Tactical Traveler: S1:E12 | Connecting the Unconnected with Walter Steele

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Walter Steele, a passionate traveler and entrepreneur, shares his journey from seeking adventure to finding a business opportunity. He discusses the power of entrepreneurship and his life-changing trip to Guatemala, where he discovered the country’s beauty and tumultuous history. 

He started a Guatemala business focusing on women’s empowerment and education. The conversation delves into the local community’s challenges, including economic hardships and gender inequality. Walter expresses optimism about the future of Guatemala and emphasizes the importance of ongoing efforts to support economic development and empower marginalized communities. 

Embrace opportunities for personal and professional growth while positively impacting the world.

Highlights:

{02:30} Life-Changing Trip to Guatemala

{08:00} Entrepreneurial Ventures

{15:15} Supporting Local Communities

{22:31} Cultural Perspectives and Biases

{32:00} Philanthropic Efforts


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Walter Steele Bio:

Walter Steele, the visionary founder of Atitlan Leather, is a passionate advocate for connecting global communities through ethical commerce. Born out of a profound appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship of the Mayan population around Lake Atitlan, Walter’s journey began with a simple yet profound observation: the beauty of the volcanoes reflected in the waters of Lake Atitlan, juxtaposed with the exquisite, handcrafted goods of the local artisans.

Driven to alleviate economic uncertainty and empower local entrepreneurs, Walter established Atitlan Leather to bridge the gap between small business artisans and the global marketplace. By providing financial assistance, business consulting, and exclusive worldwide distribution of artisan products, Atitlan Leather empowers local craftsmen and craftswomen to build sustainable businesses year-round.

Since its inception in 2013, Atitlan Leather has been dedicated to offering a diverse range of high-quality handmade leather goods tailored to the traveler’s lifestyle. With a focus on durability, practicality, and affordability, Walter and his team ensure that each product embodies the spirit of adventure and exploration.

Beyond business partnerships, Walter shares a deep personal connection with his collaborator, Domingo, transcending the realm of entrepreneurship. Their friendship extends beyond the daily grind of business operations as they bond over shared interests such as foraging for izote and bananas in the forest, playing soccer, and embarking on scenic hikes.

For Walter, Atitlan Leather is not just a business venture; it’s a testament to the power of ethical shopping and meaningful partnerships. By choosing Atitlan Leather, customers directly support small business owners in Guatemala and contribute to the sustainable growth of Atitlan Leather itself, which is based in Washington state. With every purchase, Walter’s vision of fostering economic empowerment and cultural exchange becomes a tangible reality, one handmade leather product at a time.

Links:

https://www.guatemalahousingalliance.org

https://atitlanleather.com

walter@atitlanleather.com 

https://tacticaltravelerclub.com

Sponsored Links:

https://therootbrands.com/product/zero-in

https://newulife.com/hk/en 

https://trufinco.com 

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John

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the tactical traveler. Today, I have an awesome guest with us who is coming from Switzerland to join us. He has traveled extensively and was looking for an opportunity to travel, so he fell upon this business opportunity. That’s given him the freedom to travel and do what he felt he wanted to do in his life. 

Everybody. Welcome to the show, Walter Steele. How are you doing, man?

Walter

I’m doing great, John. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

John

No problem. So, you know. I love your story, and I will tell you why I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m a traveler by passion, and I love that you were the type of person presented with a dream, a desire. But you couldn’t do it. And so, instead of getting you all up in your fields and getting your feelings hurt, you looked for a solution that allowed you to make money and travel the world. I just find that to be amazing. 

And you know, as we dig in today, I just kind of want that to be the guiding principle of what we talk about. This is how you use business to facilitate your desires. And I mean, man, now you’re living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, still running a business. So, I just wanted to tell you upfront, which is incredible.

Walter

And thanks—thanks a lot. Yeah, I know what you’re doing is great as well. And I mean, that’s just life. I just kind of stumbled upon it. It was nothing planned, and it just kind of happened to me.

