Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business
I am Juliette Kwee, I am the founder of Smokey Tours part of World Experience Philippines (WEP). We bring worlds together with the goal to make a change. We do this by organizing interactive Slum Tours in Baseco, one of the biggest slum areas in Metro Manila.
The tours are done by our tour leaders from the slums. During the tours, our guests will interact in a sustainable way with the people and their local initiatives.
WEP is a non-profit organization not aimed at revenue or financial value, income varies and output growth. In 2019 more than 2.000 visitors will able to experience and connect with the way of living in the slums of Manila.
When our guests go home there are around 20.000 family members and friends who are inspired by their stories. Some of them will spread the word, others will visit the slums themselves, and be introduced to Smokey Tours.
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
I am originally a social and organizational psychologist with an interest in planting seeds in people’s existence. I would like people, who are not likely to get to know each other, to meet and to interact. The experiences are brought back to their own life.
People start to reflect, and they start thinking about their lives and happiness. The idea came up in my mind one day, I was already bringing people and worlds together, at that time it was concrete: why not start a Slum Tour in Metro Manila.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
Since I didn’t know much about tours, I started by recruiting people from the slums and let them tell me what the most inspiring way could be to show the other and also the positive side of life in the slums.
We created a Slum Tour, with actual stops, with the information given regarding people’s lives and circumstances. One of the challenging parts was and still is, educating people from the slums. Most tour leaders who start are afraid of speaking English, and things like planning and time-management, to be on time, or even earlier than planned is a whole new experience.
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
Launching a business in the Philippines is not easy. The registration of a non-profit organization takes a lot of work and effort. You have to arrange all the official papers and permits. I went to the process myself, so it is easier to understand what is needed.
A lot of things come up, besides Human Resource Management, Finances, Marketing, Logistics. I became a generalist in my tasks. We have a team now with a Bookings & Guest relation manager, a Bookkeeper/Community organizer, some freelance tour leaders, interns, and volunteers.
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
Our biggest achievement is that our guests stay in touch with us by sending their friends and family to do a Slum Tour with us or take up one of the other tours like a Market Tour or Cemetery Tour.
We see that ex-pats and locals, once they have done a Smokey Slum Tour they usually bring along their families to show them the other side of Manila as well. We see that volunteers and interns from all over the world, use the tours to get acquainted with this part of life in the Philippines to know and understand more and to prepare for their work.
Besides the mouth to mouth marketing, we are also on TripAdvisor and in the Lonely Planet, and we have bloggers doing our tours regularly.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
In the next twelve months, we will keep on empathizing on Talent Development, not only within the projects and by educating the tour leaders, but also in our team in the office.
In our team, I am stimulating the self-reliance, the ability to hold meetings on their own and to facilitate self-initiated events in the community. Step by step, the vision is to empower others, so they can learn to take responsibility.
I think our strength is that we are relatively small and personal, I would not want it any other way.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
As a woman founder, I see this as a personal journey. A journey of learning, to gain experience, dealing with challenges and hardships. I have goals and ideas, sometimes those goals are mine and not the ideas of the people in the community.
Then it is a challenge since I would like to help others. At the end, everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves, for their own growth and learning curve. So, we can only make a change if we help people who want to help themselves.
And they need to want to learn, make mistakes and develop their talents. If I would be wanted to be uplifted financially, it would be better for me to find a job in another field.
What tools or services did you use?
The main tools we use are our website, our mail system, our own intranet, Quickbooks, the phone and Facebook. We rely on many advisors that are so kind to help us and Chris Way, the founder of Reality Tours & Travel, is our main consultant and auditor.
He was a very important tool to empower us, how to learn and use certain systems.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
Our key challenges today are as always keeping our tours high quality. At the same time, we want to involve and train more tour leaders from the community.
In the end, we all do it together, the tour leaders who are longest with us, train the new tour leaders and share their skills and experiences.
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers?
I am actually most inspired by the stories in the slums. Face-to-face, real-time stories. When you take the time to listen to people, I learn from others and I am inspired by the poor.
How people can overcome certain issues in their lives is inspiring and it helps me every day.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
I am not distinguishing businesses into males and females and how it should be. It is 2019, there are a lot of very inspiring women in the field, who change the old-fashioned idea that businesses are only for men.
Looking to kick start your own venture?
Hi! This is Misha.
I interview women founders in building profitable businesses
My idea is for other women to get inspired by these actionable tell-all stories and start their own profitable enterprises.
I am hugely inspired by inspirational interview series starters like IndieHackers, StarterStory by Pat Walls, Failory, SpaceBandits and have put significant efforts in reaching out to women founders in order to get started.