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.
Three years ago, I made a deal with myself - I wanted to have $100,000 saved when I'm 25. But I didn't mind if it didn't happen until the day before my 26th birthday.
One of my biggest priorities in life has always been to save as much money as possible — and I owe much of that to my parents, who made sure I had a strong financial education at a young age.
My dad even helped me start a vending machine business when I was nine. The experience taught me essential skills like how to pitch a business, cope with rejection and open a checking and savings account.
For the past three years, I've never made more than $80,000. About a year ago, I reviewed my rate of savings and investments and realized that I was on track to save $100,000. With only a car loan away from being debt free, I've got another year and $10K to go!
I want to acknowledge that privilege is a key part of my story. I'm white, I come from a middle-class family, and I was able to graduate college without any debt. All these things helped a great deal.
But my parents didn't raise me with a silver spoon. Paying for college was a collaborative process. We'd sit down at least twice a year to discuss how we were going to pay for the next semester. The first question they'd always ask me was: "How much can you contribute?"
I've been fortunate. But it also takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and responsibility to save and maximize your earnings. Feeling motivated and knowing that I'll be prepared for whatever life throws my way fuels my drive to keep making smart financial decisions. Here's how I'm getting to $100K.
- I side-hustled
This kick-started my journey towards six-figures. In addition to saving the majority of my 9-5 salary, my first year of freelance social media marketing made me quite a bit of cash that I could immediately save. I was able to establish both a SEP IRA and a fully-funded emergency fund with my earnings.
2. I started investing early
Knowing that compound interest is so important, I wanted to start investing early to have my money work for me. Once I started my first big-girl job, I opened my first Roth IRA. Starting to save for retirement at age 22, I was able to max out my Roth each year and also contribute to aSEP IRA and a non-retirement investment account. My first job out of school had a 401(k), but you couldn't contribute until you were there at least a year. Knowing I wasn't planning on staying long — I was at that job for a year and a few months — I opened a Roth 401(k) and then rolled my earnings to my Roth IRA.
3. I negotiated salary offers and raises
Negotiating should be a collaboration, not a confrontation. Growing up, I watched my father sit on hold, patiently waiting to negotiate our cable and phone bills. Negotiation was always part of my life, and I grew up with parents who knew how to do it. So when I was offered my first social media freelance gig, I negotiated over $10k more than they offered. And after achieving a 20% bump at my first 9-5, I negotiated $20k more than what was offered at my next job. And $10k more at the next job. If negotiating for raises freaks you out, here's a guide that can help.
4. I've automated my savings
Automating your money not only makes your life easier, but it makes you feel like the percentage you're saving just doesn't exist. I have 26% of each paycheck automatically deposited into a high-yield savings account. This savings account is purposefully at a different bank than my day-to-day checking account, so I'm less likely to withdraw from it and less likely to think about it. This "set it and forget it" level of financial freedom was something I worked hard for -- through money diarying, budgeting, and conscious spending. So now, my savings amount is completely on autopilot.
At the age of 24, I know that I am on the right track to make my goal a reality. Inspired by my own journey, I wanted to help women everywhere to have that same feeling of confidence that financial education gives — and get information from someone who isn't an old, rich white dude. As a money speaker and coach, I run Her First $100K, a financial literacy platform for millennial women on the path to get their first $100K too.
It's possible to achieve your first $100K — whether that's debt paid off, earned, saved, invested, or something else. With intentional strategies and focus, you've got this!