Please introduce yourself to our readers!
TheWaysBeyond was created by Nikki Wang and myself, Frederic Bourgeois.
Nikki arrived in Paris after working for Fortune 500 companies in Beijing; she came to pursue her MBA at the prominent HEC School of Management. After graduation, the charms of Paris convinced her to settle down. While always working in Finance and travelling around for her job and her own thirst of discovery, she was also a freelance contributor to Chinese leading lifestyle medias and co-founded a booking agency to promote French electronic musicians in Asia. These various experiences lead her to meet the most talented people and experience the immense power of creativity, which she wants to share from now on.
After graduating in Translation and in Communication I worked in renowned cultural institutions in Brussels, from contemporary dance to alternative music, literature, artistic workplaces, and opera. I moved to Paris in 2012 where I contributed to the ‘Europan’ Architecture and Urban Planning competitions, managing the digital communication and organizing forums in different European cities. Multilingual and passionate about literature, my professional and private experiences led me to cultivate a certain definition of hospitality and a determined enthusiasm to share knowledge.
Please tell us about your business?
TheWaysBeyond – thewaysbeyond.eu seeks to overcome the clichés usually associated with Paris to discover the city with locals who have kept their foreigners’ eyes on.
We create cultural activities in Paris and Île-de-France to introduce French culture and excellence know-how. We offer tailor-made services to companies, school groups and groups of private travelers in search of authentic experiences, and put them in direct contact with a wide network of artists, craftsmen, chefs or designers. Our experiences range from a cultural aperitif to an unusual team building, including a city break for a day or a “Cultural Learning Expedition” for a week.
How difficult was the start and what challenges did you have to overcome?
Starting is never an easy thing, especially as we had no direct working experience in the field. But the good thing is that our business model didn’t need a huge investment at first, so we began everything by ourselves in our own apartment. The biggest difficulties were for us clients and visibility.
Luckily, we had a couple of individual customers the first day we officially launched our website, but they were of course not enough. Very fortunately we are surrounded by many kind and experienced people who were very happy to help us. Also, our background of ‘not being French’ touched many French people, who appreciated our drive and courage. Things began to progress organically thanks to word-of-mouth. Sometimes our activities had just one person, but that one person came back later on with an entire group.
Regarding visibility, it is quite complicated to contact the French press without a PR agency. The good thing was that, as I am Belgian, we decided to try Belgian press first, as they are more accessible. The strategy proved right and we got very good articles in the Belgian press, both in French and Dutch, which brought us Belgian customers. We also joined several start-up federations, which greatly helped us connect with people in similar fields and exchange ideas. We were invited to speak in lectures, meetings and professional salons, which also helped us build our brand and visibility
Can you describe your typical workday?
A typical day would start around 09:00, 09:30, meeting with partners for a meeting or breakfast. Then we would head to the Leavy.co Community House, where we have our office, and which hosts several young companies in the culture and creative fields. We usually share lunch with partners as well (eating with partners is quite common in France ^^). Our afternoons can vary a lot, visiting new places, meeting new partners, curating new experiences, organizing activities for our clients, or preparing for the next demand… And in the evenings, we usually attend vernissages, afterwork meetings or cocktails for professional reasons.
Why did you decide to exhibit at the Berlin Travel Festival?
Last year, we went to the ITB as public. It was quite interesting, especially the talks, but we got a bit lost in there and did not recognise ourselves in such a big event. The next day, we visited the BTF and this was exactly the kind of event where we felt at home, as we share a similar spirit and feel like fighting for the same causes, for a new form of tourism. So we didn’t hesitate long before deciding to exhibit there this year. It is a great occasion for us to show our activities abroad, as well as presenting the collaboration we had with Travel Colours, whom we met at BTF 2019, and which ended up in the publication of a beautiful Paris City Guide for Design Lovers, which we are quite proud of!
What do you think: How did the startup scene change in the last years? The most common mistakes of startup founders?
Many startups have appeared in the tourism sector in the last years, using the most advanced technology –AI, VR, apps to find a locker for your bag, carpooling; etc. We are constantly amazed by all these new inventions, which are all very brilliant and useful. But although their ultimate goal is to improve and facilitate the travel experience, great moments and memories can however never be replaced by data or apps. The more we live in a society controlled by algorithms, the more we should encourage human contact and cultural exchange.
We have also observed that some startups are very good at pitching and storytelling, and can therefore raise funds and find investors, but their products and models remain rather vague. For some of them, raising funds is the primary goal, and serving customers becomes secondary. But we believe that raising funds is just one step of the development, the final goal is always to launch a good product/service and serve your final customers.
Which books do you read?
Nikki mainly reads many different online and paper magazines, books and essays on art, history, economics, etc., and I mainly read novels (from Zola to contemporary Chinese writers), poetry and historical essays, mainly about Paris, of course.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
We would like to become the reference for cultural activities and slow tourism in Paris and the Paris region.
What 3 tips would you give to founders?
Do something you are passionate about and you are good at.
Don’t be in a hurry – good things take time, there is no magic for that.
Join the right club and talk to the right people – you can’t do it on your own, no matter how smart you are.
More information you will find here
Thank you Frederic Bourgeois for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.