Zim Ugochukwu On What It Takes To Build A High Profile Travel Platform

If you could be a travel companion alongside Travel Noire?s founder Zim Ugochukwu, you would find a common thread in her interpretation of community, passion and the intersection of those ideals in finding one?s purpose.

As a young child, long before she knew what it was to hop on a plane to an inspirational destination, Ugochukwu was inspired by Oprah Winfrey. ?I went to an Oprah event where she talked about being able to find your thread in the way that you grew up and that what you are doing now, there is a common thread and your purpose has a common thread.?

Growing up in Minnesota, Ugochukwu was drawn to travel by opportunities in business, community and education. ?As a young woman of color traveling abroad, she noticed a disconnect in the travel industry, including the fact that she rarely saw other travelers who looked like her. ?It?s a huge, billion dollar industry, fifty billion dollars spent by African Americans in the United States alone. ?This does not account for other members of the Black Diaspora —Black Dutch, Black French, Afro-Brazilian and so on. Brands aren’t considering this huge, influential market segment as a huge slice or a piece of that pie.?

Weaving that common thread led to the founding of Travel Noire in 2013, adopting a lean startup principle of providing exactly what people want, and that is good for the community. ?Digging a little bit deeper into social issues was something that was interesting to me.? Building community was at the heart of that, no matter what I did, it was always important for me to be able to build community, however that looked like.? Building community of course, serves as the foundation for Ugochukwu?s amazing platform.

Travel Noire is currently the leading site for all things travel, as it relates to individuals from the African Diaspora who reside all over the globe. ?It is a publishing platform that creates tools, resources and experiences for unconventional travelers. Travel Noire works with hand selected travel aficionados whose sole purpose is to challenge you to discover your inner explorer as they share their experiences— and they do a great job at it. Within a relatively short period of time, Travel Noire has experienced unprecedented growth, which in many ways, is a great challenge to have. In June 2014, Travel Noire received about 5,000 unique visitors a month, and by December, they received about a 100,000 unique visitors a month.

TN collage
Eat, pray, love and everything in between: Travelers share their exciting adventures with the TN audience

Ugochukwu also attributes a lot of this extraordinary growth to the platform?s business model. ?The way that we started the company is different from the way that others have started their own companies. ?A lot of people would start their company product first, and then community second. I wanted to start a company community first and product second; it?s one thing to build a product, it?s another thing to have someone there to buy it.? This also leads us to perhaps one of the brand?s strongest assets, its social media network. With over 85,000 followers and counting on Instagram and a goal to reach the 100,000 mark by May 2015, Travel Noire?s reach is wide and vast. ??We are a social media platform and the fact that we are able to, at the drop of a hat, send out an email and garner up tens of thousands of dollars in sales is something that if we had started product first, people might not have understood what we were doing.? While there has never been a set blueprint in place for the site?s trajectory, Ugochukwu and her team continues to realize a variety of offerings strategically tailored to their audience, and are excited about the future of Travel Noire. This summer, the platform will launch Travel Noire experiences, where they will curate and host group trips to different parts of the world.

While Travel Noire primarily engages Africans in the Diaspora, it is working towards a powerful goal that extends beyond its primary audience ? challenging prevailing stereotypes about black people around the world. Ugochukwu recognizes that the power to change negative attitudes, behaviors and perceptions lies within each and every member of Travel Noire?s audience. ?We have to be cognizant of the fact that you may be the very first person that some people may meet, and while you don?t necessarily need to be a representative of your culture, in that moment you are the difference between the picture they see on television and what they see in real life. It is really up to you to challenge things or to not challenge things and feed into it.?

Beyond the proverbial four walls of this impactful company, Ugochukwu?s life as an entrepreneur and a nomad is well, pretty uneventful.? She shares a few insights into her personal life with THE VOIX.

