: And that’s the other bucket of my job. I do a lot of events myself. I’m lucky enough to have someone now in the team that is in charge of events, both within the portfolio and externally. So she’s right now 100% in charge of Hopin events. But if we were pre-COVID she would be in charge of physical events.

BEN: Instead of being an event manager, you could call her a Hopin manager, right?

VINCENT: Yes. And that would be, that would be on brand because we’ve invested in Hopin.

VINCENT: Of course, to produce online events you have now Zoom coordinators, but I think that’s amazing because it really means that it’s not any more the quick fix for the pandemic. It’s, it’s something that is going to last. And I think we could dive into this right away, but I think that’s, what’s happening with Hopin, it’s really interesting.  I’m not talking only about Hopin, but I think what it’s what’s happening with virtual event platforms is amazing.

[00:08:51] Events to big media?

VINCENT: And whether it’s Hopin or another event – they are turning into media and then it’s something, we talked a lot together. But most of the, most of the good events or most of the, a good content producer are now turning into big media. And, and I see Sebastian (Toupy, former TNW) and I’m pretty sure he will have things to say about this because, because there is the friendship between media and an event is especially nowadays super blurry.

BEN: Sebastian, if you want to jump in, you know, share quickly some, you know, feedback from your experience working at the next way, but actually TNW started as an event and then they started to do the media because it was like, okay, no one is talking about our events so let’s do media.

BEN: In a nutshell, you can hear the interview with Boris that Dan (Taylor) did recently, but yeah it’s happening again, like events are now announcing their own media.

VINCENT: And the other way around. So if you look at Sifted, for example, they would have at some point to also invest into, into evens, because right now they were doing white papers. They were doing an amazing job on the press side of things, but at some point they really need to do more of this. And by the way, they just  introduced their membership this week. And weirdly enough, they do more events now because events is one of the products that they can sell – from a branding perspective (freemium) or membership-based.

[00:10:07] Will people still pay for events?

VINCENT: Still today events are something that people are ready to pay for. So there is a big, big, big market for events to become media, and media becomes events. You said, that people are willing to pay for events? Yeah. They’re willing to pay for a media experience.

VINCENT: And this is actually some discussion I had with a lot of events organizers such as Slush. I don’t know these people are on your network. Like the Slush people, the Pirate Summit people, the Sifted people. So I think at the very beginning of the pandemic people were afraid to pay for events, experiences, but what I see with Hopin and also looking at and crunching the data of what really sells, people pay for events.

[00:10:55] What are event organizers selling now? Do people want to buy tickets?

VINCENT: I think in our community, we’re just very picky and VC are the worst type of customer you can ever have because they will always negotiate a 5k partnership or a 500 euros a ticket because it’s too expensive, blah, blah, blah, which is a nightmare, even for four people. I realized that the culture within, within my peers, community is wrong when it comes to events and what you pay for. They would pay for 20K€ to have access to a data, a data room or things like this. And I think it’s changing, but in other industries it is working pretty well and people are paying for concerts and other types of events, even, Eventbrite. We thought that Eventbrite was going to die before because of the pandemic, but actually even is thriving because they are selling a lot of tickets right now.

BEN: I see some comments here from Ana and also Amanda, about the fact that Sifted is mentioning events in their membership. We also heard a lot of those conversation on our side where events organizers are moving around, like sort of avoiding the word of events and they go for like, “Oh, we’re selling you a community and then that includes events.” Because if I’m just setting events per se, within the tech industry, then there is a reluctance to pay. Basically people are just expecting to be free.

[00:12:18] Normalize paying for good content & events

BEN: People are willing to pay for events, but not for content (or conferences or talks) from our point of view, but then you have a different point of view Vincent… I know that you say no good content has to be paid. I keeps, you know, it’s normal that it costs money.

