Orlando Guerra is having coffee at his desk on a regular Wednesday morning at Station F—the world’s largest startup campus—in Paris. Excitement is stirring though, and he realizes that something is different.
He looks to the security guy and asks, ‘What’s going on?’
‘Microsoft,’ is subtly whispered back, as CEO Satya Nadella walks by.
The vibrancy of Station F is part of Orlando’s daily life now. He is the co-founder of the startup FlyScribe, a company that he got off the ground during the entrepreneurship specialization at the HEC Paris MBA.
His vision, he says, is to create a travel card—based on a monthly subscription—for use at airports. Turn up to the airport. Check available flights. Fly.
“The idea had been brewing in my head for a few years,” Orlando explains, “but I never had the guts to go for it.”
HEC Paris was the catalyst. After embarking on the MBA program—moving from a career in banking that he says restricted his creativity—Orlando set about chasing his goal. When he arrived on campus in January 2017, he says, his aim was simple. “I have an ideas app where I write all these things down. After bouncing ideas off people, I wanted to take three of the most well-received ideas and draw up a business plan for each.”
He pitched all three in his second semester, and from that FlyScribe prevailed. After pitching to his classmates in the entrepreneurship specialization during the Customized Phase of the MBA program, his project was chosen as one of the two student ventures to be taken forward.
The HEC Paris MBA’s entrepreneurship specialization places students in an environment of like-minded startuppers that breeds creativity. Is that key? “Absolutely,” gleams Orlando. “I couldn’t have done this without it. In terms of learning, what I’ve gotten is much more than any internship could have given me.”
Michel Safars, affiliate professor and director of the entrepreneurship specialization at the HEC Paris MBA, has also been a key influence. “He was the one, from the beginning, who encouraged me to go for it,” Orlando explains. “He laid the groundwork, put me in touch with some of his contacts.”
Orlando and his team—comprised of MBA students from HEC Paris and INSEAD—met with the program director of the Station F incubator Creative Valley. After pitching, they were selected to join the incubator.
The speed at which FlyScribe has gone from a note on Orlando’s phone to his full-time job at Station F is a testament to someone who’s idea of employment has been the same since he was seven years old. Orlando retells a tale from his youth where he’d go door-to-door, selling goods and accruing redeemable points he’d use to satisfy childhood’s desire for gifts. He says that encouraged him to be his own boss, and his dream became to create something that would enact creative change.
“I had a million and one ideas,” he adds, “but FlyScribe is the one I’m passionate about.”
FlyScribe has come from a mix of Orlando’s wish to be his own boss and his passion for travel—Lebanon, Montenegro, Slovenia, Italy, and Spain are among the countries he visited last year. “Market research,” he quips.
Everyone at Station F, he explains, exudes passion. “You’re surrounded by people doing the exact same thing,” he says, “and the only reason they’re there is because they love what they do, and they want to create change.
“The wooing you hear when some guy makes his first sale or sitting next to a small team that raised 300k from a kickstarter campaign, it’s motivating.”
The HEC Paris MBA has given Orlando a chance to tackle a wider issue too. The airline industry, he says, is stuck in a rut. Technological advancement has harnessed progression in almost all industries, and there is huge potential for the airline industry to be part of the progress.
“There’s an industry stuck in the 80s and all we want to do is change that radically,” Orlando says. “Our battle is to convince them to look at what they’ve done for years and years differently.”