By Anne-Roos Leeman
Tobias, 29 years old and born in Gouda, moved to Colombia in 2016 to realize his dream: making and selling Dutch-style cheeses in Colombia. During his studies he spent some time in Cali, cooperating with local farmers to find new business models aimed at reducing poverty. He brought some Gouda cheese that was highly praised by the Colombians. He started to wonder why Dutch cheese was not available in Latin America, while Colombia has so many dairy cows. Back in Gouda, Tobias acquired cheese-making techniques and moved to Bogotá in 2016 to start a cheese production plant, Quesería Holándes. Now, in close cooperation with local farmers, he produces delicious Dutch cheeses that are sold all over Colombia. Tobias highly encourages Dutch companies to enter the Colombian market, because there are countless business opportunities in this country. We asked Tobias about his experience in doing business in Colombia.
What do you like the most about Colombia?
Colombia is a very diverse country in terms of people, cultures, and nature. Bathed by two oceans and crossed by the Andes, you enter a whole other world every 50 kilometers. In terms of culture, the Colombians are very friendly, hospitable, and have good humor. The Netherlands is a great country to live in, but being so organized, limits your creative thinking. In Colombia on the contrary, your creative mind is stimulated far more often, making business here an adventure.
What is the biggest difference between doing business here or in Colombia?
There are some cultural differences that I have experienced in doing business. Colombians are not planners and being late is rather common. However, they are very disciplined and work hard. For me, doing business here is rather easy. I have the advantage that the general assumption is that the Dutch cheese made and sold by a Dutch guy must be good. Producing and selling products locally can be very profitable for foreign companies.
What are your future goals for Quesería Holándes?
I want the company to become sustainable, producing benefits for the entire community (the local population). I also want to increase the sales to restaurants, shops, and individual customers. My goal is to make the company independent. When I return to the Netherlands, the company should be managed by the locals. Therefore, I trained four young Colombians the cheese-making techniques and they are now responsible for the entire production.
What would you like to say to Dutch companies that are considering their opportunities in Colombia?
Colombia is a country with a lot of business potential and where a lot more is possible than in the Netherlands. Many things we have or know in the Netherlands are not yet available in Colombia, offering many business opportunities. As a company, it is important to invest time and effort in finding and retaining the right people. Also, cultural differences should be taken into consideration. The Holland House and the Dutch Embassy help Dutch companies to enter in the Colombian market. These organizations have been very useful in starting and developing Quesería Holándes.