LostInCheeseland

LostInCheeseland
Location
Paris, France
Bio
I'm a Paris transplant from Philadelphia, working in marketing & communications. This collection of musings about my life in Paris is not meant to offend or criticize but serves rather as a forum of expression. I live in the 11th with my husband and cat. These are my stories. See the original home for these posts: www.lostincheeseland.com

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Salon.com
FEBRUARY 10, 2011 10:00AM

Unique Paris, My Guide + a Giveaway!

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One of the limiting aspects of the French education system is the obligation to choose a path before you’re truly ready. If I had to choose at the beginning of high school what I wanted to do with my life, I’d be history teacher who likely would have never left the States. My husband knew at the end of middle school that he’d follow the science route which would lead him to engineering school.

It’s wonderful that the system worked for him – he loves what he does and will likely remain in the same field his entire career - but he isn’t the norm.  It’s a system which is hardly conducive to free-spirited, location independent dreamers and entrepreneurs, which may be why there are so many of them in the U.S. But French entrepreneurs?  Given the expensive hoops one has to jump through to launch a business in France and inaccessibility to unemployment if the venture fails,  it seems rarer to find individuals who are willing to risk job stability, a company-offered mutuelle and sacred tickets restaurants. {For a really interesting read on the French perspective on entrepreneurism – in French – check out this article “Entrepreneurs: Magie et Déceptions”}.

 
Alexandre Besombes   is a bit of an anomaly. After attending business school at EDHEC followed by an MBA at l’Université Laval in Quebec, Alexandre went to work for Société Générale in Paris for 2 years and then for JP Morgan in London for 3.5 years. With a promising career (and salary) in finance before him, he decided to take a year off to travel the world before landing back in Paris to launch his own business – Unique Paris & My Guide in Paris - with Carine Beauvisage. How did the idea for a private concierge service come to be and why did they choose to create My Guide in Paris, the division that seeks to help set up foreigners with memorable activities during their stay ? 

He was more than happy to answer a few questions to explain the move from banking to tourism {be sure to read until the end, there's a surprise!}.


You have an extensive professional background in finance and were on your way to a rather lucrative career with JP Morgan. What made you decide to drop it all, travel the world for a year and open your own business?
 
Somewhere in 2007-2008, I got bored of the financial business world. It was great fun when I arrived in London in 2005, in the middle of the financial bubble, with loads of opportunities and interesting challenges, but deep in my heart I always missed the 1st entrepreneur experience I had when I was still a student in my French Business School [note: in 2001, I started an e-marketing company in opt-in emails database field].


I am the kind of person who naturally thinks that money is not everything in life and that pleasure and excitement can compensate for a loss of salary and comfort. I simulated this trade-off decision in my mind thousands of times in 2007-2008 before finally feeling prepared for the big jump in the entrepreneurs’ world. In December 2008, I finally left JPMorgan, which was a bit unusual back in these days and I decided, with no preparation, to go on a round the world trip.

What oriented you toward a concierge service? Did you observe a gap in the market?

When we arrived in the market 1 year ago, the leading players were already quite established and were offering quite a decent service. But we found that there were a large number of small profitable niches still available for us to settle in.  This included the concierge service for new properties or apartments rented for a couple of nights or weeks, the concierge service for foreign tourists staying a few days in Paris etc.

In addition to the umbrella company, Unique Paris, with a predominantly local Parisian clientele, you launched My Guide in Paris which is geared toward visitors to Paris.  What can you offer tourists that they can’t necessarily get on their own during their visit?

We offer them 3 important services that are very difficult to get by themselves:

  • A really trusted expert guide in Paris available 24/7 for any kind of support, including translations in restaurants, various kinds of bookings (taxis, tours, etc), advice for restaurants or shopping, and much more. 
  •  Exclusive access to many top-notch events (catwalks, private tours of the Louvre museum when it is closed to the public or of the Flea Market hidden places, private meetings with fashion designers…)

  • Most of all, we organize their stay so that they do not waste time waiting in line, crossing Paris from one point to the other, and also in the preparation of their trip. We think ahead to allow them enjoy their precious time in Paris, not wasting it waiting and searching for the right place.

What is the strangest request you’ve had from a client visiting Paris?
    
We have tons of strange requests from all our clients to be honest!  But the most surprising in my mind was an American tourist asking us for a typical American breakfast at 6AM with bacon and eggs in Paris on her first day! 

Finally, what makes your offering different than other Paris guides? {now’s the time to show off!}

We are not only providing tours, transfers or hotel bookings but also all personal requests. We are more than a Paris guide, we can advise on almost anything in Paris but also arrange everything too. People usually come to Paris with a precise idea of their trip so we match this idea when organizing the trip and exceed their expectations. Our work is based on a profound knowledge of Paris and a deep understanding of our clients’ wishes and of course a great bilingual team of concierges, always happy to be a part of the experience. 

****** 
Thanks Alex! Paris needs more entrepreneurs like you. So many people write to me asking for tips, recommendations and even names of companies that can help them organize their trip. Paris has an overwhelming amount to offer and a little guidance goes a long way in making sure your first trip is a memorable one or that your 9th visit is unique. Alex and his team are knowledgeable and ready to help provide the experience you're unlikely to find elsewhere. 

To give you a little taste of some of the activities My Guide in Paris could arrange, Alex has kindly offered a Paris chocolate tour for 2 people AND 3 tickets for a cruise on the Seine that I'll be giving away! 2 separate winners will be chosen. This giveaway is open to ANYONE who might be visiting Paris within the next year or currently living in Paris and looking for something new. Winners have until December 31, 2011 to use their prize. 

How to enter?  

1. Leave a comment on this post describing what your ideal Parisian adventure would entail (be sure to include your email address somewhere so I can contact you if you're selected)
2. Become a fan of the Unique Paris facebook page  
2. For an extra entry, tweet this giveaway (be sure to put both handles in your tweet so I can track them! @LostNCheeseland + @MyGuideInParis)

To the future winners: after your experience, it would be very helpful if you could leave a recommendation on Trip Advisor on behalf of Unique Paris!  
   
Contest open until February 16th, 2011, winners announced February 17th (at the bottom of this post, so be sure to check back!). Good luck!





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