“I Am Living Proof of the American Dream” With Anne-Fleur Andrle, CEO of Jack and Ferdi

“You don’t know everything? Me neither, nobody does. You are a human being after all. Accept help! At the beginning of my career, I tried…

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“You don’t know everything? Me neither, nobody does. You are a human being after all. Accept help! At the beginning of my career, I tried to do everything myself. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and was trying to live up to completely unreasonable standards. What happened? I got sick and burned out. I had amazing people offering to help right in front of my eyes, but my pride blinded me. I was trying to impress my boss, my team, my family — and completely lost sight of the overall goal, simply be happy, at work and in life. The day I accepted help, guidance and mentorship, I met amazing leaders, including my co-founder Romain Aubanel. I learned so much and the company grew much faster because I accepted help. Don’t be too stubborn and accept help!”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne-Fleur Andrle. Anne-Fleur is cofounder and CEO of Jack and Ferdi, creators of a bleisure travel app to help business travelers explore their surroundings during their limited free time. The app restores work-life balance for travelers away from home and provides information about each destination, describing historical sites, local foods, and the quintessential gifts to bring back. Jack and Ferdi supports worldwide cultural preservation and heritage by donating and enabling users to donate to local charities in the cities they visit, while teaching business travelers to be more culturally-aware.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Brittany, in the northwest of France in a happy home with 3 sisters and one brother. My dad dedicated his entire life to helping innovators bring their projects to life. Along with my mom, he taught us that using our imaginations and believing in ourselves would help us accomplish whatever we wished. He challenged me to be a creative problem-solver from an early age and still encourages me to this day!

I remember he had a big white board in his office at home. He’d put puzzles and quizzes up there and the first one of us kids who solved them won a book or a CD. We loved it and the competition among my siblings was fierce!

We also traveled a lot, on vacations and for my dad’s business. My parents love to seize new opportunities and to discover new places and cultures with us and this is why I moved 17 times in just 20 years.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

Growing up, America seemed so far away, so shiny, and so big. I nurtured a distant dream of how it would be. It seemed like an Eldorado — a land of opportunity with so much to learn and discover. I never thought I’d come to live here.

The first opportunity I had to come here was when I turned 21. In France, to become an engineer you have to complete a semester-long internship in an English-speaking country. I immediately looked for one of the furthest countries available. Granted Australia and New Zealand would have won the distance contest, America represented a dream I never quite allowed myself to believe in, so I chose America and started to look for an internship. I ended up finding a great lab at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

The trip opened my eyes. I remember returning home 6 months later and feeling depressed. It was hard to return home and go back to the old ways after learning so many new cultural and professional things in the US. I was determined to finish my degree in France and looked for every opportunity to come back here.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

Before moving to the US for my first internship, I had the English skills of a 10-year-old child learning a second language. In France, pupils have to learn 2 foreign languages and English has to be one of them. While most French kids chose English as the first one, I decided to start with German. Back then, my goal was to be able to converse with my German godmother in her mother tongue. I did really well and spoke almost fluently. When it came time to add English, I was kind of reluctant. I had always been told that learning English was much easier than learning German, so I didn’t put much work into it. Even after I graduated from high school, my younger sister did my English homework because I hated it and she loved it.

Fast forward a few years and I’m in the US for the first time! I found amazing roommates from Spain and South Korea who were studying aerospace engineering at SUNY Buffalo. They really took it upon themselves to help me discover the local culture, despite my obvious lack of English skills. They made a point of introducing me to locals and to take me out of the “French circle” to help me fully immerse. I remember meeting people (who since then have become friends) who asked me, “How long will you be here?” to which I proudly replied, “6 to 7 months tops!” I never thought I’d extend my stay let alone come back to work or study! I was happy to seize the moment to learn and discover as much as possible. Then I quickly fell in love with the country, with the positive attitudes of the people, with how every problem is seen as an opportunity, with the culture of trust that reigns in this country. I slowly realized I had to come back because a semester was way too short a time to assimilate it all.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

While I am grateful to a LOT of people for helping me move and welcoming me to the US, the move doesn’t end when you get here. It’s a continuous process and sometimes I feel like I’m still moving.

My husband’s support has been a game changer in getting me where I am today. Mike had faith in me from day one (even when he could barely understand my broken English) and we bonded over the challenges we overcame together. We immediately formed a solid team. His continuous support through graduate school, cultural adjustments and disappointments, immigration challenges and multiple long application processes (visas, green card, naturalization), and through the creation of a company and entrepreneurial life has been uplifting. His faith in me makes climbing Mount Everest look easy and doable. He welcomed me into his culture and together we built our home — a combination of both our cultural identities.

