Alexandre Assal: [00:00:00] Yeah, basically, we are all suited for the job. We just have to believe in ourselves, and everything will come true eventually. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:14] Welcome to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room, a podcast where we provide insights, tips, and inspiration for college students and young professionals, so they can make a really successful transition from college life to the professional world and beyond. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:31] My name is Andy Molinsky, and I'm your host. I'm also a Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University's International Business School, where we record and produce this podcast. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:50] So, today's guest is Alex Assal, who is the CEO and Co-founder of a company called Whoomies, which is an apartment or flat-sharing community in France, in the UK, with the goal of giving people better access to housing and have better living situations. Alex graduated fairly recently from college in Paris, from the IÉSEG Business School, and very soon after founded Whoomies. It's been quite a journey, and he's here today to tell us about his experience. So, Alex, thanks so much for joining us. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:01:32] Thank you so much for having me. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:01:34] So, let's start by hearing a bit about Whoomies. If I don't know anything about it, which is kind of true, how would you describe what Whoomies is? Alexandre Assal: [00:01:48] Whoomies is a matching company dedicated to shared housing. And the goal of Whoomies is to help students, young professionals mainly to access in an easier way and have better experience in flat shares. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:02:02] Okay. So, if I'm looking for—so, if I'm moving to Paris, or I'm living in Paris, and I don't want to rent an apartment or a flat by myself, I would go on your site and try to find opportunities to share a flat. Is that the idea? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:02:17] Exactly. Basically, the only thing that you have to do is download the app and start the journey. Talking with a chatbot. And then, you know, the medias in France like to speak about us about a Tinder for co-living. So, the basic idea is that instead of just offering the possibility to find apartments on a real estate platform, we offer the possibility to find people from all around the world. We have 79 nationalities represented on the app, and meet with the persons that you can get along with. So, we take your information. You can tell us that you—can pick keywords from, basically, 100 top options, and tell us if you are into sports, into music, if you are vegan, student, young professional. So, pretty much anything that you want to share, you can do it directly through the app and meet with the right people. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:03:10] Okay, interesting. So, in other words, typically, if I were looking for an apartment, I'd be thinking about the size of the apartment, the location, the cost, and so on, and so forth. And here, you're sort of spotlighting the person that you're actually living with. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:03:25] Yeah, yeah. And I used to live in New York and in Singapore. And it was—it has been very difficult for me to be able to find the right roommates to share this experience with. So, basically, based on those experiences from myself but, also, my co-founder, Lauren, we saw a gap in the markets. And we thought that, obviously, we are displaying apartments on the platform, but the human factor was going to make the success or not of the future. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:03:56] Interesting. So, I want to hear a bit more about the company and so on. But let's actually start with you. So, before we started the interview, you were telling me that you went to college in Paris at IÉSEG, which is a French business school. So, tell us about that. Why did you go there? What was your thought when you went there? What were you intending to do? What did you think you were going to do when you came out? And just tell us about your college experience, your university experience. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:04:27] Basically, I always wanted to create my company at some point. That's been one of my dreams for about pretty much as I can remember. And logically, I thought that going to a business school was the best way to go because business school in France, and I'm not sure about business school in the US, but basically you learn about pretty much everything from marketing, to finance, to accounting, strategy, and all the rest. So, I wanted to have a little bit of all the skills to be able, at some point in my career, to be able to start my own company. So, yeah. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:05:03] And business school in France, just for people, at least, in the United States or elsewhere, who aren't as familiar, do you—tell us a bit about the educational system. You go to high school. And then, there's a gap between high school and college, right? Do you have to prepare for something? And tell us just a little bit about that. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:05:23] So, it will depend on the school you're going to. Basically, you have the baccalaureate, which is equivalent to like the SATs that you have to take at the end of your degree. And then, you can apply directly to schools, or you have to go through another system that takes up to two years or even maybe three years to go into what we call the best high schools, best universities. They are all private. It's a totally different system than yours. Our schools are way smaller than yours, especially because when you are in the business school, you are in the business school, and that's it. So, the school doesn't offer courses of law, of yeah, else whatever. It's really a business school. So, it's way smaller. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:06:11] But it's very interesting because they all understood that they had to attract talent from everywhere and to retain talent from France. So, basically, we have courses, in my school, at least, half in English from the first year of studies, and then going progressively to 100% in English with teachers from everywhere. I remember very well the teacher from Philadelphia that came only for one week in France to give us a course on consumer behavior. So, basically, we are more and more international. And the program is very interesting. It's a five-year program. So, once again, very different from you. The bachelor's degree is obtained after three years. And then, you have two years of master's degree. And when you don't do a master's 

