samedi 27 novembre 2010

« It is cold in here » (P.V, spring 2010)

As one of the greatest mind of our time said one day in the middle of the Luxemburgish spring: « It is cold in here ». This is probably the sentence I repeated the most in our one week stay in Mongolia as the average day and night temperature was around -15 degrees Celsius, with minima at around -25 degrees Celsius and an incredibly strong wind-chill… but we will come back to that later.

Anastasia advised us to take a bus from Oulan Oude instead of a train in order to reach UlanBataar (UB), our next destination. It was half price, and you are supposed to save quite a lot of time when crossing the border. We therefore first took a night train at 10pm to Oulan Oude (we did not pay for the couchette and therefore had to stay awake almost the whole night) and jumped into a bus from that point (around 7am). From there started a looooooooooong drive on an icy road covered with snow. The driver was very rarely driving over 50 km/h and it sometimes felt like running would be faster.

Crossing the border was an adventure on its own. First we got in a line with other cars and trucks that seem to be here forever. An officer from the Russian military came on board and checked our passport for the first time. She obviously did not speak a word of English and tried with the smile of an angry dog to explain to us that we were or were not supposed to do something based on what was written on our visas (our last assumption was that she did not understand why we would leave before our visa was actually expired). Then everyone needed to go in a building and queue to receive the exit stamp from the Russian side. While we were queuing, another officer checked our passport and required your registration paper (every foreigner is supposed to register at the immigration office within 72 hours after his arrival in Russia) that we of course had only available on my iPod. After a few explanations with the officer (and thanks to the help of two very nice ladies), we finally got the stamp! We sat back in the bus, and yet another Russian officer checks your passport for the last time which finally allowed us to cross the border… except for the fact that now we had to do the same formalities on the Mongolian side (plus customs control). I will not mention the whole process again but altogether we probably stayed at the border for 5 hours.

The end of the trip was rather quiet and quite cold (of course). The inside windows of the bus were frozen (literally frozen) during the last hours of the trip and we finally made it to Ulanbataar around 1 am. We were lucky enough to find a cheap guesthouse that we shared with an American guy (another post should follow about him one day) which closed our 26 hours journey to cross the border. After that we stayed almost every night in a duplex lent by Christopher, one of the entrepreneurs we were supposed to meet. Christopher, thanks again for that, it was the perfect place to stay in UB !

The two next days were spent buying our tickets to Beijing, visiting the center of UB and walking around the capital city of this country of 3 million inhabitants. We have seen a couple of temples, a few nice building and a lot of mess. It really felt good to be back in Asia as I really enjoy this organized disorder that characterizes Asian cities. The city is full of pub/ restaurants which seem to have flourished very quickly has the economy developed in the country. I am not sure though that the demand can handle so many pubs, and I’m pretty sure lots of them will close shortly, but that gives you a good idea of how dynamic this city is. We also spent the two last days visiting a couple of museums. I strongly recommend the National Museum of History which would teach a lot about how great this civilization is.

As being in Mongolia would be pointless if not to visit a bit of countryside, we decided to go on a 4 days trip in two National Parks: Gorkhi-Terelj National Parkat first, and then Khoustain National Park (4days/3 nights tour). We arrived in the first park around 10.30 am. We only knew we would ride a horse and sleep with a family in a yoghourt ger for the next two days. That is basically all we could understand from our guide. What we did not know was that the horse ride would be 30 kms round trip and would end up at 8.30 pm and would take around 9 hours. Before we left, both our guide and the horseman with whom we were supposed to ride during this day decided that our pair of trousers plus a pair of long underpants were not enough to stand the cold on the horse. I think I will never be able to thank them enough for laughing at us and making us put the traditional Mongolian coat that they lent us even though when we left we actually thought they were exaggerating.

