“You don’t start a company with an idea. You start a company with a problem.”– Francois Gouelo
When his Professor presented a $10,000 dollar award for the best entrepreneurial robotic solution, Francois was all ears. Inspired by a frustrating airbnb experience where the key for the home was frozen under the mat, the host was unresponsive, and he was fined five thousand dollars for leaving a window open, Francois used his frustration to fuel his inspiration for what is now Enso Connect. In studying computer and cognitive science, he drove his idea to completion in his University of Toronto classroom.
Francois Gouelo is the 23-year-old CEO and Co-founder of Enso Connect, a revolutionary guest management platform for the short term rental industry.
His futuristic vision is accredited to his passion for smart homes. The power of sensors and devices existent today are underserved or underleveraged in many ways. Consider your Alexa, for example. Its potential hasn’t nearly been unlocked yet.
“Are you solving a problem that people need, want, and are eager to get solved? Or is your solution just something that’s nice to have?”– Francois Gouelo
Discussed in this episode…
- [01:00] Francois Gouelo’s story and how he got into entrepreneurship
- [03:23] What Enso Connect is and its founding story
- [07:48] The problem Enso Connect is solving and its iterations
- [15:23] Enso Connect’s solution
- [18:31] How they map out the user journey in phases
- [23:42] Their business model
- [30:36] Enso Connect’s vision and ultimate destiny
- [33:54] Francois’s fears, doubts, and limiting beliefs/insecurities and how he overcame them
- [40:00] Francois’s entrepreneurship related book or resource recommendation
- [41:43] Francois’s beliefs on whether or not we’re living in a simulation
- [42:20] The one question about himself or the universe Francois would ask
- [43:36] Francois’s advice to young entrepreneurs
❗ What is the PROBLEM that Enso Connect is solving?
Time equals money. Too much time is spent managing short term rentals. On average, an account manager can only manage up to 7-10 listings, with each listing exhausting ten hours per week. Amid the thousands of problems in the short term rental ecosystem, the impact of ineffective communication on the guest experience is massive. This is a particular vertical many have not touched.
The Problem for Hosts: Hosts need to reap the benefits of placing their rentals on marketplaces like Airbnb. Unfortunately, manpower is costly and requires high maintenance when delivering a quality guest experience. During the pandemic, cancellations wreaked havoc as operational costs rose and profits plummeted. Hosts further struggled to ensure their properties were leveraged in a safe and profitable manner.
The Problem for Guests: Everyone has had one negative Airbnb check-in experience. Whether it’s being locked out of the Airbnb, not being able to find the wifi password, or having an unresponsive host, there is no systematic solution that currently exists. In many countries, short term rentals are banned due to complaints around bad property management.
🛠️ What is Enso Connect’s SOLUTION?
A guest experience management platform that unifies communication across multiple channels.
Enso Connect uses a chat AI named Jarvis that is connected to all the smart home devices. Jarvis uses these smart home devices and other data to automate the entire process from pre boarding to arranging the cleaning.
The goal is to automate up to 80% of the communication through scheduled messages, welcoming instructions, restaurant recommendations, sending the wifi password, etc. Since guests repeatedly ask the same questions, these answers are automated for maximum efficiency.
Guests now have a fluid experience while the systemic ecosystem behind the scenes is orchestrated for flawless execution.
As a result, Enso Connect lowers operational costs so managers of short term rentals can scale quicker.
Enso Connect’s mission is to “revolutionize the travel industry by providing guests with the comfort and convenience of a hotel, while receiving the community experience of a home.”
🌎 What is Enso Connect’s VISION?
A home that runs itself.
The vision of Enso Connect is an ecosystem that can make smart homes optimally smart. As in they can curate a personalized experience for each guest each time. This will enable the most technology driven, personalized stays in smart homes that can connect these experiences with the surrounding communities.
It begins with automating the communication piece of the process, moves into incorporating other smart home devices like smart locks and noise sensors, and then completes with the addition of other devices to encapsulate a comprehensive solution that solves many problems across all steps of the user journey from the time guests are looking for place to stay to the time they check out.
“When you are solving a core problem, there are different problems along the user journey you will encounter and they might be smaller problems that you wouldn’t be able to build a whole company around. But those could be problems that you can solve as part of the bigger solution.”– Francois Gouelo
3 Value Bombs
- Be deliberate about mapping out the user journey. What problems are present at each step? By mapping out the user journey, you can more easily pinpoint what pain points your users are experiencing along different parts of their experience and you can also develop a strategy around what other steps of a journey you want to build a solution for.
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Connect the different pieces and verticals as needed to fill in the gaps. Pinpoint existing tools and methodologies and leverage them to increase the value of your proposition. For example, Enso Connect uses Auto Host and smart devices like smart watches to boost the problem-solving capabilities of their package.
- Make sure you’re solving a real problem. Solve a key issue that is so intense that people wonder why no solutions exist. If your solution is simply nice to have, good luck pricing it. Analyze the problem’s magnitude. What is the scale? How many people experience it? What is the frequency at which the problem is experienced? What is the intensity of the problem? Is it a real pain point or just an inconvenience? Is the problem growing or declining over time? Understand the true magnitude of the problem before you ideate a solution.
Julian Alvarez: All right, welcome back, everyone, to another episode of the Inventing the Future podcast, where our mission is to inspire and empower entrepreneurs to solve the world’s biggest problems. I have Francois with me here today, and I actually met Francois also through Daniel. Daniel Doubler, guest number five, and Daniel’s a super-connector. So, Francois, I think, is guest number four in the pipeline that came from him. But yeah, just awesome to meet you and be introduced to you and welcome to the show. Francois, how you doing today, man?
