Navigating Entrepreneurship at INSEAD: The Journey of Estate Bridge

Gauthier Willems

When asked who wanted to be an entrepreneur on the first day of the INSEAD MIM programme, 80% of the class raised their hands, I was amongst them. The INSEAD journey is not only an exceptional academic path but also the start of something bigger for your aspirations and career. Fueled by a passion for creation and a desire to make a meaningful impact, I embarked on a journey to establish Estate Bridge. Our ground-breaking platform is poised to revolutionise the real estate landscape in Spain by connecting agents, facilitating faster transactions, and fostering collaboration through shared commissions.

The origin of my entrepreneurial journey

Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurship doesn’t always start with an idea—it begins with the desire to live the entrepreneurial lifestyle, embracing complete accountability for your actions. 

Growing up in an entrepreneurial environment seeded the dream of owning a business, and that vision matured into Estate Bridge during my time at INSEAD. There, I was exposed to ideas, networks, and insights on creating a venture. This environment engaged me to pursue and work hard on my concept. Many classmates took on the Venture Competition and came up with brilliant ideas. 

With such an ambitious cohort, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. My advice? Embrace the chaos, engage in conversations, and remain open to the endless possibilities these interactions might spark. Your next big venture could be just an encounter away.

Estate Bridge emerged from a need identified within the Spanish real estate market, pinpointed by our co-founder, Ralph Beuselinck. Our team observed a prevailing issue: the collaboration between real estate agents was mired in opacity and often led to frustration, largely due to the shortcomings of existing platforms. 

Recognising the absence of a solution that facilitates seamless and transparent cooperation among agents, we were inspired to create Estate Bridge. Our platform is designed from the ground up to connect agents in a straightforward and transparent manner, enabling them to share commissions and sell properties more effectively.

Choosing the right partners

Seeing strong teams forming to create their venture on campus was a good reminder: entrepreneurship requires time management, prioritisation, and, most importantly, the right partners. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to collaborate with my brother, Guillaume Willems and Ralph Beuselinck. Despite their full-time commitments, our combined efforts have been pivotal in launching the venture. The right co-founders not only share the workload but also the vision and dedication necessary to overcome the challenges of start-up life.  

Building a team starts with understanding the unique skills each member brings and ensuring these abilities complement each other effectively. In our company, we've leveraged this principle by mapping out our in-house expertise: my brother excels in data analysis, Ralph brings years of experience as a luxury real estate agent in Spain, and my background in finance, coupled with recent advancements into management, rounds out our core competencies.

Despite our diverse skill set covering numerous areas, recognising our limitations was equally important. 

For us, the gap was clear: platform development. This expertise lay beyond our reach, highlighting a critical area where we lacked proficiency. It was this acknowledgment that led us to collaborate with We-are, a company renowned for its exceptional track record in crafting sophisticated digital platforms.

Developing your idea in a supportive ecosystem

Equipped with great partners, we benefited from a wide range of resources, skills, and networks thanks to the ecosystem of INSEAD, which was essential for the development of our idea. 

Peers and professors can provide invaluable insights and open doors to networks you wouldn’t have access to otherwise, leading to fresh perspectives. Courses led by professors with advanced expertise, such as discussions on marketplace dynamics and competitive moats with Professor Florian Ciocan, were instrumental in refining the business model for Estate Bridge. 

To establish a competitive moat around our business, we adopted a strategy focused on forging unique partnerships. While we have successfully formed several alliances, it's crucial to understand that these partnerships did not come easily. Given that our platform was recently developed, persuading potential partners of its potential and viability posed a significant challenge. 

This experience reinforced my belief that partnerships are often secured based on personal trust and conviction in the team, rather than the product itself. It's the faith in our collective ability to realise the vision that ultimately convinces partners to embark on this journey with us.

Embracing competition and feedback

An essential part of a strategy is the refining stage: The INSEAD Venture Competition (IVC) was pivotal for us. Although we didn’t progress beyond the first round, the feedback was a treasure trove of insights, helping us fine-tune our approach. The experience reinforced that Estate Bridge’s success would be measured by its real-world impact, not by becoming a unicorn or industry disruptor—a sentiment echoed by the ethos of IVC.

Balancing entrepreneurship with career prospects

“How do you do it all?” The dilemma between pursuing a corporate career or entrepreneurship is common among INSEAD students. My stance? Explore both. 

The effort to balance job applications with developing your startup is immense but worthwhile. It's possible to negotiate job start dates, allowing time to experiment with your entrepreneurial venture. This dual approach ensures a safety net while giving your startup a fighting chance.

The entrepreneurial mindset: resilience in the face of failure

Embracing entrepreneurship, especially in an environment as dynamic and competitive as INSEAD, requires more than a groundbreaking idea; it demands resilience. 

Throughout my journey, I've encountered my fair share of challenges—from difficulties in securing investors to navigating the complexities of launching in a competitive market. There were moments when progress seemed painstakingly slow, prompting doubts about whether the venture was worth pursuing.

These challenges are not unique to me; they are part and parcel of the entrepreneurial journey. Watching peers secure job offers, excel in projects, or simply enjoy their time can amplify the sense of struggle. However, it's crucial to remember that opting for an entrepreneurial path is a conscious choice—a commitment to a lifestyle characterised by uncertainty, learning, and growth.