A Life Between Two Worlds

Stories A Life Between Two Worlds

Interview by: Cort Cunningham
Photography by: Thomas Nolf Oct 22, 2019

A Life Between Two Worlds

This is the first story about a Cowboy team member, working tirelessly to ensure a smooth ride for our customers.

After fleeing with his family from the in Rwanda in 1994, moving to the Congo then arriving Belgium at the age of eight, Loïc Ganza had lived a life as a child few adults could even comprehend. Now 29 years old, he shares his story about being caught between two worlds with no real home and ponders how he'll help his newborn daughter navigate this life, too. Yet, Loïc's exposure to different cultures and his desire to learn new things and live life on his terms has given him the ability to adapt quickly to new situations. It's no wonder he thrives at a start-up like Cowboy. Following a seed of a brilliant idea, he single-handedly built the test ride program from scratch. He now runs the program and oversees a network of ambassadors in 50 cities across Europe.

“The biggest challenge is to live and to have grown up in two different worlds and yet not belong to either one. Wherever I go, I'm always a foreigner.”

Tell me about your role at Cowboy. What do you do? I make sure people can test the bicycle wherever they want. In the beginning, I was the Saloon manager in Antwerp. And then this project was in the air with the idea to start a network of freelancers who are passionate about Cowboy and can facilitate test rides in their region. So I started it this past January without really knowing what would come of it. Now I manage the fleet and keep expanding the program.

How'd the idea come about? The founders of Cowboy are from Take It Easy and our head of operations is from UberEats, so it evolved out of the on-demand experience of having your food whenever you want. The main goal was to find a freelancer with some spare time and give him a bike. Then we link to his calendar and people can just book a test ride. It turned out to be really successful, and today we are in 50 cities across Europe. It's a super exciting project because it's an uncommon job that we created.

In the early days of the program, was there ever a moment when it could have gone south? We never really had a down moment because of the network. I already knew a super large group of freelancers. The first hires were from that group and then, organically through word of mouth I started growing the fleet.

Loïc Ganza
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

As these ambassadors meet potential customers around Europe, can you share any insight from their work? For me, it's the difference in cultures. In the Netherlands for example, we hear a lot that when you do a test ride at home, people invite you in. “Oh, have a coffee. Sit down.” While in Belgium, people usually wait outside.

OK. First Cowboy, then life… When have you felt the most cowboy? I would say it was a ballsy move to jump on this project where there was zero structure, no real plan. It was, “We have this idea, can you make something of it?” One of the most important things is to keep challenging yourself. That's why I only work in start-ups at the moment. Just jumping on a project where I have no idea what will come of it and eventually scaling it up.

And in your life in general? Is there a particular time that stands out to you? I'm 29 years old, but I've been through a lot. I was born in Rwanda. And then there was the war in '94. We moved to Congo which was then Zaire. Then we moved to the present-day Congo. By the time I arrived in Belgium I was eight. I had to adapt to a new culture and learn a new language. Plus it's freaking cold here, I hate winters. The biggest challenge is to live and to have grown up in two different worlds and yet not belong to either one. Wherever I go, I'm always a foreigner. This has been challenging to this very day, but then again there were a lot of moments in my life that were challenging, deliberately and also without my control.

Then at age 18, I decided to just take control of my life and not let external factors impact me. I did a bold move and left Belgium for Brazil through AFS, a year-long intercultural exchange program. That moment completely changed my life because it's when I learned I'm more of a giver. I always do stuff for other people. That was the first time in my life I learned it was important to be selfish. Not always, but if you're not happy or satisfied, then you can't really help people. It opened my mind, and since then I travel nonstop.

Loïc Ganza
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

So for me, there are three pivotal moments in my life: one is the changing of cultures and coming to Belgium, two is Brazil and learning to take control of my life, and three is after I graduated. I remember receiving my degree and feeling, “Why did I do this? Yeah, I have a degree and maybe it will facilitate getting a job, but what did I get out of these years?” Life is to learn stuff and not be stuck around the same thing your whole life. I took a six-month break to basically read every day; reading about business, reading about philosophy. Somehow I started meditating. I now meditate frequently and put a lot of effort into it. To this day, if you ask somebody about me, they'll say: “Oh yeah, he's always super zen and calm.” [laughter]

Whoa, that was a really long answer. I'm sorry.