Francois Gouelo: Thank you so much for having me on today. It’s a pleasure to share some of my experience and yeah, obviously Daniel made the introduction. He is definitely the super-connector.
Julian: I’m trying to get to that level, but we’re working on that. All right. So, yeah, for insight to start off, I love it if you can tell us a bit about who you are, your story, maybe even what got you interested in entrepreneurship and why you decided to be an entrepreneur, probably knowing or not knowing that it would be tough as hell as I’m sure you for sure now know.
Francois: Yeah, I never expected to be an entrepreneur so soon. I always thought that I would push it back to later, get a job and then eventually start my own company. And I feel like that’s a lot of people as they come out of their undergrad, they’re thinking, okay, I’m going to go work for a few years, get some experience, and then I’ll start my own company. And I have that same plan and it didn’t happen like that. I ended up just sort of starting a company and it started off really as a class project that then eventually became a venture. To give you more of the story, essentially, I was part of the University of Toronto studying computer science and cognitive science with a focus on computational linguistics. And as part of my final year, I took two courses, entrepreneurship, specifically around computer science and we had to come up with an entrepreneurial solution for any problem that was robotics specific and I absolutely hate robotics. So, I wanted to follow the course theme and so I went more on the IoT side and tried to convince the professor that it would fit in his robotics thesis and pursue that. And it was a personal issue that sprung this entire venture and so connected, I’m going to obviously dive into a bit more of having had a, I guess, a terrible Airbnb experience in Mont-Tremblant. And I set out to build initially a software that would help avoid those kinds of issues for property managers, hosts and guests alike. And after my undergrad, I continued working on it, just kind of like a side project while I was finishing off a few other things and next thing you know, I incorporated the company and started working on it full time. So, it was really an accident more than anything, I think.
Julian: Amazing. Well, I think life is spontaneous in that way, but it’s funny how the entrepreneurial journey came to you a little sooner than anticipated. And it all came with starting to negotiate with your professor to let you do this. But I did actually hear about the story, first, let’s learn a little bit about Enso connect like what is it you’re in thirty seconds to one-minute pitch. I’d love it if you talk a little bit about that awful Airbnb experience that turned out to not be so awful because then it resulted in this idea.
Francois: Absolutely. I’ll dive into the founding story for sure. So, the brief pitch is Enso Connect is a guest experience management platform for the short-term rental industry. We leverage smart home devices in the AI communication to essentially automate the whole process from preboarding, checking in, checking out and getting the cleaning team. Our vision is super simple. It’s crazy absolutely but we want investment properties or vacation rentals to run themselves. We want hospitality managers to focus on the hospitality aspect of their business and not the day today, the tedious stuff. And moving it back to the story in this terrible Airbnb experience that I quickly mentioned, this is how it all started. I was part of this class and at the end of the class, if you won, you would get $10,000. So, I made it my goal that forgets all the other courses I had, this one’s paying my tuition, so I may as well just focus on this one, this particular course, and make sure I win that ten thousand dollars. And so, I was trying to figure out what problem to solve it and initially, I set out to build a copycat of smart things to control smart devices on one phone because I had that issue with my smart devices but that first week when I went on a ski-trip to Mont-Tremblant. And if you know me, you know I love travelling, but I love spontaneous travel. I have a bag in my apartment where I have my passport, pair of boxers, some socks, a few clothes, and I’m ready to go any time anywhere. And so, this is what happened. My friend calls me up and he says, “Hey, you want to go skiing this weekend?” I say, “yes”, we hop in a car and while we’re driving, we’re looking for an Airbnb. So, we find one that’s an instant book, which means you don’t have to confirm with the host. You just book it and you’ll be ready to go and show up. Which is a great feature, I think, of short-term rentals in Airbnb. We arrive at Airbnb, the chalet, the key is frozen under the doormat, three centimeters of thick ice, so we’re out there with lighter’s trying to unfreeze it, then we get into the unit eventually and it’s like -30 degrees Celsius for Americans listening to this, that isn’t a fair night.
Julian: Exactly but it is just a fucking cold.
Francois: Exactly. So, we get into the unit and then we’re trying to turn up the heating and we realize it’s per room. Well, actually, we didn’t realize it. It was per room and so we only got the living room heated up. So, we all slept in the living room. And throughout the stay, we were trying to ask questions to the host, but he just wouldn’t answer. He wasn’t answering his phone, he wasn’t answering phone calls or beaming messages or anything. Three days later, I think we check out and I get a message, four days after checking out from the host, a text message finally saying the pipes in the kitchen are frozen, you owe me five thousand dollars, if you don’t pay up, I’m going to send you small claims court. Now as a student and if you’re a student listening to this, you probably know you don’t have five thousand dollars to just send out an Airbnb host because you accidentally left one of the windows open. So, the pipes in the kitchen froze. I’m pretty sure I close the windows and Airbnb policy is he never communicated with you and he asked you these four or five days after checkout. Could have been someone else. So, we weren’t liable. You never actually sent me to small claims court, relationship kind of ended there and I guess I got a very bad review on my account, but it made me realize why did he not communicate with us? Why did he not have a smart sensor in his kitchen to tell him it’s going to be minus 20? He doesn’t live at the chalet or in the area. He needs to be able to know what’s going on in his unit. And so that’s what we set out to build. And initially, it was property management software. And I guess when we dive into more of the problem and covid and things like that, we’ve shifted into a guest experience management platform. So once again, leveraging the smart tech, leveraging the AI communication and making sure that you’re constantly communicating with your guests and you know what’s going on in your house or your apartment or whatever it might be without intruding on that privacy. So, it really started with a personal problem and it has evolved into a new beast that now we’ve realized as a team that a lot of people have been facing these kinds of issues. So, yeah, it’s an interesting problem to solve and it’s a complicated one for sure.