John

Yeah. We share a very common story: our first independent trip to Guatemala. Tell me a little bit about your trip.

Walter

Oh, man, that was 17 years ago. I was 18 years old. I had just finished working in a construction job but got laid off. The job was finished. I spent some time at Community College, but I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go in.

I ended up at my mentor friend’s house. He’s a little older, and we’re sitting at his house. Evening, and I got like $4000 to me at that time. I was like, whoa, wow. Like, you know, I’m rich. I’m 18. I don’t want to go back to college because I don’t know what I want to do. What? What, what should I do? And he just said, why don’t you go to Guatemala?

What is Guatemala like? What is that like? I didn’t even know anything about the country. I said, well, why not? And I said, well, if I run out of money, will you? Will you save my ****? He said, yeah, yeah. We’ll figure something out. 

So, I went upstairs to the computer. Round-trip ticket for three months to Guatemala. That’s how it changed, and my whole life completely changed from there, like everything from that moment in a completely different direction. And it’s probably the best decision of my life. To this day, it was probably my favorite trip, or at least a shocking, eye-opening, life-changing experience.

John

I love it. Yeah. Now, what year did you go to Guatemala?

Walter

2005, I believe it was a completely different Guatemala than you saw.

John

  1. Yeah, it’s completely different.

Walter

They just came out of the Civil War. Things were starting to develop a little bit. I didn’t speak Spanish very well, so I thought, you know, I was just going to have a home base and my own home. My home base was Antigua, and from there, I met a lot of Europeans and took Spanish classes. Let’s see. I just. I used anything with my hub. I went to the decal. I went to Lake Atitlan. I went climbing volcanoes, you know, I heard crazy stories about the war, which I’ve never heard of before. You know, even my Spanish teacher was telling me about how her mother was pregnant with her, and they had to hide in the basement. The army came in, and it was just you. Know. It slaughtered the whole town. I mean, there’s a pretty gruesome civil war. Over 200,000 died, and it is in fairly recent history. So, yeah, it was shocking to me. It’s like a real eye open. I was like, wow, there’s all this going on and.

I had no idea, and that influence was interesting. I ended up studying international political science, which changed who I was.

John

Yeah, it did for me as well. And you know, like you alluded to cause we talked about it, I landed in Guatemala at the very end of their Revolutionary War, had no clue because in ‘96, we didn’t. We didn’t have the Internet or cell phones the way we do today. I didn’t know. I just got on a plane like you and was uneducated about what was happening in the country. I landed smack dab in the middle of it, and for all of you who are listening, Let me tell you, Antigua and Guatemala are beautiful, and mountain hiking and volcano hiking are very powerful things in Guatemala. I loved it.

Walter

Oh, it’s, it’s incredible. I mean, not just hiking. Pacaya was great. But I just remember coming home one evening, you know, out with my friends. And I looked out to the mountains in the middle of the night for about 1/2 an hour. Because the volcano disrupted. And lava was fueling at the top, coming down the bottom. And then you just waited. And as it cooled, it just kind of. The light slowly went out until it reached the pinnacle. It was OK, and I just went out, and I was like, wow, that was a good show.

John

Yeah. Yeah. And even when I was there, the volcanoes were active. You could see them in the distance, you could see them smoking, or you could even see them with the lights at night. It’s amazing, and I don’t think people understand, even though, at least when I went, Guatemala was still very much a third-world country. How much natural beauty is Guatemala?

Walter

Yeah, no. But with that beauty comes a price, too.

John

Yeah, yeah.

Walter

They had big, huge landslides. The eruption was like 2016. The town was devastated by interruption after an earthquake. Things like that happen quite often in these small villages. You know, they just rebuild on top. Yeah, they don’t relocate much. 

John

Right.

Walter

It causes some humanitarian issues.

John

Yeah, and no, and it does. So, you get to Guatemala on a whim. Tell me about how you got the business idea that you have. Tell us a little bit about your business and how it worked.

