Home>Maxime Chaury, Alumnus and Entrepreneur: "It all started with Sciences Po"
Maxime Chaury, Alumnus and Entrepreneur: "It all started with Sciences Po"
At just 29, Maxime Chaury, a graduate of Sciences Po's Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) in 2015, sits at the helm of Flash Coffee in Indonesia, a chain boasting 80 coffee shops in the Jakarta metropolitan area. Having moved around between Europe, Africa and Asia, Mr. Chaury chats with us about his already prolific career. Interview.
Could you walk us through the academic and career paths that led you where you are today?
That's quite a long story, but it all started with Sciences Po!
I really soaked in my first two years on the Paris campus, where I had the chance to encounter unfamiliar disciplines. Coming from a secondary school for the sciences, I was fascinated to discover economics, sociology, political science and law. I also had a wonderful experience playing for the Sciences Po basketball team (whom I represented for 5 years and rose to the level of team captaincy during my master's), and forging lifelong friendships.
I spent my third year at the University of Chicago, where I got the chance to attend classes at the Booth School of Business. As a 19-year-old surrounded by students in their 30s, I found it to be a highly enriching experience!
For my master's degree, I enrolled at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), where I pursued a concentration in Emerging Economies. I took part in Sciences Po's academic exchange program with the Saint-Cyr Military Academy, a compelling experience that challenged me to go beyond my psychological and physical limits. After that, I spent a year in Vietnam, first at Business France at the Embassy of France in Hanoi where I drafted a guide on “Doing Business in Vietnam”, then as a Business Development Manager in Ho Chi Minh City at Geodis, a subsidiary of (French national railway company) SNCF.
After earning my master's degree in 2015, I had the opportunity to join Algeria based startup Jumia Food, part of the Rocket Internet ecosystem. As the Country Manager's right-hand man, I had the opportunity to discover the vibrant world of start-ups in emerging countries. It took me no time to realize that this is the kind of environment I would thrive in. Getting to experience new countries and cultures, the tremendous empowerment, fast-paced growth and learning, a result-driven culture and the youthful, internationally minded environment all seemed like the perfect fit!
I then set out to hone my business toolbox skills with a dual degree at ESSEC Business School in Singapore and Seoul National University, where I was awarded an MBA. As the vast majority of Rocket Internet's venture development managers have a background in private equity and consulting, I opted to complete a six-month stint with a private equity fund in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, before joining the Roland Berger strategy consultancy in Casablanca (Morocco). One year in, I had the opportunity to come back to the Rocket Internet ecosystem as the Country Manager of Zen Rooms, a tech company providing solutions for Malaysia’s hospitality sector. We expanded rapidly through 2019, but then got hit hard by COVID. And so, after two years in Kuala Lumpur, I came on board Flash Coffee in Indonesia last April. We have since opened over 65 locations and have boosted revenue by a factor of 25!
Why did you choose Sciences Po, and more specifically PSIA, for your studies? How did the education you received help you to take on the role of entrepreneur?
For me, Sciences Po has always stood as the school of choice for inquisitive and ambitious minds! By inquisitive, I mean that they are keen to understand the way the present-day world operates; by ambitious, I mean that they intend to "mark the world with the seal of their interiority" to quote Hegel, transforming it by making a lasting and positive impact.
I can identify with these two descriptors and feel that they are absolutely crucial to becoming an entrepreneur.
What’s more, the breadth of the course offering, and the large number of academic tracks offered enables each student to pursue their interests and build a solid body of overall knowledge. Sciences Po is one of the few business schools to provide a humanistic education, in the most profound sense of the term ("May nothing human be alien to me," said John Pico della Mirandola). We are taught not only to think like economists, lawyers or business leaders, but also, by means of a vigorous history curriculum, like a French revolutionary circa 1789, a Russian anarchist in 1905 or a ruling cadre in 1950s North Korea.
To foster empathetic minds, capable of thinking on their own and critically reflecting on the world; curious individuals eager to debate ideas: that is the brave endeavor of Sciences Po! I can still recall the welcome address delivered by the then president of the FNSP (Fondation nationale des Sciences politiques), and a key piece of advice: "When you have an opinion on a subject, start by reading contradictory opinions and exchanging with those who hold an opposing point of view, then try to put yourself in their shoes". A simple and universally applicable piece of advice, of great use to any entrepreneur, tasked with continuously thinking like our own employees, investors, customers, partners, competitors, and so forth.
Beyond this mindset, the number of deliverables and the high academic standards built into the Sciences Po degree program ensures that students swiftly master the organizational and productivity-related skills needed to run a business.
The specific choice of PSIA mainly had to do with my passion for global affairs. Strong international exposure, whether via the curriculum, the student body or the work placement opportunities, was critical for me. As for the intellectually stimulating curriculum, I didn’t come away disappointed! PSIA's education has been a key asset in building my globetrotting career spanning Europe, Africa and Asia.
You have made a specialty out of creating and managing start-ups. In your view, what are the skills and attributes necessary for a Sciences Po student who wants to set up an entrepreneurial venture abroad, and more particularly in Southeast Asia?
If you've made it to Sciences Po, then you're already on the right track! The work ethic, intellectual curiosity and personal ambition that landed you at 27 rue Saint Guillaume will stand you in good stead. Of course, many other qualities play an important role.
Foremost among them is undoubtedly adaptability, that is, the faculty of being physically and psychologically mobile, open and willing to adjust one's behavior and attitudes to one's environment.
This adaptability/flexibility is not only necessary when working for a company, but also when job hunting: knowing what you want to do and applying to as many companies as possible across a variety of industries and geographical areas multiplies your chances of success, especially in your early career.
Tied in with adaptability is the equally integral need for creativity. Whether launching a new business or taking the reins at a legacy organization, you can't afford to do the same thing as your competitors: you have to do it better, faster and/or differently to succeed. Creativity allows you to find new ways forward, to experiment with novel ideas and therefore to create value.
Boldness is the third trait called for in entrepreneurs. While adapting to environmental constraints through innovative ideas is important, you must also have the courage to implement them, without any fear of failing or being disliked, ready to pivot as soon as you pick up signs that a different decision could prove more productive. The courage to act amidst uncertainty, but also to acknowledge when you’re wrong. It takes enough ego to take the plunge and enough humility to continuously call yourself into question.
These qualities are essential to the work of an entrepreneur but are also very handy for adapting to new cultures, whether in Southeast Asia or other parts of the world. In fact, Southeast Asia has always been a place of great diversity and international exchange. One of the names given to Indonesia in Sanskrit is Nusantara, "the islands in between" (between China and India). Speaking more broadly, the archipelago has been shaped by cultural and commercial interchange with the Chinese, Indians, Persians, Arabs, Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English, among others; it is an amazingly diverse place. In a way, being a foreigner in this kind of environment is almost like being a local!
From a skills standpoint, the methodology, organization and the rigor that you develop at Sciences Po will be assets for you. That being said, even if you're a fast learner, early exposure to business fundamentals prior to the start of your career will save you time. Indeed, building a broad knowledge of strategy, finance, human resources, sales, marketing, management, operations, logistics, accounting and business law doesn't hurt – quite the contrary!