In Mongolia, no one is embarrassed to put you on a horse, without asking if can handle it. If you can sit on it, and if you are able to shout loudly “Tchouuuuuuuuu!” while whipping the horse, you are good to go! After being bounced for 45 minutes, I decided to assess how my back felt (it was already really painful) and “jumped” down from the horse. Not only my backbone already made me suffer, but my knees were in no condition to even stand up properly. I therefore asked the guy how many kilometers were done at that point and he said 3… I think if it was not for Yann (and for my belief that there was something extraordinary at the end of the 15 kilometers) I would have stopped as I was sure I would not be able to stand for next 2 weeks. But I decided to hold on and continue on a looooooong loooooooooooong way to the statue we were supposed to see. We crossed frozen rivers, went through forests, trotted as much as we (both the horse and I) could to reach our destination. The sun already almost went done and we were very tired as horse riding seems to use so muscles an auditor usually does not use so much. The wind started to increase slightly and we started to feel a little bit cold. This is when we realized that no car would show up in the middle of nowhere and that we had to ride back to the ger.

From that point onward started the coldest/most painful experience of my life. As the sun set, the temperature decreased in no time, and the wind blew stronger. Coldness in that case is biting you everywhere it can. We could barely feel our heels or our fingers. Our nose and our cheeks would irremediably freeze and our knees felt like stone. I had to put my balaclava which resulted in being blind as the steam I produced was instantly becoming ice on my glasses. As the night felt down, I had to let the guide lead my horse as I could not see a single thing and my horse was too exhausted to follow. For the 2 remaining hours I was therefore focusing on trying to warm up my body and move my back in every direction I could in order to be able to move the next morning. When we finally arrived to the ger, I think we (Yann and I) both agreed that we were never that cold in our whole life and that we never felt pain in so many parts of our body at the same time… To conclude, that was a tough day, but I would do it again, as the ride was nice, and I think that one needs to experience that feeling at least once in his life (plus, my back did not hurt so much the next day ;-)).

We spent the next day hiking around, climbing up and down snowy hills from morning to evening… Nothing special, except for the fact that the landscapes were beautiful as you can see on the pictures.

An interesting fact though… when we left for our morning session, a cow was attached in front of the ger. When we came back, we found t
he same cow in spare parts both inside and outside the ger. It was full of blood, but I was overly impressed by how fast the whole process took (roughly 3 hours to kill it and cut it in small pieces). I never had meat that fresh in my mouth (because of course part of this cow was our lunch), and this was probably the best meat we had since we left. We really had a great couple of days with the family. The mother is a really good cook, even though communication was difficult as she did not speak a word of English. We had a lot of fun with the 2 years old girl (Ano) who became Yann’s best friend, and the father, our horse guide, is a very kind strong man (who fixed my back in 3 seconds). He offered us a couple of beers one evening… which did not surprised me and was actually very nice. What was really surprising was that Ano also had a couple of beers. There was no way to stop her talking after that!

After the second night with the family, our guide took us to the second National Park, which is very famous for its wild horses. We did see a family of these wild horses, and I took like a thousand pictures for my little sister Clarisse (I was more interested in how they taste like…). After a long night of rest, and a few vodka cups with our guide, we drove to hike a bit in a place Mongolians call the little Gobi desert. Unfortunately our guide was also our driver and did not really stop drinking the whole night/morning. That made him both very talkative and also made him focused more on us than on the road which was both very funny since we were in the middle of nowhere, but also quite scary as we knew we would have at some point to go on actual roads. We therefore took our time hiking, hoping he would get sober. We then made him stop in order to climb a hill that looked very close by but was actually very far away. The fields are so wide in this country that you actually do not see the actual distances anymore until you have to walk them. Once again, we reached a very impressive viewpoint, and I do not have words to describe the panel of colors we have seen that day.

Fortunately, the driver asked Yann to drive home… while offering me vodka. I think that it was the first time in my life I had a couple of vodka shots before breakfast at 11 am… but thanks to Yann we made it safely to UB.

