The award winning digital marketer and writer, Stephanie Rodriguez, has created the first ever travel portal exclusively designed for women. Her new company, JOZU For Women, is a platform that helps women travel easier, better, and safer. JOZU provides hotel tips and trip reviews written by women for women. In this Q&A, Rodriguez talks to SWAAY about her inspirations, future ideas, and favorite aspects of JOZU For Women.
What were you doing before you created JOZU?
Before founding JOZU For Women, I worked at The Mighty Media Group full time. Mighty Media Group is a digital agency that has been consulting for the travel space for more than 7 years. They have consulted with companies like Club Med, Sydney Airport, and SSP. While I was working as a consultant to travel companies, I travelled to 48 countries and stayed in hotels across the world.
What inspired you to create JOZU?
I found that at those times of me booking my travel online, because I never had a secretary or personal assistant, that I would often find myself booking and staying in hotels that I would not have originally stayed in if I knew more information online.
I recognized the growing frustrations and travel concerns that women have with booking hotels, restaurants and other amenities that seem to look great online -- only to arrive at their destinations and discover their selections were actually unsafe, unclean or simply did not live up to their expectations, so JOZU was born.
What was your “ah-ha” moment?
My “ah-ha” moment was sparked when I stayed at a hotel in Genevia while I was working with SSP. I booked it online, it had great Wi-Fi reviews, which is something that is critical for me. It had proximity close to the train station, and their website was easy to understand in English. But, unfortunately, the hotel was located in the middle of the red light district. Whilst that would probably not be an issue for men, I definitely would not recommend for women to stay there if she were traveling alone regardless of business or vacation. So, when I began to think about what the world needed as it related to travel, and taking into consideration all the marketing experience that I have for that sector, I decided that there had to be a better mouse trap, which was the inception point of JOZU.
What makes JOZU different from other travel websites?
JOZU is a Japanese word that means well done or better than. So, JOZU for WOMEN’s mission is to help women travel better and safer. Now, how we are doing that is by creating a platform that is for women only and is for women to communicate online.
Photo courtesy of Crunchbase
JOZU is the first of its kind travel portal exclusively designed for women, helping them to explore, plan and book their leisure and business travel in a better and safer way that specifically meets their expectations and needs. More than just a site or an app, the platform is home to a passionate community of female users, where women have a safe-place to engage, connect and share honest travel insights for helping one another make better decisions as part of their trip planning experiences.
What technology are you using for JOZU that put you ahead of other travel websites?
The platform of our website is powered by Lithium Technologies, which is the same technology that is used for Southwest Airlines, eBay, and Sephora. So, it is a robot enterprise technology that speaks global languages. We are using this technology to vet gender to allow for there to be parts of our platform where woman can share their vacation stories with discretion of privacy, like a ladies locker room. How we are doing this, and what makes us magical, is that we are using our own proprietary AI, and her name is JENI. So, as women create profiles and say what they know and where they have been, JENI matches the subject matter expert to the seeker. So, my profile said that I have been to 48 countries and I listed the boutique hotels or fitness clubs that I liked, if jenny found another women who was looking for specific hotels in an area I have been too, JENI would match the seeker to my profile. But then when you are trip planning, or also an online note taker, JENI already knows what you want before you do because she has observed what you liked, shared, and discussed.
So when it comes down to booking your vacation, we are using a suite of technology that allows you to be able to say “okay I am ready to take a holiday now” and jenny is able to make recommendation to you based on what it knows about you, and match you to the holiday she believes you will like.
What are your future goals for JOZU?
Well, our initial and overall goal is to build something that women love and need. Ideally, we are working on launching a mobile version of JOZU that will have some features that the website version does not. Also, we want to expand our destinations beyond the Caribbean, such as Asia and South America.
If you are a woman, a person of color or LGBTIA+ identified and are a part of a start-up company, this is the competition for you. The SoGal Global Pitch Competition is being hosted in over 25 cities and will culminate in a final contest in Silicon Valley as well as a "3-day immersive educational bootcamp." This could be an unprecedented opportunity for you, your business and for the future of entrepreneurial diversification.
We all know how important diversity is for the world and for any business entity. But the statistics need to catch up with these ideals, because diversity isn't just a moral imperative it can also have an impact on the success and efficiency of a business. So if the ethics isn't enough to get you interested, maybe these statistics will.
- Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns
- Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have above-average financial returns
- Bottom quartile companies (in both gender and racial diversity) are less likely to achieve even average returns
- In senior executive teams in the US for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) rose 0.8%
Despite the fact that diversity is good for business, funding as a woman or a minority is incredibly challenging, but this competition could be someone's game-changing opportunity.
SoGal is a global education and empowerment platform focused on diverse investors and entrepreneurs. Their mission is "to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship and venture capital." A tall order, given that 2.2% of VC funding went to women in 2018. Compounding the gender gap with race shows an even poorer picture: in the past decade only 0.1% (yes, that is a decimal) of funding was allocated to black women.
It is a straight up fact that companies with higher levels of diversity perform better, so why is it so hard for diverse start-ups to get funded? Oh right, racism, sexism, homophobia, implicit biases, inequality, classism... the list goes on, but thankfully that's where SoGal comes in! According to Kelley Elizabeth Henry, director of SoGal, "We're done waiting for these statistics to change; we're taking action to point investment capital toward these diverse-led startups. [...] We will change the future of entrepreneurship."
To enter this competition all you have to do is be a part of a pre-Series A startup (raised less than $3M) and have at least one "woman or diverse" founder. After you apply to pitch, you'll have to be able to make it to one of the "regional round location," which range from the more typical options of New York and Los Angeles to global locations such as Nairobi or Bangalore. And, if you're really playing to win, you better earmark February 28 to March 1 of next year, because that's when the top teams will be in San Francisco duking it out to the very end. And by "duking it out," I mean participating in "curated educational programming," talking to press and getting "facetime in front of top-tier investors." Though not everyone can win, the experience in itself looks to be well-worth the time it takes to fill out an application form and huff it to the nearest large city for the first round.