I ran into Sophie Vigouroux at the France Show, London’s annual Francophile expo, in January. This lovely young French woman inspired me because she and a team of smart folks started a new mobile phone service for Transatel meant to help people like me and so many others who travel often to France. I love meeting women (especially women from Paris) who’ve done something exciting in business or in life all on their own. Plus, I’ve been burned one too many times, arriving home to a huge phone bill after one of my yearly trips to Paris.
Sophie and the team had a simple idea: why not make a prepaid SIM card that you can install in your existing cell phone, topped off with instructions in English? Hello!! Was this Parisian lady sent from heaven? I can’t tell you how annoying it is to carry around two cell phones, one French one and one an American-bought BlackBerry. These small hassles are what make travel so frustrating. I was determined to test her new product and hopefully save money while lowering the hassle factor. And Sophie seemed so smart, I just had to get to know her a little bit better.
Tell us about the company and the mobile phone concept you have recently helped launch.
Transatel is the first MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) in France. It offers dedicated services in order for people to save money on their phone bills. We have several companies for frequent travelers, and LeFrenchMobile is for English speakers in France. In fact, LeFrenchMobile is the only prepaid SIM card dedicated to English speakers in the country. It enables its customers to call all over Europe, the USA, Canada and Asia for local rates as well as call other LeFrenchMobile users at half price. The best thing is you can buy more minutes and top up online in English.
How did the idea come to you?
It has been a couple of years that LeFrenchMobile has existed, but primarily as a bundled plan. We had created two bundles: one for vacationers and one for students. We saw that the product had real potential but that the commitment and all the paperwork was a disadvantage for people coming here. Therefore, we thought that keeping the offer the same but making it a prepaid would really make it easier for our customers. We kept the bundle offers for the people who wanted it but starting November 2010 it has become mainly a prepaid service.
Who are your main customers?
Our main customers are English speakers coming to France for a short stay (less than a year) and for whom it is not possible to subscribe with a yearlong contract: exchange students, vacationers, seasonal workers or people on a business trip. We of course have a lot of English and American customers, but a lot of different nationalities coming from all over the world can also benefit from our English service with low calling rates.
What are the pros and the cons of working with the English and American buyer?
Pro: The English and American buyers are more open and nice than the French ones. Con: Time differences between the countries can make it difficult sometimes to always be there for the buyers in their local time zone.
Did you grow up in Paris? Which neighborhood do you live in?
I arrived in Paris nine years ago from the French Alps region, and I live now in the 14th Arrondissement, near the station Alésia.
Tell us a little bit about your favorite places in your arrondissement.
The 14th is a nice place to live in Paris. I live next to the parc Montsouris and near the Jardin du Luxembourg. There are lots of shops, restaurants and cinemas, yet it is still quite calm.
What is the one store you simply couldn’t live without?
I think my favorite store is Kioko. It is a Japanese market where you can find all that you need to cook Asian recipes. For clothes I’d say Zara—they have the perfect Parisian style for me.
Any recent restaurant or café finds that you are excited about?
There is the Lao Lane Xang in the 13th Arrondissement, cheap and so good. You can leave with your stomach full of excellent Vietnamese cooking.
Where do you go out on a Friday or Saturday night?
Everywhere. You just have to check the websites like Sortir à Paris or parisART. Each night you have concerts and all kinds of events everywhere in Paris! To appreciate this town you must be curious.
When you need a day off and need to get some pampering, where do you go and what do you do?
I walk, I get myself lost in Paris, because it’s the best way to discover new places.
What is your favorite French saying?
“Il faut travailler comme si on allait vivre toujours, et vivre comme si on allait mourir demain.” (“We have to work as though we will live forever and live as though we will die tomorrow.”)
Editor’s note: Why not download one or more of our unique Girls’ Guide to Paris walking tours to your iPhone or iPad? You can also simply print them out.