dimanche 2 janvier 2011

Interview entrepreneur: Jérémie Rossignol, Hutong School & China Courtyards, French


Five minutes after my interview with Julien and Ines (summary under review), I was in a library buying a book that I had seen there a couple of days ago (www.hutong-school.com) which is the moment Jérémie decided to call me to inform me that he had one hour and a half of free time… right now! This was an opportunity I could not miss and I therefore jumped in a taxi and let Jérémie give directions to the taxi driver over the phone… 30 minutes later, we were sitting in a restaurant where he could grab a quick lunch while I was having my first hot chocolate since we left Europe (and it was a good one!).

Jérémie graduated from a Bachelor degree in law and as his aspirations changed a bit as he wanted to become a diplomat, he followed a master degree from the IEP (political sciences) in Aix en Provence. During his studies, he made an internship at the French embassy in Beijing where he discovered the hutongs. After completing his master degree in France, he registered to a university in Beijing in order to learn the Chinese language and gave him the opportunity to meet businessmen in China. One of the first thing he had to do was to find an accommodation. As he had only budgeted 2.000 EUR for the whole year, he decided not to rent an apartment, but to rent a whole courtyard which he then refurbished and divided into 9 apartments that he sub-rented (keeping one for himself). That allowed him not only to pay for his rent but also to make an extra margin. Considering the profit he made, he decided to rent a second courtyard immediately after he finished the first one to do the same thing. He did not see at that time this activity as a business on its own, but more as a way to have a bit of revenues. In 2005, with 3 friends and 10.000 EUR, Jérémie creates the Hutong School, a unique type of school in Beijing which provides not only Chinese lessons, but also accommodation, traineeships and a 24 hours assistance to people who register to the program. It offers high value added journeys in Beijing not only to learn Chinese but also to discover China. Considering his experience in real estate, Jérémie was in charge of finding the proper place for the school. He found a well located building with a top floor made of 4 apartments which could be linked, which is what the Hutong School has done, taking three fourth of the building for accommodations and the remaining part for offices.

None of the founder of the Hutong School launched this project with an entrepreneurship spirit. They were all young and were happy to develop this school as a good place to work in, with a cool attitude and an opportunity to spend time with people from around the world. In 2009, Jérémie took one year off to Japan (as his wife is Japanase) which offered him some time to think and consider the actual business capabilities of the Hutong School. Before that, the positioning on the market wasn't clearly identified. When he came back to China, he therefore decided to focus on the Hutong School project with a clear vision in mind. Since then, he has launched a restructuring of the school which is now expanding fast. At the same time he launched the Hutong School, Jérémie developed as a side business the renovation of courtyards. He kept in mind the idea of protecting the cultural heritage of Beijing and is now renovating these courtyards for expatriate people (mainly journalists), which allows him to increase his profit margin while focusing on quality work from a protection of the original architecture of the courtyards. With growing demand, this side business has become an important part of Jeremie's activity, and together with his old friend Matt, Jérémie has created a company called China Courtyards to support it.

Currently, Jérémie has the feeling that even if he started these two activities five years ago, he is currently heading two brand new start up, as he only sees now their true potential. This is the reason why he says that if he had to do it again, he would start creating businesses sooner, and in a much better prepared way, with a true business view on his activities. Now that he had the opportunity to taje a step back when he was in Japan, he understood that to him, entrepreneurship is the only possible way as this is the way of freedom. He regrets that during his studies in France, he was never told that creating a business represents a meaningful alternative to usual corporations, as it may have lead him to chose this path before. Even though he is realistic and knows business can go bankrupt one day, he strongly hopes that he will be able to do this during his whole life, as now his work also is his passion. He said:”I do not spend 8 hours a day working but 16 hours doing what I like most”.

Jérémie recommends that one should do what he likes to do as this is the best way to become good at something. Doing what someone likes best will allow him to understand where opportunities and profitability may arise from, even if it is most of the time hard to see it. There is a part of passion in companies which makes liking one’s job compulsory in order to be able to have enough energy and support creativity. Jérémie also advises not be afraid to ask for advices from people with more experience as this may avoid big mistakes and can help in saving a lot of time and money. More experienced people are usually very keen on sharing their knowledge and help younger people which is something a new entrepreneur should consider. The last thing is said is to consider money as a tool and not more than this, which is a kind of logic that one needs to understand to aim large. He said that people should target as big as possible in order to be big one day.

We concluded the visit by going to his brand new office in which he was supposed to move in a few days after the meeting (cf picture!). Thank you Jérémie for your precious time and good luck with moving everything in your offices!

6 commentaires:

christine a dit…

j'aimerais bien des photos!........

Benoit a dit…

Ca arrive dans le prochain post...

Paula a dit…

wow, the interviews are actually the most interesting part! tres bonne idée, Benoit!

Santhiya a dit…

Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!


Entrepreneur Interview

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