All chordates, including urochordates such as tunicates, develop through embryogenesis. The chordate larvae of colonial tunicates metamorphose to lose all chordate structures such as notochord, neural tube, segmented musculature, and then develop by asexual reproduction [blastogenesis], whereby stem cells form tissues and organs. These two developmental pathways establish the same body axis, morphogenetic patterning and organ formation. It is unknown if this convergent morphology implies convergent cellular and molecular mechanisms, and whether the stem cells that mediate these processes differ. Using the colonial tunicate Botryllus schlosseri, we combined transcriptome sequencing and multiple microscopy techniques to study the molecular and morphological signatures of cells at each developmental stage of embryogenesis and blastogenesis. This revealed that the molecular programs are distinct, but the blastogenic tissue-specific stem cells and embryonic precursor populations share similar molecular profiles. By comparing embryogenesis in other chordates we found shared developmental principles, highlighting transcription factors as key evolutionary conserved elements. This study establishes a platform for advancing the science of stem cell biology and regulation of development and regeneration.