degree in France is that you didn't go through the whole process that you should take. So, it's a very, very different. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:07:03] Interesting. And so, I guess, you're at your fifth year or so, right? And then, you're starting to think about what you might want to do coming out. You've always sort of dreamed of starting a company, as you said before. And then, how did Whoomies emerge? What inspired you to do that? And who—and tell us about your co-founder, and how you even found a co-founder. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:07:29] Yeah. So, basically, during my studies, I took extra lessons like eight hours more of what I was supposed to do to take entrepreneurship classes. And basically, when you're done with the bachelor, you can start picking the courses that you want to pick that you want to do. And between my two years of masters, because you can tell five years of studies in a row, is a bit too much and you don't gain that much of experience. So, at the end of the fourth year, I've decided to take a gap year. And this is where it comes to my experiences in New York and Singapore. I really wanted to get out of France, honestly, and to be able to work in different culture environments, meet people from abroad, from everywhere, actually. And this is why I decided to leave France. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:08:19] I worked in a company called NTENT in digital advertising in New York for about seven months. And step by step, without me knowing, actually, the idea is starting to come in my mind because it was very difficult for me to find a place to live in New York. In seven months, I have to move the fourth time from one apartment to another. So, very complicated, and that was not a great experience for me. And same right after I went to Singapore to have a different experience in strategy, working for Siemens. And I was lucky on finding the place to live, but I didn't met the flatmates before that. And same, there was one roommate that I didn't get along with. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:09:08] So, basically when I came back to France, I was not planning on staying in France, I wanted to go back maybe to the US or to London. And by starting visiting apartments in London, I just came home and told myself, "Okay. That's a mess. I have to have interviews with people to get an apartment. I have to go 

back and forth to Paris, London, Paris, London to try to find the right roommates and the right place to live. So, in an area of digitalization of everything, i just thought that it was good. People are used to match on those dating apps, and maybe it was good for us as well to start moving and shaking a little bit of the things in the real estate industry. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:09:54] I guess, I have to—I'm a much, much older than you are, and I have to imagine myself in that situation because I was in that situation. In my early 20s, I was also living abroad in different situations, and it wasn't easy to find roommates and so on. And I just said—I just sort of complained about it. It sounds like you did more than complain. You actually used that challenge to nail and frustration to inspire action. Why do you think that is? Is that because you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Is that because of the age you live in? I'm curious. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:10:28] I really thought about that because I was just starting my professional life. So, it was not an easy call to make, but, still, I thought that it was the best time for me. I was 25 years old, no wife or children, and still living with my parents. So, that was, I think, in terms of risk that I was taking, it was quite measured. And by living abroad, you meet with all the people that are experiencing the same things as you are. And when I got the idea, I talked about it with my co-founder, Lauren. So, actually, we not met as part of the company, but we have been friends for more than 15 years now. So, we met at a very young age. And she was a banker, private banker. She had a company for two years. So, not planning on moving any time soon. And we just spoke about it. And she was getting into flat shares in Paris and she said, "Okay. Oh, my God, that's the best idea." And from that, we started to work like one night, two nights, three nights, and decided not to take a job for me in London, and she decided to leave her job. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:11:42] But, yeah, it's just that it was the right time for me to do it, the right move. Not that much risks. I do feel that when you're launching and creating your first company, you have to understand that you're going to make mistakes. So, it was a good time for me to take some risks. And yeah, basically, I knew that a lot of people were struggling in finding roommates as well. And we asked as much people as we could on Facebook. I called all my friends in the US to ask them. I'd like to give them 

