Interview: 'I think the spirit of entrepreneurism is in my blood'
Thursday 08 April 2010
It has been more than 20 years since Isabelle Thomas, 45, got her Executive MBA from ESCP Europe and she's still using the skills she learnt. Born in France and now living in America, she has developed recipe applications for iPhones that are second only to Jamie Oliver's in the download charts.
"The business I run is 100 per cent virtual and could not have been imagined 20 years ago, so it's strange to think that I am using all the tools I learnt on my MBA course. The basics of starting and running a business have not changed. It's still about design, planning and quality control. I'm using the core marketing and strategic tools I learnt, such as pricing and costing. It's like having a little business game. You use all the skills you learnt years ago. I do not think I could have survived without the international aspect of the MBA course.
I studied at the school's campuses in Paris, Oxford and Berlin and, thanks to that, I speak five languages and feel totally comfortable with any nationality.
After 10 years as a software consultant for IBM, I stopped work to have my three children – now seven, eight, and 11. I moved to the United States on my husband's visa and when we separated last year I needed my own visa to stay in the country. So, I set up my own company to persuade the American authorities to grant me an investor visa – and I should be hearing their decision in the next few weeks.
People tell me it must be hard setting up a business when you're 45, but I've found it exciting. I spotted a gap in the market for recipe apps for the iPhone and iTouch, so I set up iCooking in March last year. I produced 18 cookbooks for iPhone in 10 languages and founded my company, Apps of All Nations LLC, last November. I'm now selling 12,000 downloads a month.
I've also started a new business called ibookkids.com, which will create animated children's books for iPad. Of the 80 people on the MBA, I am still in touch with 75 of them and we remain very close. They are some of my best friends and they are very useful connections to have. For example, I found an excellent Chinese translator recently through the MBA network.
I think the spirit of entrepreneurism is in my blood, but the MBA gave me the tools to set up the company and now I am investing in others. My latest investment is in a venture that lists public toilets worldwide!
I'm managing a virtual team from my kitchen table. I have never even spoken on the phone with my developer in Utah. Nevertheless, I need to attract the right people and the only way to do that is by building my own brand. I learned how to do that in the products module of my MBA. The difference is that I am now the product! So who am I, what do I stand for? What are my core values?
The enrichment through diversity and internationalism is one of my core values and my experience as an MBA student working alongside 16 nationalities has played a major role.
Being successful means that I have to give back and I will be giving 5 per cent of the selling price for each iBook to a social cause.
That's the last step of the Maslow pyramid – from first year MBA human resources class. See, I even remember the timetable!"
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