How one e-resident turned a love for surfing and business into something new
He was born in France, spent years working in Germany, and at the time of this interview was in Portugal. But entrepreneur and e-resident Bertrand Dour knows where his real home is: the ocean.
“I started surfing at the age of six, and it was something that I could never quit,” says Dour, now 44, the founder and principal of 7 Flows, a business consultancy that is officially headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia, but goes wherever Dour goes. “My first jobs were as a lifeguard and surf instructor,” he adds. Even when he began working in larger corporations, he would also spend any free minute at the beach. It was this bond to the sea that led him to find ways to work remotely, even at the dawn of the digital age.
“My first experience as a digital nomad and working remotely was in 2000,” Dour says. “It was very tricky back then, nothing was easy. You had to run to the hotel to get a good connection to the internet.” It was an act that Dour could pull off, but he was still considered something of a hippie. “People didn’t take you seriously,” he notes. It’s a problem he still encounters working with banks and insurance companies. “They don’t know what to make of it when I do a video conference from the beach.”
Dour offers clients a variety of tools via 7 Flows. One, called 7 Flows Core, is geared toward early-stage startups or corporate ventures, and relies on his experience working with larger firms. A second tool is called 7 Flows Max, an open source framework that enables businesses to scale. According to Dour, the frameworks have about 100,000 users worldwide. 7 Flows also delivers software packages, including an acceleration program for startups and another for managing startup business growth underpinned by proprietary artificial intelligence algorithms.
“I create frameworks that allow people to work better, to synchronise communities, for people to work remotely, and to shift business models,” says Dour.
Given his itinerant lifestyle, Estonia’s e-Residency program was a good fit. It also aligned with his business interests, which are centred on efficiency. “In France, all business is conducted via mail, which can be a nightmare, and you can even be fined if you aren’t there to sign off on official documents,” says Dour. Managing his company online using Estonia’s digital infrastructure has therefore been less of a hassle and much easier:
“At the beginning, I thought it was a video game. It was so simple, it couldn’t be true.”
E-Residency also connected him with a like-minded community of digital nomads and entrepreneurs, both within the country, or connected digitally via the program. “Estonia has a huge ecosystem of innovation, so the country is very appealing in that sense.”
Find out more about e-Residency for digital nomad entrepreneurs:
He has also visited Estonia several times now, and though he hasn’t yet tried its waves, he has gotten a taste of the straightforward, goals-oriented way locals do business. “I like the Estonian mindset,” Dour says. “People are more direct,” he says. “In southern countries, also in France, people talk a lot, but nothing happens. Estonians make things happen. They are very efficient.”
And into this mix, Dour brings the lessons he’s learned from years surfing waves. Like the sea, the business world is full of uncertainty, he says, and businesses have to learn to manage uncertainty the same way surfers learn to negotiate the surf. “No wave is the same,” says Dour. “You have to be ready, you have to feel comfortable with uncertainty.”
One also must be humble, accepting of the power of the ocean, and learn how to read the environment, from the strength of the wind, to the break of the waves, to the pull of the currents. “I refer to surfing in all my training workshops,” says Dour. “People like it because it’s a real-life reference that doesn’t rely on complicated theories about cognitive behaviour.”
In the COVID-19 world, Dour has seen demand rise, as human resource departments try to learn how to manage a workforce remotely, something he has excelled at doing for two decades. “I spent 20 years learning how to work remotely with large companies, the problems they faced, how to communicate, how they behave with people working from home,” notes Dour. “So when everybody had to work from home, I had more experience, not as just an entrepreneur but as a remote consultant,” he says. “I knew both sides: the side of the entrepreneur, the digital nomad, and the side of working within large companies.”
This year, Dour is embarking on a new project with Erica Cruz, a Portuguese colleague who also happens to be an e-resident of Estonia. Called Bluewaves, the project aims to generate sustainable change within organisations. According to Dour, this involves empowering teams and individuals, creating engaging and caring ecosystems, and operating in a sustainable environment.
The partners also developed a pedagogical model around three elements for Bluewaves that includes learning and knowledge acquisition, guided and supported practice in a concierge-style approach, and creating communities that maintain change. Bluewaves is already being implemented in large organisations in Morocco and Switzerland, Dour said.
Read more about Dour’s entrepreneurial journey and vision on the 7 Flows website.
And re-watch his interview with e-Residency’s Head of Business Strategy, Mats Kuuskemaa, from 2020 (in French).