Interviewed by: Lisbeth Monéton
You can read the original version in French, here.
Hello Maïlys, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us your fascinating and exceptional story as an entrepreneur.
Everything you have accomplished is incredibly impressive. We would like to ask you some questions to better understand the determination and motivation that helped you carry out all these ambitious projects.
FF: Where were you born?
MC: I was born in 1975 and I grew up in St Cloud, in the Paris region.
FF: Do you have children?
MC: Yes, I have two boys. They are now 7 and 12 years old.
FF: Tell us a bit about your life and the professional choices you have made. What was the nature of the first company you created that didn't go well? What lessons have you been able to pass on to other entrepreneurs in the same situation?
MC: I was an employee for 6 months before becoming an entrepreneur. It was in 1999 when we experienced the internet boom and I was working at AOL. On a daily basis, I was rubbing shoulders with many entrepreneurs who were launching their businesses and I was immediately seduced by the energy they gave off, the vibrations they felt and communicated.
On a day like any other, a client approached me and proposed that we work on creating a tool that would study the purchasing behaviour of Internet users. Being me, I immediately jumped onboard. We raised funds from investors and launched our project only to realize in 2000 that the industry was not mature enough. We didn't have enough transactions and purchases being made on the Internet which meant we didn't have interesting data to analyze. We were ahead of the curve. So, two years after we started, we decided to close the business.
The key lesson I learned from this is that everyone has the right to make mistakes and that failure in entrepreneurship does not mean you will never be a good entrepreneur.
FF: How did you end up in the world of childcare? In 2003, it was very rare for companies to offer this solution to employees. How did you get the idea?
MC: It was in February 2003, when an important political event, held every 4 years, was happening to help define the government’s family policy and strategy. At the time we talked a lot about crèches (French for nursery) in the newspapers because 57% of families wanted this form of childcare but only 10% benefited from them. Among other problems, the nurseries often had hours that were not suitable for working parents. I also read in another article that 95% of nurseries were running on a deficit. I just had to ask myself the simple question: Why in a sector with so much demand are almost all of the players losing money? The answer was simple, the nurseries were managed by educators or nurses who had not chosen business as their profession, and who had not had management training.
So, I decided to create Crèche Attitude to develop a network of nurseries that offered schedules adapted to the working hours of parents. Our first nursery in Roissy CDG, Paris opened from 5:00 to 22h30. We also provided management support to nursery directors so they could manage the business well and still have the autonomy to implementation their educational projects.
We were able to seize the opportunities in the sector and very quickly developed the company with more than €45 million in turnover. In ten years we grew to have 1,200 employees, 100 nurseries and over 5,000 children in our nurseries every day. I am obviously very proud of these figures but I am even more proud of the quality of attention we offered the children.
In just a few years, thanks to the support of government policy, we succeeded in convincing employers to take close interest and help their employees better manage their professional and personal life by funding the nurseries that provided their employees with the most suitable childcare solution for them.
FF: Let's talk a bit about your sister and your commitment to finding a solution so, that she could have a healthy life and the creation of Villa Sabrina.
MC: Sabrina’s story is similar to the lives of other victims of terrible accidents. You have a normal, happy life until suddenly you have an accident that changes your life and that of your family. Sabrina, my sister, is the youngest of 5, she had just turned 18, and was about to start her studies when she had the accident.
August 4, 1999 became a day, month and year we never forgot; It changed our lives. Sabrina spent 4 years between hospitals and rehabilitation until she returned to live with our parents. My parents had to teach her everything again - how to wash, to dress, to speak ... but above all to enjoy life again in her new reality. Sabrina is so grateful for the devotion my parents had with reintegrating her back to society and managing this new phase of her life but we all knew this wouldn't last forever. My parents were approaching 80 and they too had the right to their lives. It was time for Sabrina to move on with her life.