Walter

Yeah. So, OK. I’m going to have to Fast forward a little bit there. So that was my first trip, and that was three months, and I was enamored by traveling and meeting people. After that, I went back to work in the construction field. I considered joining the military to keep the travels going, but I was able to find a decent job where I could, you know, work hard and make decent. OK, money. And then be able to just go on another trip, right, so. 

So, I plugged into that. I went to Europe, stayed at the houses of people I met in Guatemala and came back. Then, I moved all around the United States. I moved to Boston. Yeah, I’m actually from the Seattle, WA area, Bellingham, and I moved to Boston. I started attending school there and then moved to San Luis Obispo, CA. 

I eventually got a degree in international political science focusing on Latin America and a minor in history from the University of California, San Diego. And I guess my degree is determined just by that trip to Guatemala. That is why I did it; it’s so interesting. Didn’t it? After that, I taught English and Spanish. 

For a year, I got an offer to work for a nonprofit called Guatemala Housing Alliance in Guatemala for a six-month stint as a project director. And my job was to. Find families in need around the lake and build homes. 

So, get the suppliers and laborers to coordinate that effort to build a fairly standard home. At that time, I was there on Lake Athalon and San Pedro La Laguna. Well, I mean, I had a daily life. I was running with other ex-pats, and a man named Richard influenced my life. He was in his 70s. He’s kind of contained in grace. He didn’t get along with everybody he met because he was very. His ideas were strong, but we loved to debate and became close friends. 

And there’s one thing he always told me: Boy, you got to get on the Internet. You have to start a business online because that’s the future.

John

Now, for sure, the Internet is the future, and what year did he tell you that?

Walter

And. Yeah, it’s 2011.

John

Nice.

Walter

So, you know, it’s still on the cusp. It wasn’t quite mainstream, and everyone knew the obvious. Yeah. So, besides that, I want to make a difference in the village I was in because, you know, one of the biggest things they suffer from is consistent work. I mean, their largest industry is tourism. And I mean, imagine now, I mean, it’s completely dead. It’s a ghost town.

John

Right.

Walter

And that would happen every once in a while throughout the year. We’re known to come in, and many businesses would suffer, so I also founded them. So, I looked for a way to produce jobs or create jobs there, and I determined that I needed to buy and sell a product in the United States online. 

So, I met this man while working with Victor, a nonprofit organization. And I mean, some people just have that entrepreneurial spirit. You know what I mean? Like, like, this guy was doing the craziest stuff to that. You never even think of.

John

Yep.

Walter

The fare of San Pedro is not that big at all. He was getting Lucha Libre wrestlers out of Guatemala City, bringing him there to have a big show and make money off the ticket Sales. He had his radio show. He had a restaurant, and so I thought, you know. He was fairly helpful in navigating certain things around the area, and I thought, well, maybe he’ll help me find something I can sell on the lake.

And so, I called him up and said, hey, Victor, you want to help me out like I wanted to start this project, he said. Sure. 

So, he started introducing me to different producers around the lake. The first person he introduced me to was a coffee producer. We’re looking to purchase 100% Arabic coffee. As you know, I’m sure most people are listening to them. Known Coffee is a big Crop coming out of Guatemala.

John

Yep.

Walter

The lake was interesting because I was like, well, there’s demand, and you know, who doesn’t love coffee? There’s a lot that I didn’t want to get my hands dirty with. For example, I know on the lake that the school schedule for kids, when you’re going to have spring break, corresponds with the coffee harvest. 

And these kids will go out in the fields. They can help the parents; they’re going to harvest these beans. Blah blah. And I didn’t want to have that as an issue, or I wanted something that I had some control over the working conditions and knowing what was going on, right? 

So, I kind of discarded that, or I just wanted to keep looking to see what my other options were, and he introduced me to avocado farmers. I could buy an avocado for $0.10. I was one of these guys who would climb trees with these ropes and climb up these tall trees, which they use as a crop to cover the coffee because the coffee doesn’t do well in direct sunlight.

