Belgian entrepreneur Emmanuel Guisset is the co-founder and CEO of Outsite, a network of exotic co-working and co-living places born of his love of surfing.
The setting of this Zoom interview is not exactly what you would expect from an interview with the founder and CEO of an international company. Emmanuel Guisset (39) indeed walks with smartphone in hand on a Portuguese beach. A setting that suits this entrepreneur who has made a form of rebellion his trademark. “Why work from home alone when you can do just as well in a landscape of ‘sea, surf and sun’?”
The setting of this Zoom interview is not exactly what you would expect from an interview with the founder and CEO of an international company. Emmanuel Guisset (39) indeed walks with smartphone in hand on a Portuguese beach. A setting that suits this entrepreneur who has made a form of rebellion his trademark. “Why work from home alone when you can do just as well in a landscape of ‘sea, surf and sun’?” This very simple philosophy is the basis of the success of Outsite, a network of co-living and co-working places. Emmanuel Guisset turns his smartphone to the other side, with a view of the azure blue sea and the cloudless sky. “I am currently in Portugal, in Nazaré. Since we don’t have a central office, we organize seminars with the whole team every three months. One of our team-building activities, here, today, consists of discovering the gigantic waves.” Emmanuel Guisset’s career reads like the story of a contemporary digital nomad, despite a fairly traditional beginning. He studied international management at ICHEC, a business school in Brussels, where, thanks to an exchange program, he had the opportunity to work for a Belgian company abroad. His choice fell on a start-up and spin-off from the University of Bergen, which developed software that allows users to organize a personalized trip. And because she wanted to focus on the Brazilian market, he got the chance to live and work in Brazil for a few months. “I was young, I wanted to travel, so I left there without thinking too much. When I returned to Belgium, I was recruited as the company’s first employee.” He got a commercial and marketing position there. But after three years, the desire to go abroad took him back. “And I had the opportunity to join the new branch in San José. I was responsible for selling the software and signing contracts with international tourist organizations.” It was pleasant for a few years, then Emmanuel Guisset again got tired and moved to San Francisco. “It was the time when everyone started startups in Silicon Valley. And I had the urge to do the same. I quit my job and developed a job application photo with a friend – they were very fashionable then. Suddenly I didn’t have any I had a fixed salary for longer, with the result that I could live anywhere. And I no longer had a boss.” So he left for other cheaper countries – Mexico and Costa Rica – to work there. And go surfing there. “It was a very nice period. Only the logistics were a burden. We always had to find a suitable living space and a suitable workplace. It wasn’t always easy. I often stayed in hostels when I was young, which I didn’t appreciate. there was a lot of partying there and it was not conducive to the working atmosphere. I told myself that a more professional context had to be created. This is how the idea grew to set up what would become Outsite: a network of houses where it was possible to stay for a week to three months, have a workspace and ‘connect with like-minded people’. Outsite’s first location was in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The biggest challenge was not to find a suitable building, because the market had enough, but to convince an owner to rent it to implement this then unknown concept of co-working and co-living . And that turned out to be more difficult than expected. “First, because I was a foreigner – I didn’t even have a green card. And because nobody knew exactly what to think, never heard of it. It was often answered in the negative.” But Emmanuel Guisset eventually finds a building and an owner who is confident in his business plan. “I had to pay a substantial guarantee before the contract could be signed…all my savings went into it. I can’t imagine what would have happened if it hadn’t worked, because everything was quite risky.” The second challenge was to make this new concept known. “I had already tested it a bit: I had placed a fake ad on AirBnB explaining the concept with an attached photo of the house. Several people wanted to book immediately and I indicated that it would only be available later (laughs) .” When he managed to attract a few investors, things accelerated. “I really thought it necessary to work with investors. You can manage a building on your own, but if you want to create a brand and a platform, you have to raise money. The best part is that one of my first customers has also become an investor.” The result of this collaboration seems impressive: Today Outsite has 40 employees and 33 branches in 20 cities and 7 countries. And the demand for new places is greater than the supply. Emmanuel Guisset is a little proud of it: “We are going to open new ones, especially in Spain and Portugal, now that we have found a European investor. And we want to be present in Miami too.” But no matter how strong the pressure, his love for surfing remains as strong as the waves of Nazaré. On his blog, he even writes that he gave up his job in San José because he couldn’t get there. “I know that sounds good, but it’s a bit long-winded (laughs).” Which doesn’t mean that surfing has become less important now that he runs an international company. “I started bodyboarding at the age of 13 – this board on which you surf while lying down. As a student I went on Erasmus in Portugal and that’s where I got a taste for it.” A passion that has never left him. Not that he practices it every day. “It depends. I try to surf three times a week, but it can happen that I don’t lie down for two weeks.” According to him, surfing relaxes him more than any other activity. “On the water I am completely closed off, if only because I don’t have my phone with me (laughs). When you’re surfing, all you can think about is that. I don’t, I don’t need meditation or yoga, surfing is enough for me. In my opinion it’s similar to skiing or snowboarding, although I’m not a big fan of them – I don’t like the mountains very much.” But he says he likes being at the mercy of the elements. “In addition, the physical aspect of surfing should not are underestimated. It requires a good physical condition. The feeling you experience while surfing the waves is fantastic. It is very intense because in the end you only stand 10% on the board. of the time. The rest you try to catch the right wave. The great thing is that you are totally independent of the technique: it’s not just about me, the waves and my board.” Surfers are sometimes called “the rebels of the sport”. Isn’t he also a bit? “It used to be, but nowadays surfing has become more of a regular sport. And very fashionable – in fact it is the fastest growing sport in the world after surfing. padel. You also see that in Belgium: you see a lot of surfers in Ostend, even in winter. That was not the case ten years ago.” The Outsite project undoubtedly had a somewhat selfish motivation as its starting point: Emmanuel Guisset just wanted to be able to work in places where he could surf. But isn’t it great that his athletic selfishness has led to such an exciting story? “In the beginning Outsite was indeed intended for people like me, who wanted to work in pleasant surf spots. In that sense, the pandemic has been positive for us: people realize that they don’t have to keep working in the city, but that they could just as well be productive in beautiful places. Besides, I got to know at least ten investors through surfing. That actually brought me a lot.”