Travel is the great connector. Visiting different countries gives us a broader perspective on the world and the people in it. Yasmine El Baggari, founder of Voyaj, wanted to take travel one step further.
Instead of staying in hotels or renting flats, Yasmine believes that matching travelers with hosts in their own homes can create powerful human connections and result in a more peaceful world.
Voyaj users create a profile video to describe their interests and what they offer, and post it to the site. Voyaj then finds the right combination of visitor and host and sets up a homestay for the traveler in the host’s home. From there, a deeper cultural understanding takes root. “It’s about building relationships and a sense of belonging for people—wherever they want to go in the world,” Yasmine says.
Inspiration for a global startup
The idea for Voyaj evolved from Yasmine’s experience as a teenager and a serendipitous Skype call with an uncle who’d moved from Morocco to San Francisco. “I’d never left Morocco,” she recalls. “I spoke to my uncle on Skype and he inspired me to explore the United States and the world.” Eventually, Yasmine toured 48 states, staying in 150 homes and meeting fascinating and enriching people regularly.
“When you’re sitting at a dinner table, you’re better able to build authentic connections and open your mind and your heart,” Yasmine says. That experience changed her life. “It made me a more open-minded person, and I want to bring that feeling to the world, through Voyaj.”
Finding focus with OneNote and organizing ideas with PowerPoint
Startups require focus and strict organization. Whatever funding is available can’t be wasted on inefficiency or unclear direction. For clarity, Yasmine often meditates briefly before starting a new task or giving a presentation. “You have to be aligned with your mission,” she says. “I take this time to remind myself of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and stay focused on the goal.”
Microsoft OneNote and PowerPoint help Yasmine find focus and stay on track. “I use OneNote to plan my ideal day,” she explains. Using the To-Do Tag feature, she creates task lists that can be checked off as they’re completed. Items tagged as a to-do can be found through a search, making it easy to return to important items. “I make sure I’ve checked everything off my list before I go to bed.”
Yasmine frequently pitches Voyaj concepts to potential investors, partners and team members. She uses PowerPoint to create presentations about Voyaj and explain the direction the company’s heading.
PowerPoint features like charts, graphs and embedded video help Yasmine tell the story of Voyaj “in a simple but effective way,” she says. Using the commenting feature, Yasmine and her team members can share their thoughts as they refine each draft for presentation—no matter where each is located.
Coming full circle with Skype collaboration
Yasmine lives in San Francisco now, where she works closely with a team of eight people. “We’re building an empathy algorithm that matches people based on their common values and experiences,” she says.
But the rest of her team—and partners and investors—are widespread. Yasmine’s come a long way from her childhood in Morocco and her first overseas exposure through a Skype call with her San Francisco–based uncle. And Skype has re-entered her life, again making the world a smaller place. “We span five different time zones. Skype helps us come together, communicate, share ideas and open endless possibilities and opportunities for Voyaj,” Yasmine says. “I believe that hospitality can bring the world together. And Office helps me build strong relationships, so we can make this vision a reality.”