Strategic Cyber Ventures is supported by an incredible board of advisors, with decades of cumulative experience spanning a myriad of industries.
In this series, we’re taking the time to get to know our Advisory Board on a deeper level.
Strategic Cyber Ventures: Tell us a little bit about your background and your relationship with the cybersecurity industry.
Peter Joukov: It may sound a little interesting that I co-founded inq Tattoos Boutique and I’m on the advisory board of Strategic Cyber Ventures, but most of my past professional life was actually in the cybersecurity and tech world. I spent five years in the Pentagon working on cybersecurity strategy and policy, and I also spent time as a communications planner on the Marine Corps staff and deployed with them. I worked for a startup and was in the identity industry. So I’ve been in the cybersecurity world for a while.
SCV: You and your wife Maria founded inq Tattoos together — how has it been running a business together, and what’ve you learned during the process?
PJ: My wife and I have many years of practice working together — being married, and now having children, as well as investing in real estate together over the last 15 years. So, naturally over time, we’ve found where our individual skill sets shine, how we can complement each other, and also knowing when to stay in our own lane. And I’d say the same should go for anyone starting a company with a friend or partner — just knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
What really motivates me and my wife is the fact that we don’t accept the status quo. We think there’s always a better or a different way to do something. We’re not saying there’s a right and a wrong way to do things, but people should be open minded and be willing to change and modify things, because you never know where that could lead. That’s how industries change! The other thing too is just focusing on people taking care of your customers, your employees, your family, your friends, doing the right thing and success and everything else flows from there.
SCV: Where did the inspiration for inq come from?
PJ: Inq is definitely a departure from mine and my wife’s previous experiences, working in the tech and government worlds. But during my time off while I staying home with the kids, my wife and I were looking for the next professional challenge for ourselves, and we also wanted to get small tattoos of our kids names.
So as we were going around, looking at other tattoo shops and seeing where we wanted to go, we thought there was a different way that the environment could be portrayed and the service done to cater to people like us who are looking for more of a bright, open, and modern experience. And with about 25 percent of U.S. adults having a tattoo, and another 19 percent considering getting one, there’s definitely less of a stigma associated to tattoos these days.
We thought that there could be a way to provide that experience for this broader population base that may be looking for a different type of environment than the ones currently being offered. So we created inq Tattoos from scratch with ourselves in mind as the type of customer.
SCV: So what makes inq different from other tattoo shops?
PJ: For one, the environment. When you walk in, it’s very bright, open, and welcoming. From the customer side, we want to make sure every customer feels comfortable in the environment and are encouraged to ask any questions they have.
And then from the artist side, we really take care of our artists. They are hired as employees, so they work together and collaborate rather than fight for clients. The collaborative, team-oriented environment then translates to a great customer experience as well.
SCV: Inq isn’t your first entrepreneurial venture. What lessons have you learned from your past ventures that have helped make inq such a success?
PJ: Some of the lessons learned are things that can translate to any industry. With my wife and I having started companies in different industries in the past, we’ve learned that the biggest thing is having a realistic plan and actually executing it. A lot of people will talk or plan, but not actually take the next step.
The other thing too, is that we always focus on trying to do the right thing, whether it’s for the customers, employees, or just the community in general.
For example, we did a big donation drive here, while we’re temporarily shut down for COVID. For all appointments made while we were shut down, the entire deposit (20 percent of the session) was donated to a local food bank. Working with two local food banks, we ended up raising and donating several thousand dollars, as well as supplies that we were able to donate to local first responders. I think it’s important for small businesses to participate in the community, and just do the right thing, but that’s not always easy to do. If we take care of people, the business will take care of itself.
SCV: Can you tell us a bit about your experience with COVID-19 and how that’s impacted your business?
PJ: With COVID ramping up here early March, we proactively closed before the governor mandated closures. We just thought it was the right thing to do for the safety of our customers and employees. During the two and a half months we were closed, we were able to retain all of our employees.
Since we’ve reopened, we’ve been very stringent with following all the guidelines. We obviously follow the Virginia governor’s guidelines, but also locally through the city of Alexandria. Their health department has this extra program that you can voluntarily participate in, meaning we had to do some extra training and undergo regular check ins. But we just think it’s important to do everything we can to make everybody safe.
As far as daily operations, we were already following very strict sanitation and hygiene standards. So, operationally it wasn’t too different, but we’re doing everything that we can to help mitigate risk for everybody involved.
SCV: What are some lessons learned after having to shut down business for two plus months?
PJ: I think communication is key. Over-communicating everything that’s going on, not assuming that our employees know what we’re thinking, what we’re planning to do, keeping them informed of how we’re trying to reopen safely, and the steps we’re taking. Same thing with customers.
And I think the other lesson would be for any business out there is to plan for the unforeseen. Nobody knew this was going to happen, so just saving money, not overextending credit, and having more cash on hand to cover the unexpected. Just being a little more conservative would be a prudent thing to do for all businesses.
SCV: inq has been open one year… congratulations! Reflecting on the year, what are you most proud of? And looking ahead, what do you see in inq’s future?
PJ: COVID aside, we’re really happy with how our team and customer base are coming together, as well as being able to see the impact we’ve made on the community with our donation drives. We’re really looking forward to continuing to see that growth locally.
We also have big plans to expand nationwide — we just started offering franchise opportunities for people to open up their own inq Tattoos Boutique across the country. We have a few really good candidates, everywhere from Texas to Florida to North Carolina. We’re really looking forward to growing this brand nationwide so that somebody else can own a small business, an inq Tattoos Boutique of their own, be a small business owner, a leader in the community, provide some good jobs for their artists. And, at the same time, for customers to have this experience across the country where, whatever inq Tattoos Boutique they go into, they know they’ll have a good, comfortable experience and come out with a great tattoo.
SCV: What advice can you give to those looking to start their own small business?
PJ: I mentor and advise several different companies and also volunteer as a mentor with Hire Heroes, which helps veterans with career advice and finding a job. So as far as people starting their own businesses, my best advice is to have a good plan, to then execute the plan, measure against the plan so you know how well you’re doing, and then adjust as necessary. And then you repeat. Having a plan and then actually going out and doing something about it is key. There’s no formula, no one right way to do it, or one path. It’s hard work and then putting a plan to action.
SCV: Why did you decide to join the SCV Advisory Board?
PJ: There are several things, but the main thing is the people. I got to know Hank and Chris through previous jobs and through events and was introduced through mutual friends. I’m very big on working with people that you can trust and have the same morals and motives as you. While they have way more investing experience than me, I’ve been a manager and a leader in many different industries and companies, so I think I bring a different set of experiences to the table. I’ve been in scenarios that I think a lot of businesses will end up in at some point in time, so I thought I could offer some of my experiences and lessons learned to the portfolio companies and help Hank and Chris in that regard.
The other thing is the portfolio companies. I really enjoy our quarterly meetings and being able to provide my advice, expertise, and experiences. SCV is very selective about finding the right people to work with, and I think it’s a credit to Hank and Chris that SCV does vet these investments very diligently and thoroughly in order to get behind the right companies and people.
SCV: Would you ever consider getting an SCV tattoo?
PJ: I think one of the coolest things about owning a tattoo boutique is hearing customer stories because everybody’s tattoo is very meaningful to them. And some of them get tattoos for places they’ve lived or companies they’ve worked for as part of their life’s journey. SCV is absolutely part of my life’s journey, and if I were to incorporate something like that with my professional journey, I wouldn’t be opposed to getting SCV’s logo!
Visit www.inqtattoos.com to learn more.