Your answer is perfect. Don't be sorry. The biggest challenge is to live and to have grown up in two different worlds and try to belong in both worlds. Let's say you're with family in an African community, you need to behave like that culture. When you're at work in Belgium, which is a more Western view you need to be another person, I would say.

This desire to constantly learn, I imagine that's what drives your travels too?

First of all, I love to learn new languages. I have the skill of learning a language super quickly. But that's also because as a kid I grew up speaking three languages.

Loïc Ganza
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

I'm very envious of that ability. I get that a lot from Americans that you guys usually only speak one language.

I know, it's embarrassing. I took German for many years, but yeah. It's really too bad. I also travel a lot because I grew up in a lot of different cultures. It was tough in the beginning as a kid because you don't really have a place to call home. But when you grow up, you realize how much it helps you to adapt quickly to new situations. I enjoy a small snack at a corner restaurant as much as a dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. And what I really think is interesting is how people solve their problems differently in different cultures. That's why I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can from China, Brazil, Belgium, wherever. I just try to create my own culture and personality, because I don't think any one culture is perfect.

"Traveling has helped me realize that things are truly impermanent."

Is there one trip you've taken you remember the most? In 2016, I found a last minute flight to Taiwan, booked it and went for three weeks without any plans. I landed in Taipei without really knowing anything about the culture or the country. It helped that I speak a bit of Chinese so I could find my way. I remember one evening I met this Dutch couple who had rented bikes to cycle around the country. I thought that was crazy but wished them luck. Then I couldn't sleep that night. I became so obsessed with this idea of cycling through Taiwan because the countryside is so beautiful. So the next day, I rented a bike and started cycling all alone. That was really an epic trip. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone because there are times where you're like, “Why the f*ck did I do this?!” But at the end of the trip, I was in this really small surfer's town. I was supposed to stay only one night. There was this coffee house with a huge lawn and two palm trees. There was a cliff and then the ocean. I thought, “Okay. I'm just going to take a book and rest in the hammock then continue tomorrow.” I ended up staying there for four or five days. Every day sitting in the hammock, reading, drinking coffee. That was really one of the most amazing trips I ever had because it was just serenity complete.

How many days was the entire bike journey? I cycled for six days and then I basically ended up in a hammock. [laughter]

Loïc Ganza
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

I'd like to know more about you feeling caught between two worlds and whether traveling more has helped you navigate that. Or is it more of a permanent state for you? It doesn't change at all. When I went back to Rwanda in 2015 just for travelling, it was the first time after 21 years. There, I am basically considered European because of the way I dress, my behavior, and I have a good life I would say. And here in Belgium, I'm always considered as an African or as a foreigner. Wherever I go, I'm always a foreigner. That is the struggle and it's been like that my whole life. It was more of a struggle until I started the meditations and the deep dive into my own personality. Since then I say you know what, f*ck it. I don't really care where people put me. I'm just me and I do whatever is fun to me.

It's still pretty hard though. I have a daughter who's three months old and I know that someday she's going to have the same struggle. And that is my biggest challenge at the moment: how to navigate that in a proper way and I have no idea how to. Because she is going to come with some questions. For example, there is a lot of discrimination in the professional world; a lot of prejudice in school. I was always one of the first in my class in high school and the reason why is because I was always trying to prove people wrong. About when I was 15, a teacher told me I couldn't do something. And that's a really terrible mentality because you don't really do something for yourself. You do stuff to prove people wrong and that's not really going to make anybody happy.

I have a younger brother who's 16. He plays basketball. His generation is much more inclusive, less prejudiced.

Loïc Ganza
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

That's certainly what gives me hope, the younger generation. Yeah, I hope so.

I really appreciate this conversation we've had, Loïc. Back to Cowboy for a minute though...Is there one thing you like most about the company? I love the product because it's something I believe in. That's step number one. And step number two is nobody's slacking. Everybody's really committed and working hard. It's motivating to go to work and to know you can always count on people. And that's something that's not really common, I would say, in a working environment. So for me, that's my main reason. A lot of dedicated people.

Thank you, Loïc. I look forward to talking with more of the team soon! Thank you. Bye-bye.

Loïc Ganza
— Photo Credit: Cowboy