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“From employee to entrepreneur: why?”, an Entrepreneurs’ Club round-table in Lille

28 February 2020

On 28 January, three SKEMA alumni shared their experiences as entrepreneurs during an event organised by the Lille Entrepreneurs’ Club.

At the gorgeous new Mama Shelter, they shared their experiences of making the leap from employment to starting their own business. They then took questions from the audience.

The cocktail reception that followed was a chance to mingle, continue debates, share experiences and swap business cards.

SKEMA Alumni took the opportunity to ask the pitchers about their respective entrepreneurial journeys:

 

 
Xavier Gendron (SK 1995), founder of BeWe, offering digital transformation solutions for connected businesses.

Why did you choose to leave employment?

After I was laid off, a friend introduced me to Euratech, a startup incubator and accelerator. That got me considering the opportunity to start my own business. In 2012, there was a lot of work to be done on the collaborative front in businesses as part of their announced digital transformation. Plus after 15 years of employment in roles such as sales manager, regional manager in sales, management/HR and administration, I wanted something different, a new challenge. Perhaps it was a midlife crisis that helped me to rise to the challenge of starting my own business.

What is it about entrepreneurship that motivates you?

I wanted to be my own boss, to not have to answer to anyone, to manage my own schedule and objectives. Although, let’s be honest, we’re never really completely “free”, since we do have to answer to shareholders and bankers, for example, and we have a responsibility towards our clients and employees.

Was it a winning gamble?

Absolutely! I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I can’t imagine ever going back to being an employee.

What were some of the difficulties you hadn’t anticipated?

Finding funds took longer than expected.

What advice do you have for our alumni?

You have to be patient, because everything takes more time than you think. Finances are crucial: make sure you have enough money and don’t fall into the red! Have a safety net in place. And above all, don’t hesitate to give it a go if it’s what you want!

SKEMA and entrepreneurship, a successful mix?

Yes, without a doubt: my SKEMA training and the alumni network undoubtedly accelerated my entrepreneurial plans.

If you held a managerial position in your previous company, was it different to managing your own business as an entrepreneur?

Not that different, but the position of business owner, let alone that of founder, is even different to the role of general manager within a company, because you also have the responsibility of funding the business and keeping it going.

What are your expectations of the alumni network? How can we help you? Have you stayed in touch with the network?

To continue to attend Entrepreneurs’ Club events 😊

 

 
Justine Thiriez-Rebold (SK 2011), founder of the clothing store Slowmod, former associate director at the web agency Lemon Interactive.

Why did you choose to leave employment?

I left my company because I felt the need to create Slowmod. It enabled me to offer a better way to consume fashion that was more affordable for all families and work to really promote upcycling and buying second-hand. I also needed my project to have an element of solidarity and for it to help the community in some way, as businesses can. 

What is it about entrepreneurship that motivates you?

I still have trouble explaining it, because I was passionate about digital and very invested in the company where I was working, but the pull of this was stronger than all of that. It isn’t entrepreneurship that motivated me, it’s the venture!

Was it a winning gamble?

Yes! I feel fulfilled in my daily life, I have managed to find a work-life balance and, for the time being at least, the financial side is balanced too.

What were some of the difficulties you hadn’t anticipated?

I went from a job where I was hardly ever standing to work that is less static, so the physical fatigue was hard to deal with at first. I was used to mental fatigue in my last job, but with Slowmod it was something else entirely and without the body nothing works! This was an opportunity for me to work on the mind-body connection, whereas before it was my head that ran the show :)

What advice do you have for our alumni?

  • Share your plans with others as much as possible, even before getting started; don’t be afraid of the confidential side of things, because it’s by sharing that you meet other people and fine-tune your ideas.
  • Block out some breathing time in your schedule (sport, a walk etc.) and keep to it: don’t put it off!
  • Follow your intuition, go with your gut in your business dealings with suppliers and others, trust yourself.
  • Write a mission statement so that whenever doubt creeps in you can ask yourself if you’re in alignment with what you wrote.
  • Surround yourself with and meet people. Don’t operate in a vacuum :)
  • Try things out! Jump in and try. Don’t wait to have all your ducks in a row; let go of the perfection we so love to aim for (without ever achieving it ;)). Testing different things will quickly show you what works and what doesn’t so you can react and tweak.

SKEMA and entrepreneurship, a successful mix?

Yes! I did a master’s in project management. With that training under my belt I was able to structure the business creation process and it helped me to anticipate/prepare, plan out the workload. I was able to develop logical/mechanical thought processes. And project management in a group and with tight deadlines teaches you to handle pressure :)

If you held a managerial position in your previous company, was it different to managing your own business as an entrepreneur?

For me there was no real change... one thing, perhaps: the speed of the process. When you work for a company there are group decisions that can take time, whereas now it all happens quickly since I’m the only one deciding :)

What are your expectations of the alumni network? How can we help you? Have you stayed in touch with the network?

The network is already helping a lot, even just with this invitation to pitch. It’s a great exercise! In terms of help, I’d like to chat with other people who have several shops or a network of franchises, to discuss expansion.

 


Gery Lesaffre
(SK 1987), owner and CEO of Picto Lille

Why did you choose to leave employment?

A longstanding desire to run my own business combined with a professional situation that no longer satisfied me.

What is it about entrepreneurship that motivates you?

What motivates me is the desire to better control my own destiny over the coming years.

Was it a winning gamble?

Yes, definitely!

What advice do you have for our alumni?

You have to find the right target/business to buy. Competition is tough in this area because there are a lot more potential buyers than there are independent businesses on the market. And get competent people to help you with the buying process.

If you held a managerial position in your previous company, was it different to managing your own business as an entrepreneur?

Yes, for sure. But this has more to do with adapting the management to the size, the types of people or even the person’s role. 

What are your expectations of the alumni network? How can we help you? Have you stayed in touch with the network?

It’s thanks to the network that I saved time in identifying the right contacts to find an existing business to buy. Generally speaking, the network helps you to more quickly identify the people with the right expertise or the right network to bring your project to life.

 

Well done to our ambassadors (Marie-Aude Tran and Xavier Gendron) for their running of the club and to all the entrepreneurs in the SKEMA Alumni network for their energy, determination and for sharing their inspiring experiences!


See you on 26 May 2020 for the next pitch session. Get in touch with Audrey Touyon, our network/events coordinator in Lille if you’d like to pitch!

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