a questionnaire, actually, a survey, and assess the business potential for us, and we went out from there. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:12:22] I have to ask you how you came up with the name Whoomies. So, it's W-H-O-O-M-I-E-S. I know it's a take on roomies, but I am just curious. How did that emerge? Did you have a—what was your process? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:12:37] That was a thing in New York. We were shifting a bit from the roomies word, and we had some friends that called themselves broomies. So, we always played with that word. I think that that had an impact that, actually, what we bring on the table and what we valued the most actually is the who. It's the W-H-O. And we tackled the the roomies situation. So, basically, we took a bit of both to do the Whoomies, instead of roomies and who. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:13:11] And how about people in France? I mean, that doesn't mean anything in French. And France is your major area. I'm just curious. This is—it's an interesting question, I think, for a lot of companies because your name ends up being the most important initial thing. How does that go across in France? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:13:31] It has not been difficult for us because we have a younger age, totally different from what has been seen in the past in France, where all the marketplaces are quite old and not that really innovative in terms of services and features. So, we always played a little bit with that, on our colors, on our branding. And our chatbot is called Chandler, in regards to Friends, the TV show. So, we always tried to play on that. And we want it, from the very beginning, to become, at some point, an international company. So, we've seen a lot of French startups that had to change their names after series A or series B. And once you do that, it costs a ton and millions in branding and everything to be able to tell all the people we shifted from one name to another. And you have to change the image of the company, and this can change as well as the culture. So, basically, we wanted to be very international from the very beginning. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:14:32] Yeah, that makes sense. So, you must have a lot of friends who have left IÉSEG or other colleges and gone into the professional world. And now, you've got some experience. What advice would you give to young professionals starting their careers? And what sort of mistakes or misconceptions do you think some people have? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:14:56] Yeah, that's a very interesting question because I think that, actually, we have a lot of misconceptions when going out from school. And the first one, and this is something that I experienced myself as an entrepreneur getting out of school, was that I was not—I did not have enough skills or that I was not experienced enough to be able to do all the things on my own or even to access a job that I wanted to access to just because I was just going out of school. I think that the skills that you have, even if they are soft skills, and even if you don't have the experience of a top manager or whatever, is not what is the most valuable. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:15:41] At the very beginning, we've been going four years now of actually knowing the [indiscernible] and everything. So, it's also a question of who you are. And as a young professional, you have a different vision. You can bring something new, something fresh to a company. Even if you have an entry job, it doesn't mean a thing. So, this is, I think, the first misconception that I had that was based on my skills. And I almost used to apologize for not knowing something, but I was creating that company and have to learn about everything. Yeah, basically, we are all suited for the job. We just have to believe in ourselves, and everything will come true eventually. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:16:27] It's an important point. There's a term that you may have seen before called the impostor syndrome that you feel like an impostor. Like, "Who are you to be doing this? And what kind of skills do I have? What do I know? How can I possibly do this?" And I guess, nowadays, with so many examples of younger founders and very successful younger people, maybe that's less of a question. But it sounds like you still felt those things, and you still kept going, though. What enabled you to keep going? What's—why didn't you just say, "Oh, gosh, this is—I need way more experience before I start anything like this?" or "Who am I to be doing this?" Because I imagine some people feel that. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:17:12] A lot of us feel that. We are incubated at Station F. I don't know if you've heard about Station F, but it's the biggest incubator. It's worldwide based in Paris. We are 1000 startups living here. And from what I can tell, we all feel that or felt that at some point because in the workspace, or when you are facing your company, you will always see someone like manager, an investor, another startup that will try to make you feel like you don't belong here. And this will be almost every time false. We are all suited for the job. It's just how much we are willing to work for it. And I think that in my situation, and I would talk by what I know, having a co-founder in a startup is key because you have sometimes where you a bit down, and they cheer you up, and the opposite happens as well. So, it's a rollercoaster to own a company. So, you have to be ready for it. And having someone by your side that you can trust is more than valuable. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:18:20] How about in—and I've heard that from other people too. That's interesting, and it makes a lot of sense to me. How about in terms of support? How about the role of mentors? How have mentors been useful or valuable for you? And if so, how have you found mentors and so on? Like what advice would you give to someone who is looking for a mentor, either to start a company or just simply just to sort of navigate their career? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:18:49] That's really, really important. And I started to understand that very late. It took me some time to understand that I needed help. No, it's not an easy thing, but mentors are one of the good key and very important people that will be around you. And if it's in a job or even at school, like you can definitely—and I assume that is the case in the US, you can always go to a teacher. You can always go to your plus one, plus two if you have the right motivation and you prepared enough for it. Our mentors today are our investors. At the very beginning, it wasn't the case. But step by step, we started meeting with people. And you just have to not to ask, "Can you be my mentor?" but showing that everything that they do towards you or that they will tell you would be considered. And some people have helped me a lot in this journey. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:19:57] Last question that I have for you, and this is—I think what you've said is, really, you've given some really excellent advice for people, sort of, 

