Headquarters: Miami, FL
Founder: Stephenie Rodriguez
As a frequent solo female traveler and lover of a good ‘girlfriend getaway’, I am especially interested in a site that helps remove some of the irrelevant options more traditional OTAs might offer me. I’m also pretty impressed anytime a smart woman does something awesome. So I was very excited to have an opportunity to sit down with JOZU’s founder and CEO, Stephenie Rodriguez and learn more about why this was such an important undertaking and what it means for women and the travel industry in general.
How did the idea of JOZU for Women come about?
The idea was based on my own frustration as a female traveler (I’ve been to 48 countries – and many traveling solo) and the lack of information about a destination or hotel from a woman’s point of view. I also was frustrated about the lack of transparency in the present online review websites. One does not necessarily know the gender of the reviewer, their level of sophistication as a traveler, or their version of common and subjective words associated to travel like ‘clean’ and ‘nice’. The internet is a great source of information on travel; however, Google does not necessarily know me well enough to inspire me or give me confidence, and even Siri gets it wrong most of the time.
Where does the name JOZU come from?
JOZU is actually a Japanese word that a very dear Japanese friend taught me in 1994. It means ‘well done’ or’ better than. We’ve adapted the spelling a bit to personalize the brand.
How do you describe your product?
JOZU for WOMEN is a travel portal consisting of an online community first and foremost for women. Our mission is to help women travel better and safer. Women make 90 percent of the vacation travel decisions regardless of whose credit card they are using, and there is a rising trend toward female solo adventurers over the age 30. They are more discerning, which is exactly the type of traveler we have on our site. A verified female member of the community is able to ask questions, offer help, and rate other members’ reviews. JENI, our proprietary AI and personal travel buddy is a travel concierge and facilitator. She connects those members seeking information to subject matter experts and recommends other members that might need some tips from your experiences during the inspiration phase of travel planning. During the booking/research phase, JENI is brilliant at trip personalization. She knows if you are into camping or eco-friendly boutique properties, or prefer 5-star hotels with full-service. She recommends and provides itineraries complete with activities, accommodation, flights, airport amenities like lounges and VIP transfers and experiential activities. She could recommend a wellness retreat if you have at any point indicated it suits your lifestyle, or that you sound like you need respite.
What makes your company unique from other travel players?
We are a community exclusively for females that provides a safe, seamless interface throughout the entire trip chain (inspiration > research > book > research > on trip sharing > inspiring others). Our JOZU community is chock-full of reviews, chats, events and member-to-member interaction and personalized itineraries. Within the community, you can meet other members traveling at the same time, learn about Pack for a Purpose and a local charity that might need some school supplies (pfap.org) affiliated with your destination hotel, and provide on-trip safety advice in near real time through our mobile application. Our goal is to empower women to travel better and safer, and in doing so, deliver innovation and do some good.
Were there any pivots along the way in the early stages?
At the very beginning the initial business that was presented to me was an affiliate website that sold adventure tourism packages to the Caribbean called Pursuite. It was basically a vacation reseller with an Adventure Tourism sticker on the box. This was not a venture that I personally would undertake, but I appreciated the passion and persistence of my co-founders. Fast-forward, I then took their business plan, kept only the words “travel” and “Caribbean”, and presented back something that we now recognize as the “World’s First Vacation Planning Platform exclusively for Women”.
What challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
Like any startup, we pay close attention to our 3 C’s: Customers, Culture and Cash flows. We believe that these make or break startups. For me, culture is even bigger than cash flow, because if my team and I are aligned and share the same vision, then we will do all we can to deliver an excellent product that our customers and partners love. If we succeed in that single goal, then cash flow will never be an issue since that has a direct correlation to culture and having the right people with the right spirit on the squad. One of our 10 Core Values is “Do More With Less”.
What led you to Amadeus and Amadeus for Startups?
We found Amadeus when we were researching potential GDS partners. We could have come to market sooner by white labeling someone else’s web services, but we felt we would not own the relationship with our customer if we continued to distance ourselves from them. We never saw a JOZU member or their business as a number or a segment sold, or merely a record locator. If we were going to become a trusted platform to help women ultimately make great memories, we needed to do so with the best possible solutions in our delivery of that promise. Our internal philosophy is if you want to build a world- class product, use world-class parts (components, layers, solutions, services, etc.). We also wanted to work with partners and providers who see value and potential in what we are creating. We wanted a partner who would be willing to co-create with us, and would welcome new thinking, and apply their wisdom to our mission. From our first meeting with Kerri Zeil (Head of Amadeus for Startups), we felt it was a right fit for JOZU immediately and from that instance, we excluded any other solution providers.
How do you define/summarize your corporate culture?
Culture is a HUGE part of any startup’s success, and ours is a way of life. We live by 10 core values, and they adorn the walls of our “launchpad” space where we built JOZU. Our prime directive — “Find the Yes!” It’s a pretty simple statement, but it hinges on so many other aspects like personal growth, being solution-minded, delivering innovation, and having a positive attitude. We also treat each other like family, spending three months in a co-work/life space that fostered a greater understanding of each other’s humanity, uniqueness, special gifts and talents – like pizza dough making skills and the ability to climb coconut trees as a team (because coconut water is free).
How are you leveraging social media to raise awareness and user acquisition?
As a digital marketer, we have extensive experience in this space having worked on major brand campaigns. We’ve got an omni-channel marketing plan crossing digital, mobile and social (launching at SXSW Interactive 2017) that will help educate others on the brand, encourage membership sign-ups and drive conversations in the community. We also have a full social media and community management team and an exciting partnership with a wellness festival – Irie Soul – that we are leveraging as daily prizes to be won during SXSW. We’ve engaged influencers and activated our own network of travel partners and their channels. I believe being a marketing-led company gives us a great advantage in leveraging social media correctly.
Tell us why consumers should use your product?
We help women travel better and safer. Women can explore, book and experience travel like no other place.
Ready to take your business to the next level? Learn how Amadeus for Startups can help.