Guy Kuttner is an ex-Navy diver and the proud owner of Netherlands-based tourism businesses Starboard Boats and WeAreAmsterdam.com. Born in Amsterdam, he moved to Tel Aviv at the age of four, and grew up to serve in the Israeli military before returning to the Netherlands.
While establishing a canal cruise company, he decided to take a break to travel in Central and South America. Six months later, he returned full of fresh ideas and inspiration – and business started to boom.
In this interview, Guy discusses the inspiration behind his work, the rationale for taking a travel career break, and how the experience brought great benefits to business.
You can follow Guy’s Amsterdam life on his personal Instagram: de_kuttner
Why did you decide to move to Amsterdam after serving in the Israeli military?
Thanks to the fact that I was born in Amsterdam, moving here was the obvious choice. It’s not only that I feel at home here; I think that the canals, the people and the unique atmosphere makes Amsterdam the best city in the world.
Since I was young I knew I had one dream: creating the best boat rental Amsterdam has to offer.
You built a tourism company in Amsterdam with a new business partner. What’s the story behind this?
After serving three suspenseful years in a special unit in the Navy, I acquired great knowledge about boats and their maintenance. My business partner, Timo, is a local Amsterdammer who had the same vision about building a canal cruise company, in addition to hosting people from all around the world, but had no experience (at the time) with the technical aspects of a boat business.
Once we met via mutual friends, everything started to get real. His local connections and business-oriented mind, combined with my boating experience, brought us to where we are today.
Why did you decide to take time out from the business to travel in South America?
After a few months of work, I found myself cruising all day and taking care of our boat (named the “Tel-Aviv”) for hours. I understood that even though I was on the beautiful canals of Amsterdam and not in the army any more, I needed a break to set my mind straight.
All my friends from back home went on different trips around the world, and I felt like after three years and a few months of hard work, I deserved a real break.
How did you manage the situation as business partners?
My business partner understood that I could really use a vacation – he had backpacked himself in the Far East multiple times, and wanted me to have this experience.
Moreover, as a new business getting into low season and cold winter, we agreed that it would be the perfect timing to have this kind of break so we could start the next season fresh and ready.
What did you hope to get out of the travel experience?
First of all, I wanted to surf. I lack surfing and the ocean in general here in the Netherlands, and hoped to get some great waves and mental peace next to the sea.
Moreover, I knew that getting out of my day-to-day routine, brainstorming, and explaining my future ideas to new people from all around the world would finalise some of my ambitions and create new opportunities.
What were the standout experiences of the journey?
If I could choose three highlights of my journey, they would definitely be Medellin (Colombia), with its great nightlife, unique heritage and breathtaking views, Montanita (Ecuador), where you can find great waves and amazing people, and Bocas Del Toro (Panama), which was my favourite place, with perfect small islands, exactly as you dream about, together with a laid-back vibe, world-class waves and a great nightlife scene.
Did you find any aspects of long-term travel challenging, and if so, how did you adapt?
The thing that I found most challenging was definitely the “fear of missing out”, and I’ll explain.
When you travel to such far places, you feel like you will get to see everything. You find yourself chasing an imaginary list of ‘musts’ and forget to chill, and mainly just stay in one place for enough time to really soak in the atmosphere and relax.
As soon as I understood this, I decided to move down a gear and think again before leaving a place that I enjoyed.
What did you learn from travel that you could never have learned otherwise?
As an Israeli who moved to Amsterdam, even though I had my connections, I still had doubts about leaving my family, ex-girlfriend at the time and friends.
The main thing I understood is that no matter how much I enjoy travelling in different countries, cities, or islands, I really do love Amsterdam. I truly understood that Amsterdam is the place where I saw myself settling down and starting my business.
Did you experience any difficulties in re-adapting when you returned from the trip?
To be 100% honest, I had no difficulties at all. The truth is that after six months of travel, I was excited and ready to get back and start a healthy routine, and mainly just staying in one place for a while. I was fresh and eager for hard work.
How have your travel experiences had an impact on your business and career since you returned from the journey?
The first impact that I can point towards is my understanding that I really like to recommend and promote my own cities (Tel Aviv and Amsterdam). After understanding that, I explained to my business partner Timo that I would like to offer more than just canal cruises.
I wanted to be able to host tourists in Amsterdam and offer everything from A–Z. That’s how our tour operator We Are Amsterdam came to life. We started with an Amsterdam windmill tour, and slowly started to organise small-scale tours all over the country.
Do you still incorporate travel into your life, and how do you balance this with work?
Nowadays, as our work volume is way higher, and our businesses grew significantly, it is indeed harder to travel. That’s why we hired operations managers, and try to still travel for shorter trips.
For instance, next winter, during the Amsterdam Light Festival 2020, I will be taking a month’s vacation and flying to Sri Lanka.
What advice would you give to other people considering a break from a co-run business?
I would advise making sure that you really trust your partner to run the day-to-day operations and take important calls on your behalf. Moreover, I think that it is important to set a weekly call where you go over things that happened in your absence, and to sometimes be available in case of an emergency that needs your attention.
Love it? Pin it!