VINCENT: Yeah. So I think we really need to be almost political about this. And I think something that I’ve seen as a communication person is that honestly, I could say that 10 times a week I have people asking me for, “Oh, can you download this PDF form from Business Insider, because I want to read this article” well, okay. Pay for it. And so I’ve been this bad guy always saying, well, can you afford it? Pay for it. But I think there’s not this culture to pay for beyond paywall, but it’s also the chicken and the egg.

VINCENT: If we don’t produce behind paywall articles, content or events, we will never attract people. And this is what we are doing this Sesame community. Sifted did it super well – And I think this is a use case that we would have to ask them about members, but I know that at least within the members, within the VC community, it’s working pretty well.

VINCENT: And by the way, I think it’s important to take many when you can afford it. Let’s not take only one membership for the company, but actually several memberships, because this is the business model of media and events. And I remember when I was an organizer of the France Digitale day, we were giving away tickets because we just assumed that people would be happy about it, but actually in the long term you don’t really [create] amazing relationships with this.

VINCENT: And I think Slush was amazing on this. They never gave away tickets maybe to you Ben, but I think overall they just don’t give away free tickets. And I think it’s very sane for the ecosystem because there is a business, there is teamwork behind the scenes.

[00:14:25] Creating a content paywall

BEN:  Sebastian, I was mentioning you earlier. I’m going to bring you to take the mic. You said on Tuesday (during our Coffee with Sesame) that Sifted was very clever with the paywall they were using. Because from your perspective as a user, you were like, “Oh, the articles, I actually want to read all the ones that are behind paywall.” So they are smart enough to put the paywalls exactly where it’s gonna hit, you know, what you’re going to be like, ‘Eh, that’s exactly that piece of content that way to read.”

SEBASTIAN: Yeah, totally. I think it’s very true. I agree with Vincent that it’s very smart, how they did it. And I mean, I’ve been reading their newsletters, like almost daily or every couple of days for a little while now, and sort of realized that all of the articles that tend to be drawn towards are the ones that they would make it paid.

SEBASTIAN: Then it’s funny Vincent was mentioning within the VC community it’s working. I was on the main site today which I almost never visit, I often read the stuff through the newsletter, but don’t visit the Sifted website. And a lot of the VC related articles are the ones that are about valuation or about funding rounds – those, the ones that they make paid. Which is also fair because if you’re in the industry and you’re a fund, you can definitely afford to pay for some of those memberships.

SEBASTIAN: If you’re someone who’s just looking for the news or startup related articles, and not, not particularly so much. And it’s also not a massive percentage of those articles that are paid for, I think at the moment is probably like 20% or so (not even) but those are the ones that are super interesting.

[00:16:12] Don’t underestimate FOMO

VINCENT: I think we shouldn’t underestimate FOMO and FOMO is selling a lot and a lot of tickets, a lot of content. And I can actually talk from experience.

VINCENT: So this is free, but maybe ultimately we’ll be competing at some point, but I’ve created this newsletter this year with people that you might know in this room: Willy Braun, founder of daphni and Nicolas Colin of The Family. We’re curating what VCs are writing every week. You can’t even imagine the number of VCs that are emailing us ahead of Thursday – when we publish it – to make sure they are on the list. And honestly, we are not even a media. We have a pretty small database compared to others like Sifted or TNW, but still people care about it.

[00:17:50] Speaking the right language, building valuable bridges, creating digestible content

ANA: I do agree with you also on the fact that media are smart in the way they’re presenting things. What I’ve noticed with Sifted content is that this content is presented in the way that VCs are used to see. So like reports and data intelligence. So basically Sifted is speaking the right language to VC therefore it’s easy to bring them together. And yes, I agree, the word event is basically sort of, you know, in a body copy. So no one is actually stressed about it. It’s presented more as an opportunity for VCs to discuss and build relationships with media. And that’s another thing that we’re looking for anyway, just to save on PR agents.

VINCENT: Yeah. And, and to your point, I think what Sifted is doing super well is getting a European voice and a real editorial standpoint on things. And I wish that they would do even more big pieces about Europe versus China, Europe versus Africa, Europe versus the US because we have very different ecosystems and really need to understand how we build bridges.