I guess we are done with Mongolia… and we now head to Beijing, China !

vendredi 26 novembre 2010


Our week in Siberia was mainly divided in 3 parts: Listvyanka and the Olkhone Island on the Baikal Lake.

Irkutsk: We were hosted by Anastasia during our whole stay in Irkutsk and around. She lives in a very comfy apartment not far from the city center which was marvelous for us. As a tourism student, she did a terrific job in showing us the best places in her city and helping us to plan everything. Irkutsk is roughly around 500.000 inhabitants, It is the capital of Siberia, and is located about 60 kms from the Baikal lake felt better there than in Moscow; probably because it is smaller for one thing, and also because I enjoyed very much the wooden style of the old houses that seem to be eaten by the ground little by little.

As often, people seem more relax around here than in the capital city of the country. Thus, the cultural life as well as the fact that the nature is not far away brings a new light on the Russian lifestyle. In brief: I enjoyed very much Irkutsk

Listvyanka and the Baikal Lake: During our stay, we decided to take a one day tour to Listvyanka, the closest town from Irkutsk which has a direct access to the Baikal Lake. We were told that the countryside around the town would offer some pretty interesting sightseeing points. We met in the minibus a German guy (Niko) who was also on a quite long journey, and therefore spent the day together, walking around in the woods. We got kind of trap in the loop of “the-view-is-nice-from-here-but-I’m-pretty-sure-the-view-would-be-even-nice- from-the-next-hill-right-there”, and therefore we ended up walking all day long from one hill to another. The weather was perfect, the colors incredibly beautiful and we therefore quickly forgot that the combination of snow and steep hills made the “road” very slippery. The pictures I guess speak for themselves…. On the way back we tried the local fish that every Russian had told us about when we were in the train: the omoul. It is kind of steamed fish which absolutely delicious, especially after 5 hours of running around in the Siberian countryside.

Olkhone Island: The last thing we wanted to do is to stay a couple of days (or rather a couple of nights) on the Olkhone Island as we wanted both to see the Baikal lake from one of its most beautiful part and also try to camp in not so warm conditions (remember we are in Siberia in November…). The Baikal Lake is what you would call a HUGE lake, which is the size of a country like Switzerland and has 22% of the worldwide reserves of drinkable water (or at least this is what Russians claim…). Another interesting fact is that it gets completely frozen in winter, and you can actually walk or even drive on it. Trust me it is hard to believe when you see this gigantic lake, but even in Nivember we could actually walk on some (small) parts of it. If you want to know more about it, please check Couple of great days hiking… again, you should check the pictures. It was the first time in my life I camped in these conditions: in the middle of a forest, with view on the lake in the morning; and of course between -5 and – 10 degrees Celsius during the night. It was actually nice even though you do need to think twice before you get out of your sleeping bag in the morning. Condensation would let a few drops of water on the opening of the bag which would make your mouth and your hands wet when you wake up. Not the best feeling ever at this temperature… but overall a good experience!

Gallery of pictures:



Olkhone Island:

That’s all for now… next step: Mongolia !


La vie en Sibérie

Nous sommes finalement arrivés à la capitale Sibérienne Irkoutsk avec un retard de 5 heures… Un train de marchandise s’est renversé, emportant avec lui la moitie de la voie. Du coup, à 2h du matin et par -8°C, il n’y avait personne pour venir à notre rencontre. La gare d’Irkoutsk n’ayant pas de wifi pour pouvoir joindre notre hôte, nous avons envisagé de dormir sur place…C’est un gamin qui nous a décidé à rechercher une connexion internet. Il réveillait continuellement les voyageurs s’ils ne lui donnaient pas quelques roubles. Benoit a finalement trouvé le seul russe du coin parlant anglais et disposant d’un accès internet. Nous avons enfin sauté dans un taxi direction : ange du couch surfing : Anastasia.