Julian: That’s fascinating. Yeah, I’d love to hear more about the problem, and especially because something that (07:25 switch Goswami) in episode number six mentioned is that both the problem and the solution iterate. So, I’m sure like what you described initially during your Airbnb experience, where there’s a problem of not having communication and for the host that’s managing the property, there’s a problem around not knowing what is going on, on the property or something’s wrong. So, there are problems on both ends but I’m curious, is this still kind of the main problem that you’re solving for or has the problem iterated or how would you describe the problem now?
Francois: The solution to the problem has remained similar, but has definitely changed. The problem itself has been reformulated. And I guess it stays the same for all types of software that are trying to assist short term rental house and property managers. It’s about time. Time is money and we’re trying to make sure that you don’t spend so much time managing your short-term rentals. So, whether you’re a property management software or you’re a revenue management system or whatever it might be in this space, you are going to be solving a particular vertical that involves saving time. In our case, it’s the most time-consuming element that hasn’t really been solved, and that’s communication. The IoT aspect feeds into communication. For those who don’t know, IoT is the Internet of Things, and that’s like smart home devices and so on. Your Lexus, Google Homes and smart locks. And so, yeah, the core problem that we’re solving is the time spent managing a short-term rental. It takes on average about – you can manage seven to ten listings per person, per account manager, and it takes up to ten hours for a single booking per week to manage that booking. So, we’re talking, checking in instructions, sending out messages, making sure the guest is happy, checking up on him, coordinating the cleaning team, making sure that the next reservation comes in on time and so on and so on. So, there are all sorts of things as a property manager, as a host that you need to do in order to run a successful short term rental business, and what we’re trying to do is lower your operational costs by saving you a lot of time and making sure that you can scale quicker, meaning no more 10 hours per listing, managed one hour instead and instead of managing seven per account manager, you can now manage sixty. So, the tangible and quantifiable elements to what we’re doing, I think are really the key and the formulation around the problem, like how we’re doing it or what are some of the smaller problems have definitely changed over time. But the core problem of time has remained the same for us for the past year and a half.
Julian: Interesting. Yeah, so really, it’s on the host side, right? Because this is a two-sided marketplace where you have both the hosts and the guests. And the hosts you can also think of them, as you said, as the property managers and maybe even like the owners and whatnot but really, the main thing point for them there is the time that it requires. So, the idea is, if you can minimize the time it takes to manage each property, you’re able to scale the number of properties that you own without having to hire more people. So, they do not only save some time, but it also saves money, of course. Right. The two are connected and it also allows them to just scale more easily and provide a better experience for the actual guest. So, I’m curious if you could also talk there about what the problem is for the guest. What is the pain points they experience?
Francois: Absolutely. So, you touched upon something that’s really cool. There are two clients in this space exactly. There’s the host and the guest and systems like us or property management software and all that, they sell to hosts to your owner, property manager one but they tend to forget the impact on the guest. And I think this is where why we’ve positioned ourselves as a guest experience management and not a property management platform. It is because we realize that our client’s client is essentially driving the revenue for us. We’ll dive into the business model aspect of things, but because we have a commission model, we need those guests to have the best date and continue to come back to the unit, stay there, pay more, etc. because, yes, the host is going to make money, the owner is going to make money, but we’re going to make money on that as well. So, I think visualizing those two is really, really important. We haven’t seen that too much in the space and I think that’s one of the differentiating factors in how we’re approaching the problem. And in terms of guests, I mean, I’m sure anyone listening to this has stayed in an Airbnb. The best example I can give you is a shitty check-in. We’ve all had a shitty check in an Airbnb. For the past seven, eight years that we’ve really been using Airbnb, everyone has had one example of a bad Airbnb experience where you show up and the host is late or you arrive late and the host couldn’t make it. There are countless examples of check-in issues and companies out there have been trying to solve this in different ways, whether it’s with slightly better communication or with smart locks or lockboxes or in some more archaic cases, the key under the doormat, in which case they might get frozen but let’s hope it doesn’t. And so, people have been trying to find different ways to avoid showing up in person because there’s going to be conflicts of schedules and so on and you want to make the experience as smooth as possible. And I think one of the key things to touch upon the guest’s problems, is how covid-19 has accelerated new problems where our solution is even more beneficial. And what I mean by that is, think of it this way, nowadays, no one wants to meet the host in person. It’s covid. It’s a pandemic. You don’t want to show up and shake hands and spend time with the host. You just want to show up, get to the unit, enjoy your stay and move out. And that’s where we come in, really automating that process for the guests and providing them with unique experiences, checking upon them all the time whenever they need something and we’re trying to push it even further by connecting them with the community around. We can dive into that part of the conversation here on the importance of community with what we’re doing.
Julian: Yeah, and I think that’s really interesting. And one other thing that comes to mind is that keep in mind that when you go to an Airbnb, it’s not just important that the host and the guests are happy, but Airbnb is a middleman and they care that the host and the guests both have an exceptional experience. Because if you as a guest go to an Airbnb and you don’t have a great experience because the host didn’t respond or because the host didn’t do something well, then Airbnb also suffers because then you’ll be like “Airbnb sucks. I tried it out “. When really it wasn’t really Airbnb fault, it was more so that the host wasn’t communicating properly and Airbnb doesn’t really have a ton of control over that other than, I don’t know, banning bad hosts or just leaving negative reviews.
