Francois Gouelo is the CEO and Cofounder of Enso Connect. After graduating from the University of Toronto in Computer Science and Cognitive Science, Francois brought onboard Peter Sorbo, CTO and cofounder, to build a home management system that leverages smart home devices and AI communication for hosts, property managers, and guests in the short term rental industry. Francois is also pursuing his studies in parallel building Enso, at the University of Cambridge, pursuing a master’s of Entrepreneurship. Francois’ passions include scuba diving, traveling, and listening or playing jazz piano.
Frederick Daso: When did you first gain interest in being a founder?
Francois Gouelo: I’ve always loved the concept of entrepreneurship — it blends cognitive diversity, tenacity, and creativity to solve real problems. I knew I wanted to eventually work for a startup or build one of my own, but I never really planned it out.
Becoming a founder was an accident.
My friend Samin Khan (founder and CTO of Animo.AI) and I were in the same computational linguistics course at the University of Toronto. We kept bouncing ideas off of each other and discussing potential applications of our different course assignments. I was fascinated by his entrepreneurial drive. I worked on different past projects, but I didn’t know how to conceptualize these projects into real ventures.
He pointed me in the right direction: CSC454, a course at the University that blended Computer Science and Entrepreneurship. Under the guidance of Professors Helen Kontozopoulos and Mario Grech, we developed the prototype of Enso Connect. (You can read more about the founder story on one of our blog posts: https://blog.ensoconnect.com/en/a-calm-home-that-works-for-you).
Enso won that class’s $10,000 prize, and since it was my last summer before starting my Master’s in entrepreneurship, I thought, why not pursue this project and see where things take me? The moment I landed an in-person meeting with Airbnb that summer, I knew this is what I wanted to do as my full-time job, and so the journey of Enso Connect as it is today began.
Daso: What were the essential experiences that helped you be in the position you are today?
Gouelo: The Computer Science and Business/Entrepreneurship course I took in my final semester at the University of Toronto and my current Master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in Entrepreneurship have given me the tools and opportunities to be where I am today.
However, there are critical life experiences that pushed me to pursue this as my full-time life career choice, and that is the freedom of building your venture gives you. I’ve traveled to many countries, discovered new cultures, and love being out of my comfort zone, so why not apply those same principles to my work.- something in the travel industry that allows me to share this same experience with others.
Daso: Who were the critical individuals or groups that contributed to your professional success, and why?
Gouelo: 1. My Cofounder, Peter Sorbo — While Peter hates being in the spotlight, it is essential for me to mention him here — he is the hardest working individual I’ve met. His tenacity and passion for what we are working towards are what fuels the business. I’m glad to have a partner with complementary skills — we would not be where we are today without him.
2. My family — I would not be where I am today without the support of my family. Thanks to them, I attended the University of Toronto, and now the University of Cambridge. They have always supported my choice to pursue this entrepreneurial career and are probably the number 1 Enso Connect fans! We have a critical rule in my family that I hold to heart: “si on fait les choses, on les fait bien, ou les fait pas du tout” (translated as: “if we do things, we do them well, or we don’t do them at all).”
3. My advisory board — we are very selective of the people we bring on board the advisory board. Still, I genuinely believe all board members have provided us with the proper advice and mentorship to scale our business. We do not yet publicly disclose all members, but their diverse backgrounds and experiences fill the different gaps in our industry. Their support during the Covid19 pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of surrounding yourself with various people. Those people must believe in what you are trying to accomplish.
Daso: How did you prepare for yourself to become a founder?
Gouelo: There is no go-to manual to becoming a founder, although I recommend a few books to help you find your footing and start the journey (Lean Startup, Zero to One, Thinking Fast and Slow). The excitement of being a founder stems from the uncertainty behind everything that you do; in fact, managing uncertainty is probably an essential job requirement for this position.
I believe my desire to learn about different subjects and eagerness to step out of my comfort zone have been very helpful, because as a founder, you are dealing with everything an established company would have a department for from finances to project management, to development and operations, to human resources, to customer service and much more. While I never really prepared myself to become a founder, my different personal, work, and academic experiences have given me the foundations to pursue this career path.
Daso: Were there any particular clubs at school that were adequate resources for breaking into your current field?
Gouelo: I had joined a few startup focused clubs in my first year but quickly realized this was more useful for resumes than actually building out a startup. The only “club” I very much enjoyed at the University of Toronto was my fraternity — Lambda Chi Alpha, where I served as Social Chairman (2016), Vice President (2017), and President (2018). While being part of this fraternity did not directly give me the resources to break into my current field, I believe it helped me with some of my management skills. Managing 20+ college students with a large budget is much harder than it seems.
However, what did fuel my entrepreneurial career path were the different hackathons organized on and off-campus. Those short 24 or 48-hour project building sessions with people from all over the world were fascinating; because of my drive to win, I also quickly realized that those who won the prizes were always the ones that had real solutions to real problems, step 1 of building a startup.
Daso: What do you think stops most people from becoming a founder?
Gouelo: Becoming a founder is a considerable risk, especially when you have to support a family. Since I do not have to worry about my income supporting more than myself, I can take this risk. I understand the complexity of turning down a stable job when one has a family. However, if there is one crucial thing to consider is that the average person, in their life, will spend more than 90,000 hours at work. If you cannot find a workplace that satisfies you for those 90,000+ hours, create your own company, and solve something you are genuinely passionate about, it makes this risk genuinely worth it.
Daso: Looking back, would you change anything about your professional path?
Gouelo: Nothing at all.
Daso: Who are three other people I should interview next?
Samin Khan (CTO of Animo.AI)
Saad Siddiqui (CEO of Bonsai)
Alex Zhou (CEO of Refundgiant)