Celle-ci nous a accueillis comme des princes dans un appartement 5 étoiles. La douche a été comme une libération et le sommeil plus que réparateur.

Les transports en communs mis en place par la ville vous emmènent partout pour la somme dérisoire de 10 roubles (20c). Accompagnés d’Anastasia, le premier arrêt est le musée des Décembristes, ces exilés politiques du régime Tsariste. La prison ou la Sibérie ? Ils ont choisi la Sibérie, et ils ont eu raison. Bon, à l’époque la vie était indéniablement plus difficile... Vous avez remarqué que je n’ai quasiment pas parlé du climat pour le moment... Le centre ville d’Irkoutsk dans lequel nous avons passé l’après midi est une splendeur. Le travail du bois pour les maisons individuelles et de la pierre pour les édifices collectifs est remarquable. Les couleurs vives du bleu au jaune que l’on retrouve dans les constructions contrastent avec la blancheur de l’hiver. Par ailleurs, la nature du sol pousse les vielles maisons en bois à s’enfoncer, leur donnant ainsi un aspect inhabituel. Le lendemain, nous avons complété notre visite de la ville par des églises orthodoxes. Le soir, Anastasia nous a initié à un jeu de carte Russe qu’il nous a fallut plusieurs heures à comprendre. On suspecte d’ailleurs une tricherie monumentale…

Nous avons passé la matinée suivante au consulat Mongol. Ils sont pas très regardants mais le visa est couteux : comptez 50€ délivré en 4jours. On est même tombé sur une employée qui parlait Français...Mini bus pour Listvyanka l’après midi. Et là…C’est l’extase…Le village minuscule borde les berges gelées du Baïkal. Le lac est immense, calme (appelé la mer Baïkal par les otoctones) et ses eaux cristallines. Sa superficie (600 par 60 km) est comparable à la Suisse et la profondeur maximale avoisine les 1700m. Devant nos yeux éblouis par la réflexion du soleil sur ce miroir sans défaut se trouve là, 22% des réserves d’eau potables de la planète. Il faudrait être blasé pour rester insensible à ce paysage sublime du mariage de l’eau, de la glace et de la montagne.
Nous partons pour une balade dans les forêts enneigées avec Niko, un voyageur Allemand de 28 ans rencontré dans le bus. Lassés des routes toutes tracées, nous marchons à l’aveugle à travers les bouleaux et les sapins en direction des hauteurs. Panoramas et shoots de folie du haut de la colline. L’environnement magique nous amène enfin là ou nous somme partis : à l’aventure. Nous rejoignons les bords de l’eau pour la gouter. En février, l’épaisseur de glace sur la quasi-totalité du lac atteint le mètre. En novembre, les 4 petits degrés nous poussent gentiment à renoncer à la baignade…Nous regagnons le village au travers de pentes abruptes à par endroits enneigées. Nous goutons à l’Omoul, un poisson fumé devant nos yeux qui se révèle extrêmement savoureux et rentrons à Irkoutsk.

Reveil 6 heure pour attraper le minibus de 8h pour l’ile d’Olkhone. Nous rencontrons un couple Suisse/Allemand qui a eu la même idée que nous. Malheureusement, le chauffeur nous demande d’attendre pour qu’il puisse remplir son véhicule. Résultat départ à 10h30. Les paysages traversés laissent un sentiment de froid intense. Les villages de maisons de bois en ruines, en partie fantômes laissent présager un avenir incertain. Après 5h de trajet sur les routes puis les pistes tracée à travers des Steppes Sibériennes, nous prenons le shuttle pour l’ile…Il fait froid. Une heure plus tard on rejoint le village. Départ à la nuit tombée avec l’idée de tester tente et sac de couchage (12kg sur le dos). Marche dans la neige avec pour lumière la lune et une lampe frontale. Il fait froid. Campement dans la neige sur les bords du Baïkal. Alors qu’il neige, nous mangeons pain et fromage à la chaleur d’un feu mérité, puis regagnons la tente en quête d’un sommeil réparateur.

