Expat entrepreneurs

25th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

Expats are often so busy with mundane chores they have little time for personal development. We look at two expat companies that aim to change all that.

Working and travelling to and from work for 10 to 12 hours a day, how are you ever going to find time to walk the dog, plan a wedding, buy a present for your partner or even clean your home?

Dhani Rajagopal and Elise Samperez-Bedos

Simple: you pay someone to do those things.

"The idea comes from the US," say Urban Philosophy founders Elise Samperez-Bedos and Dhani Rajagopal.

Having worked in the hectic IT industry, Elise, from France, and Dhani, from the UK, saw the potential for a personal concierge service.

They also noticed a major difference between the US and the Netherlands was the latter country's poor customer service.

So they were soon questioning how to go about setting up a concierge business in the Netherlands.

"It took about a year, with lots of investigation and planning," Dhani says.

Importantly, the Kamer van Koophandel (KvK), the Dutch chamber of commerce, was "receptive" and "responsive" to the idea.

Personal services

Elise and Dhani narrowed their focus to in and around the house, pets and animals, personal shopping, event and party planning and "everything else".


External funding wasn't a major concern because all they needed was a telephone and a computer. Some of the work for clients is done from the office and work in and around the home is carried out by trained freelancers.

The real trick was getting the combination for services, marketing and pricing just right.

Princes were pitched at a third of the fees charged by two other concierge services in the Netherlands. Urban Philosophy wants to show having a personal assistant to help cope with a chaotic schedule is not a "luxury".

Expat services

An intake meeting establishes client needs and how to cater for them.

An open-ended contract is then offered, allowing clients to avail of services only when needed.

Despite catering to people from all walks of life, the company has a special expat and a pregnancy package.

One of the most popular requests is an assistant to do the ironing, but there have been more unusual requests.

Recently, a US-based client asked Urban Philosophy to arrange a hotel for him in Amsterdam that would allow him to smoke joints in his room. He also asked for an oxygen mask and tank to be arranged so he could get over his jet lag.

"We did," says Elise. 

"He is a musician and got us to arrange venues where he could play while in the Netherlands. Now he wants us to send him a bottle of Jenever (Dutch gin) back to the US."

Where did the name Urban Philosophy come from?

"Days and months of brainstorming and just when we had everything ready we had to change the first name we had as it was too close to that used by another company," Elise recalls.

From philosophy to self-improvement

Once you're organised, the next step is to do something for yourself and a good place to start is Urban Learning.

Canadian expat John Clancy founded the company to provide a "one-stop shop" for people wanting to learn a new skill or improve an aspect of their lives.


Its courses, seminars and workshops are pitched to be entertaining and accessible.

With 15 years experience in the conference and publishing industries, John spent at least a year getting the concept — as well as the nuts and bolts of Urban Learning — just right.

"Rather than insist on people signing up for eight to 10 week courses, our short events give people a taste of the subject they are interested in," he says.

At the same time, the people leading the events are experts in their fields — best-selling authors, show biz stars and business leaders.

Events are in Dutch or English and cover health and fitness, business and careers, personal finance, creative development and lifestyle-related subjects.


The biggest event so far by Urban Learning was 'Smakelijk!' — a food and wine fair in Amsterdam's old stock exchange building, the Beurs van Berlage.

Char the "spiritual-intuitive" is a household name in the Netherlands

The next major event is Char, the 'physic to the stars', who has been a regular feature on commercial Dutch broadcaster RTL.

Char will perform personal readings on a night in June and "share her secrets for developing your own intuitive abilities".

Urban Learning also runs smaller seminars and workshops that focus on personal development issues, such as improving your Dutch accent, becoming more assertive and financial planning.

What's the secret?

"You have to know what people want and constantly stay alert for the latest thing. The courses provide useful, top-class information in digestible pieces and leave people with a desire to find out more," John says.

And the name Urban Learning?

In no way connected to Urban Philosophy, John picked the name after a long process of discussions with colleagues and friends.

Now after a relatively short period in operation, both expat companies — with similar names, but different aims — have started breaking new ground in the fertile Dutch market.

25 May 2005

Do you have an unusual expat business? Write to feedback@expatica.com.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Life in Holland, expat companies

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