So, the lake is great for coffee and avocados. I determined I didn’t want to deal with the FDA. I didn’t want to get involved. So, I scratched that one off and didn’t have that much money. I just had a college at 30 grand in debt, right? And so, eventually, I started my company with a $3000 cash advance on my credit card, right? 

So, I was being kind of risk averse. Anyway, he introduced me to a guy who produced leather. His business wasn’t doing well, and his name was Domingo Sikek. Great guy. I sat down with them and started talking about it. Do you know what he does? He showed me some of his products, and we started building a relationship. 

He’s a family man. He has three kids. He sent his two daughters to high school and college, which is a big feat for me. I mean most. There’s illiteracy, and education is not being, so not having an education is a big problem. 

He saw great importance, and I thought like this man is. Someone that could maybe build a business with, right? We hold many of the same values, so I found it at Long Leather. With him, I kind of landed on starting this business.

John

Yeah. Earlier, you mentioned your desire to support the local economy. And you know, I think that’s so important on so many different levels, but I see in a business where it’s almost the abuse of the local economy, so talk to me about that and how. That idea of supporting the local economy instead of abusing it guided you in your decision-making process.

Walter

Well, I was. I went there for a reason: to hopefully leave it better than how I came. You know, that was kind of my job. And I come from a. I mean, going abroad, one of the biggest things you realize is how fortunate you are coming from a Western country, no matter if you’re in. I’m sorry. But I mean, you could live in the.

Your life is much better off than if you were born in Guatemala. For the most part, unless you’re born into some oligarchal family, that’s there. You know the opportunities. It’s night and day. So sometimes, it isn’t easy to have a conversation.

And that kind of comes off as arrogant, but I wanted to focus on women’s empowerment. So, girls going to school is very important, especially for the family unit. Studies have shown that women with an income will support and give most of that income to their kids and their families, while men will not. 

They are likely to waste it and not spend it on investments like education, which are important to the family. These are policies that were. Within the nonprofit, that kind of guided and helped me understand the importance of this, like so. For example, when we built a house for these people, I had to decline one candidate because the man did not want his wife on the house title. And to us, that was a requirement for that reason.

John

Right. Yeah, and it’s very different. How they perceive women and even female children in Guatemala, or at least it was. I hoped it had improved when I was there, but I would almost even say there’s a very. Just the way that they think about women is very backward or almost like the 17th century, you know.

Walter

Yeah, I’ve looked at it that way. I think that’s the best way to look at it. So, take the prism of how we looked at women in 1915 in the States. You know, we didn’t give them any.

Rights. They just stayed home and worked. And they were, you know, kind of. They’re at home, and it’s the same thing, but now, in the Western world, we have. Well, contraception was a huge thing, too. That is another huge issue in Guatemala that many nonprofits are coming to work on because it’s giving women the power to control their families and plan their lives. 

And that’s another huge empowerment thing for women. But yeah, as the economies have evolved, women have been more in the workforce and can participate, just with the advent of a washing machine, you know, and not having so many chores to do in the house. Things change, you know, and women can participate more and more, and these economies and these populations are very poor. I mean, there’s I, I forget the exact percentage. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at those, but many people in Guatemala make less than a dollar daily.

So, it is worth it for your wife to grind corn and make tortillas in the house all day. So, you can eat, you know, then send her to try to get a job because there is hardly any work. And yeah, that’s just the reality.

That’s kind of the situation that they find themselves in. To their credit, I mean, they’re going in the right direction. It’s getting much better. You know the world. I like to be like, kind of like pinker, like Steven Pinker I mindset, where I like to look at the where, like a glass half full, where just about every metric we have today like as a species, we’re doing much better.

John

No, I think that we for sure are. So, how many years did you spend in partnership? I know it’s very different now from Guatemala, where you were down a lot, but how long was that a part of your story compared to where you were down there all the time?