Alors que Ben lutte, je m’endors au fond du sac de couchage au bout de 3 minutes. J’ai enfin retrouvé le sommeil. En revanche, le réveil est rude. L’intérieur de la tente est complètement gelé. Les coutures thermocollées n’ont pas résistées aux très basses températures... Nous empaquetons notre sac le plus vite possible pour éviter que la glace ne l’envahisse. Il fait froid. Départ pour une demi-journée de marche en forêt. Le sol sableux et la neige ralentissent notre progression. Les 4 couches de vêtement et l’effort parviennent à nous réchauffer en dépit du temps nuageux. Après le pic nique du midi au bord d’une falaise surplombant le lac, le soleil revient. Dans cette partie du monde comme en montagne, le temps change à vitesse grand V. En 5 minutes maximum, les nuages gris/noir s’en vont. Il fait bon ! Le seul point réellement très négatif est l’absence du respect de l’environnement. Les touristes laissent leurs détritus partout. Bouteilles de vodka, boites de conserves, sachets plastiques, bref il y en a pour tout les goûts. En plus de cela, ne possédant pas d’infrastructure pour récupérer leurs ordures, les locaux enterrent leurs poubelles. Les tas de terre se fond légions. Les détritus, mal ensevelis, ne sont pas à ce moment de l’année, complètement cachés par la neige. Certains endroits de la forêt sont complètement dégelasse.
Arrivés au village de l’ile en fin de journée, nous décidons cette fois à camper à proximité en raison du bus matinal du retour. La culture shamanique est très présente dans toute l’ile. Des totems ornés de bandelettes de tissus multicolores nous indiquent la présence d’un haut lieu du shamanisme. Nous nous décidons donc à planter la tente sous leur protection. L’endroit somptueux est situé sur une crête avec vue sur le lac. Nous ne savions pas vraiment si nous avions le droit de camper à cet endroit et montons la tente le plus discrètement possible. Il est 6h, la nuit tombe, le vent se lève. Il fait froid. Je m’endors une fois de plus instantanément (à 6h30…). Ben révise ses cours d’espagnol sur son Ipod. Réveillés au beau milieu de la nuit à cause du vent nous peinons à nous rendormir. Il fait très froid. Le réveil matin de 7h est un calvaire. Le manège du rempaquetage est le même que celui du matin précédent, en plus violent. Le vent et le manque de sommeil rendent la chose très pénible. Nous rentrons à moitié affamés sur Irkoutsk, en rêvant de l’orgie de pirogui (sorte de raviolis russes) qui nous attendais chez Anastasia. Bon gros dodo…

Le matin, la ville est complètement blanche. Comme dans une fourmilière, les employés municipaux et les habitants s’activent pour déneiger les routes et les trottoirs. Passage au consulat Mongole pour récupérer les visas puis visite du musée d’architecture Talsti qui lui n’a pas été déneigé…Situé à 60km d’Irkoutsk, il présente l’évolution des habitations Sibérienes aux travers de reconstitutions grandeur nature très instructives. Nous regagnons ensuite Irkoutsk en stop pour être à l’heure pour notre entretient skype avec le second entrepreneur Christopher (voir profil suivant). Après une overdose de pirogui, nous faisons nos adieux à Anastasia et partons pour la gare en direction d’Oulan Oude (voyagez minimum en 3 classe et pas en 4eme !!!!!!!) puis du bus pour Oulan Bator.

lundi 22 novembre 2010

Interview entrepreneur, Christopher de Gruben, M.A.D Corporate Services, Belgian

A few days before reaching Mongolia, Christopher sent us a message telling us that he had to fly to Paris for business purposes and that we would not be able to meet him in UlanBataar. We therefore scheduled a Skype video call from Siberia to Paris in order to talk about his experience as an entrepreneur in Mongolia… I guess this is what we call globalization, right?

