As part of the WP2 the consortium has performed a series of interviews with women enetrepreneurs. Their summary is available in this document.
Interviewee: Yuki Tessler, Netherlands
The female entrepreneur we had the pleasure to meet and interview for the WomenIn project is Yuki Tessler. Yuki is of Japanese origin and has lived and worked in Japan, Australia and the Netherlands. Yuki has a very rich and diverse academic and professional background, which included a BA in Philosophy, Diplomas in Interpreting, Tourism and Laboratory Technology. She currently resides in the Netherlands and she has been running her own business since 2019. When Yuki moved to the Netherlands with her husband and her son, she decided to become self-employed. She has been offering workshops promoting the Japanese art and philosophy of “Kintsugi” and “Makie”. She has clients from the Netherlands and abroad and in our Interview below she goes in depth about how she decided to open her own business, the philosophy behind her art, how she copes with the responsibilities of her business and her family (work-family conciliation), as well as her plans about her business.
- What inspired you to start your own business?
I used to live in Australia and I had a visa and I had a job. And then we decided to move to Netherlands, I had to be self-employed because of visa. So, that was actually the first reason why I had to start and wanted to have my own business. Because before that I never thought about it. Because having your own business is quite challenging- right? So, you have to work like 24 hours and 7 days and no holiday- always thinking about the business. It was really hard for me and I never thought about it when I was in Australia. So, I thought it would be much easier to work for someone else, but now we moved to Netherlands, I had to start something. So, I focused on my background- what is special about me? And then I focused on the Japanese culture, and I found “Kintsugi”, which has a really good philosophy. So, that was the start.
- How long have you been running your business?
- What has been your biggest achievement as an entrepreneur so far?
I had a big group of people for the workshop called “Makie”, where we use Japanese lacquer and then drawing on the lacquer and I accommodated like 32 people which was quite challenging because as a workshop, when I have a big group, I have to think how to organize it. And I think everyone enjoyed my workshop. I think that might be the biggest achievement for me so far.
- How do you keep your business competitive in the face of technological progress, digitalization, and innovation?
There are so many Japanese here in the Netherlands. I don’t know if you know about the visa and the relationship between Japan and the Netherlands, but we have a special relationship, so many Japanese people can come to Netherlands and start a business. And when we start business most of the time, like me, we focus on what is specialized for us. And we are Japanese- of course, we focus on the culture, so that means that, actually, I’m not the only one that is doing Kintsugi workshops – I think Makie is only me but it’s not that special-. So, if I want to be competitive it’s just, you have to keep going. When you provide something and if you do it like once or twice, and not many people come and ok -give up. If you do that you cannot continue. So, I just keep going. I never stop- always promoting and always showing them I’m doing workshops-all the time. Because my main focus is workshops, it’s not making production or anything- I’ve tried everything. And then I thought workshop is working. And that’s why I keep promoting myself, I keep doing and if you want to come you can come anytime. So, I think that strategy works and I can be competitive to others.
Regarding technology, when I moved to the Netherlands, it was 2019 and the next year we had Covid. I love Instagram and then I found out that if we use social media we can promote it by ourselves. So, I think that technology helped us to promote ourselves, even though we have a really small business. Because if do not have contact, such as social media how can we promote and present that we are doing this business? So social media help a lot, when you have your own business.
I also used to have an online workshop when we couldn’t have workshops in person. Still, I have some online workshops, because I have a client in Japan and Australia. But that’s all at the moment.
- Would you like to share some tips for growing the business and making it profitable?
I don’t really have big business. I’m just running my business, so I don’t know if I’m in a position to give any advice or anything. I am more focused on my workshops and I’m promoting by myself on social media, but found out that when I can collaborate with someone who has space and has their own established market already- If I can collaborate with them, I can expand my market. That is happening this year, because I’ve been doing this for three years and last year, gradually, I could open a workshop because covid had finished. And then after that people started finding me and then this year I started collaborating with different locations. So, I started collaborating with a Japanese café and restaurant first in Rotterdam and then I found out that I should focus on the person, or place, or workshop, or restaurant which are already established. So, once I have a connection with them, I can expand my market and many people can find me. So now I have a place in Rotterdam and I’m going to Amsterdam and Groningen, and I try to have a workshop in another place as well. So first I establish a connection and each person has business already. So that is my strategy. My strategy is not to just collaborate with friends or just a connection. It doesn’t work. You have to find someone who is already established. Then it can be a supportive relationship that works.
- What makes it particularly difficult to open or run a business in your country (it could be anything related to the national context)? How do you face it?
