Interview with Maitena Hernandez, Founder and Director of My Little France
Could you tell us more about the history of My Little France?
It almost started accidentally. I moved from France to Australia ten years ago and happened to have an extra room in my house. My family and friends started to visit from France, and then soon, remote relatives and friends of friends, mostly young adults coming to Australia with a Working Holiday Visa, started to come and stay. The room was occupied at all time, but more importantly, the feedback on the many advices I informally provided to my visitors was amazing. I realised that people come to Australia to live a dream, and that I could help them making their dream come true. With the economic situation degrading in Europe and the increasing number of young French people trying their luck in Australia, there is a real need and demand for assistance to new comers to Australia and the trend can only grow. All the people I hosted pushed me to set up my own business. The concept of My Little France (the name, the logo, the Facebook page) came up during discussions over dinners with my guests. Finally three years ago, settled back in Brisbane after a few years in Sydney, I decided to set a professional service. I undertook the renovation of my house and turned my garage into a fully independent apartment with two extra double rooms which enables me to provide accommodation to up to 6 guests.
How would you concretely describe the activity of My Little France?
My Little France now offers 2 options of temporary stay at my residence located in Manly West, 40 minutes from the Brisbane CBD by train. The 1-week package includes accommodation for 2, assistance to set up a Tax File Number, a bank account, superannuation, a mobile phone account, a postal address for a year and storage facilities. The 2-week package offers all of the above plus a job seeking coaching session – including resume, interview, job market, cross-cultural differences -, assistance to create a Helpex profile, and many casual work opportunities, thanks to the network I have built over the years. The two weeks package is best and the most popular. In two weeks I have time to get to know my guests, assess their level of English, abilities and motivation (which is key!) in order to guide them better in their job search. It also gives the new comers time to find their bearings around town. After week 1 and 2, I can also help my guests find accommodation for a longuer period of time.
If my hosts want to travel, My Little France also offers a Vehicle Package, which consists of assisting them in renting or buying and registering a vehicle. Thanks to a range of partnerships with other service providers My Little France can also help with flights, travel insurance, English language courses and migration services, sightseeing and adventure tours. The most popular destinations are the Whitsundays, Fraser Island and of course Uluru, while skydiving and scuba-diving in Byron Bay are also very popular. I also organise weekly social events for my guests, such BBQ and bonfire nights or Wine & Cheese nights. The atmosphere at My Little France is extremely warm and homely.
Can you describe your personal background and your role as founder and director of My Little France?
I have done most of my corporate career with Lyreco, a worldwide distributor of workplace supplies. In France, I was Sales Manager for the South-Est region when the company decided to expand to Australia. I’d always had in my mind to move from France and jumped on the opportunity. I arrived in Brisbane early 2006, and move to Sydney where I got offered the position of National Sales Manager for Australia. However, after all those years working in a corporate world, I decided to start a really different project, to set up my own business. I quit my job and moved back to Brisbane to set-up My Little France. I was not sure I had enough creativity to develop my own business, but 3 years down the road I cannot stop having new ideas. I am so far in charge from A to Z of all the aspects of the business, from bookings to accounting and from coaching to developing partnerships.
How do you envisage the future of your company and how can the French-Australian Chamber help you achieve your objectives?
My Little France is now a very successful small business, continuously booked out, and I believe it will continue to thrive in the years to come. I have now undertaken a new challenge with the set-up of My French Tuk, an ecofriendly electrical Thai Tuk Tuk transformed into a mobile French bakery. The idea is to provide quality and affordable French pastries on local markets but also for private events like weddings… while creating a new source of casual jobs for the new comers staying at My Little France. With its French staff, music and decoration, My French Tuk will bring a real French experience to the streets.
My French Tuk is a great idea and will sell great products, but its success will depend on my ability to manage both businesses. This will oblige me to look into change management, hire and train staff. I’ll also need to focus on efficiency and improve my business processes.
The French-Australian Chamber of Commerce has already helped me over the past year, putting me in touch with several businesses which resulted in new partnerships and services for My Little France. I will certainly keep being involved with the Chamber and continue attending events to get to know more people.
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