Each and every Tuesday I publish an interview with someone who is living outside of their home country. Today’s interview is unique in that it’s the first one I’ve done in-person rather than via email. Last weekend I had the privilege of sitting down with fellow expat, Pierre-Alban Waters, director of Moving2Madrid, and founder of Guiripreneurs, the community for and by international entrepreneurs. Read on to hear about how he´s made his mission of helping international professionals in Madrid a reality, the dangers he sees in teaching English for many people, why he doesn’t think keeping a positive attitude abroad should be a priority and the similarities he sees between romantic relationships, startups and moving abroad.
Tell us a little bit about yourself Pierre, how exactly did you wind up here in Madrid?
I moved to Madrid back in fall of 2007. My mother is French and my father is English so I grew up spending time between the two countries. I suppose I’m more French since the majority of my time was spent in France, but I’ve always felt international. I really like working with people and considered studying psychology or HR, but in the end I decided to study business. When I was finishing my master’s in France, I had to start thinking about where I was headed next. One of my objectives at that time was to become trilingual. While I toyed with the idea of studying Chinese or Arabic, I ultimately decided to study Spanish given that it would allow me to become fluent in a shorter period of time, yet it’s still a very useful language spoken by people around the world.
But out of all of the places where Spanish is spoken in the world, how did you decide on Spain?
I explored different exchange options offered by my university and some of those were based in South America. However, in order for me to feel like I had mastered the language I needed to be in a place where I could secure a job competing with the locals. Spain seemed like a place that could offer me that. Not to mention the fact that I love challenges and since Spain was in the midst of the crisis back in 2007, I decided it was a perfect fit.
Did you ever consider teaching English?
I wanted to avoid teaching English. Although I’m bilingual and it is an easy option here in Madrid, I think a lot of people pursue this path as a way to postpone their real passion. It’s much harder to pursue your true vocation when you’ve got this opportunity for relatively easy money in front of you, but ultimately you’re cheating yourself.
At what point did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I was able to get a job doing management consulting at Accenture, which I did for a couple of years. I then divided my time between that company and my own business, but ultimately decided to pursue my own business full-time.
How exactly did Moving2Madrid come to be?
I really wanted to be able to help international people and a big chunk of the stress of moving to a new city is related to finding a place to live, often it’s harder to get a home than a job. I started with a blog and listened to my audience. Instead of being passionate about my product, I was passionate about my customers and it helped that it wasn’t just about money for me. I listened to what people had to say, tweaked and tested things and five years later my company is what it is today. I have a couple of full-time employees and part-time employees who specialize in legal aspects, design etc., but I myself love to do a little of everything, from dealing with numbers to interacting with clients.
Why are your company’s services better than just searching for an apartment on your own?
I don’t think they’re necessarily better, I don’t think they’re for everyone. But for those international people who are aware of just how hard the apartment search can be when moving to a new country and who do not have the time and money to waste on scheduling visits to apartments week after week, it can be a great option. You save time, it’s less stressful and you have a new home in one day.
What do you think is the secret to keeping a positive attitude while abroad?
Should you be more positive? Everyone is obsessed with being happy these days and searching for perfection. It doesn’t exist. It’s important to always try to improve, but you’ll inevitably get overwhelmed because life is full of ups and downs.
Agreed, but how do you cope with this inevitable roller coaster?
I think having basic habits are important. All that stuff your mom told you to do like get enough sleep, eat right and exercise is all true. I tend to be a proactive and positive person, but when I started as an entrepreneur I went through a period of depression and even went to see a therapist. I started meditating almost daily and this has really helped me to learn to manage my emotions rather than just react automatically. I also think it’s really important to rely on yourself in order to cope with the ups and downs.
But if it’s essential to be self-reliant than what’s the point of having a community, like the one you’ve created with Guiripreneurs?
You have to have both. It’s sort of like in romantic relationships. You have to be independent so that the other person can love and support you, and you’ve got to be strong enough on your own in order to give to other people. There are a lot of similarities between relationships, starting your own business and even moving to a new city. At the beginning everything is exciting, you’re full of passion and get carried away. We tend to see new things as amazing. But then the novelty wears off and you have to work for it. There is still so much to gain from it, but it isn’t the same as the first stage. Moving abroad for example, is not the same as just traveling to a place.
What sort of things do you do with your free time when you’re not pursuing your mission of “helping international professionals in Madrid?”
I really enjoy playing rugby. I’d recommend that anyone who moves abroad finds a way to leverage their passion in their new city. You can make new friends and it’s a fantastic way to be invested in learning the language. I also like dancing, especially salsa, as well as good food, I even used to work as a food critic for restaurants on the French Riviera. Most of all, I love learning new things. Sometimes I even pick up the introductory books for different disciplines, like Intro to Psychology, just to get a grasp of how things work in different fields.
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are having their doubts?
It’s important to have realistic expectations. You will see your family less. You will see your childhood friends less. You have to realize that you can’t have everything and that moving abroad is a choice that you’re making. Life really is about choosing one good thing over another good thing. You have to reflect on your values and see if moving abroad aligns with them.
Thank you so much Pierre for being a part of this interview series! To learn more about Moving2Madrid, visit their website or Facebook page. And if you’d like to connect with other international entrepreneurs, you can find Guiripreneurs on Facebook.
Are you living outside of your home country and want to be featured in a future interview on this blog? If so, please don’t hesitate to contact me as I’m always looking for expats and travel addicts whose stories I can share with my readers.
Good stuff, Pierre. I’ve lived in Spain for the past three years, and some friends from where I grew up still ask me how my ”experience” is going, as if it’s a temporary, fun thing and that I must be “going back home” to get ”back to the serious stuff” at some point. This irks me! My choice to move to Spain was a life choice like any other big decision, not just a whim to go live the good life on the Mediterranean for a summer.
Also, I see Pierre’s point on positive attitude. Definitely not always easy. it can be a challenge to establish a professional and personal life of your own that you’re proud of…abroad OR in your home country!
All the best with your business, Pierre!