In spite of his Belgian nationality, Christopher has never actually lived in Belgium. As his parents were working as diplomats, he has luckily spent a huge part of his life travelling the world, especially in the ex-USSR countries, as well as Asia and Africa. He graduated from Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, and has since been working in many different countries, mostly in Asia (China, Japan, Mongolia, Hong Kong). Based on his international experience and the knowledge he acquired abroad, he made up his mind in order to decide in which country he wanted to settle/invest, based on the main followings points:

· Political stability of the country (i.e. real democracy)

· Under developed / developing country (as these are the countries in which the growth rate are the most important)

· Possibility to invest on his own name (i.e. no restriction for foreign investments)

Considering this, and evaluating the different markets, Christopher shortlisted a few countries and decided that Mongolia was the one presenting the most benefits, as China has strong needs for minerals that Mongolia has in big quantities (i.e. gold, copper, uranium).

Even though Christopher felt into travelling when he was young, entrepreneurship was not a path he had chosen long ago (he describes himself on his personal website as being an “accidental entrepreneur” Christopher arrived in 2004 in Mongolia, where he started to work for an American real estate company. He spent four years working there, until he decided that he had to work differently. Indeed, he did not fancy the way some of the business and its clients were handled. Quitting his job made him lose his Mongolian visa. The only possibility for him at that point to get another one was to create his own business; which led to the creation of M.A.D. Corporate Services (MAD stands for Make A Difference). Following the creation of M.A.D. Corporate Services, he decided to start a sandwich business (roughly based on the same business model as Subway) with an initial capital of USD 20.000. He therefore set up two businesses… in order to get a visa!

He trained himself as being a founder and a CEO of a company with the sandwich business, and after around 6 months, he decided to actually do something with M.A.D. Corporate Services. As aforementioned, Christopher wanted to do business in a more transparent way than it was usually done in Mongolia. He thought that transparency and honesty were values that not only would help to make this country a better place for business, but were also values that clients would look for. Big foreign companies are usually very reluctant to pay bribes as it could potentially damage their reputation, and overall Mongolia is changing which makes this approach to business more and more sustainable. The fees paid by his clients are always fixed fees for example as he does not want the interests of his company to be in conflict with the interests of its clients (i.e. with a floating fee, Christopher may be looking for bigger offices than actually needed by his clients in order to increase the amount of the fees).

Christopher first started to produce a few clean reports for international companies on the Mongolian market. Thanks to his growing reputation, he won new clients, and decided to start another activity for M.A.D. Corporate Services. He started to create business plans and developed market studies for his clients. As they were happy with the quality of his work, they asked for help to start their business in Mongolia. Christopher would for example help them to find offices to rent, write the work contracts for them or help them with the administrative paperwork. Helping companies to get implemented in Mongolia and listening to people around him, Christopher realized that they were no relocation services company in the country. He therefore decided to expand his services to include relocation. He now owns the only relocation services company in Mongolia, and is currently considering expanding in China (in 2011) as he feels that there are interesting market opportunities. As a matter of fact, it appears that Mongolians and Chinese do not trust each other, and therefore a person like him who would be neutral could work as a broker between the two counterparts. His business currently employs 8 people and should reach 10 or 11 in 2011.

When he looks back at his experience as an entrepreneur, Christopher does not regret having chosen this path as it taught him a lot from a business perspective (i.e. it helped him to understand all the underlying between all the aspects of a business and to think to all options before making a decision) and gave him more freedom than he ever had before in his career. He however believes that this is not something that everyone can do as you have to be ready to live with risk, especially in Mongolia where the assets of your company are your own assets. Living as an entrepreneur therefore leads you to accept working without a safety net. It involves a great sense of responsibilities as you are somewhat not only responsible for all the strategic decisions of your business, but also responsible for providing a salary that will allow your employees and their families to live.

