In this series, we are interviewing members of our club, so that you can get to know each other a bit better. Today we talk with Antonia Beauvoisin Brown about her life and work in the region.
What brought you to the French Riviera? How long have you been here?
Right back in 2000 my husband, Mark, and I started chatting about a move to France.
I had been raised speaking a little French as a toddler and speaking it came fairly easy to me. My parents had a love affair with France and most holidays were spent there. In fact my own ancestor left France in 1800 so I always felt French and feel like I’ve come back to where it all began.
I’d already lived in France twice before and was ready to come back but only on my terms with my own family this time.
Dreaming about France
The TV was full of adventures with people moving to France back then. And our evenings were spent brainstorming ideas on how we could live that dream too. Thinking about how to make an income and where to live!
We bought a rental apartment in Nice, set it up as a rental business and started getting a feel for the South of France. By doing this we gained confidence in what French life would look like. Particularly for Mark who didn’t speak any French.
We broke the plan down into stepping stones.
I co-founded a French Au Pair agency while still in the UK on maternity leave and were joined by our first au pair, Sophie. She was key in those early years of making sure our baby son (and Mark) heard French phonemes and words.
For the next couple of years we built the business up to one that could provide me with a small income from anywhere in the world.
We sold our house in Sussex and moved into rented accommodation while we waited for our baby daughter to join us. Both babies grew up in a bilingual environment and their first words were a mix of English and French 😉
My husband then looked at transfers from the UK to France within his company.
The actual move
Things then all happened quite quickly. We put an offer in to buy a house before Mark’s transfer was approved – I don’t recommend this however!
Luckily the stars aligned and hardly was the ink dry, and I was waving goodbye to our truck of furniture and catching a plane with a baby and toddler and a backpack! I hadn’t quite planned for arriving weeks ahead of the furniture (another lesson!)
Fortunately my sister stepped in as amazing aunt hosting me and these babies in arms. Mark joined us a couple months later.
We threw ourselves into local life, hoping on getting to know people. But quickly realised that back in 2004 France wasn’t set up in the way bustly Brighton had been for all things 0-3 years.
Other than the park there was very little around that allowed parents and babies to meet. There were no activities that supported Early Years development or more fundamentally supported parents at home with preschool age children.
In France, emails were rare and Facebook was unheard of.
Could you tell us about your professional career? What do and have you done for work?
While at school I was encouraged to earn my own money with Saturday jobs, holiday work. I’ve done babysitting, dog walking, car washing. Even sold sandwiches door-to-door and had a disastrous day selling front door spy holes on commission only.
My most rewarding jobs have been with children on Camps as a counselor. Later as an Au Pair and then as a teacher in French schools.
After university I spent a while working in customer services for one of the top champagne houses in one of their smaller distribution branches. I used to send bubbly to the Stars and bonuses were paid in vintage bottles which was a nice perk.
Quiting a good started job
It was a good starter job but I was quickly unchallenged by very repetitive tasks. And alongside the boredom there was no real future without moving to London.
My line managers were “old fashioned” to put it politely. And when things came to a head I called in the London bosses to help me with an exit plan.
I left with my head held high with their best wishes in my career. Also then I got an understanding of the highs and lows that managers can bring to a person and their day to day happiness.
I moved into a role supporting 4 V.P.s and their teams in a huge International bank and IT corporation. Total contrast to my first job. Thousands of us worked in a high energy, very American environment. With goals, development, management where the opportunities seemed endless.
I will forever be grateful for everything this company brought me. They allowed me to move into an accelerated graduate training programme, I.T., Programming, Project management and Operations. Where I then worked alongside, for and later managed some great people.
I had some life changing managers and of course some not so great co workers and managers. Of which I learnt from both.
The training provided on all levels looking back was priceless. Project management, managing change, giving and receiving feedback, 6 Sigma, Myers Briggs etc.
The Au Pair agency taught me a lot about recruitment and hosting. But also the basics of running a business. I learnt how to design a website in the pre-WordPress days using dreamweaver, financials, marketing and more.
What does the company that you work for do?
Exit Au Pair Agency
I left the Au Pair agency when we moved to France as I really wanted the time with my babies. It was a really hard decision because it was my baby too and my only income. But I needed to be with my babies!
The financial hit was really hard as I set about researching for what was to become KidooLand.
Sometimes I had to think twice just about the petrol or toll for the journey to fact find.
Starting something new
After 18 months I was as ready as I could ever be! And in 2007 we opened our first doors in Vallauris.
Rather than take out a loan and get into debt, we sold our little Rental business. This allowed us to reinvest the money into deposits and setting up our first KidooLand.
Drawing on all my childcare and teaching experience and wants and needs as a mum to 2 under 4 year olds. I put together programmes to raise children bilingually and classes for parents to make their early years friends.
My corporate experience was key and I couldn’t have done this without it.
It was invaluable from the project management perspective, IT solutions and most importantly how to find and train team members. The teams have been key to the longevity and success of KidooLand.
Over the years we have had many people work with us. Some have been there for a reason, some for a season. And even some for a lifetime. Our goal is to try to always make it a win-win for both parties.
