A&S alum Francois Gouelo is changing the status quo of the hospitality industry

October 26, 2023 by Coby Zucker - A&S News

A&S alum Francois Gouelo is determined to revolutionize the hospitality industry by streamlining and simplifying the guest experience.

Gouelo’s company, Enso Connect, is named after the Japanese symbol for absolute enlightenment. Their focus is on solving common problems vacation rental managers and their guests face by using AI messaging, custom automations and a guest web app.

“I like to say managing properties is death by 1000 cuts,” says Gouelo, who earned his honours bachelor of science in 2019 as a member of Woodsworth College. “You're not solving one problem. You're constantly solving different problems every day.”

Enso Connect has raised $4 million in funding and the 26-year-old Gouelo and his co-founder, Peter Sorbo, were recently recognized as part of the first-ever Toronto-focused “30 under 30” list published by Forbes magazine.

“It's awesome to get recognition from world-leading institutions,” Gouelo says. “The impact we're having in the industry is really starting to get recognized both at the customer level and the investor level.”

The Enso Connect team pose for a picture and hold a door with the Enso logo in blue.
Francois Gouelo and his team at Enso Connect.

Gouelo began Enso Connect in 2019 in a class at U of T’s Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL). Gouelo and the other students in the class engaged with business partners in industry who mentored and guided them through the process of starting their companies.

“We've twisted and turned,” Gouelo says. “We've always kept our core vision, which is to digitize and monetize the guest experience. That has never really changed. But the path to getting there? Oh, my goodness.”

Enso Connect was part of a year-long class competition that awarded $10,000 to the most promising startup. Gouelo was struggling to come up with an idea for the competition when he took a disastrous ski trip with a friend. When they arrived at their Airbnb, the key was frozen under a mat. Five days after checkout, Gouelo received an email from the host saying they left one of the windows open in the kitchen and the pipes had frozen. The host said they owed him $5,000 and he was sending them to small claims court.

One of the key things that U of T brought me was resilience and the ability to learn quickly. And if you have those two, then you will be a successful entrepreneur.

“We were in the first two, three weeks of the class. We had to come up with a problem, and I had a $5,000 problem to solve,” Gouelo says.

“Francois was excellent at framing a problem he was having through a story,” says Helen Kontozopoulos, co-founder of DCSIL and entrepreneur behind tech startup ODAIA. “Every successful founder can tell a good story.”

Enso Connect eventually won the $10,000, which gave Gouelo and Sorbo the confidence they needed to keep building their company, even in the face of massive challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Francois was always going to be a founder,” Kontozopoulos says. “He's got all the founder traits: curiosity, leadership, humbleness and coachability.”

“U of T was obviously a very important part of my education, my career, my network,” Gouelo says. “One of the key things that U of T brought me was resilience and the ability to learn quickly. And if you have those two, then you will be a successful entrepreneur.”

The emphasis on solving problems that Gouelo developed served him well from the early days of pitching his company to investors and stakeholders to managing problems the company has run into during its massive period of growth.

“I have a motto, which I always hold onto whenever it feels like it's the end of the world,” Gouelo says. “Every problem has a solution. And it just sounds so basic, but it's true. Every single problem has a solution.”

As CEO, Gouelo is focused on developing Enso Connect into a world-leader in the hospitality industry. He says that the most challenging part of his role is keeping all the different stakeholders happy.

“It is the most difficult but best job in the world,” Gouelo says. “Most difficult because you wear a lot of hats. CEO is a fancy title for Chief Everything Officer.”

According to Gouelo, the plan for the future of Enso Connect involves growing the number of properties under their management, growing the number of guests that they process, making the experience as smooth as possible and changing the status quo of the industry.

“You're always looking forward as a CEO,” Gouelo says. “Your goal is to always anticipate what the next issues are going to be. You're not working on today's problem. You're working on that problem in two, three months.”