Hello Marie-Caroline, can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Marie-Caroline and I’ve got three children (Léopoldine who is 7, Auguste who is 6 and Balthazar who is 4). As my father was in the army, I’ve always moved about a lot and continue to do so! I love travelling, meeting new people, having fun, reading and starting different projects! For years as an expat, I’ve been trying to combine my personal and professional lives and I hope I’m succeeding!
Where do you live?
I live in London in the wonderful Notting Hill district, which is pleasant, touristy and very lively. I love spending Saturday mornings walking along the Portobello Road and buying lunch: sometimes Indian, sometimes Italian or even Spanish or Iranian food….there’s no limit. I also love the charity shops and bric-a-brac shops where you can find all kinds of items, including vintage at amazingly low prices! As a bonus, we’re also really close to the children’s school, which is a luxury in London. Today, Marie-Caroline lives in Gabon.
How did you end up living here?
I followed my husband when he was transferred for work. He is transferred every 2-3 years.
Had you lived abroad before? If so, in which countries?
Yes! When I was 20, I lived in Australia as a student. Also, before we came to London, my husband and I lived in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Columbia.
How long have you been living in London?
We came here last April (2017) with our children. They adapted really quickly as we got them into a special school (The Little Bilingual School) where there are small classes.
So, they settled in incredibly well! This doesn’t mean we don’t miss Bogota occasionally, which is a really great town. However, we’re happy to be back in Europe!
You’ve started a project for rentals and property exchanges: where did you get the idea for this?
We bought a house in Cap Ferret and wanted to rent it out but didn’t have much faith in the existing websites. So, 2 years ago, I created a closed Facebook for renting and exchanging property among friends and friends of friends – My Home is Your Home (Mi Casa Es Tu Casa). At the start, I didn’t think this would be my main business (I had started a children’s clothing business in Columbia). Then, we started to get more and more members and I realised there was a real need for this kind of service. Today, there are nearly 23,000 group members and, at the beginning of January, I launched my website www.micasaestucasa.site to complete my services.
Tell us how you organise your business activities around your personal life?
In the mornings, I drop the kids at school, hurry home and get to work! It isn’t always easy to concentrate and apply myself but I get used to it! I dedicate Wednesday afternoons to my children and supervise their homework in the evenings. We have a nanny who helps us out from 16-19 hours a week over 4 days. What I find really hard is not working too much at the weekends and disengaging… When you have a smartphone, it’s really tempting to stay connected!!!
So, you’re a very busy “Mompreneur”?
Working from home is a real luxury as you can see your children and can manage a lot of everyday things, but it’s also very binding. It’s difficult to create barriers between your professional and personal life. I really tried to do activities with my children and really dedicate myself to them, listening to them etc… but I admit that, on Wednesday afternoons, I can find myself playing naval battle games while responding to clients! Days like these are pretty intense but it’s still great to be able to work, enjoy my children and organise my time just as I please. However, working on my own can be difficult.
Tell us about a sudden inspirational moment of happiness…
I love taking my daughter to dance classes and seeing her come out with a smile on her face, dancing in the street…preparing dinner on a Wednesday with the children (always Italian), picking them up from school and the way they jump into my arms (I’m making the most of this while they’re little). I also know that my business idea works and I get thank you and congratulations messages from people I don’t know.
You spend a lot of time looking after your children, do you have a little home-made secret to share with us?
Pita bread pizza is one of our real specialities, here’s the recipe .
As well as being a “Mompreneur” what cultural things do you enjoy going to either on your own or with your family?
London is brimming with lovely museums you can go to with the kids and these are also free. The Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are great and there’s also the Museum of Childhood and the Museum of Brands (which is small but fun). We also try to go out and visit surrounding towns and cities such as Cambridge, which I love!
Time for a bit of culture: Can you quote one of your favourite books or paintings?
There’s a book that’s had a big impact on me and I think about it a lot – “Oscar and the Pink Lady” by Eric Emmanuel Schmidt.
Can you recommend a current cultural event in your city or area?
I know there’s a Cézanne exhibition on in London at the moment. I haven’t had the time to go and see it yet but I’ve heard it’s great!
Cezanne Exhibition Info
Can you sum up what you find amazing about the country you live in as an expat?
The English are really nice and don’t get wound up but they never say what they really think. They’re always in the pub from 6pm onwards and can drink beer until the cows come home! People don’t judge one another in the street, which is really nice. So, London lives up to all the clichés I expected to find, including the weather and a lack of light, but it’s still a superb city!
Marie-Caroline, can you tell me about your company?
“Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” is a trusted network for property rentals and exchanges. I put owners and the tenants in touch with one another (mainly for holiday rentals). We have a Facebook group that works through co-opting and has 23,000 members so far. We also have a traditional website. We don’t take any commission and rely on trust.
Here are examples of homes you can rent ….
How did you develop it?
Initially, 2 years ago, I set up a closed Facebook group for sponsored members only. I managed this group full-time for 2 years, personally checking all the ads and new members, editing the page and connecting people. Two years and 20,000 members later, I created the site www.micasaestucasasite . This rounds off my work on the group and is closely related to my Facebook page. This site has been a significant financial investment but it means I can offer a unique service! “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa Ltd.” was created in September 2017 in London.
What do you gain from your experience on a professional level?
Settling in London was an opportunity to develop the group “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” on Facebook as part of a truly professional project. We meet a lot of French entrepreneurs in London … and very soon, I started working with a French agency based in London to design the website for mainly French clients.
Can you summarise your professional journey …
I graduated from the International Institute of Communication of Paris and joined Publicis, leaving the school as a HR Press Relations Consultant. I stayed there for 4 years and then created my own PR agency RH (Neodialogue – a subsidiary of TMPWorldWide). I resold this 4 years later when I follow my husband who
transferred to Angola! In 2013, when I arrived in Colombia, I created a brand of children’s clothes (made and sold on site – MariNoceros). This worked pretty well and I liked it a lot but it wasn’t very compatible with our expat lifestyle (which I really love).