ANA: Yeah. And Sifted has actually a very digestible way to produce this content. Like if you look at a pitchbook or Dealroom reports, they’re dry, right. Because it still has this more startup feel to it and you’re actually enjoying it the way you read it. However, one thing that I was surprised about is, you know, when I think about it is that Tech.eu produced those reports for a good few years now. And somehow Sifted is doing it now. There is this FOMO to do it, but you know, the value is involved.

[00:20:30] Creating a different angle

VINCENT: Something I would say is that what I find amazing in the press is competition. I think you need to have a different angle, different journalists, different point of view, and Tech.eu for example, took a very, very clear angle. They do a lot of opinion pieces and they really want to highlight a lot of the people and they want to be very collaborative and they are clear about this.

VINCENT: I think Sifted has a more, maybe enhanced digital strategy when it comes to what they really want to push and because of the format of their newsletter and just what they stand for. It’s a different media. And yeah, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is one standing out – you need to read them all if you want to get a clear perspective on European tech. And we’re not even talking about newsletters, It’s very much… it’s like VCs, right? Like if you only had Accel, Northzone and Index, that would be boring, right?

BEN: Can I ask you, and now that you started to say, you know, things that you wouldn’t like to be recorded, what are the worst? A European outlet.

VINCENT: I have names, but you know, these people are running businesses and this is pretty hard. I wouldn’t be even capable of doing a third of what they are doing. So I wouldn’t name and shame. Honestly, it’s very hard to build a media and get an outlet. And I think it’s better than it’s out there than not.

BEN: Well done. Okay. You escape.

[00:22:10] The value of Selected by Sesamers

BEN: Let’s go and talk just shortly. Like I’m going to branch out, Selected by Sesamers. We’re not really a media. I know. We try to bundle everything that is out there. So we do content with the member base, you know, paywalls, all that stuff. You’re among the first to join, as as a member – actually as an annual member, I sold you into like, it’s going to be easier for you to pay only once, you know, you get one invoice, happy, everybody, you know, accounting is happy.

BEN: Tell us, I mean, okay, we’re friends. So maybe it’s also because of this. Why are you a member (of Selected by Sesamers)? How do you use it? What is interesting about having access to calendar of events in your job? You know, I’m not just doing this for the sake of you. Like, you know, tapping me like saying yeah, great job, Ben, but actually say also what it’s missing and what’s, you know? Give us an opinion.

VINCENT: The reason why I paid for it is because I had a business opportunity here for me. So the reason why I subscribed is because I spend a lot of time screening events and it’s really hard. And one of the, one of the hardest part of my job is, is prioritizing what I’m going to engage with or not.

VINCENT: But yeah, the reason why I subscribed is that you guys are the experts. And I think that this is how you, this is how you do the better decision by enhancing your choices by niches and making sure that I’m part of this community.

VINCENT: Because the conversation that we have right now is super valuable because we are a community and it’s not, it’s not only you and I talking about it. It’s, you know, we can get a feeling because when we say something that is a bit off the road, we’re going to have people on this grid saying, no, no, no, I don’t agree. And this is going to be interactive, which is never the case. So that’s why I’ve subscribed.

[00:24:50] How to use the Selected Calendars (or why you should start)

BEN: I’m using you as a customer case. Sorry for that. We’re going to move to all the questions that I want to cover with you today, but you actually using the (Selected) calendar. I’m saying these because we know that among our paid members there are people didn’t get through installing a calendar. You know, you actually use it and you kind of review these with your team. Like you, you have the process around like checking what events are coming up. And I’m also saying this because here in the call, we have a couple of team members who spend, you know, hours building those things. So it’s great to hear that it’s actually valuable. Tell us about this. Like what do you, you know, what, why is it useful and what do you need from a sort of evaluation point of view? Like we said, you evaluate you then how do you decide that in events is good?

