Greg Villain on how Aussie visa changes will affect young entrepreneurs.

Both an entrepreneur and model, Greg Villain moved to Australia to create an innovative new app, “Boutiq”. Since its inception, the social recommendation, travel-oriented app has carved a unique path in the tech world. We chatted to Villain about his creation and the effect that the newly implemented Australian visa changes might have on developing foreign entrepreneurs like himself. 

The Chic Edit: Where are you from, originally?

Greg Villain: Hi, I’m French but I was actually born in Abu Dhabi and then lived in several countries until I was 12, including Somalia and Colombia!

CE: When did you move to Australia and with what intention?

GV: I initially came to Australia in 2009 after my studies for a work placement in finance. Before that, I did an amazing trip with a friend for 3 months in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, and really fell in love with your beautiful country. I then decided to come back in 2013, packed up my life in France, and literally arrived with one suitcase and a surfboard!

CE: Can you describe your app, “Boutiq”?

GV: Boutiq is the app to discover recommendations from your friends and network. It’s “where to go from who you know,” helping you find the hidden gems around you. You can use it as the memory bank for the places you love, and most importantly, the places personally recommended by your trusted “inner circle”.

CE: What makes Boutiq unique compared to other apps with similar functions?

GV: The special ingredient for Boutiq is putting trust at its core. Instead of advice between strangers, the app is about wanting our friends to enjoy the places we love just as much as we do. We are making it easier to share the places that are truly memorable, and to find the places your friends recommend. On social media, there are requests for recommendations all the time between friends, but they’re fleeting. Boutiq opens these moments up so they’re always discoverable within your network and never forgotten. 

CE: How did the app come to fruition, from idea to reality?

I’d been thinking of an app in the travel space since 2012 while travelling in Bali, but I knew the timing wasn’t right. In 2015, I went to study product management for three months in San Francisco, and it’s there that the idea really came to life. We built a prototype in four weeks, and then decided to make it real. A year and half later, we now have a growing community on the app, a team of five, and funding to help us fuel marketing globally.

CE: How has the (temporary work skilled) visa 457 changed and how has this affected your business endeavours? What does this mean for you as an individual?

GV: The 457 sponsorship is now unattainable for young companies without at least $1 Million annual revenue for the jobs most needed by startups and SMEs, so this means that I cannot be sponsored through Boutiq or look to sponsor any other employees from overseas. For the business, Boutiq will continue to employ Australians as we do now, but I will need to turn to overseas opportunities where visa sponsorship for entrepreneurs and international funding for startups is not as restricted as Australia’s new regulations. 

CE: How might this affect Australia as a whole?

GV: I think it’s a missed opportunity for the Australian economy because Australia is so attractive to foreign entrepreneurs and has everything to gain from the jobs they create, the ideas they bring, and the talent they develop. I hope it’s not too late for the government to adopt a constructive approach and consult with entrepreneurs to make sure immigration and Australia’s innovation go hand in hand.

The 457 visa probably needed a refresh but the way it’s been handled is unfortunately forcing many talented people out of Australia, people who aimed at making this beautiful country their home. By evolving in tech, we can be digital nomads and we can establish ourselves in more welcoming countries to entrepreneurs such as Singapore, but it’s really sad to be forced out of the country to live your dreams.

CE: Why can’t start-ups like Boutiq use the new 188 entrepreneur visa?

GV: When it was launched in September 2016, the 188 Entrepreneur visa seemed perfect. However, by restricting this visa only to foreign founders with investment from Australian registered Venture Capital funds, and then a wait of at least 14 months for the visa to be granted, it contradicts its purpose. It’s well known that Venture Capital investors do not back ideas, they invest in operating startups with traction who need to execute fast.

CE: Have you found a solution/alternative to these newly arisen problems?

GV: Yes. To adapt, Boutiq will have a lot of its operations out of Australia and continue to grow globally. We will have one base in Berlin to focus on European expansion, whilst I myself am going to Singapore, using the country’s entrepreneur visa to look for funding and an Asian expansion for Boutiq. This is a big change from the original plan we had because we were in the middle of pitching to investors in Australia and planned to hire ten people here, but I’m excited for the opportunities ahead given the circumstances. 

CE: What changes need to be implemented to make international start up companies feasible within Australia?

GV: For the 188 Entrepreneur to work, it should be granted for an initial two years with a fast assessment process so the entrepreneurs can settle the business, and then extended depending on jobs created and funding received. Singapore is an excellent example for that.

CE: What is the next step for you and for your company?

GV: Boutiq is now set to grow and become the go-to app for recommendations from your friends. The next step is marketing to early adopters globally, with a team working in Sydney and across the world. We’re really excited!

CE: Where can we download your app and how should we use it?

GV: The app is available in the Apple Store under “Boutiq – Where to go from who you know” and soon to Android. Bring your inner circle onto Boutiq and share the best places you and your friends have been to, so you’re never without hidden local gems no matter where you are in the world!

Download Boutiq here.

Follow Greg Villain via Boutiq on Instagram.