Walter

Oh, so that was about six months. So, I’m sorry to back up a little bit. You know, part of how I gave back to the community was not only him hiring women. Since kids went to school, it’s also Guatemalan-owned, you know? 

And so he had the production size: his shop and his tools. It’s his employees, you know, and a lot of times, you know, big corporations. It’s theirs, right? So, like the wealth is extracted. That word also differs greatly from my setup, which says a typical corporation might have, right? 

So, regarding my business relationship with him and how long I have been there for six months, I return every year. And it took a lot of trust. You know, you always have to be worried about scams, and there are many things we have to iron out. You know, there are a lot of issues like quality and control. And I don’t know if you look at Amazon. We had the best-selling leather money belt on the market.

One of the buckles came out not so good, and the pin was breaking, and he didn’t catch it, so I got a bad batch of bad buckles, and boom, you know, just a series of bad reviews affected the sales of that product, you know, and that’s just one of the things that issues we had in our relationship. But I go back every year until I think the last year was. 

Do you remember when it was the World Series when everyone had Zika? Zika was a big thing.

John

Oh, that’s probably ‘14 or ‘15.

Walter

Yeah. I haven’t been there since then because I have a young family, and I went to Guatemala, where we talked to our gynecologist. Well, our doctor, my wife. ‘S. Doctor, and yes, Mike. Whoops. And I said, you know, what’s the probability if I get Zika and I give it to my wife and my wife contracts it, what’s the probability that my baby’s going to have issues? 

So, she was 6-7 months pregnant at the time. And I said absolutely zero. I said, good, because if it’s anything over 0, I’ll just plan my schedule and trip another time.

John

Right.

Walter

I go to Guatemala; I get Zika. I had no idea right until I got back. My wife gets it, and the whole world freaks out on us. The whole medical community within Spain. Saying, are you crazy? What were you thinking, blah, blah, blah. Oh, I mean, it was stressful, and luckily for us, our daughter came out just fine. Yeah, but yeah, it was rough.

John

Right. So, at what point did you move to Spain? Let’s transition a little bit here. So, you were originally living in the US, then you took this off-the-wall opportunity and went down to Guatemala, spent a couple of trips there, and found a way to make money. You also supported the local economy and started a nonprofit that helps them overcome some of the issues. 

The cultural biases, you know, when did you move to Spain on that journey?

Walter

Well, I was working for a nonprofit that was helping them. But I was in Spain, so when I was in college, I went to Spain to study abroad. I just thought if I spent this kind of money on tuition, I might as well benefit from being abroad because it’s almost the same price. Really, you didn’t have to pay much more. I determined my destination based on where all my credits would be applied to my degree. Right? 

So, because I mean, I’m paying the university out of my pocket, well, I thought, I won’t waste any of these credits. I’m not going to waste my time. So, it took me to the court of Spain. And there, I met my current wife and came back and graduated. Let’s see. Then I went back to what that was.

John

Multiply…. As the current wife, I like multiple wives and this.

Walter

Oh, no, sorry, my one and only.

John

There you go.

Walter

My one and only.

John

Let’s get it on the right.

Walter

Thanks. You saved me. You saved me from a couple of nights on the couch.

Ah, man, it’s tough. You ask tough questions. It’s unraveling how this all came together. It’s so, yeah, I mean, I Graduated College, and I went to Spain for a year. I still wasn’t sure what I was doing, and I wanted to see if these relationships would work out. And with my degree, I could teach in Spain as an auxiliary English teacher. So, I just had a conversation.

After that, I went to Guatemala and then went back to Spain.

So, I’m in Spain, and I have my business. It’s slow. I need a day job, right? Like I said, I start with a $3000 cash advance. There’s no money there. So, I’m reinvesting all my earnings back into the company.

Meanwhile, I was looking for work in Spain, and there was none. It was right after the crisis, and it was rough. So, I said, hey, sweetie, I have to go like I’m one of those types. I have to work. You know, I. I need to keep moving if I stay. If I’m stagnant, I get depressed. I guess you know so.