Francois: Yeah, now they’re a marketplace, essentially. I mean, people oftentimes blame Airbnb for a shitty listing or something like that. They’re just a marketplace. They’ve opened up the doors for people to market their homes as vacation rental homes, whether it’s a shitty one or an amazing one. And that’s why they now have different tiers, super host luxury, things like that so that you can differentiate the shitty ones from the best ones. But at the end of the day, it’s the host’s job to make sure that his business, his home, his investment property is being leveraged in a safe way and it’s being leveraged in a way that’s profitable for him, where you can actually see the benefits of putting it on this platform. So, there’s a lot of issues in this space that need to get fixed. The more I dive into it, I could dive into thousands of problems with the short-term rental ecosystem. But the one we’ve decided to focus on is communication, which is guest experience because that one is a particular vertical that not a lot of people have touched yet and where we think we can do best.
Julian: So interesting. Yeah, very important to be aware of all the problems that are very close to you. Because those problems give you a sense of where you could move into. Like this is your primary focus, but then from there, it’s like what are adjacent problems that I could move into. And that kind of starts to create a potential path for the future. Very interesting to touch on that. I think it’d be great if we could dive a little bit into the solution, your product and how that works, how it solves these problems, and we can dive into also if you want to talk about the business model and the community aspect.
Francois: Yeah, 100%. So, as I said, Enso was a guest experience management platform. So, what does that mean? So essentially what we’re doing is we’re helping you unify your communication across multiple platforms. We’re talking Airbnb, Expedia, booking a camp, (15:50 unintelligible). You can have a listing on all those platforms and we collect that information and you can communicate with your guest in different ways in the same place. Every message, text, email, WhatsApp, you’ll see it all in a unified inbox and your guest, he can pick and choose or she can pick and choose how they want to message you. Now, what we do from there is automate every step of the way. Not only that we’ve solidified this inbox or system or what I like to call the engine of Enso Connect, then we add all of the value add. So, we’re talking about scheduled messages, things that can be sent out at specific times that you know will have to be sent out, welcoming instructions, how to check out, certain information, a (16:29 unintelligible) that we call Jarvis after Iron Man.
Julian: Great pick.
Francois: And the goal is to automate up to 80% of your communication. Because what we’ve noticed is guests tend to ask the same shit over and over. Is the pool open? How do I get in? What’s the Wi-Fi password? What’s a cool restaurant around? Things like that. And so, it’s always the same questions. Covid-19 the top question that we’ve had is, is the pool open? It’s like the go-to question. So, these need to be automated. You shouldn’t have to wake up and deal with that or go to work and have to answer what the Wi-Fi password is. All that stuff is automated with our chatbot. And then once the guest arrives, now that you have that process of being able to fluidly communicate across multiple languages and automatically without actually having to do much, we are automating every other step of the process. So, getting in smart locks, checking up on the guest making sure that they’re having a good stay, that’s the communication piece but it’s also the noise sensors. They’re having a party, you know, about it but instead of just knowing about it and then having to pick up your phone at Francois: 00 in the morning and calling them to tell them to tone it down, communication comes in. We send an automatic message via the favorite medium of that guest saying, “Hey, listen, you’re too loud, please bring it down or else we’re going to get some complaints”. One, two, three times okay, now we’ll ping you and we’ll tell you this guy keeps partying, so maybe you should handle it. And those are sort of the core steps of how we’re trying to automate the entire process with smart home and communication. But we’re trying to take it even further than that. What we really want is a system that runs itself. People talk about retention and how often does your person or your user go on your app? We don’t want our users to go on our app because we want our app to run everything for them. That’s the whole purpose of what we’re trying to build. We want Enso to connect to run their investment properties from the preboarding all the way to the checking out without them having to do a single thing. Now, obviously, that’s a dream and it’s a vision and we have to get there and so there are certain steps and we’ve started with the communication piece and we’ve moved into the smart locks and the noise sensors and now we’re moving into other types of devices that will help push that vision further.
Julian: Wow, that is brilliant. And one thing I want to highlight here is how deliberate you’ve been about mapping out the user journey and making sure you understand what the problem is at each step. So, for example, it’s like, okay what happens before you even book a place or before you even go to and travel to that location? It’s like what communication is going to go on there? And then it’s like, okay, once you’re actually there, what is the experience like? And then afterwards the checkout. So, you have these different phases and at each phase, it looks like you’ve taken the time to understand what the problems are, what the pain points are, and how you can design solutions like communication or connecting the smart home devices to detect the sound and be able to send alerts and also use the smart locks to be able to automatically integrate all of that.
Francois: Absolutely. And the cool thing to add to what you’re saying is, when you do the problem searching, you’re going to find the core problem. Now, ours was time, time spent managing a short-term rental. But when you actually dive into what you just said, the different steps, you realize that there are different problems for each step and they might be smaller problems, that you wouldn’t be able to build a whole company around but it could be a problem that you can solve as part of the bigger solution that you’re solving. So, you put it perfectly. We categorized everything according to the different steps and from that identified the different types of problems that people would face. And we box those into the different types of customers that are out there because the luxury property manager is going to have a different problem set than the guy who just has a property in Toronto who’s just trying to pump some cash or the guy who’s running a hundred units for someone else or the guy who has an arbitrage model. So, each customer is slightly different, unifying the different problems that they have is what’s allowing us to create a solution that works for all, and from that, we can start customizing and building out branches just like Airbnb does with the luxury, the super host and so on, a similar approach with the different features and packages that we offer if you will.
