Christine Souffrant has a quote she lives by: “Life is a promise…fulfill it.” She’s definitely been doing her share of self-fulfillment. As the CEO of Vendedy, an app that digitizes street vending, Christine has not only made her dream of being a successful entrepreneur come true, but she’s helping business men and women around the nation. Vendors from emerging markets upload photos of their wares on their mobile devices, and travelers can purchase them via SMS. Vendedy acts as a sort of mediator and keeps a 20% sales commission. Less than a year old, Vendedy has gotten the attention of the Clinton Global Initiative, and has earned its bold CEO a partnership with IBM. Christine was a finalist for the $1 million Chivas Venture Fund.
When she’s not taking care of Vendedy business, Christine is teaching other women of this generation to empower themselves and to disrupt the world through innovation.
For her, maintaining balance while pursuing a business agenda is of the essence. To her, life isn’t about just business events, meeting investors and flipping through the pages of the latest business wisdom bestseller, it also means traveling to new places and absorbing new cultures. It’s about taking time to enjoy spontaneous things like skydiving, shark diving, scrap-booking, and sometimes taking a simple photograph.
Not that entrepreneur life has been all silk and crystal for her. As the final pieces of Vendedy were coming together, the sassy and adventurous entrepreneur lost her father. The devastating loss made her take an emotional pause, but it hasn’t stopped her…
Kreyolicious: I think the name Vendedy is so cute…creative and the fact that it has the root verb for the word “vending” in it. Was it hard coming up with that name?
Great question. We were originally Vended International when we started as a blog. Once I had to incorporate the company to close a deal with IBM, I realized that Vended International describes what we do, but not the essence of who we are. I spent a week or two looking for inspiration—reading about the new wave of names today: Google, Uber, Hulu, Twitter etc. None of them make sense, but that’s the fun in their names. I wanted our name to be just as fun, but blatantly meaningful. The root “vende” does mean street vendor as you identified in many different languages English, Creole, Portuguese etc. But it also signifies our vendetta for street vendors worldwide. It came to me out of nowhere. I was hovering between Vendy and Vendedy. Vendy was already taken, so Vendedy was the next favorite. When I presented the new name to the team, the reaction wasn’t as excited as I anticipated. They all struggled with just pronouncing it. In the end, it grew on us and it became what it evolved to today. [Smiles]
Above: A street vendor in Haiti, and a beneficiary of Vendedy.
Kreyolicious: Did you study business?
Yes. I lived business through my upbringing amongst street vendors in Haiti an through managing businesses in New York. Furthermore, I’ve done many business programs from Tuck Bridge MBA summer, to Hult International Business School’s Dubai Master program. I’ve been a student of business and entrepreneurship since birth.
Kreyolicious: I think that it’s cool that you’ve come from several generations of women entrepreneurs. How do they feel about your joining their ranks?
Psychotic—in the beginning. I was the first to know what it means to have a corporate job! I was on my third promotion when I told my family I would quit to move to Dubai and find my dream. It was the stupidest thing they ever heard me do. But as Vendedy exploded on to the scene, my mother in particular became my biggest partner, friend and cheerleader. Now, they refuse to see me go back to normalcy. The entrepreneurial spirit and mission that Vendedy promotes has inspired everyone in my family.
Above: Christine speaking at the Social Hive Summit is Trinidad.
Kreyolicious: Good for you girl. Do you think part of them feels that you should have opted for something more traditional?
In the beginning—yes. Not anymore. What’s more meaningful is not just the reaction of the women in my family, but more so my father who is the ultimate conservative. The last photo I have of my papa before [his] passing away last year is [of] him wearing the Vendedy #Disrupthenorm shirt. That was the biggest moment for me because my papa saw real potential in me to disrupt the typical career verticals available to our generation. Overtime, he told me candidly that he was proud of my convictions behind Vendedy and that my spirit and commitment to Vendedy was his biggest accomplishment. “To father a child who goes beyond normalcy to aim for greatness while uplifting others”.
Kreyolicious: What’s been t he hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?
Mental stability. Quite frankly, building a company is easy—from idea to development to market execution and funding is a process we can all prepare for. But the mental roller coaster of dealing with the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur is one for the books!
Kreyolicious: How do you handle the roughest days?
First, stop taking things personally. Everyone has something to pitch and every entrepreneur will be met with some level of skepticism. No one is saying, “I must destroy your company now!” The more we are able to focus on leveraging the external feedback on our companies—both the good and the bad) for points of learning and development—the higher our chances of success.
Second, quotes are an amazing motivator to define your reality and excite you to recreate it the way you believe it should be. My two favorites for my entrepreneurial journey thus far is as follows: “Entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down” [from] Reid H founder of LinkedIn whom I’ve met in person. [The other is] “If 99% of people doubt your idea, you are either gravely wrong or about to make history”. Hashtag…truth.
Kreyolicious: Truth…What books have you read that have helped you tremendously in your journey that you’d like to recommend that others read?
For real entrepreneurial disrupters—Bold by Peter Diamondis. Scrapbook Points on Entrepreneurship—randomly just coined by me. What I mean by this is that information and advice is accelerating so fast that there is no one book to guide your entrepreneurial journey. So, I’ve actually catalogued the best mesh of articles, quotes and minutes from great tech events that is personalized for my growth and development as an entrepreneur. It is the best guidebook one can have because it’s updated in real time and includes multiple—often contradictory perspectives—that can really accelerate your progress.
Above: Christine Souffrant, CEO of Vendedy at a press conference in Haiti.
Kreyolicious: Some great selections…no doubt…What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to become an entrepreneur…whether as an app developer…or otherwise?
Your biggest strength to build a great company is the why. I’m not kidding. Ideas come a dime a dozen. Business models will evolve, and teams will mold often to bring any concept to market. But the why of why you started the company, the why of why it’s relevant for your target market and the why behind why you are the right person—and–team to make it happen—will follow you at every turn. And at the end of the day, the why is why you will get funding, customers, employees and market acceptance. The idea of Vendedy fascinates many, but the why of how it was created has inspired thousands.
Kreyolicious: What’s next for you?
Launching Vendedy across the Caribbean market this fall, and being one step closer to digitizing the global street vending Industry to tackle global poverty. More to come!