Grab a cuppa as we spend 5 minutes with Eve, founder of Beiwei 55, a Mandarin Speaking UK Tour Operator offering tailored personal and group tours around some of Britain's best loved locations. We hear about her challenges and why she's passionate about breaking down cultural barriers and making each memory count.
So, Eve, your work's pretty niche - how did you get into it?
People and different cultures have always intrigued me. I studied Mandarin at university because I wanted to better understand 1/6th of the world's population. When I graduated, I wanted to use my language skills but to pursue a career which had people at its heart. Seeing the booming Chinese outbound travel market and recognising my unique position as a Brit who spoke Mandarin, I set up a tour operator running city walking tours for Chinese visitors with local Mandarin-speaking guides.
So, to many your work could sound pretty idyllic - you're active, outdoors a lot, it's interesting and you're running the show! What's been your biggest challenge so far?
One of the best parts of running your own business is the diversity of the work, but this can also be a curse. At the start, you have to have your fingers in a lot of pies, including the tasks or roles you might not enjoy or excel in. It's a steep learning curve. I wasn't a natural with numbers but had to learn quickly how to be! Luckily there is a lot of free advice out there, and I would encourage any new entrepreneur to get a mentor early on. Another thing I learnt was that when you do get traction as a business and are in a position to build a team, hire your weakness! Fill those holes and you can start playing to your own strengths, focussing time and energy on what you do best.
Quite the learning curve! How then do you see the business evolving?
From the get-go this was never going to be a billion dollar business so our focus has always just been about giving as many Chinese visitors authentic travel experiences during their time in the UK, and breaking down cultural barriers one tour at a time. We've expanded into 11 cities around the UK and have created jobs for British Mandarin speakers, so I'd be happy if we can continue to that tune, developing new tours here and possibly even destinations abroad...
That's awesome. So I supposed, alongside that, in what ways do you think you've personally grown with the business?
I always say even if it all goes to pot and I lose all my money, it'd still be less than the cost of an MBA and I've undoubtedly learnt more! I'm equipped with business tools which I could apply in any capacity I choose going forwards. I have something I'm proud to talk about! I've built a strong network of inspiring people. I have a better understanding of doing cross-culture business and have fine-tuned my people skills in the process. I have also proved to myself (and my parents! Ha!) that the traditional career path is not the only option - if you have a good idea, persistence and self belief, you can make it happen! Don't wait and don't doubt.
Whoah, okay, so you've learned a fair share. I imagine your engagement with different cultures must teach you a lot - what's been your biggest lesson from sharing this wonderful journey with so many different people?
People are fundamentally the same the world over. We're social creatures who need human interaction, travel is a powerful platform for that and a tool for building mutual understanding. What we do is only at a tiny scale but that impact adds up.
Every tour we run is a two-way cultural exchange - you can learn something from everyone. It's a wonderful feeling to know you've helped shaped someone's view, debunked a myth or bettered their understanding of a nation. I always say we aren't in the business of travel, we are in the memory business, and that's a very privileged place to sit, knowing that you have an impact on someone's life, however small.
That's a decent pitch - "we're in the memory business". Nice. And last question - what's one piece of advice you'd give anyone starting out with their own plans?
The first step is to take a step. Fear can paralyse us, so figure out the worse-case scenario (financially and personally) if you were to go ahead with your idea. Then also think about what would happen if you did nothing and stuck with the status quo. Consider that trade off. For me, the business happened because I wanted it more than I was scared of it.
Line of work before this:
This - A Tour operator!
London and around the UK
People and the great outdoors