Thanks to Mike and his support, I joined the Francophile association as well as the local sailing club, and made a bunch of good friends. He also made sure to find fun ways to remind me of home, whether by taking me to a European cafe in our city, finding a fresh baguette for Sunday breakfast or getting me a cool espresso machine like the one I had in France.

I was also lucky to meet Dr. Joseph Mook (Professor of Aerospace Engineering and former Chair for International Studies at UB) before I even arrived in Buffalo, back in 2007. Joe, who has since become a close family friend, was instrumental in easing my transition to life on this side of the pond. He welcomed me as a foreign student who barely spoke English, introduced me to the love of my life (who was one of his students), and helped me navigate the complex university and American immigration systems. He even invited me to watch my first Super-Bowl in pure American tradition. I am eternally grateful for his help and support over the years.

I believe the move to another country takes longer than a few months. We all have strong cultural identities and re-establishing roots doesn’t happen overnight. The effort is continuous. The reward is definitely worth it! The people who helped me most are the ones who have been there every step of the way for the past 11 years.

So how are things going today?

Quite amazingly. I co-founded my company a little over a year ago with an amazing entrepreneur and friend; I became American last year; I am married to the love of my life, and am expecting our first child. I could not be happier — or busier!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The company I co-founded, Jack and Ferdi, has an important social mission which both inspires us and drives us daily. We incorporated as a PBC (Public Benefit Corporation) and are committed to giving back 1% of our profits to organizations preserving local heritage. On top of that, we encourage the users of our app to give back to charities that inspire them. Our goal is to make business travel sustainable for both the traveler and the communities they visit.

I also take every opportunity I have to support causes I believe in. I crossed New York state on my bike (550 miles) 2 years in a row to raise awareness and funds for cancer research for Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, NY.

Finally, I believe in offering the same opportunities to girls and boys, so I dedicate as much of my time as I can to mentor girls considering STEM careers who feel like it’s only a “boy thing”.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

I have had to work both the American and French immigration systems (the French one for my American husband when we lived in Paris a few years back). Let me just say first that the one thing I appreciate most about the US system is that the rules are clearer. Navigating the French immigration system is insanely complicated because of the bureaucracy and the processing time. Quite often my patience was running thin.

If I had the power, I’d change the following:

  1. Empathy training:

People are scared of going through customs in the US. Of course, there are exceptions, but officers should learn to be a bit less intimidating. I’d provide everyone with empathy training and would educate them to be more welcoming at the border! They would still command respect from travelers and the improvement would make this daunting experience much more pleasant and less traumatizing for everyone. That’s true for American Embassies abroad as well. People feel so intimidated after waiting in line for hours, sometimes in the pouring rain, only to be treated rudely. These are amazing people who want to come to the US! Let’s make them feel welcome in the process.

2. Cost of the American Dream:

Applying for a visa is NOT cheap! Applying for a green card is even worse (mine cost me over $7,000 right as I was graduating — hence I was broke). I decided to do it myself without a lawyer so it was a little cheaper. While I understand the institutions are not free and need to be funded, I am certain we can make this process a little more affordable. It feels like the selection is based on income first and on your reasons to immigrate second. I think we should rethink that order.

3. Educate locals:

I’d dedicate some of my time to educate Americans. I don’t mean that in a condescending way but they often do not realize the sacrifices and dedication it takes to immigrate here and build a life as a foreigner. The current political situation is tense and fueled by the fear of foreigners. Sadly, people often ignore how complicated it can be to find a job or to be sponsored for a visa as an immigrant. They don’t realize the sacrifices people go through to live here. They never sit down and talk with immigrants to understand the love and passion we have for this country. Of course, this does not apply to everyone. We need to fight fear with knowledge and restore the dream of the founding fathers. America is our country and that is true wherever we came from.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Find an issue you can relate to and devise a solution. 
I am very much of a “all or nothing” type of person. What this means is that I don’t give up easily. It also means when I identify problems, I like to find a way to fix them or to contribute to the solution. In my past two positions I traveled for business quite extensively. To give you an idea, between 2015 and 2017, I flew over 80,000 miles. That is about three times around the globe! I had frequent flyer status and privileges (small consolation) but traveling this frequently became a huge burden for me and my family. It also had a strong impact on my health. I put on a bit too much weight, since I was not exercising as much as I should have been and I was suffering from insomnia, which ultimately started to impact my work too. When you’re exhausted all the time, it becomes hard to focus or to share your drive with your team. The truth is that I was traveling and doing well for work, but the accumulated frustration became overwhelming. I had the constant feeling I was missing out, not enjoying the cultural aspects of my trips or learning anything. I could have been meeting my partners and customers on Mars and I would not have noticed! I was burned out from business travel. I decided to fix this problem — a problem I could relate to personally. This is how I created Jack and Ferdi, my current company.