Julian: Interesting. That’s actually what I think is. The genius component of the solution is the system behind it. Like when I was looking at Enso connect, it’s like, okay you have smart home devices, you have smart locks, you have a communication system, and it’s like all these small components, individually, they already exist and there are solutions for those things. But what you’re doing is taking all these existing solutions and creating a system around it where the communication Jarvis A.I. is the interface to interact with that entire system and ecosystem of products. So, the genius here is that because it’s a system and it has so many individual parts, as you said, you can focus on the smaller problems and if you only solve that small problem, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal but because it’s part of a larger system, the systemic solution is really what makes you unique and valuable, both rare and valuable in that forms of competency control that sets you apart.
Francois: The best way to put it is we’re building an ecosystem. We’re building an ecosystem of different companies that are out there. We’ve got a partnership with a company called Auto-Host out of Toronto that does guest verification. What they do is preboarding. They go in and look at the guest profile and make sure that there’s no sketchy thing. Is it a twenty-three-year-old guy renting a sixteen-bedroom place saying he’s on a romantic trip with his girlfriend? Probably something sketchy. Why does he need a 16-bedroom mansion or whatever to have a romantic getaway? Probably because he is going to have a party. So, we’re not going to rebuild or reinvent that. They do an amazing job at it, but we’re going to connect that with our communication tool. And next step, checking in, smart locks. Great. They already exist. We’re not going to invent them. We’re not going to rebuild them, but we’re going to connect them so that we can automate that part, noise sensors and so on and so on. So, we’re really about connecting the different pieces in the different verticals into this one guest experience facing platform. And the real key takeaway is that on the guest’s side, they don’t see any of that. They just have a fluid experience. They don’t have to download an application. They don’t have to go out of their way to do something to unlock the door. I mean, today’s current model for being connected with smart locks in the short-term rental space is essentially sending a link to your guest to download an app, to then put in a few codes, sign up, do all sorts of stuff, and then they can unlock the door. There’s no way I’m fucking downloading an app to get into a unit. I just want to get it. That’s it. Why would I go through 16 steps when you could have just given me a key? It would have been faster. And that’s where we can really bring the smart value of smart homes. And as I like to quote Jeff Haggards the former founder and CTO of Smart Things. His company was called Smart Things and the idea behind it was to bring the smart and smart home. And that’s exactly what we’re doing but instead, we’re bringing smart and smart hospitality. So, it’s a fun journey with a lot of moving parts, a lot of API connections and all sorts of complexities around that, working with different businesses and so on. But I think that’s what really makes our solution unique, is the ecosystem that we’re building.
Julian: Well, I love that. Systemic solutions to systemic problems. That help to make something unique. (23:40Inaudible) ask questions here on Enso Connect, I’m curious, one, what is the business model? How do you guys make money?
Francois: Absolutely. So, we have a very simple business model and we’re looking to switch something up in it. Essentially, it’s a commission model. So, a flexible pricing model, 1% to 2% commission per night per listing. The advantage behind a flexible model, I’ll give you guys the advantage and the disadvantage. The advantage behind it is these goes back to my view of travelling because I want to be able to leave and let’s say, be a digital nomad or remote worker from anywhere. I want to be able to go to Costa Rica, work there for a month. But I still have this liability of an apartment that I’m renting and I got to put it on the short-term rental, I got to do the management of it, etc. By having a flexible model, what we’re allowing people to do is not force them to pay every month, even if they’re living there or whatever the reason may be. So, if you’re going to put it on Airbnb, we’re going to take a little commission because we’re going to help you automate that management process. And that’s how we’re currently operating. That’s what we have. That’s what our customers are paying but we are actually currently looking at building out a more fixed model because some users would prefer paying more, but knowing that they’re paying every month a certain amount. So, we are opening that up. So, it’s a very simple business model, 1% to 2% commission or a fixed pricing model that’s still being exploited right now. That’s the core business model.
Julian: Interesting. Yeah, I know and it’s a matter of testing and seeing what works and I’m sure that’s part of the experimentation phase as well, not only on the product but also on the business model.
Francois: We’re still very early stage, so there are still certain things that we’re exploring, seeing what sticks, what doesn’t, what we do know, and I think this is what the key focus should be for every entrepreneur, regardless of pricing models and revenue and all the financial aspects, is, are you solving a problem that people need? People want, people are eager to get solved, or is it nice to have? And if it’s nice to have, good pricing it because people aren’t necessarily going to want to pay for it. They’ll be glad to use it. It’s nice to have, but they might not want to pay for it. But if you’re solving a key problem that’s so intense that people are like, why are there no solutions out there? Like we’re talking about users that have been shifting from one system to another every six months. That means it takes them like two, three weeks to get set up on a system. And they shift every time every six months they got a new one. We have a 0% turn rate and we don’t have as many clients like them, of course, and some of our competitors and so on. We have 0% growth rates right now because we’re sticky. We’re making sure that we’re solving the core problems that people need. And that means the pricing model, the revenue streams, they’re all going to come flowing after. But we do obviously have a structure for that as we’re building the product. So, it doesn’t mean much because for all we know in a few years, we’re going to start seeing those numbers go up and so on but for the time being, it just shows that people are willing to stick with us for the long term.
Julian: Yeah, it’s a testament to how real the problem is and how good your solution does at solving that problem. So that’s amazing. Actually, there are two other questions. One, I’m going to ask is covid. And I ask about covid because I think travel was one of the things most affected. So how did covid affect you? I’m sure there were insurmountable and numerous challenges. So, yeah, I’m curious what happened there and how you overcame those challenges.