At that point, we started looking for establishments for Sabrina to live but all the establishments that my parents visited did not suit her. Most were medically inclined and proposed taking personal care of Sabrina but Sabrina did not want to be taken care of, she wanted a life like all of us. So, I just said to myself, 'What doesn't exist, you have to create'. It was at this time that I had just sold my Crèche Attitude business and I decided to devote time to the realization of the first, Club des Six.
The idea was quite simple, Sabrina wanted an “ordinary” life in a place where she could live like everyone else, but without running the risk of isolation. She especially didn't want to have to pay 24 hours a day for care staff to support her. It would have been far too expensive - almost 12,000 euros per month. So, the concept became a co-living space for 6 people that share a severe handicap like Sabrina. This way, they have the autonomy without the isolation. They can share the communal spaces, have their independence, and especially share the cost of care staff while still being social.
FF: Why the name “Club des Six“?
MC: I read so many books from Enid Blyton's: The Famous Five. They were books with stories about a group of five friends who had lots of adventures. The word club also evokes an exchange, in a club we come to seek something but we also come to give. This is how the name Club des Six was born. I think six is perfect because any fewer and it's too small and more than six people makes the community feel too big.
FF: You are already working on developing the concept everywhere in France. Do you also see a need outside of France? Is this something that you would consider doing in the long term?
MC: Some countries have already started, even before France. What is certain is that there is need everywhere but we prefer to focus on France for a few more years. We have set the goal of realizing 100 co-living spaces in 10 years. It's seems ambitious but with 100 spaces we will have only met the needs of 600 people ... it's a drop of water in the ocean.
FF: What inspires you in life to do all these projects?
MC: I follow my intuition. When I am faced with information or a situation that seems paradoxical, abnormal, I try to find a solution that responds to the problem. After that, you still need a good dose of work ethic and energy because the idea is only 1% of the work ...
FF: What were the most difficult moments or decisions you had to make during your career? And how did you approach them?
MC: It was just after the attack of September 2001, at the time I was co-managing my first company. My partner and I decided to lay off the majority of our staff for economic reasons and so we started the layoff interviews. In one of those interviews, I met with a young father of Maghrebian descent who had 2 children. When I told him we were firing him, he started crying and said, "But how do you think I'm going to find a job now ... I'm Arab and Muslim". It was a terrible moment to know that this man was losing all of this because of us.
Another very difficult moment was when we lost the renewal of one of our client contracts in the nursery business. Overnight, we had to announce to the whole team that they were changing employers and moving to the company that had won our contract. We all cried, a lot. I will always remember this emotional moment.
FF: What were the happiest or most rewarding moments of your career?
MC: Having the chance to respond to essential needs such as childcare or people living with disability and making it possible to improve the lives of your community, is extremely rewarding. You provide an answer to a very personal situation.
I remember when my son was 9 years old, he would criticize me for not being home enough with him. Until one day, he came with me to welcome a family visiting one of the Club des Six co-living spaces. The family was looking for a space for their son who had had a severe accident 2 years prior.
At the end of the meeting, the mother cried with joy that they had finally found a solution that would suit them. That evening my son said to me 'Mom, I saw Rémy's mom crying today and I understood why you work so much and you can keep going, that's what you do'.
It is for these reasons that I give all my energy every day.
FF: Who are the women and men who stood behind you?
MC: I had and I have with me today committed associates with whom I can share the ups and downs. This is essential for me. I always mention the following four conditions to all current or future entrepreneurs in the hopes that it will increase their chance of success.
1. Have a good idea
2. Have great partners - for me, 3 partners is ideal but at least 2
3. They must all be available (i.e. creating a business while someone is working on a previous business should be avoided, for example)
4. And, finally, financially, ensure that your partners each do not carry strong personal financial constraints as it can lead to tension
Another key factor is also your spouse. They're key. They absorb your lack of availability and of income (at lease at the start because it is illusory to think that one earns a living at the launch of their business). I would never pay myself for the first 3 years in any one of my companies. Your spouse also responds to your mood swings, and they bring you the necessary comfort in moments of doubt ... If your spouse is not 100% involved it is very complicated to get started.