starting out certainly in terms of starting a company, but also just even starting their careers. My last question for you is, if you could—I mean, if you could imagine going a little bit back in time to when you were actually starting college at IÉSEG, and I know it's a business school, and knowing what you know now, would you have approached your experience in college any differently? And I guess another way of putting that is, what advice would you give to people just starting out in college? Maybe something that you wish you had done, maybe something you've noticed other people have done. How can people take best advantage of the college experience? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:20:44] I think that I would change a lot of things, honestly. Always been like not the best in class, not the worst. But I feel that I didn't take everything that is clearly measurable that a university could offer me. Learning from others. And this is one of the things that you have with your US universities is that people having totally different backgrounds looking to do totally different things in their lives. And what I didn't do enough is learn from others. School is the first step of your learning process. And it gives you way more possibilities to learn than just going to classes. You have to learn from people, you can learn from your teachers, you can learn from pretty much anybody that you will cross at some point during your studies. And 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. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:22:07] So, one thing that I can give as an advice is that you have to take care of this process because the studies that you're going to have are going to be the years where you will have more time to think about yourself. Don't forget to think about yourself once you enter the professional life, because it will be different. You can make the most mistakes that you can professionally, and you know that you can take risks. So, [indiscernible] let's not be too French [indiscernible]. Yeah. I didn't learn enough from the whole thing that I had to take. And this is something that I understand now because I think the learning process is not stopping at the end of the degree. You're still learning on a daily basis every time with your co-workers, with your investors, with your managers. So, you will always keep on learning. And the jobs are 

totally different today than 20 years ago, and they will be totally different 20 years from now. So, that's the learning curve that I did not understand at that time. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:23:18] Interesting. So, learning how to learn in some ways is important in college. Well, very interesting story. And thank you so much for being on today. If people are interested in learning more about you or your company, where can they go? 

Alexandre Assal: [00:23:33] Yes, they can go on our website, They can download the app if you are planning on coming to France or to the UK. And I am hopeful that maybe soon, we will be opened in new cities and countries. You can download the app directly from your Android Windows Mobile or iOS Apple Phone. And there's one thing that is interesting, and we are going to target the US market in a couple months, not with the app, but with a second product that we rolled out in June this year. And basically, we are going to ask to your schools if they want us to take care of the room allocation for them because we know that in the US universities, the room allocation system is almost every time quite [seldom]. And we want to take all the knowledge that we have on that to be able to pair roommates in universities and encompasses based to their expectations and on who they are. So, that would be a main goal. And, hopefully, I would be able to come to you physically, Andrew, soon to meet you in person, and maybe to work with universities there. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:24:48] Very interesting. That's an interesting extension. So, great. We'll look out for it. And in the meantime, thanks so much for being on today. 

Alexandre Assal: [00:24:56] Thank you so much for having me. That was a pleasure. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:25:01] Thank you for listening to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room. If you're interested in learning more about the work that I do in helping people step outside their comfort zones and transition successfully into the professional world, please visit my website, That's A-N-D-Y-M-O-L-I-N-S-K-Y dot com. And also feel free to email me directly at with any feedback or ideas for guests for future podcasts. 

Andy Molinsky: [00:25:32] This podcast is brought to you by Brandeis University's International Business School. By teaching rigorous business, finance and economics, connecting students to best practices and immersing them in international experiences, Brandeis International Business School prepares exceptional individuals from around the globe to become principled professionals in companies and public institutions worldwide. Thank you so much for listening.