As seen on Swisster.ch 11 March, 2010
Louisa Schibli – running The Xpat Xchange from overseas
by Marcus Berry
March 11, 2010 | 11:12
Louisa Schibli, boss of The Xpat Xchange, one of Switzerland's first information websites aimed at English speakers, is a familiar figure at Expat Expo.
After nearly 10 years of operating the site providing data on anything from property to pets, Schibli has developed a significant following amongst the expat community. So much so, that the American-Swiss can now successfully run the site from the US while making brief sorties back to Switzerland.
Question: Tell me about The XpatXchange's activities in Switzerland and how the service has developed since your first entry into the market?
Answer: The Xpat Xchange is the original database of information – a free online resource guide for English speaking expats in Switzerland. It was one of the very first websites to market free information directly to the expat community.
Over the last 9 years (we begin our 10th year in June of this year), the site has evolved and grown into the hundreds of pages of information that it is today.
We have also always believed in and supported our free classifieds, www.EnglishClassifieds.ch, which has also evolved several times over the years to also only reflect sellers and buyers in Switzerland.
Q: Expand on your business model and how it differs to similar sites elsewhere?
A: In the beginning, as there were virtually no competitors, there were no websites to compare to. There were only a couple sites outside of Switzerland that were very general in information and offered news in English, but none that were country specific with information only for one country.
Our mission is to provide information relative to those living in Switzerland. So if a company does not have an office in Switzerland or can't directly service an expat in Switzerland, they will not be listed. We have the same approach with advertisers.
Q: What effect has the financial crisis had on your bottom line?
A: None really. We continue to offer a cost effective approach for our advertisers while simultaneously continuing to grow our site and user base.
Q: How has communication in the expat community changed since you first entered the Swiss market?
A: Web and email. It's become a virtual world with almost all communication done via the internet – be it by email, Skype, Facebook or Twitter. Much more was done by phone in the early years. Remember the tritel?
Q: Er . . . no. Where do you source your information from now that you live outside Switzerland and how do you remain in touch?
I outsource anything beyond my technical expertise as well as graphic design needs. I also receive hundreds (literally) of emails a week with information for the site.
As it's been around so long, people email me with any information they want posted – be it about an event or some other business they would like to share.
I also tend to hear about new businesses before my friends who live in Switzerland do! When someone is starting out they know they can be listed for free on The Xpat Xchange so they email me.
I try my best to support all expat businesses as I know how hard it is to start one.
Q: What effects have the facebook and twitter services had on your online presence?
A: Facebook and Twitter have complimented the site and extended our web presence.
Q: What strategies are you examining at present to increase your local marketshare?
A: I am continuing with our advertising in magazines, club newsletters, local books in combination with Google Ads, Facebook and Twitter as well as attending Expat Expo's. I also work hard, updating the site daily and do my best to reply to any email as fast as I can.
Q: What expat trends do you see emerging in the future, in general and in Switzerland?
A: The world continues to grow smaller and information is a bound! There will always be those expats who are transferred for a 3-5 year stay but more and more are choosing to stay in their host country and make a life for their families as living abroad becomes easier.
Not only is the transition smoother now with so many relocation agents, clubs, websites, forums, blogs, facebook but living in a foreign country is also not as isolating as it used to be.
Being an expat in Switzerland is very different today than it was 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. With travel, communication (cheaper phone calls, free Skype, blogs, email), the availability of so many food products from home, a high standard of living and good education for their children, being an expat doesn't have that feeling of being so far away from home as it used to.
Q: What has posed the greatest challenge to establishing The Xpat Xchange in Switzerland?
A: Early challenges were that many did not have a web presence or an understanding that the web was the future of information and marketing one's business. Many were slow to create websites and value marketing on the web. But that has all changed now.
Q: A few figures? How many use The Xpat Xchange in CH, daily page views etc.?
A: Around 20'000 visitors generating 135,000 or more page views per month.
Q: What is your ultimate goal for XpatXchange?
A: The goal is to remain the largest online unbiased website of free of information in Switzerland and to continue to offer a top rate reliable service. There is also the possibility of licensing the site outside the country.
Q: If it's all going so well, why did you leave Switzerland?
I am married to a Swiss and spent 12 years living in CH. We have 3 children who are dual US/Swiss citizens. We made a conscious decision to expose our children to America as well as to Switzerland.
We thought long and hard about having them go through the Swiss school system versus the International School system and found that neither one was the perfect fit for us.
It took us a year to get up the nerve to move to the US – as it was a huge risk, not only for running The Xpat Xchange, but also for my husband professionally.
So far, we have been very lucky as it things have worked out for us. We still go back to CH 2-3 times a year and I am of course online virtually every day reading, surfing, emailing, updating anything and everything Swiss.
Our connection to Switzerland is very strong and we all know will be back there some day soon.
re-printed with permission from Swisster.ch