John

Right. Serial entrepreneur, man.

Walter

Yeah, so I just got to keep moving. So, I went to the States and did the same construction work again, swinging the hammer and turning the wrenches. With that money, I saw an opportunity in Spain to start an Airbnb business. So, housing prices are just tainted by the crisis in Seville.

John

Oh yeah.

Walter

That seemed to be the best market now. One thing I want to take away from this here is that you end up being everywhere. So, I desired to go, or my heart followed me like my wife. I want to be with her. I want to go there. I figure out a way to make that happen. I want to go to Guatemala. I figure out a way to make that happen. And then, once you get there.

Look around. You see what? What are my options? You know, and both are spinning in Guatemala. Starting your own business makes much more sense because there is relatively little capital, and the labor markets aren’t great. You know, so if I want to get a job, I’m not going to. I want to have enough money. I will probably visit my mom. It’s like making things match up, making two ends meet. 

So, I saw an opportunity in Spain, and we’re starting our young family. I’ve just returned from work in the States. My little daughter is about seven months old. She started crying when I grabbed her.

I don’t know if I can keep this up, so I pushed a little harder, and then I could buy that apartment downtown. Then, I was an Airbnb host in Spain for a while. And that’s how I ended up surviving there and making everything work how I needed it to.

John

Yeah. Do you still own those Airbnb’s in Spain?

Walter

Yeah. So, I still have one there, and I just recently gave it to a company to manage because not being there makes it kind of difficult.

John

Right. Right. So now you know there’s a couple of different things there that we could pull out, you know, as I love it that you just kind of followed your heart, and you were on the move looking for ways to solve your problems so that you could get back to your wife so that you could turn in. 

And truly, that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. Here’s the problem. Here’s what I want. How do I turn my position and problem into an opportunity and a solution? And it seems like, you know. I don’t know. You can’t be that old. What are you, 32 years old, 35?

Walter

35 Yeah, you love it.

John

Yeah. So, you know, you’re still a young guy, and here you are. You are following your heart problem, opportunity, problem, opportunity, problem, opportunity. And I love that thought process, and I think it’s for anybody who listens. It’s super important for you to understand that problems are nothing more than an opportunity to disguise this discouragement.

And you could do a lot more in life. You just shifted your mindset and looked at it the right way, which is obviously after success after success, after success you’ve done. I mean, that’s amazing.

Walter

You know, I think what you’re saying is completely right. It just depends on whether you have the courage and the know-how. But you can’t be scared to fail, as many things exist. I completely screwed up, and I didn’t, you know, do well. But it’s a numbers game. You know, ultimately, it is you.

You don’t. You don’t bet out on one thing, but you put a bit in many baskets, look at all your options, and go from there. You know.

When you’re sailing 60% of the time.

John

Yeah, he’s missing 60 to 70% of the time. And he’s making millions. You know, we don’t have to bat perfectly. We just have to hit a couple out of the park. So many people get wrapped up in fear of failure instead of approaching things as this is just a numbers game. If I go through the numbers, I’m going to hit.

Walter

Right. Right. No, I think even Bezos was listening to something people tell him. Talk about it like that, too. He says I’ve lost billions and am trying to do new things. But I just, you know, I didn’t bet it all on one thing, and I just kept going. And you know, he’s got a couple of home runs out of there. And yeah, and that’s how he did it.

John

Right.

Walter

You know, I imagine your crowd is typically Americans. I mean it; I think it’s also very important to know. I don’t. My best friend said the same thing. Right? The older guy, he says. You’re a white male king, I said. And he said you’re a white male American; he says you’re king of the world. Like, what can’t you do? And. There’s a lot that people might want to extrapolate from that and be negative about it, but like it or not, everybody from the United States has the upper hand to a large extent. You can leverage that to do incredible things. 

For example, you could be dirt- dirt poor- and come out of that. And travel and do the things you still want to do, I mean. Whatever excuses you’re thinking of coming up with. If you compare it to the excuses I see people have in, say, the lake at the lawn where you live, in dirt floors, a metal roof shack, and no education. I mean, come on. You know you’re 1000 times more likely to succeed than they are.

