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Meet Andres Zuleta of Boutique Japan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andres Zuleta.

Andres, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Back in 2013, I was working at a job I enjoyed, but I really wanted to start my own company, for various reasons. One, even though I had great bosses — and some great job perks — I didn’t want bosses anymore.

Second, I wanted the freedom to be able to travel anytime, without having to worry about work schedules. Not only the freedom to travel, but the freedom to make my own daily schedule, and determine what I worked (and didn’t work) on.

At the time, my girlfriend was undergoing serious treatment for cancer, and in a sense, it was no time to be thinking of a life change as big as starting a business. We also didn’t have a lot saved up – just enough to get us through a few months of running the business while living very affordable.

We decided to pull the trigger, and sold everything we owned here in San Diego, and moved to Kyoto, Japan, where we rented a cheap room in a very traditional neighborhood filled with geishas and temples (the Higashiyama). Here we started developing our content strategy (blogging and, at the time, a bit of video), and got our first few online leads – and clients!

Today I run the business with an incredible team spread throughout the world, including Texas, California, South America, Europe, and Asia.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Yes and no. We’ve had bumps and challenges, of course, but it was also surprising how quickly things got off the ground.

Our first challenge, a few months in, was financial in nature. When we launched the business, we had a “runway” of several months, meaning that we needed revenue fairly quickly in order to avoid running out of funds. We were confident (perhaps wisely, perhaps naively) that the sales would come, but there was a night in Kyoto (where we were living when we first started the business) when we had a bit of fear that things wouldn’t work out. Luckily, we stuck with it and just enough sales came in.

Another major challenge was learning how to hire and build a team. Our very first hire, a virtual assistant based abroad, worked out at first, but ultimately did not pan out (thanks to lack of management, most likely). After this “failed” hire, I was wary of bringing on others, but when things got too busy, it became clear that not hiring was not an option.

Luckily, we’ve had amazing luck with hiring since then.

Boutique Japan – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Boutique Japan offers highly authentic and immersive private tours for experienced travelers from around the world. As our name implies, our specialty is Japan. We don’t offer any “standard” tours: we focus exclusively on bespoke (i.e., custom) trips for savvy travelers seeking a truly personalized experience. Everyone on our team is both passionate about travel, and Japan specifically, and also obsessively detail oriented.

Our clients come from around the world and find us when seeking a completely unique “behind the scenes” Japan experience.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I feel most successful when our team and our clients are happy.

I’m obsessed with doing great, high-quality work. I work really hard (everyone on our team does), and we have extremely high standards. We take a lot of pride in what we do, and it’s always rewarding when our travelers come back with stories of how much they loved the experiences we put together for them.

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