Arzu Altinay almost lost her tourism business. Now she’s expanding globally through e-Residency

Arzu Altinay, founder of Walks in Europe, is travelling to Tallinn to share her story at the e-Residency programme’s 3rd birthday.

Arzu Altinay will be the guest of honour at the e-Residency programme’s birthday this Friday.

She’s one of almost 30,000 people from 139 countries who applied for e-Residency in the first three years since Estonia launched the programme. Every e-resident’s story is unique, but Arzu’s is particularly powerful and she’s been working hard to help other entrepreneurs understand how they can benefit from the programme. In recognition, we’ve invited her to Tallinn to speak to e-residents around the world during the live broadcast to celebrate the anniversary.

Arzu is a professional tour guide from Istanbul who first founded her company as Walks In Istanbul. By 2015, she had built up a successful business after selling more than 600 walking tours, providing work for 12 local tour guides and earning a huge number of positive reviews online.

Then disaster struck.

Political problems within the region led to a sharp decline in tourism as governments issued travel warnings for people stay away. Then PayPal stopped operating in Turkey so even those who did want to travel were unable to pay for her services.

Arzu says that she spent several days staring into the void as her business disappeared, but decided not to give up.

Here’s her interview:

What did you do next?

I did a lot of research because I was stuck in a country that was exploding with terrorism and did not have international payment gateways. I searched for solutions in the US, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Canada, but my business model was not something these countries were interested in for various reasons. It wasn’t disruptive, it wasn’t innovative, it wasn’t IT, it wasn’t IOT, it wasn’t clean energy, it wasn’t a sector any of these countries were interested in.

Then, one day I just saw this beautifully designed blue page that asked: Do you want to operate an international business? Is your business online? Do you want an EU company that you can run globally? Do you want to accept international payments?

Yes! Yes, to them all!

So I contacted one of the business service providers recommended and established my new company, Walks in Europe, through e-Residency. After this point on, my experience with e-Residency has been a complete success and a very positive one.

What has e-Residency enabled you to do?

I was able to establish a travel company (which is a regulated industry all around the world) with no capital share. I was able to get a travel license with just a click (which is very difficult in the rest of Europe). I was able to open a bank account at Swedbank. I am able to accept Euros into my Swedbank account so I do not lose from exchange rates.This is revolutionary for someone living in a country where PayPal doesn’t exist. I am able to transfer Euros to my local guides all around Europe with no transfer fees (which saves me a lot of money). I sometimes use Swedbank and sometimes Transferwise Borderless. I can do all my accounting with 49Euros a month (it is a minimum of 100Euros in Turkey). I am able to pay no company taxes until I take out dividends.

What does your new company offer?

Walks In Europe operates in 15 different cities across Europe as an alternative universe of tour and activities. We develop and deliver all kinds of experiences, including some you never knew you wanted to be in. They are all hand crafted locally by talented individuals. Most tourism is boring — marching through museums and monuments that locals would never visit. Our walks are for people who are willing to scrap these in favor of more unusual and memorable experiences with locals.

What is your business model?

Walks In Europe is a travel company established through e-Residency and based in Tallinn.

Our channels are the website (www.walksineurope.com) and then two online travel agents (Viator and Get Your Guide) for whom we pay 20% commission. Our clients are mainly from the US and Canada, then the UK, followed by continental Europe and the rest of the English-speaking world. Once the client finds us, they go through the channels and decide on a tour in a city that they will travel to.

They pay online with a credit card in Euros. There’s a booking engine on the website.

The money goes to the company’s Swedbank account or my Transferwise Borderless IBAN.

Once the tour is delivered, my guide sends me an invoice and I pay them in Euros as per our agreement. The balance stays in my company account until I pay the capital and decide to take the dividend.

How has business been since you’ve started?

A cookery class in Amsterdam organised by Walks in Europe

Since March 2017, I’ve sold 120 tours in 15 cities across Europe, which is not bad for the first year. Walks In Europe is already creating revenue in Estonia. I am very positive that my company will make enough space that will help Estonia get its fair share of Northern European tourism.

What are your future plans?

Next year I’ll start my MA degree at Tallinn University on Estonian Studies. It’s the best place to learn Estonian, the history and the culture so that I can interact with my clients who will come to Tallinn for walking tours. I may start guiding myself in Tallinn too. The studies will let me create the correct context of Estonia for tourism. Tallinn is the shining star of Northern European tourism with its port for cruise ships and proximity to many European cities.

I am very willing to contribute to the tourism industry in Estonia and use it as my base for Walks In Europe.

I want to employ at least three people and delegate my responsibilities as the founder. I will open the tours to more languages, especially to customers from the far east such China, Malaysia, India, Japan, Korea. I also want to open a branch in Germany to attract more German travelers to Estonia as that is the biggest market in Europe.

Arzu continues to lead walking tours through Istanbul too

Taxation is perhaps the most challenging topic to understand for e-residents, but there is now more detailed advice available on the e-Residency website and more planned in future. Can you tell us how your own company taxes work?

All my business transactions are within the eurozone. I am still under a minimum so I do not do VAT. Until I reach a certain amount, I am not touching the money that’s saved in the company account. Once I pay the share capital and afford the 20% tax then I can pay myself out in dividends. So, for the moment, it’s working well for me.

I will then need to declare income tax to Turkey where my residency is.

I haven’t employed anyone yet so that will be something I will need to learn in future.

What business services do you use to administer your company?

  • Wordpress to run the website
  • GoDaddy for hosting the website
  • SemRush for website optimization
  • Google for analytics and search presence
  • Hootsuite for social media management
  • Mailchimp for e-mail campaigns
  • Canva for designs
  • Trip Advisor for reviews and online listing
  • Viator and Get Your Guide as sales channels
  • Microsoft Office for documents and e-mail
  • Trekksoft as a booking engine and payment gateway
  • Swedbank for banking
  • Transferwise for money transfers
  • Incorporate.ee for accounting

We especially love Canva too at e-Residency — and not just because their Chief Evangelist Guy Kawasaki is also an e-resident!

What was your biggest challenge running your company?

Arzu is always excited to visit Tallinn

We are absolutely short on resources because money stopped coming from Istanbul and we’ve had to finance it with family and friends so far. Walks In Europe is ready for an investment. It’s a one-man show doing all the business side behind the scenes thanks an excellent network of local guides. We could do with a professional marketer, a content writer, and an IT person to grow.

What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs now?

If you are operating in the eurozone and your business model is supported then Estonia is a great place to do business. It is quick and efficient. There’s very little bureaucracy. People are smart, straight talking, easy to get along with and speak perfect English. It may be a small country but a huge one in terms of opportunity. Grab it and be part of this programme that’s reinventing entrepreneurship.

You can watch the e-Residency third birthday event featuring Arzu live online. Sign up on Facebook below: