Middle-man Startup - Interview with the Founder of a French Property Service

Middle-man Startup - Interview with the Founder of a French Property Service

This article was written by Global Graduates, published on 20th November 2013 and has been read 4260 times.

You know what it’s like to arrive in a new country and feel lost, or to try and communicate with someone without speaking their language, or to try to use a new product without understanding the instructions, or to misunderstand foreign paperwork – imagine how useful it would be to have a middle man who understands what you’re going through and can make it easier for you. As someone who knows and appreciates two languages and two cultures, you can act as a bridge between them for people. You can help them to buy a house abroad, communicate with foreign tradesmen, visit cultural sites, organise a wedding abroad or negotiate business dealings, and you are in a unique position to do so. Here's an interview with James Martin, Founder of All Abroad.

James Martin studied International Business and Modern Languages (French) at Aston University (2012) and is the Founder of “All Abroad”: French Property Management and Maintenance Services which he started in July 2012 upon finishing his degree.

1. Did you spend a year abroad during your degree?

Yes, I spent 13 months in Paris working as a marketing intern at Deutsche Bank.

2. Please describe your business

All Abroad provides property management and maintenance services to non-resident (mainly British or non-French speaking) homeowners in the Gironde region of Southwest France. As a single-solution contact for all property related concerns and requirements: security, upkeep and renovation, we operate to ensure the homeowner’s rental income and piece of mind. Furthermore All Abroad acts as an intermediary giving administrative support in the challenging foreign context allowing foreign homeowners to manage effectively their property investment at a distance. We’re still in the development stages but have a few clients onboard and we’re looking to be fully operative come next March or April, before the peak seasons begin.

Being self-employed doesn’t mean less work or work of a less challenging or intensive nature, however being directly accountable for every element of the business and its progress is incredibly rewarding and means I wake up every morning looking forward to developing and growing my business. The first few weeks have been very hard as there are lots of obstacles to overcome; legal, tax etc. but also finding the customers. Once I have a solid customer base and monthly contracts are in place, the stability will enable me to focus on growing the company even further.

3. Describe your light bulb moment

When I was on holiday one year in a rented villa with my family it occurred to me that somebody must be doing a lot of work around here to maintain this property and to keep it running in between incoming guests. Secondly, when hearing someone in my family (who owned a property abroad) complaining about the poor service he was receiving from a similar business in Portugal so I thought, I can do that… and I’ll do it better.

4. How did your language skills, intercultural skills more broadly, or experiences abroad enable or inspire you to set up your company?

My language and intercultural skills made it a lot easier to set-up a business in France as battling the paperwork and pen pushers would have been impossible otherwise. They have also helped me settle in a lot quicker as I’m accustomed to the notion of living in France after my year abroad and found integrating myself to social and business circles came naturally.

5. What is the value of languages and/or intercultural skills for your business?

Ultimately my language skills and local knowledge are fundamental to my service offering. As I mentioned, my company’s main function is to act as the middleman between a client, their property and anything it encounters, may that be; paying guests, building work or even dealing with utilities companies for example. France and speaking French have always been my passion so I guess in order to apply this to a full time vocation it was inevitable that I would start-up in France.

6. What do you wish you had known before you started up?

You always bring work home with you (because home is where I work). Its very hard to escape and put business issues to the back of the mind, but nowadays with whoever you work for your Blackberry can be going off at any hour so I cant really complain.

7. Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

Business planning is essential. I don’t normally adhere to such objective methods but I’ve found that until you can coherently write your idea down on paper no one will take you seriously as you’re not taking the business seriously. Sometimes when you have that light bulb moment you can get carried away and blinded… never ignore it, but step back at some point to reassess that you’re really going in the right direction.

8. Do you have any further comments about the year abroad and entrepreneurship?

All the clichéd statements are true: Going abroad on your placement year “broadens your horizons”, “you make new friends” and some may even go as far as saying they “found themselves”.

But I do believe it is true. Everybody who goes on a placement year says they learnt more than the first two years of university together, but upon coming back to university in final year, I can honestly say there was a more remarkable (positive) difference in character of those who had been abroad… A significant increase in confidence and drive, all reinforced by the new friends you made from being in a different country together.

9. Did you receive any business support from your university before, during or after you set up your business?

There was always a lot of encouragement from my university to pursue the entrepreneurial route and help from the careers service who can put you on the right path to getting things moving. There was also an entrepreneurial society which no doubt would have been good for creating contacts, but I unfortunately didn’t take advantage of this.


To read more interviews and get advice about starting a business to do with languages, travel or culture, download a free copy of the Higher Education Academy's report: 'Languages and Entrepreneurship: a Guide for Students'.

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