Brandeis International Business School

039: Helping to Find the Right Roomies for You

Alex Assal is the CEO and co-founder of Whoomies, a flat-sharing community in France with the goal of giving people better access to housing and creating better living situations. Alex graduated fairly recently from the IÉSEG Business School in Paris, and very soon after founded Whoomies.

Based on his experience of trying to find roommates in New York and Singapore, and the similar experiences of his co-founder, Lauren, they saw a gap in the market to streamline the experience. Instead of just offering the possibility to find apartments on a real estate platform, Whoomies offers the possibility to find people from all around the world who match your interests. You take a survey to give your interests, and the app will match you up with roommates who are the right fit for you.

From the Dorm Room

Alex went to college in Paris at IÉSEG, a French business school. He always wanted to create his own company at some point. He thought that going to a business school was the best way to go because you learn about everything from marketing, finance, accounting, strategy and more. He wanted to have all the skills to be able to start his own company.

The French school system is very different from the system in the U.S. After graduating from high school, you have to take the baccalaureate, which is equivalent to the SATs. Then you can apply to schools, but it can take up to two or three years to get into the best universities. The schools are also much smaller than in the US, and more singularly focused on the degree you are going for.

The university Alex attended was a five year program. The bachelor's degree is obtained after three years, and then you have two years of obtaining a master's degree.

Five years of studies in a row was a bit too much, and you don't gain that much real-world experience. So, at the end of his fourth year, Alex decided to take a gap year. This is where his experiences in New York and Singapore come from. He mostly just wanted to get out of France, and to be able to work in different cultural environments, and meet people from abroad.

There are a lot of misconceptions about life when leaving school. Alex realized that he did not have enough skills and was not experienced enough to be able to do all the things on his own, or even access a job he was interested in, just because he did not have his masters degree. As a young professional, there is still plenty of value you can offer to a company by providing a fresh, different perspectives, even from an entry level position. But you will learn more from work than you ever did in school.

“I almost used to apologize for not knowing something, but I was creating that company and had to learn about everything. We are all suited for the job. We just have to believe in ourselves, and everything will come true eventually.”

School is just the first step of your learning process, and it gives you way more possibilities to learn than just going to classes. You will learn from all the various people you meet in school, classmates, teachers or anyone else. Alex says, “I feel that I did not understand that at that time. I went to class, to school, just to take my classes and go back home. I had a social life, a very good social life at school, but it was not—I was not building on that. I was not trained to learn from others in a proxy way that could give me some different skills that I could leverage in the future.”

To the Boardroom

When Alex came back to France, he was not planning on staying there. Maybe he would go back to the U.S. or to London. By visiting some apartments in London, he came home and told himself, "Okay. This experience is a mess.” You have to interview people to get an apartment, go back and forth between Paris and London constantly, just to try and find the right roommates and the right place to live. That’s where the idea of digitizing the process came about. People are used to matching on dating apps, and it could be productive to shake things up in the real estate industry.

Alex had two main two pieces of advice that could be applied to either your entrepreneurial journey or your career. The first is about the feeling of imposter syndrome. Everyone will experience this feeling at some point whether in the workplace or in your own company, because you will always see someone like a manager, an investor or another startup that will make you feel like you don't belong here. This feeling is false. We are all suited for the job; it's just a matter of how much we are willing to work for it. In Alex’s situation, he would talk it through with his co-founder who would calm him down. Having a co-founder was essential for Alex and his business: when you are feeling down, they can cheer you up, and you can do the same for them as well. Owning a company is a rollercoaster, and having someone by your side that you can trust is incredibly valuable.

The other piece of advice is about mentors. It took Alex some time to understand that he needed help. It's not always easy to find them, but having mentors around you can help to shape your career or business. You can always go to a teacher, your manager or even your investors. You can’t just walk up and ask, "Can you be my mentor?" but show them that everything that they have helped you with has been considered or implemented.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

Having a co-founder is absolutely essential when building a company. There are so many emotions involved, things will go from energetic and exciting to difficult and depressing, and you need a balanced person with you that can bring you up when you are feeling down, and someone that you can do the same to as well.


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