Meet Janice Sousa, CoFounder at Indie Travel

Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.

FcF: Tell us about yourself?

Janice: I am the Founder of Indie and formerly the CoFounder of Groupdesk.  Before both of these, I spent the last 15+ years as a Tour Operator, managing hundreds of Tour Guides around the world. I’ve also been a proud advisor to #MoveTheDial, an Activator and Mentor for SheEO, and a Provincial Ambassador for Women in Tech, I am passionate about supporting female-led ventures and helping those companies scale their growth from post seed to consistent cash flow. 

I have also mentored with Venture for Canada, been a guest lecturer at Humber and Centennial College, and was selected to participate in the Austrian Leadership Program in 2018-19 to support start-ups in Austria and Canada to better understand mutual export markets. I have strong roots in the larger travel industry, with active past participation in SYTA, WYSE, NAIS, CAIS and TICO.  In 2018, I was named one of Canadian Traveller’s Top 40 Under 40 and was a speaker at NY Travel Fest.

As you would expect, I love to travel. My last place I was before lockdown was London and my next bucket list is New Zealand and I’d love to be on a plane to catch a show in New York soon. 

FcF: What is Indie Travel?

Janice: Indie is building the creator platform for travel.

Today, our first-in-market product is for Tour Guides.

We help them power their businesses - through smart calendar syncing, curating their product in our library and connecting them to our machine learning models to help recommend pricing and copy to drive bookings. No more guessing at the optimal price for your tour - Indie helps you position your products smartly.

We believe the future of Travel is one in which global creativity is enabled at scale for both guides and travellers’ betterment. 

In 2021, you’ve likely heard a lot about the Creator Economy. In short, it helps creators find audiences, manage their incomes, sell to and engage with customers. No longer do people have to work for large established brands - they can find their market of raving fans. We see this as an opportunity to democratize entrepreneurship. Creators can now build robust businesses and access consumers, thereby creating a flywheel effect where they can monetise their individuality.

My CoFounder and I have 40+ years in travel and we see the same trends in travel. Creators in travel are remote-first, passionate about topics both broad and niche and looking to commercialize their individuality. 

- Above: Indie Travel -

FcF: How did you come up with Indie Travel?

Janice: My CoFounder and I realized that with the increased digitization of consumer purchasing habits and increase of remote work, we thought that a creator class of tour & activities entrepreneurs would emerge and that travel’s legacy systems didn’t provide them the tools to start, scale and monetize their passions. We all know that COVID19 was a massive forcing function in terms of digitization and we want to lead that transformation in travel. 

FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue building Indie Travel?

Janice: It was May 2020 - so travel, as an industry, was in a tailspin. Interestingly enough, it was easier than we anticipated to do customer interviews as people were stuck at home and doing lots of reflection on their businesses and cost structures. 

I also spent time thinking about what kind of CoFounder I was looking for - I knew that it was unlikely that we would get a chance to meet in person so it was going to be critical to articulate what kind of person would best balance my strengths and gaps.

Lastly, I spent time speaking with people across the industry who again had time to offer insights  and advice. Because of COVID19, it has forced established and new travel companies alike to fundamentally rethink their products, costs and customers and we found it was very helpful for Indie to speak with people as things were evolving to get their insights.  

FcF: How were you able to validate your idea to ensure it was something people wanted from your customer interviews? 

Janice: We had a great product coach who really made sure that instead of spending time on customer calls selling, we actually spent the majority of the time understanding and uncovering the customer’s problem. We would often only mention Indie and what we were building near to the end of each 30 - 40 minute call and only then for a few minutes. I think once customers saw that it wasn’t a typical sales call - they really opened up to us to share how they were frustrated with current systems and what they used to bridge gaps.

In many of our interviews, we would ask our interviewees to share their screen and walk us through a typical day in their business and I was always surprised when someone would happily do it! I think we also spent considerable time speaking to industry leaders as to why they thought it hadn’t been solved as well we tested driving a number of market players too. 

FcF: How did you meet your co-founder? What do you look for in finding your co founders?

Janice: We met over the internet - we launched during 2020 and so we still have never met in person! I was looking for someone who is humble and self motivated and accountable. Someone who values time away from the work and also has high integrity in the work they deliver and the team we build together.

I also knew that I wanted someone who had experience in startups in the past - it can be hard to articulate what it means to lead a startup and given I knew we weren’t going to be physically co-located, some prior experience would help us short circuit. I was also very fortunate to work with a great recruiter through our investors and we did preliminary work to understand the personality that would best offset me and my style too. 

FcF: How have relationships with other founders helped you build your business?

Janice: Oh gosh - I think like most of us, I have a whatsapp group or text chain with a few founders who I can call with rapid questions or gut checks. I think it’s really important to have that - it's incredibly lonely to be a Founder (even more so during lockdowns) and sometimes your roommates or partner simply doesn’t understand no matter how hard they try.

Having other Founders I can call to gut check decisions, validate an idea, problem solve or just vent to someone who is in a similar position is critical. More tactically, I’ve sourced a lot of our contract team - designers, copywriters etc - through other Founders and have also shared introductions to Angel Investors and VC with Founders. 

FcF: We see that on your team you also have a Product and UX/UI Designer onboard. Can you tell us more about how you started to hire more people on your team, the process, and why you chose to hire Product and UX/UI Designer? 

Janice: Yes! Well we knew that one of our competitive edges against the established systems was making sure Indie was not only beautiful but incredibly easy to use. We wanted to get it right from Day 1 and hiring Dan and later Samira was a central part of our early launch. Our Product Coach, Jacob, has led Product teams on his own but has also coached hundreds of early stage startups. My Co Founder and I have experience in Product but Jacob brought a rigour to our team early on that ensured we kept the customer top of mind each day and that we were always going back to driving customer value with each development sprint. 

FcF: What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a founder? 

Janice: Ha! Everything. Right now as we are growing it's really about prioritizing my time well so that the things I work on are of highest value while simultaneously making sure the things you can’t ignore (i.e. setting up bank accounts) get done quickly. We have been lucky to work with a few student interns and they have been paramount in helping me stay focused on core tasks that only I can do. 

FcF: If you were to give advice to yourself as you were starting out, what would it be?

Janice: Don’t pay close attention to the competition  - easier said than done. It will always be tempting to check out their latest feature or product but try to have blinders for at least the first year. There is a time to evaluate the competition but it's far less frequent than most people think. 

FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?

Janice: Start doing it and find your people. It will be really really hard but you just have to take the first step - register for the domain, write out your idea and then keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think just trying to build a business or idea the things you learn about yourself, your community are almost more valuable than the idea or business itself. We all can build a startup and there are many obstacles for women - try to find a way to make sure your internal mindset is growth focused and really shut out naysayers. Lastly, tell your friends. People want to support you - be clear how they can do that from the start. 

FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?  

Janice: I am looking to connect with entrepreneurs in travel and angel investors interested in the creator economy. I’d love to hear from people who have built remote first teams especially how they created a unique culture. 

FcF: How can people contact you?

Janice: You can check out Indie Travel's website and follow our social medias:

Instagram l Twitter l Facebook

You can also DM @Janice Sousa in our Slack channel!


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