CEO Stephenie Rodriguez Founded JOZU for Women and travel safety app Beacon by WanderSafe based on her 30 years of personal experience of travelling to over 53 countries, often as a solo traveller. Keenly aware of the unique needs and risks that women face when travelling, Stephenie’s background in the technology and travel industries has culminated in her devising comprehensive personal safety solutions for women travellers. As a global citizen who has lived on various continents, and spent over 3 years at 30,000ft and 9 years in hotel room nights, her passion is to empower women to venture freely across the world, using technology as an enabler.
Your career has taken you from corporate executive roles in publishing and food industries to becoming a serial entrepreneur with ventures spanning digital marketing and travel. What’s motivated your career changes?
For the last 18 years I have been a entrepreneur and working for myself in contract roles for some great organisations. I like the ultimate freedom and responsibility for creating my own destiny that self employment creates. I have been fortunate to work for some global corporations in some of those contract positions from Simplot to Club Med. As a futurist and a social anthropologist, I have had the foresight to play where the technology and communication proverbial puck was heading. (I actually worked in the Tech Bubble of 2000!)
After the crash December 2000 the Internet and I broke up for a few years. But when I saw it had been through its corrective period, we got back together and my consultancy has led some of the biggest digital transformation projects in the travel retail industry. My motivation can be associated with foresight and being an early adopter.
How did you come up with the idea for JOZU for Women and WanderSafe?
My first solo trip abroad was when I was 18, and my mother had never traveled abroad. She was terrified for my safety however, I was fearless. My first trip, and I was bitten by wanderlust. Travel expanded my mind and fuelled my creativity. Aptly so, I started working in a five-star hotel out of university and then in a travel agency that handled many Consulates travel in Washington DC. I got to see more of the world as a perk of the job and again, knew I had chose my career sector well.
After more than thirty years of traveling to more than 53 countries, I have observed many trends including the rise of solo travel, the increased lack of information and non-violent solutions that empower you to walk down a new street in a new city. With so many mindless shootings taking place around the world and women not feeling safe with things like pepper-spray and tasers, I set out to design a holistic solution, not just a bandaid on social issues that are uncomfortable for women to talk about. In Australia, 8 out of 10 assaults go unreported.
I wanted to build a platform whereby women could freely share their travel knowledge in a way that was respected. Women make more than 87% of vacation purchase decisions, regardless of whose credit card is used. However, we travel differently than men and have have different needs. (Further, we’ll ask for directions).
JOZU is a Japanese word and means well done or better than, and was indeed a word that summed up our mission. We launched the JOZU travel portal in March 2017 to great fanfare at SXSW in Austin Texas. We knew we were creating a safe space for women to discuss travel, but it wasn’t enough. So, we held a Travel Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica and spent four days asking influencers and community builders including Mia Voss, Haley Woods (creator of Girls Love Travel), frequent business traveler CEO Katherine Lugo what women really wanted in travel. Safety and community were resounding themes.
In September we were part of the Womens Startup Lab Accelerator in Menlo Park and discovered we needed to pivot in order to achieve our objectives in delivering on the the JOZU principle in a meaningful way. We set about creating Beacon by WanderSafe as a very specific platform, and extended the value proposition beyond just female solo travellers.
You’ve recently been travelling internationally to test Beacon by Wandersafe. Tell us about its features and what you discovered during testing.
We did two months of intensive testing of the device in July and August this year in Greece, Amsterdam, Croatia, Rome and the UK as well as in Australia. Some of this testing was around the physical size of the product and the ease of functionality. We challenged our “twist to siren” feature that we are patenting to see if consumers would find it as easy and straight forward to activate as we in the design phase. We tested the 140db siren to determine exactly how far this sound would carry and what types of reactions it would elicit from various test groups of situations.
The alarm was deem ‘loud enough’ and can effectively hail an audience, or scare away a potential assailant. The final step was to test the Beacon by WanderSafe Activate button, wherein three emergency contacts get notified in the event that the user was in danger. The silent signal feature completed testing last week with the release of our mobile app into iTunes app store.
Tell us about the future trends disrupting the travel industry.
The travel industry as it relates to customer experience is facing disruption as consumers are demanding paperless and seamless customer experiences from boarding passes to travel reminders. The Internet of Things has truly become rife in the travel space, not just in our homes, and consumers are expecting to see more voice interaction in the customer journey. Sensors like ibeacons that can make location relevant way-finding suggestions, and biometrics for ID verification are replacing human interactions and saving time.
Your greatest challenge?
Our greatest challenge as a startup has been our ability to pivot where we needed to, and only do those things that support the JOZU principle without distraction. As a non-technical founder, I have been personally challenged with being able to find the correct partner who can see my vision for the product, and build a product that aligns with the product roadmap.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of our ability to deliver WanderSafe as a perfect solution that has so much potential and can help so many in under 24 months to my investors, community and stakeholders. We’ve partnered with Purchased.org, AirlineAmbassadors.org and Crime Stoppers International. To see how we can improve and empower travel, and keep people safer at scale, is really exciting.
Advice for future female leaders?
Only do that which you are truly and sustainably passionate about. Entrepreneurship is hard enough. If you don’t have the love, you won’t achieve the the level of success that makes the hard work worth while. Find and seek mentorship, ask questions and be open about how your mentors can create the greatest value. And listen twice as much as you speak to their feedback and advice. Stay humble, but be remarkable.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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