‘Poland made me the man I am today’
With a former professional athlete’s mindset, Walid Barsali found himself in a Polish blue ocean of opportunities which led him to co-found Ballsquad, the first online public sports venue booking service in the country.
Why did you decide to move to Poland?
While I was getting a BA in Business Administration and Economic Sciences, I did an Erasmus exchange in Romania and afterwards, I was quite sure that I wouldn’t go back to France. I thought about the entrepreneurial life and instead of working at a corporation, I wanted to do something on my own. Romania opened my eyes to that. I saw that the CEE region had new markets, skilled labour, capacities as good as in Western countries, but the markets have even more potential and less restraint. In France, there’s a lot of competition, and you have to go through endless unpaid internships just to get your first miserable job. I didn’t want that for myself and for my life. Poland was kind of an easy decision. I was already with my girlfriend, Dorota, who was returning to Poland, so things fell into place and I’ve been here for six years.
How was your first day in Poland?
I arrived in July 2013 and it was extremely hot – 35 degrees. I thought I came to Poland, not to Africa. And I know what I’m talking about because I’m half-Algerian.
What was your first impression?
I found my first job at Fujitsu as an IT consultant in Łódź, which has its own kind of culture. When I came in 2013, the city had yet to experience the major revitalisation work that it has seen more recently over the past five years. Many of the buildings in the city centre were in bad shape, which doesn’t make a great impression when you’re moving to a new city. But it was an adventure. You arrive in a place that you absolutely don’t know and my only objective was ‘let’s see!’. Prior to starting this job, I was only paid to play basketball so the shift was extremely big but exciting.
Walid Barsali was born in Algeria but was raised in Paris, France. The 29-year-old is the Co-Founder and CEO of BallSquad – a sports-tech company which focuses on the improvement of management and booking of public sports facilities in Poland and the CEE region. He has an MBA in Marketing Communication from Clark University in Boston. In addition to his native French, he is fluent in Arabic and English.
What are some similarities between Poland and France?
Both countries are very dynamic and ambitious at their core. Even though their respective worldwide rankings are different, from where I’m standing and after six years in Poland, I can say with confidence that both countries are reaching for the same things, such as a highly-skilled population, advanced infrastructure, a strong foothold and influence on the international scene.
What was the hardest part about starting your business?
In our specific sector, we knew that we had no data to rely on. No one had done something like this before in Poland. It was tough to create everything from scratch, detail by detail. With Ballsquad, sports enthusiasts can reserve fields, courts and halls through the online sports venue booking service. We are standardising this process for all venues and users to make the contracting happen online via our mobile app. Our main objective is to get rid of the paper contracting which is impractical for all parties because it requires users to manually research available facilities, directly contact venues, negotiate and physically sign a contract. Whereas with the app, it’s simply a few clicks and you’re done. It’s a difficult process with many challenges to solve in order to implement our service across the country, so our startup journey is far from complete. We are still climbing our way up and working really hard on it. So far, we have won the ‘Mazovian startup’ competition.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now and for the rest of my life, Poland will remain my anchor. I don’t think that I will ever be able to detach myself from this country. I will always be grateful for the people who live here and for this culture because it made me the man I am today. Poland will always be our headquarters, but Dorota and I would like to move around a bit and shape our lives all around the globe. For us, travelling is enjoyable and we want our kids to have more opportunities to open their minds.