Language, I think is the most difficult for me. In the beginning most of my clients were international, they came from different countries, and they didn’t mind that I speak English, but now because I have more clients and of course there are so many Dutch people, because we’re in the Netherlands. There are times when people ask me if I can do the workshop in Dutch, Netherlands, but I can’t. I am studying, but it’s not good enough to have a workshop. So, language is the most difficult for me.
* In terms of business and in terms of how to run a business in the Netherlands, have you faced any challenges in that respect? Did you find it harder or easier to run a business in the Netherlands?
Not so much.
*Because you have lived in other countries as well, like in Australia, did you find it harder or easier to run a business in the Netherlands?
To be honest with you, because my business is a bit unique, and people are mainly interested in the Japanese culture that helps me to move quite a lot. If I compare to Australia, Australia is massive and they are more focused on sport and nature and other stuff – more than this culture. That’s my impression- given the 17 years – probably my opinion is quite right. But here, this country is very small and connected to each other. Sometimes I have a client from Austria, Germany or France.
*When you decided to set up your business in the Netherlands, how was it in the beginning, did you face any challenges? Was there anything in particular that held you back. Any legal process or something that has to do with the actual setting up and running of the business?
In the beginning I didn’t know where I could start. There was no example or model for me, so it was hard to start a business for sure. Because I have Japanese culture, now I can connect with another Japanese business owner who is already established. Now I can connect with them. Now I know, but in the beginning, I had no idea how to start.
**How easy was to find information on how to set up a business in the Netherlands? Did you experience any challenges there?
It was hard to find information on what to do, because there was no model we could follow. So, I had to find out what to do first. I focused on Japanese business owners that are already established, because it works for me, but also approached museums in Leiden and non-profit organizations in Utrecht. These kinds of connection doesn’t work for me. That’s challenging for me. Because for them, they wanted someone that has experience or a reputation. After some friends encouraged me, I contacted museums that might be interested in what I was doing, because they focused on Japanese culture and I approached them, but I didn’t get many responses from them. So, that was my challenge. Because someone might think that because I am representing Japanese culture, I can go to a place that already present Japanese culture, but they are not really interested in what I’m doing. That’s why I have to find my own way, by myself.
- What are the changes that you would like to make? How long is it going to take to make them? What prevents you from making them?
I tried everything. If I have ideas; maybe I should approach this and that- or the client might like this or that. Whenever some idea comes up, I actually try it. I’ve tried everything. I changed my approach, or changed my product, or changed course, everything! And then if it works, I can get a response from them. If I don’t get any response, I change my course and my direction. I have flexibility, so always changing, but I always keep something which is well-received. That is my strategy, I tried everything.
**Are there any changes you would like to make and there is something that prevents them from happening?
Actually, I want to have my workshops outside the Netherlands- in France I have a connection and we are talking about workshops in France. Which is good, but I want to make more connections outside of the Netherlands, too. Like Germany or England, but at the moment I don’t have links or connections. So, I’m thinking how can I find connections. Also, I want to bring some materials, which particularly you can find in Japan. So, I need capital, some amount of money to import. So, I don’t have the budget at the moment.
- Have you faced any challenges or barriers in your entrepreneurial journey that you attribute to gender bias or discrimination, and how have you dealt with those challenges? Have those challenges influenced your business strategy?
Well, I have a family, my husband and my kid, so basically, I have my own business but I have to look after my family too. My kid are still small, so that means that we have to do a lot of things for the kid and we cannot focus only on our business. That’s our major- you know.. If you’re a man you just focus on your business-right? 24 hours, 7 days- and you spend all time for it. But we have to do many things, like looking after kids, making lunch, cleaning, everything. So, we have to delegate our time effectively. So sometimes that’s an obstacle, because I cannot devote all time on my business. Maybe I could do more, but I can’t – I have to divide my time. So, that’s hard. I cannot give all my time for my business, even though I want to. As a female that’s hard. Most of my friends, they are moms, but they also want to have their own business too. They have a different product, courses, different things, but we have to find the time, which is challenging. Also, because of that, we don’t push ourselves too much. I push myself quite a lot. I try to put myself like I’m standing on a cliff, like there is no turning back, so I have to do it, I have to keep going. But most moms feel like it’s too much time -too much effort- and family is first. Of course, family is first, but if you think that way, you don’t put too much effort into your business. It’s just holding you back.
**Have these challenges influenced your business strategy?
I have to keep going, that’s my strategy. Because if you stop, your business stops. And if you don’t do anything, a few months later, everyone forgets about it. That’s why keep going is quite hard but quite important. So, we have to find the time. We don’t have the same foundation as men, we have to have a balance. These are the things we have to think about. How can we make a balance? That’s the most important. And how we can keep going, it’s the most important, too.