Since the pandemic this is something we have worked even harder on. Education is a vocation. It’s demanding and the rewards are not at the level they should be. That said there are things that we as employers can do to make it a better place to work.
For us that means ongoing training for the team. Or a free pilates class each week. Even our Love Fest week which we invite students to be part of, or Beach Club end of year celebrations.
It’s work in progress but our team is our heartbeat. And we try to keep it as healthy and happy as possible!
Helped more than 7,000 French children
We’ve now served more than 7,000 French children on their bilingual adventures work. Out of 3 premises in Vallauris, Sophia Antipolis and Villeneuve Loubet with plans to expand in the next 3 years. We have a team of between 15-20 depending on the time of year.
While the majority of our clients are French. We do have a lot of international parents that come to our Early Years parent and baby/toddler programmes and the Sartoux and CIV preparation classes.
Alongside this I also ran a couple of community projects. My Facebook group ‘Côte d’Azur Living’ which was a lucky success. And the Riviera Firefly Podcast which has just been a great bit of fun.
Both of these have enabled me to connect with the wider Anglo community which has been a real pleasure and privilege.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
While I think looking back, I was an OK employee. Most of the time there were many areas that I was really not living my best version. I come from a line of entrepreneurs and in fact educators. Maybe the writing has always been on the wall.
I am fairly nomadic and I love traveling. But not for corporate business, it must be on my own terms. I want the space and time to be creative to discover great ideas and bring them back home. Never liked to be tied down and always wanted freedom to be with my family. Or at least to be able to bring them to work, like I did for the first 15 years of their lives.
Working for yourself means you can set your own boundaries. You can implement your own ideas. But you need to be comfortable with taking risks and making decisions. Owning up to your mistakes is also part of this, of which there will be many. Dusting off and moving on.
I work in an industry that I’m passionate about. It’s playful and fun but has lasting impact.
I love the fact that what we are doing in our day to day has a direct impact in future generations. Also celebrate the fact that where we are at today is thanks to all those who worked with us or signed up for our classes. I’m still friends with many of them which is lovely.
It has been quite the roller coaster but the highs have made up for the lows.
Entrepreneurship is also self discovery – I know my strengths and my challenges. I have been able to hire people who are better at doing many of the things that KidooLand do, than I would have done them.
Legacy plays a huge part in where I am right now. Our children have grown up seeing first hand all the things that come with running your own business. Meaning the good the bad and the ugly. I think that education has been invaluable to them. And will serve them well in whatever they choose to do.
I hope that what I’ve created with lots and lots of help from my team will one day evolve into something future generations can carry on and develop.
Working for myself has been the most challenging yet most rewarding adventures.
What would be your best advice to others thinking about living or working on the French Riviera?
Do your admin and market research but get quality input. As Brené Brown says – ‘don’t listen to the advice from those in the cheap seats’.
Crunch the numbers and build in contingency. And surround yourself with those that know the trials and tribulations of setting out on your own in a foreign country. But who also knew the risks and did it anyway.
Surround yourself with winners
Be part of several support and networking groups and find a mentor programme. Or consider a business coach so that you can find your group and others in your industry or with similar sized businesses. You will need that network not to sell to but to learn from.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place to be without that. Not to mention that doing it all in a foreign language adds a layer of complexity.
The CCI Cote d’Azur have an amazing amount of resources and connections.
Never stop learning
Get curious. Keep learning about people and what makes them tick. Read ‘The Culture Map’ and other French Culture books. They will give you insight into what might be a very different market than the one you might know from back home.
Do your financial research
Get friendly with your bank. What options are there to support you as you set up.
There is a lot of funding for start ups. Don’t be afraid to shop around to find the right advisor. Bank managers change a lot. So don’t be afraid to move with them if you find a good one!
I would definitely encourage solo entrepreneurs to look at what they can outsource. To be honest, I should have hired earlier but it was more complicated back then than now. There are many local Facebook groups with Virtual Assistants and so on.
Start with things that are easy to outsource like home help, childcare, admin etc.
Schedule in the things you enjoy
Most importantly, I’d also recommend looking at why you live in this region and ensuring you build in enjoying it into your weekly and monthly schedules.
When you work for yourself you can go back to the drawing board. Do that frequently and check that you are still ticking all the boxes you imagined when you set out on the venture.
Any other tips for the reader?
Don’t believe all you see on social media. It doesn’t make great business sense for us to share our meltdowns in public but they sure happen!
Having stability is really important. I worked my corporate job while I set up my AuPair Agency. Then I sold the rental business to fund KidooLand. And Mark kept at his full time job all through it. This continuity has been a lifesave in the recessions and challenges that came our way.
Remember that when you get to the end of your time on this planet you will look back over the amazing experiences and connections you have had.
Very rarely do people wish they’d had a bigger bank balance or worked more. We are in the South of France for a reason. Enjoy it 😉
Fun facts about Antonia Beauvoisin Brown!
Since when do you live on the French Riviera?
Where are you originally from?
South of England.
What is your favourite wine?
A fruity white wine.
What is your favourite spot on the French Riviera?
Cap Taillat – I love it’s windy ruggedness .. reminds me of a warm Donegal.
What French word, expression or sentence do you find very difficult to pronounce?
The singular for eyes – œuille