Francois: Yeah, covid was a really tough time and it was very depressing in many ways because I’ve been building this out for six to eight months. We just raised fifty thousand dollars from a fund in the UK. We were entering our first fundraising and I’m super excited and then this pandemic happens. And it kind of crushed everything and people are talking about travel’s not going anywhere, you’re talking to investors, they’re not interested in travel. They all just want to invest in a vaccine or health-related health tech and so on. So, it was a bit depressing at first. And the signals that we were getting from whether it was from investors or people around, it wasn’t positive or negative. It’s just non-existent because people weren’t aware of where things were going. So, I think this is where resilience is one of the key elements of entrepreneurship because …
Francois: Yeah perseverance. We just stuck with it. And instead of chatting with investors and trying to sell the bigger dream, we went back to the customers and asked them, what are their current problems now? What are you facing? What are the issues? And obviously, the core issue that we’re facing was simply we’re not getting any bookings. Now there’s nothing I can really do about that other than maybe call up the governments and say open up borders so people can travel and that wasn’t necessarily any wise idea to do that but it made me dive into a few other problems. I realized the other issue they were facing was their operational costs. They were still paying and they reinforce the communication issue. They were getting two to three times more messages because of people cancelling, and they couldn’t handle it. Because when you have a hundred messages coming in, in a single day on average and now you have three hundred and you had one guy that you had hired for a hundred messages, you now three people for three hundred messages. You can’t have that one guy handle more than one hundred messages. I’m giving a very simple example here. But except these messages aren’t about bookings they are about cancellations. So, you can’t be hiring three people to answer cancellation messages. It doesn’t make sense. Right. So, this is where the problem shifted and went from us building a property management software, which we realized was a bit overcrowded. There are too many out there and they differentiate themselves in very unique ways but people aren’t happy with them versus building a guest experience management platform. Being able to directly interact with your guests and automate that aspect is more important. So that was one of the things just sticking through it, spending two or three months speaking with customers, not really building anything. We reduced our own operational costs and just went back to the root, went back to the problem. And I always say this to new entrepreneurs. You don’t start a company with an idea, you start a company with a problem. And this is the key to it all. Whenever I hear someone come up to me and say, I have an idea, it’s a great business idea, my first question is, what problem are you solving. And if they can’t answer it, you don’t have an idea. And the follow up on that is if you told me no one is doing this, then there’s also a problem. Why is no one doing this? It’s either because it’s such a unique idea or because no one cares. So, finding that balance but at the end of the day, it’s all about the problem. And I like how you focus on this on your podcast because I think people tend to forget that. They like the fancy, the shiny, the bling-bling idea, but they forget that at the end of the day, what is successful is the problem that you’re solving.
Julian: No, and that’s why I focus on that in this podcast because I think it’s probably the most fundamental thing in entrepreneurship is to make sure you’re solving a real problem. And it’s not only to make sure that you’re solving a problem, but it’s to make sure that you are analyzing what the magnitude of the problem is. So, I talk a lot about what is the scale of your problem, how many people have it? What is the frequency? How often do people experience a problem? And what is the intensity of the problem? When people do experience it, how bad is it? Or is it bad or is it just inconvenience? And for it is like is the problem growing or is it declining over time? And all of those kinds of help you get a better sense of what really is the true magnitude of the problem? Thank you for emphasizing that. I was going to ask one last question here on Enso, but I think you kind of answered it. And it was like on the vision, what would the world look like if Enso was to achieve its vision, its ultimate destiny?
Francois: Absolutely. So, I have a very futuristic vision of Enso because I love smart homes. I think the devices and the power of sensors and the devices that are out there today are underserved in many ways. They are under leverage. We have an Alexa and we ask it for an alarm or to play music or a recipe, but it has so much more benefits and potential that hasn’t been fully leveraged yet. And so, my vision for Enso connect is a home that runs itself. And what I mean by that is not just the checking in and checking up etc. But going further than that. And it ties into the community aspect that I brought up earlier, and that is to create a personalized experience for each guest every time. So, one of the unique elements of how we structure our data, for example, at Enso connect it is because we’re very much focused on the guest, we structure it around the guest. We collect the guest’s information and create almost a, let’s say, a behavioral package if you will. How do they behave in the home? When do they check-in? Are they late checking type of people, late checkout? Do they go in and out all the time? Are they loud people? Do they play music? And once we can create that’s a personalized component, my vision for this company is to be able to create the most tech-driven, personalized experience around that smart home and connecting that experience with the community around. Short term rentals are banned in left and right in some countries, in some cities because of regulations. And the reason they’re banned because of regulations is because of complaints. And the complaints come from bad operators, bad guests and in my opinion, bad property managers. Property managers that are not able to handle the right guests coming into their properties, creating you’ve got disorderly conduct and all sorts of issues around that rental and it just trickles up to the government that ends up banning it and the community doesn’t like it and so on. But if you can tie in the community aspect if you can connect the coffee shop with the guest, you know, that guest loves coffee and maze will recommending that local coffee shop or this place to eat or that museum to go to, you can create these – it’s like the future of travel agencies if you will, but automated in a system and in your home and it’s not you running that system, it’s your actual home, running that system for you. That’s sort of where I want to take it and where I see it. I see it in every vacation accommodation from hotels, motels, Bnbs, chalets, I want it in every single location, every country and every type of short-term rental. Obviously, we’ve got a few steps to prove before we can get to that level, but we’re in 12 countries in six months. I’m happy to continue to grow at this pace.
Julian: Yeah, you’re well on your path to fulfilling that vision and I love the simplicity of communicating it as a home that runs itself, especially with the support of the local community where that place is at. So next, let’s dive into a bit of the psychology and the mindset behind entrepreneurship. So, you’re a twenty-three-year-old entrepreneur and you started Enso Connect right out of college. Right? So, before you started your company and you made this initial entrepreneurial leap, I’m curious, what were some of the fears, doubts, limiting beliefs or insecurities that pass through your mind?
