How a Professional Soccer Player Turned Entrepreneur Grew His Business Despite Facing Hurdles

By Dan Leberman, SVP, Head of SMB and Channel Partner, PayPal

Culture Cutz

Juan Carlos Leal is a professional soccer player turned entrepreneur, who, like many other small business owners that opened their doors prior to the pandemic, has had to overcome many roadblocks. As the founder of California-based barbershop Culture Cutz, Juan has managed through a range of hurdles from having to shut his doors and see revenue dry up during the height of the pandemic, to facing difficulty retaining staff when they couldn’t work and serve customers. Through it all, Juan has remained optimistic and forward-looking. He resiliently harnessed his passion to grow his business, opening a second location to serve more customers, and adapting to the evolving preferences of his customers, who are increasingly turning to digital payments even after the height of the pandemic. 
We spoke with Juan to learn more about how he got started, what advice he has for other entrepreneurs, and how PayPal has helped his business.

Dan Leberman: Tell us about Culture Cutz and what inspired you to start your business? 

Culture Cutz

Juan Carlos Leal: My dream growing up was to be a professional soccer player. I started playing soccer when I was 5 years old and I played for over 20 years, most recently playing professional soccer in Egypt. Ultimately, my soccer career didn’t work out as I had planned, so I came back to California and soon after, got really interested in the barbery industry – it was a form of art for me.
I was inspired to create and grow my own small business out of my passion for haircutting and styling. I wanted to invest in something that I was really passionate about. So, in 2018, I founded Culture Cutz with a mission to provide quality haircuts for our customers at affordable prices. Two years later, we opened our second location. Our main goal is to bring the best haircut styles to the people in a comfortable and relaxed environment. We pride ourselves on our cutting skills, customer service, and attention to detail.

Dan Leberman: Were there any major hurdles you faced early on? 

Juan Carlos Leal: Like many other small businesses, we faced some challenges early on. For me, given that I didn’t have the financial means to open a business on my own, it meant that I had to go to banks and apply for loans, which was a long and challenging process. 

Dan Leberman: You opened your first location in 2018, two years before the pandemic hit. In 2020, you opened your second location. How did the pandemic impact your business and how did you overcome the hurdles it brought with it? And did you notice any changes in customer behavior during the pandemic that continues to persist?

Juan Carlos Leal: The challenges brought on by the pandemic impacted business tremendously. We opened our first location in September 2018 in San Jose. Once the pandemic hit, we had to close our doors, which stopped revenue from coming in and slowed the relationships we were building with our clients. Not being able to service customers meant no business for our staff, so employee retention was also a big challenge for us. Luckily, our balance sheet had capital that sustained our first location through the pandemic shutdown. Once we were able to open our doors back up, we got the opportunity to open our second location in Santa Clara, which we did with a lot of preparation and hard work. Opening up our second location was a huge milestone for us and reinforced that what we had built in San Jose was a success.
In terms of changes in customer behavior post-pandemic, many of our customers now prefer to pay us digitally instead of in cash. That’s why we leverage seamless digital payment solutions like Venmo to accept payments.

Culture Cutz, Juan Carlos Leal

Dan Leberman: Can you talk about the PayPal products you use and how they have helped your business?

Juan Carlos Leal: As mentioned, at Culture Cutz, we use Venmo as a payment option for our customers and have recently added Venmo Business Profiles. Roughly 47% of our business transactions are run through Venmo. Being able to use Venmo payment options saves time for both our staff and customers and eliminates the need for cash transactions, which has been crucial post-pandemic. Accepting digital payments makes it much easier for me as a business owner to track our financials and revenue and helps simplify reports for tax purposes. It also allows me to spend more time focusing on the business and our clients.

Dan Leberman: Which social media channels does Culture Cutz utilize and how do you use them to engage with your customers and prospects?

Juan Carlos Leal: We use Google Business, Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter to engage with our customers and attract new clients. Sharing photos and videos of our stylists’ work helps attract new clients and allows our stylists to show off their craft and be proud of the work they do. It’s also important for us to show off the warm and welcoming environment we offer, as it makes us unique. Customer reviews on Yelp and Google really help spread word of mouth – our work speaks for itself, and we love it when our customers are happy!

Dan Leberman: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses?  

Juan Carlos Leal: I started Culture Cutz when I was just 17 years old, so I would share with other entrepreneurs looking to start their own small businesses that there is no age too young to start! Follow your passion and network with as many other entrepreneurs and like-minded individuals as you can. Sharing experiences and networking with others on a similar entrepreneurial journey is invaluable. Follow your dreams and do whatever it is that you love, but remember that as a business owner, you need to create efficient business processes and learn how to handle the financial and disciplinary side of business as well. So while you do need to be passionate about what you’re doing, passion alone is not enough to succeed. It takes time to grow a successful business, so dig in and be patient.
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