John

Yeah. And I think we were talking about this earlier, too. I don’t think most Americans realize that if you make $35,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world.

Walter

Yeah, and this is wild, right? Isn’t that wild? And then everyone’s like, oh, my God, I’m so poor. And I mean, like.

John

Yeah, yeah, you don’t. You don’t know poverty until you’ve visited Guatemala, Pakistan, or other third-world countries. And I remember staying in Guatemala, with dirt floors and mud walls.

Walter

Yeah, yeah.

John

I mean, understanding what we do have is such an important shift in the mental framework.

Walter

Well, absolutely. It encourages you, right? It makes you feel empowered, and you don’t think of what you can’t do but the options you can. Once you turn that corner, you start looking at things as opportunities. Things open up for you.

John

Right. Yeah, they do now. So, you moved from Spain and are now in Switzerland. How did that come about? Tell me about that.

Walter

So. My wife, Rocio, is an amazing woman and a hard worker. She’s very dedicated to her work. She’s an agronomist. She studied engineering. And she was working for Dow Chemical, which? DuPont and Dow are fused, and now I think it’s called Corteva. 

Do you know what the working conditions were in Spain? Not optimal. She’s working lots and lots of hours, taking time away from the family and putting a little bit more pressure on me and the household because I can set my things aside to a certain extent where, you know, if someone has a nine-to-five job they can’t do that.

John

Yep.

Walter

So, that’s another thing I love about being an entrepreneur; it allows me to be with my girls. They’re four or five years old, and I want to change or trade that for the world. I mean, to be with them at. That. Age. It’s incredible. It’s like setting a foundation that I will benefit for the rest of my life. 

And I couldn’t imagine not being there for them, but. She… Yeah, it’s tough working conditions. And so, she had lots of experience and. She also applied for a job at Syngenta in Basel, Switzerland. And she got it. And she got it in the middle of COVID. We had to move into our apartment without, you know, visiting. 

To be honest with you, I’ve never been to Switzerland before this. Move. And we are going to have to spend ten days in quarantine.

John

You have no furniture because you couldn’t get any movers.

Walter

Well, we got really lucky on that. Yeah, they can move our furniture for us in the relocation package. But even that was a pain in the **** right then.

John

Oh yeah, OK.

Walter

So, but you know, we made it work. And honestly, I love it here. This is great. It reminds me so much of where I’m from.

John

Yeah.

Walter

Mountains, nature, and even culture: I think Americans have more in common with Swiss culture than they do with, say, Spanish culture.

John

Right. Yeah, for sure. So, you’ve made this transition amid COVID-19 to a brand-new country? Cold, for lack of better language. As you look around, what’s the next entrepreneurial endeavor?

Walter

Yeah. So, I will try to push that on leather, and he’s next. So, I felt like I put it on the back burner, and we had COVID, devastating to the company and the country. So, you know, the entire shop, the workers, and even the Mingo and his wife had to be on oxygen. She almost passed away. 

Sales dropped by over 50% because we focus a lot on travel items. Even like Victor Touch, the guy who introduced me to Domingo, he passed away from COVID.

John

Oh no.

Walter

It. Yeah, I’ve had more connections with COVID through my experience and relations with Guatemala colleagues and friends than anywhere else. I don’t even think I know anybody in my inner circle. That. Has had a bad case of COVID.

John

Right.

Walter

whereas everyone in Guatemala just ****, you know, everything stopped. And so, I’ve supported them a little bit. I’ve sent some money just to help them get through it. And I’m in a strange situation right now where, like, you know, we’re not saying that when every place is different.

John

Yep.

Walter

Now, I’m in a place where if I were just to get a minimum-wage job, it would be good money, and the minimum wage in Switzerland, I think, is about $35,000 a year.

John

Oh wow.

