Leading the Way to Unexplored Destinations: An Interview with Gareth Johnson of Young Pioneer Tours

What do you get when you mix a passion for starting a business with an interest in visiting North Korea?

A travel company that takes people to North Korea, of course.

Gareth Johnson is the CEO of the foremost adventure travel company in the world, Young Pioneer Tours. His travel company helps interested pioneers explore off-the-beaten-path places (that your mother would rather have you stay away from).

And rather than being an exclusive “stuffy” travel company, Gareth said it was his passion for helping people become pioneers that attracted people to his business.

Allow me to introduce CEO, Gareth Johnson…

So, who are you and what’s your business?

I am CEO of Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) and Let’s Buy An Island. The former is the foremost adventure travel company in the world, the second is the first crowdfunded private island and country in the world.

What is your backstory and what inspired you to come up with / pursue this idea?

I moved to the Cayman Islands at 21 as a bartender then ended up teaching in China. I really wanted to try my own business and also visit North Korea, so I ended up combining the two before expanding the company into other destinations. I basically wanted to share my passion, which is what I have done.

With Let’s Buy An Island, it was a concept I had had in my head for a long time; becoming big enough with YPT allowed me the scope to do this.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product or service- what was that like?

I had to build a better mouse trap. All the other North Korea travel agents were expensive and stuffy. I reduced cost, raised quality, and did it through a real brand.

For the island, I copied other crowdfunding ideas but put it around a really fun concept.

Describe launching the company… Where did you start?

We started in China in 2008. It really was just a simple site, and I talked friends into joining whilst working a full-time job. The passion, though, brought the people.

What has worked to attract & retain customers so far?

Being inclusive, not exclusive. We call people Pioneers and make them feel part of a family.

What books, podcasts, or people have been the most influential on your journey?

The book Buyology.

How are things going today and what does the future look like?

We are trying to get back after Covid. Now I just need more staff and for North Korea to open, then I will be happy.

Any advice for others who are just starting out?

No one will do it for you, you need to do it yourself. I meet so many people starting up who are not prepared to give anything up. If you want the same money right away and do not want risk, then you should not start a business.

What’s the best way for people to connect and follow you? Website, Social Profiles, Etc…

Instagram: YoungPioneer

My mother in law loves to sew.

A few years ago she asked me how to set up an online store.

She wanted to sell fancy throw pillows she was making.

I gave her very basic steps. Enough to get started (I don't know much about ecom).

A few weeks later she showed me her site. It

Everyone wants “yes.”

But they don’t wanna pay the price.

100 Nos is the price of one yes.

You can get as many as yeses as you damn well please as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

I was sad to learn that Charlie Munger died today at age 99.

What a life.

He would likely roll his eyes and argue that none of us should be too surprised, based on the actuarial tables, but we’ve lost one of the 20th century’s greatest investors and businessmen.

Chris and I

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