I’m Amanda and I co-own Marrakech Food Tours with my husband Youssef. Our goal is to show English speaking tourists where to eat real Moroccan food when they’re in Marrakech (and other cities now too!)
Our tours are walking food tours in Marrakech or day tours to areas nearby.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
Youssef was born and raised in Marrakech but we spent the first 9 years of our marriage in the United States. In 2013 we moved back to Marrakech and after getting asked dozens of times by visitors where to go eat; and realizing the places we’d send them were hard to access if you weren’t familiar with the city and only spoke English, we decided to create a tour.
Really look for a problem that you’re solving and use that as your starting point. Don’t be afraid that it’s “too small” or “too narrow.”
Neither of us had owned our own business before but I had worked in digital marketing. We both love to travel, meet new people and share a deeper side of Marrakech and Moroccan culture. This seemed like an easy thing to get off the ground especially as we didn’t have a lot of start-up capital - just $50 in fact.
We weren’t sure what or if we could do anything with that much, or even if people would want what we were offering but we thought it was worth a try.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Our plan when we started was simply to run an occasional tour with couples or families that were visiting Marrakech. We wanted them to feel like we were their local friends in Marrakech. But, shortly after we put up our website we started getting bookings. I wouldn’t say it was immediately hundreds of people but it was very steady growth and we realized that this had the potential to be a very viable business.
Once we realized this we took the steps to create a proper business more than just a side hustle. We hired a lawyer and took all the steps we needed to legally in Morocco to incorporate. We also implemented a more robust booking system and within a year we brought on more guides to help us manage your demands.
For the first three years, we stuck to our single tour, adding more guides or running multiple tours when needed. We also experimented with creating and selling some different types of tours with varying levels of success.
In many ways, the process of building our business was about experimentation. In the last 6 months, we’ve really stuck to having 2 tour routes in Marrakech with a mix of food. We also included a full day trip to the Atlas mountains as well as Essaouira - a coastal city in Morocco. We realized this is our “sweet spot” and now have more strategic requirements about the types of experiences we want to create.
During the low seasons (or difficult times) when running our regular tours wasn’t really an option we created experiences so that our guests still had an option even if it wasn’t our flagship product. I think that doing this was really beneficial not only to revenue but keeping potential guests happy.
Unlike many tour operators, we have never used OTA’s (sites like Viator, etc) to list our tours. It’s been 100% organic growth and using digital marketing to spread our message and attract clients. This is something that we hope to continue as it’s strengthened our brand awareness and helped keep revenue in a profitable range.
While the initial business was operated primarily by my husband and myself over time we’ve added more and more people to the team in order to make our offers meet the demand. We tried not to bring on new staff until we really were sure we needed them - and on a contract basis due to the fluctuation in seasonal tourism.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Due to demand, we had to take on quite a few guides and so right now our tours are operating well with little need for a lot of oversight. We’re happy with this but also excited that it is giving us the opportunity to look at new markets and new ideas.
Right now we’re in a growth stage however we’re still deciding what that exactly means. There are so many really unique experiences that can be created in Morocco but need to be done within the somewhat difficult constraints of local regulations.
We’re not entirely sure where/how/what that expansion will mean but we’re looking at a few options such as new tours in new cities, multi-day tours or more custom private experiences.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is around the idea of working with what you have. We’ve learned a lot of businesses have an idea and then they need to find the money and resources to bring their idea to life. We reverse-engineered that. We knew we didn’t have a lot of money so we looked at options that would allow us to start our business with minimal start-up capital.
The second lesson learned was that slow and steady growth can be a very good thing. We had continuous but slow growth. This allowed us to tweak things as we went and test things without too many resources or expenses. I think that if we have had a very fast start-up it could have been impossible for us to keep up.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We truly use a lot of very basic tools to keep things running and given the economic climate we operate in the most valuable tool we have may just be our simple cell phones! We need to do a lot of the business manually; scheduling guides, calling vendors, etc.
We do use a booking platform specifically targeting food tour operators and it includes our financial processing systems. We utilize Instagram and Facebook for some of our marketing as well as working with digital influencers, traditional media and word of mouth to get the word out about our business.
I am also a fan of Honeybook, a platform we use for handling private tour inquiries/reservations and larger group requests. I think sometimes businesses try to over-optimize their tools when really the best solution may be something very simple.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I hadn’t discovered this book until after we had started our business but Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller was one of the first books I had read that hit the nail on the head of exactly how I had gone about creating our business. It reiterated that I was doing something right!
I also really like the How I Built This podcast to listen to other founders stories. Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield and Jasmine Star are two other people that I really get inspiration and ideas for moving ahead with our business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Really looking for a problem that you’re solving and use that as your starting point. Don’t be afraid that it’s “too small” or “too narrow.”
After you do this, bring people in and make sure you have a personality. People do business with people, not an entity. Make your front and center in your business.
Where can we go to learn more?
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