Walter

Yeah, it’s pretty, and then salaries. It’s not uncommon for you to start at 60 or 80 and things like that. But I don’t want to throw in the towel with the company. I think we’re an A-team, and we depend on each other. My kids are about to get into school, and so I want to make the company strong—stronger than it has ever been.

And that’s the direction I think I’m going right now. I will probably give that a year or two, see where I’m at, and then go from there, but, like I said, my heart is really with those people right now. I feel for them. It’s just. Yeah, it’s rough.

John

Yeah. So, let’s talk about the company for a bit here as we close out our time. I will post a link to your company where people can buy a product and help support it. You’ve also got some things going on with Guatemala and the nonprofit world. And in the podcast notes, I’ll put those links and stuff so people can follow you.

Purchases can support it, but tell me what travel products you guys have or some of your more popular leather products. Then, tell me a little about what they can do to help donate to Guatemala.

Walter

  1. Appreciate that. Our biggest seller is our leather money belts. So, when you travel, you know, when I went on a honeymoon with my wife to Thailand. I just put about $1500 in euros in my belt pocket, so it has a 19-inch zipper in the back, and whenever I need money, I just pull it from there. I didn’t have to worry about 18 fees. I didn’t have to worry about being stuck without money, which happened to me when I was in Guatemala the first time I ended up in Livingston. 

And thank goodness that one of the travelers just helped me and gave me money to get out of the rut. I. I was in, but so yeah, our leather money belts. We have accordion wallets, which are great gifts, and cool little wallets with great dividers and cards. 

And then another big thing that we’re. I’m impressed with how well we make them, especially since we have women’s leather Boots. They’re having a good year. Well, they all have handmade leather soles. And I mean, they fit. They’ll fit your foot like a glove. They’re amazing. And then we also offer those in custom, and we’ve got it down pretty well. 

John

Nice.

Walter

Yeah, they’re going to be nice, fitting boots. And, yeah, that’s. And you know, we have a couple of backpacks, adopt kits, and other things related to travel, like little knickknacks.

John

That’s cool. And they can find this on Amazon. Wait, what’s the preferred method for them to purchase for you? Is it Amazon or directly from the site? 

Walter

This site would be best. Amazon Charges 15% to everyone who sells there, you know.

So yeah, Amazon invests. If you are a big Amazon shopper, I highly recommend using Amazon Smile. They take a percentage of that purchase and donate it to whatever organization you choose from their list. The Guatemala Housing Alliance, the nonprofit I’ve worked for, gives scholarships to children and builds homes. People in need around the lake. They’re there. So, if you use Amazon or are an Amazon shopper, I highly recommend using Amazon Smile.

That’s a great opportunity to live your daily life how you usually live it and give back to people who need it. I also encourage you to look into their programs for sponsoring a child. You can send a kid to school for only 25 Dollars, a monthly donation. Sending students to college or university costs 50 or 100 dollars a month.

John

That’s awesome.

Walter

Yeah. Yeah. And this nonprofit—I mean, they’re great; it’s a family-run operation. There’s no overhead cost. Everything they do, the trust from their family covers all the costs, and they’ve been doing great work there.

John

What’s the easiest way for somebody to reach out to you if they’re listening today and do something you said stuck out to them? What’s the easiest way for them to get a win?

Walter

E-mail would be the easiest. I mean, my website—whatever you do on there, I’m going to be the one on the other side making sure everything’s OK. So, you can either go on the website and contact me there or use my e-mail address.

John

Great. Then, I’ll put both in the podcast notes so people can contact you. Well, listen, man. I appreciate your time, your heart, and our similar stories. It’s been great talking with you. I look forward to checking back with you and seeing what’s happening in your life. And what happens in Switzerland?

Walter

Thanks, John. Yeah, and I hope you do reach out, and we talk again; I appreciate this opportunity to talk to everybody and hear my story a bit more.

John

Great, man. Just stick on for a couple of seconds. I will close out the podcast, and we’ll chat more offline.

Walter

Sounds good.

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