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.
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.