FF: To what do you attribute your success?
MC: These four things
1. The confidence I have in my intuition
2. My work ethic
3. The absence of the fear of losing
4. A great desire to change the game and bring my part in building our society
FF: What did you discover about yourself during the process?
MC: Professional success gives everyone around you a lot of ideas about who you are. They assume you are strong, maybe even invincible ... At first I got caught up with these ideas, they're attractive. It wasn't until later that I started allowing people to see that, I am like them, that I have doubts like everyone else.
FF: How has your project affected your family life?
MC: Being a full-time entrepreneur had and has serious consequences on my availability for my family. At the same time, it's given me a lot more freedom because nobody makes any appointments for me if I don't want them. I sincerely believe that I have been more present for my children than many employed moms because I have more control over my time.
FF: What is the next step?
MC: Homnia and the co-living space, Club des Six are my last big personal projects. I started a few years ago and I want to take them further. I want to support entrepreneurs who are starting out. I created a small investment fund to support them financially but more importantly provide moral support and expertise. I have decided to only work on projects that make sense to society and this is the essential criteria. I want to improve what we have today so, that tomorrow is better. And from a personal point of view, this will also free my time (finally) from my professional constraints to enjoy life, my family and friends.
FF: Looking back, would you be ready to start all over again?
MC: Sabrina, my little sister, lost everything in seconds. It’s the worst but also the best lesson of my life. Since August 4, 1999, I live my life to the fullest. Whenever my last day comes, I know I will be able to say to myself 'You did everything you wanted to do'. I am often asked what my dreams are and, honestly, I do not have any dreams, I live my dreams day by day because tomorrow may be too late.
So, my answer to your question is Yes, I would do it all over again because everything has been the fruit of my passions, my intuitions, my desires. It’s like my favourite song, L'Envie (Desire in English) by Johnny Hallyday.
And, if the question was: Would you be ready to start all over again? I would still say yes a thousand times. Losing everything only to realize the real value of things is a mission I'm up for. No one believes me when I say that, but I mean it, and this COVID-19 health crisis confirms my position. Nothing is ever certain and you have to be ready.
12 Rapid Fire questions:
FF: How do you prepare for the day?
MC: I must be the only one that still has a paper diary that I consult on Sunday for the coming week 😊 In the morning I get up early to have 'me' time before my children begin their day.
FF: What are your favourite activities to do on a day off?
MC: A day off??? Even the days I gave birth to my children, I worked. You are never on vacation when you are an entrepreneur but it is also because passion is not the same as work.
FF: As a child, what was your dream job?
MC: An Inventor! Since childhood, I was always looking for ideas.
FF: What brings you the most joy at the moment?
MC: My freedom.
FF: What is your favourite book?
MC: Not favourite book but, my favourite movie is Midnight Express.
FF: Is there a woman who particularly inspires you?
MC: My mother ... for her courage to raise 5 children, for her strength when she took care of my sister for the 10 years that followed her accident and for the 3 years she nurtured my sick father ...
FF: Do you have a motto that guides you?
MC: Carpe diem
FF: How do you think your friends describe you ... in 3 words?
MC: Generous, Present and a Party Girl
FF: What is your best advice for those who want to fulfill their desires?
MC: Follow your intuition
FF: If you were to describe your life with one word, it would be:
FF: Is there anything you would like to share before ending this interview which we haven't discussed?
MC: Yes, never be satisfied by certainty. Whatever the origin, life is full of surprises so, let yourself be surprised. I myself have experienced it ...
FF: You do an incredible job for others. Is there anything we can do for you?
MC: Continue to give this positive energy ... the world needs it. You are yourself Femmes Formidables!!!!
Thank you so much Maïlys for taking the time to share your incredible journey with us. Your work is very inspiring for all of us and we have learned so much from you. Let's all lead with determination, self-confidence and intuition. Everything is possible!
We wish you much success for your current and future projects.
Club des Six: www.club-des-six.fr
LinkedIn: Maïlys Cantzler