On work-life balance: When I lived in San Francisco, my friends would always joke that I hardly ever went downtown because I was either working or traveling, since the airport was much closer to my house. I am a workaholic to the ?T?, but because I love it so much, I don?t really consider it to be work. I do regiment my day though; before I go to sleep, I create a calendar for the next day so that I know what tasks need to be completed and how I need to stay on track. Within this, I build in time to read or to go on a walk, and also time to build my relationship with my boyfriend. I would say that my work-life balance is fair; it is not to the level that I would like it to be just yet, but it?s getting there.

On her favorite apps: I like Sunrise, it is a calendar app that organizes your day by morning, afternoon and evening and so it gives you a better picture of your day. I also like Wifimap, which gives you passwords to wi-fi networks around you. Slack is a good one; it?s a team messaging app that my team uses and it is amazing. Sleep Cycle is another one that I use. It wakes you up based on the stage of sleep you?re in so that it feels like you are waking up on your own, but in actuality, it?s an alarm that sounds off over 30 minutes. ?It is relatively quiet, and it wakes you up out of your level of sleep that you are in. Evernote is great. Seatguru is great because I travel so often I want to see what type of plane I?m traveling on so that I can plan ahead of time. I really like Yoga studio. I?ve been trying to get into yoga for a long time, but yoga studio is a very easy, beginner friendly app that you can use. ?DocuSign is really great. If I need to sign something, I can just store my signature in DocuSign so that when someone sends me document and I open it up, ?I can just append my signature and send it right back.

If she were?not?living in the United States: I would probably live in Amsterdam. I don?t drink, go to clubs or smoke, so my life is very chill. When I spent a summer in Amsterdam I observed people who would just take out their boats, and with their ipods and music, just row through the canals eating their dinner while watching the sun set. During the day people were riding their bikes; everyone seemed so laid back and relaxed, and I just loved everything about it. I didn’t venture into the other side of the country, which is the red light district, but I pretty much stayed on the chill side of things. Amsterdam is definitely one place that I would go back to.

When in country, do you travel like a local or a tourist? It?s so funny because when I go to different places, I literally just try and mesh with the local scene as much as possible. I don?t even visit tourist attractions in a lot of places I travel to. I?ll just go to a coffee shop and work. For instance, when I was in Paris, I didn’t go to the Eiffel tower or visit other tourist attractions. All I wanted to be able to do was to work out of coffee shops, or walk down the streets and soak in the experience.? I think that some of the gems that you will find are ones that aren’t necessarily tourist highlights, but at the same time, the reason that some of these places are tourist attractions is because they are so grandiose and so beautiful, but for me, I like to travel like a local.

Ugochukwu has certainly experienced the world, but she makes it clear that having amazing travel experiences is not something that is out of reach, and encourages people to do their research. For her, it all started with a book, Delaying the Real World by travel writer Colleen Kinder, which is how she found a fellowship that allowed her to move to India for a year. ?In this day and age of the internet, there is no excuse. I received an opportunity because I applied and buckled down to move to a country in Asia that I chose, all expenses paid for an entire year, with a salary, and that was all because of research.? She stresses numerous financial resources that are available to fund travel opportunities. ?There are fellowships, scholarships and even house sitting opportunities. There are so many different things that you can do to kick start that dream to travel the world, and it takes very little to figure out.? she said. ?As American author and business coach Marie Forleo always says, ?Everything is figureoutable?. You can figure out anything. And so the idea that you don?t have enough money to do x, y and z is almost doing yourself a disservice because with the way that the internet is set up, you can find anything, especially if you are serious about traveling.?

Image: Instagram

Ebony Hillsman is the CEO and Founder of The Creative Protocol, and Managing Editor of BOLD Magazine. After years of working in television broadcast with CNN, she found a newly defined purpose in non-profit work by developing the communications strategies for nonprofits?and community causes. As a communications specialist, she helps people tell their story, creatively, functionally and in deliverable formats to the masses. Ebony is a native of Sanford, Florida and a proud graduate of Florida A & M University. She currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia, and can be reached on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook.