Our latest Entrepreneur of the Month is Daniel Lowe, founder of Boston Intercultural Consulting, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. In his own words, Dan “helps folks build a positive relationship with Japan.” From coaching Japanese language learners to working with Japanese corporate powerhouses like Japan Airlines, he forms countless bridges between those who want to deepen their connection to the Land of the Rising Sun.
How did the idea for Boston Intercultural Consulting come about? I constantly think about that TED talk that discusses the most common aspect of successful companies/startups - timing. Why this? Why now?
“Timing” is the keyword. Essentially, I wanted to combine the best aspects of my full-time role at Showa Boston Institute with freelance work I’d already been doing training Sumitomo Oncology employees. Since my team at Showa saw its hours reduced due to COVID-19, I realized that expanding my freelance work and building a proper LLC would be both fun and healthy use of my time.
As part of my work with Showa and the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program Alumni Association, I’ve spent the past seven years helping more than a dozen colleges and companies grow closer to Japan. From coaching non-Japanese Japan Airlines employees to presenting on Japanese learning tips to leading seminars on faculty-led trips to Japan, I’d established a bit of a name for myself in Boston as an expert in practical advice related to Japan.
In short, I started Boston Intercultural Consulting for two reasons: 1) Solving problems related to Japan is fun for me, and 2) I already had potential clients lined up through a reputation I’d established through my full-time and volunteer work.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial approach?
As an MBA student at Babson College, I learned the importance of solving the correct problems instead of coming up with solutions. That’s why I’m a fan of iterative design thinking. While this process is most commonly associated with products, I find that it’s just applicable to services. In short, I develop a minimum viable product (MVP), such as a workshop, and offer an experimental version of it at a reduced price. Once I’ve determined there is enough demand for the service, I’ll invest more time to flush it out and offer it at a fair market price.
A common trap I see many entrepreneurs rely far too much on informal or formal surveys. A friend might say you have the most incredible idea ever, but it means nothing unless people have removed credit cards from their wallets to pay for it.
Relatedly, I have read some great content, including pieces on managing finances in Japan, on your website. What is your philosophy around content and product marketing?
I’m glad you found the content helpful! Whenever I write digital content, whether it be for my website, newsletter, or social media channels, I always imagine the reader as myself applying to the JET Program. While little of my content has to do with JET, I’m able to stay consistent with the Japanese knowledge of the audience I’m writing for while applying lessons I’ve learned over the past decade to my past self.
Such great stuff! We’d love to know what productivity hacks you’d recommend for aspiring entrepreneurs and other young professionals out there who are just setting out on their career paths.
Here are five hacks that have worked for me, with examples.
Batch your tasks: Check and respond to email and messages once a day, at most
Add friction: Delete social media, email, and even your browser from your phone. You can always download them as needed but delete the apps again once finished.
Reduce friction: If you want to learn guitar, lean it against your couch, so it’s within reach.
Automate: Use a tool like Zappier to post the same content across social media channels.
Experiment: As already mentioned, don’t invest months in developing a service that no one wants. Develop the minimum form of it, charge appropriately, then discard or refine based on the results and feedback.
Even with these excellent productivity hacks (thank you, by the way!), what do you think has been the most challenging or, maybe, the most surprising thing about your Boston Intercultural journey thus far?
I enjoy helping others, so the biggest surprise so far is the number of client offers I’ve declined, not because of price but because their requests have fallen outside of my core business model. While it’s tempting for fledgling businesses to accept every offer it receives, developing a new process for each client isn’t sustainable, especially for one-time projects. In such cases, I’ve generated value for both the client and my network through successful referrals.
Another unrelated surprise has been the sense of community that’s developed from my workshops. In addition to learning proven approaches to Japanese studies, a secondary value has been the connections my clients have developed with each other. The resulting atmosphere has been productive yet fun, and it’s a thrill to lead them.
We look forward to seeing you supercharge intercultural understanding and business relations between Japan and other countries in these ways. If you can divulge, who might your dream client(s) be and why?
That means a lot! In short, my dream client is anyone who comes with an open mind. I’m fortunate to have had positive working relationships with Sumitomo through Boston Intercultural and Japan Airlines as part of my role at Showa. Having those names on my website allows me to focus on clients who bring the right attitude to the table regardless of name recognition.
Thinking ahead, where do you see your company three years from now?
I plan to take what I’ve learned from my client work and package it into a product, such as an online course. While some clients prefer a live session, others would rather watch a video they control. As a segue, I’ve started to produce short videos that I’ll publish on social media in the coming weeks.
What advice would you give others who are considering starting their own consulting companies? At this point, is there anything you would change looking back?
A trendy coffee shop might require a six-figure investment to get started and years of debt and uncertainty. Solopreneur consultants don’t need to purchase $10,000 espresso machines, so investing a fortune into a website that might miss the mark forfeits our advantage of being nimble. Instead, start by doing the minimum amount of work necessary to add value to your first client. Then, collect feedback, reflect on the experience, and refine. Market research helps establish who potential clients are, but a few hours on Google is usually enough to establish a service’s viability and client persona. As always, view “failure” as a learning moment and nothing life-threatening.
Taking a step back, what’s the Boston Intercultural event calendar like? What’s coming up for you and your community there?
I’m thrilled to be offering three upcoming workshops focused on building a Japanese language learning plan. I ran an MVP version of the workshop a few weeks ago and have since refined it. Other than that, I offer monthly networking events. Check out https://www.facebook.com/BostonIntercultural/events for more information!
These sound like interesting opportunities! How can our readers learn more or sign up for these events?
As the majority of my audience uses Facebook, that’s where most of my audience is. I’d recommend folks sign up for our newsletter and follow my social media channels! https://bostonintercultural.com/newsletter
OK, now for some fun questions! Here at YET, we think travel is a fantastic way to trigger creativity, essential to entrepreneurship. What’s your favorite way to travel in Japan?
I’m the type of person who enjoys traveling alone and engaging with the local area, and I always seem to make instant travel companions when staying in hostels in Japan. My top three Japanese destinations are Yakushima, Nagasaki, & Onomichi. I’m also passionate about helping folks build an engaging post-COVID experience in Japan.
Can you share a time when you did not understand something about Japanese culture and made the wrong move? What did you learn from this mistake/ miscommunication?
When I began working in Japan, I made the mistake of equating professionalism with dullness. I was shocked when Japanese employees would comment on how serious I was when I thought I’d been fun and outgoing. So, whenever I do business in Japan, I try to connect with counterparts on a professional yet personal level. For example, I found out someone I was working with liked the Twilight Zone and, Blue Ray DVDs being far cheaper in the US, I helped him buy a box set. In addition to establishing rapport, engaging clients on this level is much more fun.
Has there been a time when a Japanese client inadvertently taught you something about Japanese culture? If so, what was it?
When giving feedback in the US, we tend to balance the pros and cons. In Japan, the emphasis tends to be on the negative side so that the person receiving the feedback can focus on improvements. While I initially took this method personally, I’ve come to accept it as a gift. It’s also changed how I’ve given clients feedback, which has resulted in far more positive outcomes.
We at YET found Dan’s entrepreneurial perspective riveting - and of course, we are now aching to visit Japan when it’s safe to do so. Did you know much of the island of Yakushima is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and its misty and magical Shiratani Unsuikyo forest inspired the woodland setting in the famous Japan-made Studio Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke? You can learn more about Dan’s work at https://bostonintercultural.com/.