Low-Code Founders: Géraud Le Merrer, Head of Digital at Sharies

Inside the mind of an entrepreneur: our businessman of the week discusses the project that keeps him motivated.

What led you to entrepreneurship?

I spent a couple years in the United States during my studies and have almost always worked abroad before joining the Sharies team. I enjoyed the foreign business environment very much. It started with a position in banking finance in New York and then in Hong Kong. Working in these two regional hubs allowed me to give a very interesting scope to my work. Moreover these regions are extremely dynamic on the startup scene. It was in Hong Kong that I made the move toward the world of entrepreneurship by joining a startup that was developing and promoting mobile applications.

I think this appeal to entrepreneurship comes from several elements. Basically, I was very interested and curious about the startup environment as I believe it’s great to learn how to develop a business in a concrete way.

Also, I joined the Hong Kong startup because I wanted to further develop my skills on digital. As I was very interested in the mobile app sector — I love the product itself — it was a logical continuation of my professional development strategy, despite a concrete pivot from my early career in finance.

Finally, working at the early stage of a project’s construction allows you to have a very direct impact on the company development. I found and still find it very rewarding.

When and how did you join Sharies?

Sharies is a project created in 2017 by two founders. I joined them early 2019, when they were developing their team.

Today, I’m in charge of the digital part at Sharies: this covers all projects related to tech, app development, and everything related to operational task automation in order to quickly scale our model and remain efficient for the company and for our customers. There is also the marketing side of it.

Can you introduce us to Sharies?

It was born out of several observations. First of all, it is nowadays complicated to find accommodation in big cities because of the high cost and a strong demand. Then, the application procedure is extremely painful with heavy administrative procedures. Finally, it is a pity to note that in addition to paying a lot of money and struggling with the formalities, one often ends up finding oneself alone in one’s apartment in the evening, which makes the experience quite poor.

Sharies is an operator of co-living residences that operates and animates living environments in the form of shared accommodation while integrating a range of services (such as a fitness room, coffee shop, coworking room, rooftop if possible or a projection room).

Our concept is focused on a “plug and play” experience: we offer an all-inclusive rent which includes the room rental, utilities, internet, cleaning, bed linen, towels, and flexibility of the rental period. The goal is to propose an offer adapted to everyone. On top of that we foster a community organizing regular events, such as workshops, sport class, game nights…

When you think about it, you have some experts managing student and senior residencies. But there is nothing like it for urban active people, whether there are digital nomads, expats, professionals in mobility, or just people seeking for flexibility and a communal housing experience. There is now Sharies.

So the company was already 18 months old when you arrived. What do you think were the similarities and differences between your experience and that of the founders?

From the outset, we all had an entrepreneurial spirit, especially the founders. This mindset was great, because even though I joined them later, there is still a lot to create.

Then, the whole team is convinced by the co-living project that Sharies is carrying out. It’s a new way of living. As a reference, we see it like coworking ten years ago: nobody was used to it and it’s now the norm in the working environment. We believe co-living is the same applied to the living environment.

However, what is different between us is our backgrounds and skills: one of the founders worked for 10 years as an asset manager in real estate and now handles the finance and real estate development part of the business, while the other founder has more of an entrepreneurial background. He had already created an interior design and decoration company before founding Sharies and now handles all aspects of design, architecture, decoration, works and project feasibility. As for me, my background is rather digital and marketing. In the end, I think that this diversity is a real strength.

The second difference is that the founders had to start the project from scratch and pass the “proof of concept” test, i.e. show that the concept was credible when they had no brand, no team and no funds. I think it’s a very challenging step to go through, this moment where you have to seduce first clients as well as investors and create a snowball effect to move to the next step. When I arrived, the project was already well on track, the investor was on board and the team was starting to grow, so it was a more comfortable situation. However, we still have the feeling that everything is yet to build!

Looking back, what would attract you most now between founding your startup and joining a project that has already gone through this challenging first stage?

I think it would really depend on the context. I’m always open to the idea of creating a business, as I find this very exciting. I was lucky to join Sharies early enough while there is still a lot to create, which is the best of both worlds to me !

I am glad that my current experience allows me to have all the keys in hand to understand how a company works, whether it’s marketing, how to automate tasks, how to recruit people, or how to develop a brand image.

When you join a startup, there are a lot of things you learn on your own, and the learning curve is very rewarding. In my opinion, this is a very effective way to acquire and strengthen skills !

As a non-developer, how did you approach the challenges of application development for your new client interface?

This was done gradually. One of the first priorities on our tech & automation roadmap was to launch a very customized onboarding process to apply for rooms. I learned a lot about Low-Code innovations and was curious to test this new technology. I met the Cube team (ex-Intrafounders) with whom I spoke and we thought that this technology was a good compromise between fast product delivery, a reasonable price and great handling in the development phase. As there was a good human fit, we decided to go for it.

Using a technology like the Bubble platform with visual elements allows you to get your hands on more things, quickly understand the elements and make the product evolve quickly. I myself started training on the job and was pleased to see that it allowed for fairly rapid progress.

What challenges did you face?

Our tech product roadmap is years long, so a challenging part was dealing with scoping effectively to phase the development. Even if the limits were already well established, there is always some degree of uncertainty in the development of a product before it is actually achieved. Some tasks take more time than others and so one of the challenges is to anticipate which ones.

Apart from that, there is always the concern of making the right choices taking into account the business needs and the technical feasibility. Satisfying both sides can be sometimes tricky. This is why it is important to communicate well in order for every team implied to know where the project is heading and to set up a precise framework for the technical specifications.

Therefore, we went quite far into the documentation ahead of the project, in order to smoothen the communication, and minimize misunderstandings

What advice would you give to those who want to start their own business or who have the opportunity to integrate a startup in its early stages?

The appeal for the world of entrepreneurship really depends on personalities: some people feel very comfortable in jobs that are already established, with a clear and defined framework. If it already suits them, entrepreneurship is not necessarily an ultimate goal.

For others, I think there are three important values to have when you take the plunge: being curious, efficient and creative.

Curiosity is about getting information, keeping an eye on products and always keeping up to date with the latest developments. Personally, I’m always keen on tools and techniques to automate tasks and scaling models and I’m always on the lookout for new developments.

Then you have to know how to be efficient, because things go very fast in the startup ecosystem. You have to know how to train and reposition yourself as needed. Competition is fierce.

Finally, creativity is the value I prefer, because even if you want to set up a project, there will always be a similar one. In my former company, when someone proposed a mobile application concept, we were often told “there is an app for that”, to tell us that our idea was probably not going to bring enough added value. So you have to be able to stand out from the crowd and add even more value to make great things happen. And to achieve that, there is no magic — WORK HARD.