2.Accept help! You can find allies who want to help you. Let them!
You don’t know everything? Me neither, nobody does. You are a human being after all. Accept help! At the beginning of my career, I tried to do everything myself. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and was trying to live up to completely unreasonable standards. What happened? I got sick and burned out. I had amazing people offering to help right in front of my eyes, but my pride blinded me. I was trying to impress my boss, my team, my family — and completely lost sight of the overall goal, simply be happy, at work and in life. The day I accepted help, guidance and mentorship, I met amazing leaders, including my co-founder Romain Aubanel. I learned so much and the company grew much faster because I accepted help. Don’t be too stubborn and accept help!

3. Don’t be afraid to break out on your own and trust your instincts.

Don’t be afraid, you are your best ally! You know yourself and the problems you are trying to resolve! I decided to break out on my own to co-found my current company, Jack and Ferdi, and the community response has been overwhelming. The support of other entrepreneurs, friends and family helps me push the boundaries of what I thought was possible! Listen to your gut feelings too. Everyone will have an opinion about what you do and how you should do it. While it’s great to surround yourself with sharp people and accept their advice, you should also remember you are the decision maker and your opinion matters most!

4. Build a network. You’ll find allies, future coworkers, and ideas. 
As awesome as we all are, we need help! Whether it is technical or legal advice, or simple support, we could all use a helping hand. My husband is a brilliant aerospace engineer. While he understands my technical challenges and can provide guidance, he is first and foremost my number one supporter! He listens and encourages me to push my limits, to try new things and to make difficult decisions. My family, even though they’re far away, is also extremely supportive of my entrepreneurial projects and I couldn’t be more grateful!

5.The community is also super important. I am so happy to be part of French Tech Boston, a group of French entrepreneurs in Boston, and the At the Table community, a group of female founders of companies at all stages, lifting each other up to accomplish amazing things. These groups are essential. They support you and shake you up when you need it.

6. Last, surround yourself with people who inspire you! My co-founder, Romain, is an amazingly talented serial entrepreneur with values I cherish. Find the right people to join your venture, they will become your greatest allies.

5. Work hard and learn as much as you can.

I think we all need to be humble. I went to school for engineering. I was a specialist in tissue

engineering and worked on exciting projects such as artificial skin with L’Oreal, artificial retinas with the Vision Institute and artificial bone with CNRS. Today, I am the co-founder and CEO of Jack and Ferdi, the first bleisure travel app dedicated to restoring work-life balance in business travel. While I consider myself a specialist because I experienced first-hand the problems our app is solving, I am not a business person by training and this is important as I grow my company and develop our go-to-market strategy. Of course, surrounding yourself with talented individuals will help you. You’ll learn a lot, but not everything. Bottom line, you need to work hard and take every opportunity you have to learn. Read books, attend talks, meet thought leaders and debate with your network. That’s how you’ll grow and develop your idea from a cool project to an inspiring company!

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

  1. Americans are resilient and profoundly positive people. I know some of my American friends will read this and say “What? No!”, but it’s true. I love my other home country, France, but we are more pessimistic and less supportive of others’ success. Here in the United States, we embrace and celebrate success and opportunities!
  2. Americans give back and are proud to contribute to causes they believe in. This is a unique aspect to the culture of the United States. On top of that, social entrepreneurs are creating amazing companies with a clear goal of making the world a better place. This encourages me and makes me believe in the future.
  3. Americans don’t take no for an answer and stand up for what they believe is right. The movements we see growing everywhere in the country like the Womens’ March are so inspiring.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Michelle Obama is such an inspiration! She is bold, smart, deeply rooted in the community and seems like a fun person too.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Follow me on Twitter (@afandrle) or on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/anne-fleur-andrle/)!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Originally published at medium.com

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