And how did you end up overcoming them or reframing them? And are these things that you still experience?
Francois: A hundred per cent, any CEO or company executive that tells you he doesn’t have any fears and everything’s clear cut for the next few months, years or whatever is lying to you? There are always times what I’m questioning and doubting some of the decisions I make or the decisions our team makes but I’m going to jump back on that. It’s the team. It’s cool. I’m working with amazing people from advisors. We’ve got Daniel that you’ve had on your podcast, who’s a great friend and a huge mentor for me. He’s really helped us scale Enso. We have got Hendrick, the former founder of Lyrica, Jeff Haggards from Smart Things. I surround myself with people that motivate me, that believe in what we’re doing and that is helping us grow. There are going to be doubters, there are going to be people who tell you that it’s impossible and you keep picking out the solution, you keep finding different ways. To give you an example, getting a partnership with Airbnb. It was one of the first problems that we faced. We needed to connect with Airbnb API in order to collect information about the reservation. Now, there was one solution, which is what we call a (35:01 unintelligible), which is connecting the calendar and getting that information from the calendar. A few weeks after building that out, Airbnb comes out with an update and they removed all reservation data from the I count. And our whole system needs the reservation data. So, we had to find another hack. And so, we went out and found a hack into the Airbnb system and it worked. We ran through ten thousand iterations before going live because we wanted to make sure everything was clean cut. Airbnb noticed that and blocked our API requests. And so here I am like, oh shit, I’m supposed to launch this with a few homes and test out this product and we can’t even get the partnership with Airbnb how the hell am I going to do what I’m supposed to do? This is where the doubt and the fear come in. But where the perseverance and the will to make this happen also comes in is I start going on LinkedIn and I start looking up all the people who are working at Airbnb who might be related close by or someone I could get in touch with to help me fix this. And I get in touch with someone at Airbnb in Toronto. I get a meeting, I show up, I present and, in my head, I’m thinking these guys can give me a partnership. It’s obvious, like, this is the future. Why wouldn’t they? And I speak to him and he’s like, “I love it. It’s amazing but we can’t. We can’t integrate you guys because we need more. We need you guys to show us more units, more traction, etc..” And I’m thinking, how the hell am I going to show you more traction if I don’t have Airbnb? How the hell am I going to get Airbnb if I don’t have more traction and you keep poking at that problem. And you start building decision trees and different ways of formulating it and so I’m going a bit on a tangent here but essentially what I’m trying to say is, yes, you do have doubts and you do have things that you’re unsure of, but you surround yourself with the right people and eventually you work to find what that solution is. You build out different models. You try, you fail, you try again, you fail again and eventually, certain things start clicking. And what I really enjoy about doing podcasts like this is I get to reflect back on the little ones. So, when you’re working on a day-day, it sometimes seems like it’s not working or this new problem. And I have to deal with this HR-related problem, this fundraising problem, this problem. And you just constantly new problems, new problems like give me a break. But if you reflect back, you’re like, shit, I’ve actually been getting a bunch of wins. And like we had sixty-eight homes a year ago, we’ve got forty-nine thousand bookable rooms now. We had one city that we were in, we’re in 12 different countries. I don’t even know how many cities right now. So, you look back at those little wins and you’re like, wow. And then you look at your vision and you realize, okay, I’m so far out still and still Miles to go. But it’s cool to be able to reflect back and realize you might be scared, you might have to make a certain leap of faith here and there, but at the end of the day, if you know what you’re the North Star is that vision is and you are resilient to get to that, it’s just about executing each step of the way.
Julian: Oh, man, what a great point you bring up. I mean, the truth is that there’s always going to be problems no matter what. Like problems are just a natural part of life. And so, if you always look at what problems you have, you’re going to just feel overwhelmed and tired but like we often fail to look back and be like, “whoa, look at all those problems I’ve solved that I once thought…” – and for some of them, you once thought, like, how the hell am I going to solve this? And if you look back to a time when you’ve done something you thought was impossible, oftentimes that reflection is what gives you the confidence at the moment to overcome whatever challenges or problems you have now in the present moment. And so, I always like to think from a mindset perspective of the yin and the yang of self-acceptance, like looking back and being happy with how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved, but also the yang of self-improvement. It’s like, hey, let’s keep looking forward to what we need to do and what we need to solve, what challenges lie ahead. And if you look back and feel great about where you’ve been and you look forward and you look at the opportunities that exist in front of you, you’ll have the energy and the confidence to actually tackle them.
Francois: 100%. I think that’s a great analogy actually, for that, because it’s really about its building that confidence and that momentum and the motivation around achieving those goals. I mean, the things that we’ve done now, I don’t think I would have imagined it necessarily back then. It was part of the roadmap, etc. but I didn’t actually realize that we’d be able to achieve certain things. And we have miles to go out. Once again, our trust is humble here because we are tiny and we’re still growing and so on. But it’s part of each step of that vision. We know where we’re going and we’re – essentially, I like to put it as we’re sailors on a ship, I’m steering the ship. I’ve got all these people, amazing people helping me out, got the sail, the mast and everything, and just making sure I did the right way. And we’re in a storm and we’re constantly in a storm and we’ve got to readjust and so on but we know where we’re going. And that vision, we know that that vision in that achievable vision is a really successful point, let’s say, for what we’re trying to do. Yeah, there’s a lot of money involved.