He therefore advises people who want to create their own company, and in particular abroad to be sure to have a great idea to start and to be sure that you are ready to work hard as the learning curve will be sharp. The second advice (I like that one) is to start spending other’s money before you start spending yours. That basically means that you should probably start working for someone in the country in which you want to start a business in order to feel the market and make the first few mistakes in the country at someone else’s expense. A funny anecdote he told us was that you do not sign a contract or make an important decision on Tuesdays in Mongolia, which is a good example of things not to do that you only learn once you are in the business. As he has seen many people who did not have enough money to wait for their business to be profitable, he advises not to spend all your capital at once, but to keep a safety mattress which would allow you to overcome the first difficulties and make your business sustainable.

Thanks a lot for you time Christopher, and thanks a lot for lending us your apartment (and what an apartment!) for a few days. It is a pity we did not have a chance to meet in person, but I am pretty sure we will fix this sooner or later.


jeudi 18 novembre 2010

Interview entrepreneur : Yann Sotty, Wellcome Abroad Relocations, French

Having scheduled and postponed the appointment twice, we finally managed to meet Yann in the Australian coffee of Moscow. We have found in this bar a very friendly and outgoing entrepreneur, who not only made us discover some Russian specialities but also told us a lot about him and his 4 years experience as an entrepreneur.

Yann arrived in Russia around 10 years ago, after having spent almost 3 years in Uzbekistan, as a lecturer and as vice president of the Alliance française in Samarkand. He had formerly performed studies in the faculty of languages, studying mainly Russian, Bulgarian and other similar eastern European languages. He was sent in this town as part of his cooperation during his military duty, and made quickly his mind up when he had to choose for his destination as he had already traveled a lot in the region and knew he wanted to live in this area of the globe for a while.

Married to an Uzbek/Tatar/Russian wife for 10 years and deeply in love with the culture and the country, he first found a position in Moscow in the Club France (which has now become the CCIFR). He worked there for a little bit more than 2 years, helping French companies in Russia and expanding the number of members in this network. He was then poached by the CEO of the local subsidiary of an American company specialized in relocations services. After once again a little bit more than 2 years in this Company, the local CEO changed, and he therefore decided in 2006 to start his own business of relocations services. Being experienced in the real estate business and having developed his network in Moscow for the past 6 years, it appeared to him quite natural move to create his own company. However, he never planned on being an entrepreneur as he would have wanted to pass state exams to work in a diplomatic mission. He only saw a great opportunity and was pushed in this direction by his friends and above all by the co-founder of Wellcome Abroad relocations. The business expanded very quickly as well as the services provided which now not include only home search but also Immigration services (visa, registration) handyman services, tenancy management, temporary accommodation, Internet and Sat TV installation, etc. mainly for French-speaking expatriates as the core of Yann’s network is made of French people. His company now employs 10 people as compared to only 2 in 2006, and his currently investigating in expanding internationally (ie. Ukraine, Kazakhstan).

Standing back on his experience, his main regret is that it did not start earlier his own business as the opportunities were much greater couple of years before he started. He would of course do it again, as he sees Russia as a land of opportunities for people who understand and like this country. As he said, everything is possible in Russia. Everything is easy as long as one is ready to pay for it. Yann would probably not have launched a business in Europe as he believes the administrative system and the tax rates (he currently has the option between paying 6% of his net result or 13% of his turnover in Russia) does not encourage to be an entrepreneur.

If he had to advise people who would like to follow his path in entrepreneurship, Yann would tell you that he recommends it, but one should take first the time to understand his motivation in doing so. You have to love the country in which you want to settle, and you have to understand and like the people who are leaving in this country if you want to be successful. Therefore, he would advise everyone to take the time to spend around a couple of years in the country chosen to actually feel it and build a network. That is key to a well adjusted life as an entrepreneur.

Thank you Yann for your time (and for an excellent dinner), and good luck!


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