Written on 30 October 2014.
You head up the EDHEC Young Entrepreneurs Incubator, a project that has launched 68 businesses since its creation in 2010. What’s it like working with business innovators on a daily basis?
I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with people who are living a special kind of dream: Creating a business from scratch. These people are special to me because they are creating the jobs of the future and shaping the very way we will live tomorrow. It is a great experience for me to support, coach, and mentor our entrepreneurs and it goes beyond the notion of “a job” for me: It is a mission and a journey into building outstanding relationships and trust that, I hope, will equip each entrepreneur for success.
Before your arrival at EDHEC, you worked in South Africa, Germany, the U.S.A and the UK. What did you take away from these international experiences?
Often there is a sort of arrogance from companies who want to develop internationally thinking that they are so good that people just need to see their product to fall in love with it! But if we are all equal, we are all different and the way a South African eats, entertains, barbecues, etc. is different! I have learnt to listen, to adapt and to have the humility to acknowledge that I did not have all the answers and could learn a great deal from others. Working with people on the edge of poverty in Cape Town, South Africa made me learn that there are outstanding opportunities of energy, growth and creativity in us all and that through team work outstanding results can be achieved. I feel that these experiences have made me a world citizen with a French accent!
What’s your best advice to people looking to start a business? What is the biggest mistake people make?
My best advice is to not be afraid to test your idea in the marketplace, whether that marketplace is your hometown or in a city across the ocean, and to test it as quickly as you can. Take the plunge!
The biggest mistake is that people seem to think it’s easy to build a customer base through “buzz”. Wrong! Building a customer base is extremely difficult and can only be accomplished through a carefully crafted, multi-channel marketing strategy.
What’s the most interesting trend you’ve noticed in business development and/or innovation?
I find it fascinating that new technology such as the Smartphone, which after all is only about 10 years old, is dramatically reshaping the way we live. We can make purchases with our phones, monitor our sleep, track our exercise, and listen to our favourite band. Today lot of start-ups are working on new applications for Smartphones, including ones that could be used in even the poorest countries in the world, such as for exchanging money between people in Africa, for example. I feel lucky to be alive at this moment in time and to witness these new technologies.
If you could shadow any business entrepreneur in the world for 24 hours, who would it be?
I would love to shadow Richard Branson in his venture to send tourists into space because one of my dreams is to walk on the moon or go to Mars. I would like to listen to him share his vision of the future of space exploration, as I am fascinated by the technology and the emergence of private companies in this new field. As someone who loves innovation and entrepreneurship, it would be fascinating to learn more about the business model for Virgin Galactic. You are a passionate long-distance runner. How did you get into running and how does this sport influence your work?
Running has a great influence on my work and even on my methods of coaching young entrepreneurs. I believe that an entrepreneur is the Olympic athlete of his or her project. That is why he or she needs coaches and advisers: to train, to build muscle, and to strategize! I think that organisation and a good work ethic are the keys to success as an entrepreneur and that these characteristics mirror those of top marathon runners; men and women who are dedicated to their training and competition schedules.
Is there something you can’t live without?
No, I think we are too reliant on “things”. I love nature and being alone in a forest or on a mountain top fills me with music, poetry, and colourful images. These are the things that I cannot live without.
What is your personal motto?
It is a Zen proverb: When you reach the top of the mountain… Keep climbing!
In the kitchen, I like to: (finish this sentence and explain your answer)
In the kitchen, I like to cook Thai and Indian food. I appreciate the unique taste of these cuisines as well as the long process that is involved in order to achieve the right balance of flavours.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
I’m not sure I cried, but I laughed really hard the other day when I tried to ride my son’s skateboard. It was not pretty.