VINCENT: So that’s two different questions. So one about the calendar. So the reason why it’s super useful is because I can plan in advance because of course these events, or like most of the event that I don’t, I can’t miss it’s like the big ones I know them, but I just don’t know exactly when they’re going to happen. And if they are in my calendar, I would see them and I would be like, Oh, I have to engage. Or I have to reply to the event organizer and going through my CRM and engage directly.
So that’s the calendar part.

VINCENT: And then on the, how do I choose an event? So when I don’t know the event, the [info on calendars and Selected] was super insightful, I can get directly into the website and actually find the description of the event before even asking other people or going to the website, which is the hardest part of our jobs, because cutting through the noise of all the events is really hard.

VINCENT: And to be even honest and fair, you know this, because you notice a bit about my strategy with Northzone, but I really don’t engage with events at a senior level. So what I really try to do is for the partners at Northzone, I really try to make sure that we at least are responding to the event organizers because there’s a lot of inbounds. So we make sure that we have the top 20 events top of mind and engage with them. And then for the others, I really try to have an overview of what is, is, you know good or not, because I won’t have the time to do what you guys are doing in terms of research. So that’s what I’m using the project for.

VINCENT: And we could talk about features that you have in the roadmap that are super interesting as well. And I wish I could already use them, but this is already solving a big part of my marketing problems.

BEN: Amazing. Thank you for this. And we’re going to, you know, quote you and then use that, you know, billboards everywhere.

[00:28:11] Content works from vision

BEN:  You think that good content and events being part of it is actually something that takes time. That takes expertise. They expect, you know, quite the opposite of serendipity, that curating stuff. And I’m wondering, you know, like it would like to, to share a bit more, what is your point of view around content, you know, like the bigger picture, not just events related.

VINCENT: So my thinking content and I’m pretty sure a lot of people in this room who have marketing roles will understand most of the time when you’re into marketing function, people expect you to produce the content and be like, “Oh, we have an amazing product. Can you please market it and go to the markets and sell it and, and, you know, build content out of this?” But it’s not how content works.

VINCENT: Content works from vision.  And it’s very, very hard to find a founding team that has vision around content. And this is, I think the hardest parts in a marketer’s job is picking the right team that is going to provide you with a lot of vision strategy and raw content.

VINCENT: And I think this is something that it’s very hard with VC. Welcome to the community, Ana. And I really hope that you’re going to have partners that are going to help you through this funnel of ideas, but most of the time, VCs have a lot of ideas but they just never conceptualize them. They would have gut feelings, they would have amazing vision and would be innovative, but they wouldn’t know how to editorialize these ideas.

VINCENT: And this is the role of the marketer. Like how do you make sure that, you know, out of everything that they say, because they see a lot of things and have new ideas, you really spot what makes them unique and what is going to drive the audience?

VINCENT: And this is what I’m doing with the partnership at Northzone. I could spend hours every day on each partner to do some stuff for them, but I can’t. I really need to spot what is unique. And sometimes, you know, for one month, I’m going to spend a lot of time with one of the partners because we have the serendipity, you know, just makes us closer because we have something that we are talking about. So now my job is to convert these discussions into concrete opportunities because we basically went down the rabbit hole of something.

[00:30:50] Putting a process in place

VINCENT: There’s a lot of things around with vaccines for example. Like you could, you could find a lot of angles. But I can’t, I would never spend, you know enter my week and be like, Oh, what is interesting this week? Let’s write about. And let’s do another article about tips for founders. No, this is not how this works. And so this is why, and I know we had thousands of discussions around this Ben, I think it’s a very hard job in the long term because sometimes you’re very creative and some other times you’re not.

VINCENT: Hence, you need to put in place processes to be sure that you always produce content, stay top of mind. But my vision of content is that it’s not a question of writing or processes which are tactics. So most of the time people assume that talking about content or doing great content is having an amazing person that is going to do everything. No – it is a culture. You need to build this culture first and you need to build this culture of creating content. I’m lucky with Northzone because these people are producing a lot and I basically just select what is going to be newsworthy or interesting for entrepreneurs.