- Based on the researches, the fear of failure is very heavy on women’s shoulders especially in the business environment. What does failure means to you? How do you deal with it?
If you don’t fail, you don’t learn- that’s the thing. If everyone said, your business is wonderful, your project is wonderful, or something like that and if you’re satisfied, happy with that, not to move on. You just stay at the same spot. Then you’re not going to get out. If you want to improve and expand your business, you have to have a failure. Failure is important! You have to learn from that.
**So you have a positive approach, right?
Absolutely positive! Because if you fail that means that’s a great chance to find out how to improve. So, when I have a failure -no one comes, or no one wants to pay or something- something is wrong. What is wrong? How can I change my approach? How can I change my product? So, that’s why failure is most important.
- How do you differentiate your business from competitors and create a unique value proposition for your customers?
Because I don’t sell a product which is tangible, my goal is intangible. That’s different. Because I do workshops, that means I provide skills and experience and they can learn something they can make. But, actually my goal is not making, my goal is philosophy. Kintsugi has a philosophy, and that’s what I really like. It’s like celebrating imperfection. It’s ok if you are imperfect, because we are born imperfect. That’s why we don’t really chase that perfection. We accept imperfection. Then that’s why you accept everything, positive or negative. That means that you are full. So that, you can challenge yourself- it’s a kind of philosophy on love. So that’s what I’m selling.
** So, what makes you different from your competitors? What do you do differently from other competitors that offer similar workshops?
They sell and promote technique, or a product, or something tangible. But my approach is different. I’m providing the same kind of stuff, but I try to promote the philosophy itself. If I compare my market, I don’t think people do that. Because I wanted to sell and promote the philosophy, or the idea itself. And then I want to give them the time to face to yourself. Those kind of things. So, actually, it doesn’t matter if it’s Kintsugi or Makie or anything else I’m doing. So if I can promote that idea and mentality and the philosophy- it’s ok! So, that’s my approach. And if I compare with other people, I’m quite different from them.
- Have your priorities changed from when you first started? If yes, how?
It hasn’t changed, but I think over the years, I have established myself better than before. In the beginning, I thought I just showed my culture, but the more I studied, the more I continued. I think what I can provide is this idea, this intangible body. That’s why my priority is quite different- my approach is different. It’s changing.
**How about in terms of running your business? Have your priorities changed since the beginning of the business?
In the beginning I wanted to introduce the Japanese culture, but now my priority is different. It’s not just promoting the Japanese culture, the priority now is different, like the philosophy- more like the idea. That’s the priority now. In the beginning I wanted to promote skill, but now is more about the idea.
- What role do you think mentorship plays in helping women succeed in business?
It’s quite important, that you have someone who can teach you. I don’t really have a particular person. I can learn from books or the internet. Especially, females who are successful also give us advice a lot. Most female writers- their comments are quite interesting, because their comments do not focus on profit. Female is quite different from male, because men tend to chase their ego. How big their business is, how much money they have. They are focused on these things. But females are focused on how to look after the community, the family, on how we can provide for the kids. Because we -females- most of us, we are moms always thinking about the future, about what we can provide for the next generation. We think about these kinds of things. And these kind of comments from female writers I absorb quite a lot, and then I also watch tik-tok, all kinds of things. I think it’s better to think about the future, not just right in front of us, not just money, not just how big our company is. We, females, tend to think more about the future, what we can give to our kids. And if we go back to the previous question, I know failure is scary. You’re scared about failure. But if you think about the future, what we can give to the kids, what we can provide for the future, then we don’t really feel scared of failure. Because it’s not just about you, it’s about the future, about the kids. We tend to think like that. If we just think like that, we are going to be scared of making mistakes. That’s how I think.
- How do you manage your free time as an entrepreneur (family-children, house-keeping)
My free time- that has priorities- my kid, I have to play with him- that’s a priority. Then, after that I might do cleaning or something. But the kid is the most important thing. He is still small, he’s 9, but he still needs mommy, you know?
- What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own business?
Well.. when people die they regret something-right? You feel like, oh I should have done this- should have done that. Most people regret that they wanted to do something, but they didn’t do it. That’s the thing. It’s not failure they think about. So, whenever you have an idea or dream or something you should try. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t do that, probably, when you die, you regret it. When you die, you think what you regret- the things you didn’t do. You wanted to do it, but you didn’t do it. So you don’t want to be in that position, right? – so you should try!