Julian: Amazing. I love to see you on the path to fulfilling that vision. As a final segment here, I want to go through some quick rapid-fire questions. I’ll actually ask you just three, and the first is what entrepreneurship-related book or resource has impacted you the most or would you recommend the most to other young entrepreneurs?
Francois: I have a whole library of them, but there’s two in particular. The first one is “The lean startup” Eric Ries. It’s my Bible. In fact, one of the reasons I named Enso Connect Enso, is Enso is a symbol of Zen, it’s a circle that you draw in one uninhibited brushstroke. It’s a really nice drawing. And I got it tattooed like two, three years ago, unrelated to Enso Connect. I hadn’t even thought of Enso Connect at the time. I’d gotten a tattoo when I was in school and my parents were – my mom specifically was like, what the hell? Why did you hurt yourself and get a tattoo that’s horrible? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And that Christmas, my sister gives me a book and it’s “The lean startup”. And guess what? On the cover, it is an Enso. So that’s kind of why I named Enso Connect Enso is because it had that symbolic element and that book specifically is really important in understanding, I think the problems that you’re solving and going back to the roots of entrepreneurship. Another one that I like, which is fun to read, is ” The hard thing about hard things”. I’m not fully done with it yet. I’m halfway through right now, but so far, I’m really enjoying it because it really shows the sorry from my language, the Fuck you pain points that some entrepreneurs have to go through and like the mountain of stuff that you have to overcome. The how – I don’t know – It shows a good difference between the hard work and the news that you see of all the success, etc. but like you don’t always see, like the amount of blood, sweat and tears that have gone to get that successful article written or whatever it might be. So, I’m enjoying that book so far, but I’m only halfway through. But definitely read “The lean startup”. That’s a Bible.
Julian: Yeah, I vouch for both of those. Okay, cool and this next question is just for fun, but are we living in a simulation.
Francois: 100%. It’s the question of free will. I could go into hours about this like the behaviorism theory and things like that but the quick answer is, I do think that we are in a simulation, but there’s a certain level of control that we have on that simulation.
Julian: Our free will was programmed or not, who knows? All right. And the last one here is let’s actually fast forward to a time in the future where we now have an A.I. who knows everything about you, Francois, and the universe. So, if you could only ask this A.I. one question be it about yourself or the universe, what question would you ask?
Francois: It would probably be around objective truth, what is objectively true? What is objectively true because everything is a stat that’s how I see things. Everything is statistically true or false, which means it’s not objectively true. So, what is objectively true? A simple example is this is white. This piece of paper is white. Well, it’s white for me but is it always white? I’m getting a very basic example here, but I’d be interested to know if there is anything that’s objectively true. It’s a dangerous question because it can go into nihilism and all sorts of interesting topics. But yeah, I think that would be my question.
Julian: That is a deep question. Yeah. We have to realize that things that are objective to us are subjective to our perceptions and our senses. So, I’m color blind, for example, I might see that as a different shade of white.
Francois: So maybe it isn’t white because you see it in a different way or whatever it might be. I’ve had this debate with my co-founder quite a few times. We get into some heated debates about objective truth and it’s always fascinating. So, I’d love to get the actual answer to that.
Julian: We’re all working on it. Final closing question for you, Francois. I’m curious if you have any closing thoughts, a message or advice that you would give young entrepreneurs that either want to get into entrepreneurship or want to take their startup to the next level?
Francois: Yeah, my biggest advice is just to do it. I mean, Nike’s motto. Just do it seriously. Don’t even hesitate. Don’t make excuses. Don’t think “oh I’m going to do this first I and go back into it, etc.” Just do it. Jump right into it. I understand different situations for different people, whether it’s your financial situation that doesn’t allow you or the fact you have a family or things like that, but find ways to still just do it because it’s a thrilling experience and now’s the time. Like now will always be the time, not later. If you’re having the idea now and the problem is now, then you should be solving it now, not in two years. That would be my advice, my core advice and then the one I initially said, which is don’t start with an idea. Start with the problem
Julian: Yeah core. I know now really is the best time, no matter what, just because one quit procrastinating and two, literally getting funding is easier than ever and technology is more accessible and faster and affordable than ever. So, turn your ideas into reality because you no longer have to just dream you can actually make it fucking happen. So, with that thanks a lot. Thank you for coming on to the show, it was a pleasure talking and be sure to leave your Socials and Enso Connect details in the show notes. But yeah, thanks for coming on, man. Love talking to you.
Francois: I appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me.
Julian: Hey, guys, three quick footnotes here before closing off, so the first is, did you enjoy the topics discussed in this episode? Well, I invite you to join the slack community for this podcast where we’ll keep the conversation going by engaging in discussions related to the episodes discussed in this podcast. Here you’ll be able to engage in conversations with me and other listeners. And if you really enjoy this podcast, it is likely that you would relate well with other listeners that also enjoy the podcast. In this community, you’ll be able to meet, engage, learn from and potentially collaborate with the like-minded entrepreneurs that listen to this podcast. Let’s invent the future together. The second quick note is if you are interested in receiving updates on new episodes, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter and in this newsletter, I’ll also share notes, insights, wisdom tools and strategies that are designed to help you become a better entrepreneur and live a healthier, fulfilling and more productive life. And finally, the last footnote is that you can follow us on social media accounts to get updates on new episodes and engage with invaluable content related to entrepreneurship. And also, we have a website now you can go to InventingtheFuture.ai for detailed show notes on all the episodes. So, the links for joining the black community, subscribing to the newsletter, the social media accounts and the website can all be found in the show notes for this episode. So, with that, I would like to wish you a day, week, year and life filled with an abundance of love, energy and prosperity. Take care and stay infinite my friends.
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