[00:32:03 ] Prioritizing content

BEN: So what you’re doing with the Northzone newsletter is the same as with Capital Call? You basically have to curate what is worth going in?

VINCENT: Yes. And it’s very hard because even though I have values that are written in a Notion page, or, you know, a strategy that I put in front of the partners in front of the team. Most of the time it’s going to be my gut feeling, my opinion on the new cycles.

So, you know, sometimes they don’t understand. They’re like, Oh no, this is very interesting. We should, we should do it. Like we should go big about it. And I’m like, yes, but X,Y, Z. And this is really my role to make sure that on top of curation, I prioritize well.

[00:33:00] Capital Call

BEN: Talking about Capital Call. I think there’s an interesting point that we haven’t covered yet. So one of your objectives with these newsletter is that you want to push VCs to write more, to share their ideas more. And especially in Europe. And there’s a kind of a lobbying element there that is maybe not really visible when people go and subscribe, you know, I’m a subscriber. That’s great I can find some, you know, maybe one or two articles that I can reuse for my own reading list that I publish. So, you know, what is the behind the door? Like? What is the bigger plan? Like do you expect to get VCs in Europe to write more? Because there is an opportunity to lobby for Europe as a place for entrepreneurship and so on. Can you explain this?

VINCENT: You already said everything. A lot of VCs were pissed off. This is unfortunate that it’s recorded. I think maybe – I’m not going to name and shame – but a lot of VCs are pissed off because we don’t feature them and they spend a lot of time writing articles, but with the brand name. So you would have “X” ventures writing an amazing piece, super well written, and then signed by “X” ventures. It’s already half of the work. You need to embody your opinions.

VINCENT: It is too easy to publish content without a person or without a team. If it’s your intern that is building this, do put a name on it. They deserve the exposure.

[00:34:49] VC & Media

VINCENT: So I think that this is the point that we are making with Capital Call is that we always complained that we haven’t been vocal about our ecosystem and we complain that when it’s _____(unnamed American VCs) coming into town basically saying, “We’re going to conquer you. We know better Europe. We hired amazing people in Europe and we now are going to invest in Europe.” Well, they know how to shape a narrative. It’s amazing. And we don’t, and this is what we’re trying to do with Capital Call. We tried to say to VCs, if you don’t want these VCs to overtake the media attention, write, do interviews, go to the press.

VINCENT: This is something I talk about with Sifted and Tech.eu, for example, they don’t have a lot of interaction with VCs because when VCs come to them, they come with news. You know, they, they have something to announce and, and, you know, you need to publish it because, you know, it’s important for my business that people notice. No, the way you create relationships and the way you create causes (and this is the point with Capital Call) is that you really, really need to shape an opinion.

VINCENT: And you know, that we have a lot of great VCs that we may know in our cycles, but we just don’t know what they stand for. And they have been backing you know, big companies like Spotify, Kahoot!, Datadog, Deliveroo, but they never write something. Or when they do it’s ghostwritten and it’s obvious. I think they need to take up their pen and they need to, to just stand for something because this, and this is, this is why we created Capital Call. We come to the same conclusion that we needed to drive FOMO around this. And, and you will be surprised by the ranking of the firms because they are actually super hands-on.

VINCENT: Like one of the main publishers is Point Nine Capital. And Point Nine is doing a lot for the entrepreneurial community and the big names are not. And I think this is this important to highlight.

SEBASTIAN: No, no, it’s funny. Literally the second I pressed send, he was saying the same thing as someone who has been writing for the ecosystem for years, way before it was popular with a very specific voice. That’s not always everybody’s tastes, but it’s very specific. It’s on a specific niche in tech and they just make it their own and they write about that. And from that point of view, you don’t just call the journal

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