First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Julien Faliu: We are all doing well and that is the most important. However, we are currently stuck in France, where I am from and we have no idea when we will be able to go back to our home in Mauritius- that’s where I have been living for over 12 years now. In fact, I was in New York, participating in Numa New York’s start-up accelerator program when the pandemic broke. I managed to go back to France at the beginning of April, with my wife and 3-year-old daughter and it was definitely a life-changing experience.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined expat
Julien Faliu: I have been an expat for years and very early in my expat journey, I realized that I didn’t know where to look for information on my host country. This is how I decided to create Expat.com in 2005, a collaborative platform for expats, to overcome this lack of information and to help them prepare their expat project and socialize in their new destination. I wanted a website that would enable mutual assistance between members living in the same country, whether they are locals, expats or soon-to-be expats. I started the adventure alone but I can now count on a team of 20 talented young professionals from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, accumulating more than half a century of living abroad.
How does expat innovate?
Julien Faliu: We follow the needs and trends of the expat community and constantly try to adapt to their needs in terms of features and content. We also monitor our sector, our members and potential customers and can rely on a strong IT team that also brings innovation to the table.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Julien Faliu: The lock-down did not have a direct impact on our operating activities. We anticipated it by setting up a working from home process when the pandemic started to spread across Europe. So, when confinement became official in Mauritius, on the 19th of March, the whole team started remote working.
However, the current pandemic had a direct impact on our occupation and our revenue. From the end of January, we have had a substantial turnover drop with our Asia-based customers, followed in February by our European clients: their marketing budgets had been frozen or revised downwards.
Our business relates to international relocation so border shutdowns and lock-downs had a direct impact on us. Yet, we are doing our best to adapt to this unprecedented and unpredictable situation and try to reinvent our brand and adapt our offer to the market’s needs.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Julien Faliu: The pandemic definitely taught us resilience, patience and the importance of staying hopeful and proactive, especially in these exceptional circumstances. It also emphasized that we should not take anything for granted but must reassess ourselves continuously to make sure we improve our business model and diversify. It was another reminder that being versatile is key.
We also had to reduce our expenses, reducing everything to the bare minimum for our activities. I, indeed, had to make difficult choices and prioritize certain things over others and that meant setting aside some important development projects which were planned for this year.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and your company in the future?
Julien Faliu: The whole international relocation ecosystem is experiencing tremendous changes at the moment and we are ready to catch the trend, see the opportunities that it could provide and scale up.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Julien Faliu: We have three types of competitors:
- Global competitors which have the same digital and global approach as Expat.com. However, they focus on specific areas or audiences. For instance, one of them is focused on events and targets high-end individuals.
- Facebook local expat groups can also be considered as competitors. They gather hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of individuals living abroad or looking for information about life abroad. However, Facebook groups are not structured to capitalize on collective knowledge like Expat.com.
- We also have local competitors with very good knowledge of one country and sometimes have quite a large audience, but are usually limited in terms of audience, IT infrastructure and business perspective.
There is currently no uncontested leader on the market. No competitor has a truly original business plan, the majority rely on a simple publicity model. Any newcomer on the market will have to face visibility issues on the Internet.
Your final thoughts
Julien Faliu: We have to continue adapting in this transition phase but I remain hopeful as we already started to change our model and are already starting to notice the results of our efforts business and client wise.
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