Interview With Justin Johnson
Describe your product or service:
“All-in-one vacation platform that curates weekend getaways for spontaneous travelers.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“Our mission is to make vacation planning a joy, using technology to translate feelings into action in the simplest and most beautiful way possible.
- Be Gritty. Show up and make it happen. Pick yourself up, learn, and grow because resilience overcomes resistance.
- Be Recharged. R and R is mandatory; it allows time to explore the world.
- Be Bold. Mindset that gives permission to play around. Find things that inspire you and use them.
- Be Trustful. Credibility is built over time.
- Be Environmentally Conscious. We only have one planet, seek ways to make it better.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them!
“Our team consists of five incredibly talented travel enthusiasts. We consist of makers, data scientists, communicators, collaborators, and weekend warriors.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“Govy started with an idea at the kitchen table after trying to book a quick weekend getaway but only ending up with too many open browser tabs. Our aim was to get rid of all the headaches of travel. Things like booking a flight only to find it cheaper the next day, a surprise hidden fee that pops up at hotel checkout, and most of all, ending the monotonous scroll of travel sites in search of the ideal vacation.
With Govy, we’re making sure you don’t have to spend four days planning a four-day getaway.
Why spend the weekend doing laundry when you can Govy in Asheville? Want to surprise your partner with a spur-of-the-moment romantic getaway? Govy in Charleston. Mow the yard? Yeah, right. Let’s Govy in New Orleans.
We’re redefining the weekend getaway; join us.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“We actually just changed our name due to some trademark issues. Coming from a branding background, I approached our naming process the same I would with my previous clients. Talking to potential customers. After hundreds of name iterations and in-depth user interviews, one phrase kept coming up. ‘I want to take a vacay.’ ‘Oh yeah, I would definitely take a vacay there.’ ‘Let's go vacay!’
‘Govy’ was born. Taking the idea of ‘Go Vacay’ and making it our own vessel to define.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“My parents were both entrepreneurs when I was growing up. It was always something I was aware of, so it never felt remote or abstract. I got used to the high highs and terrible lows, but I never considered myself an entrepreneur for some reason. I believe I've always wanted to be one, but it wasn't until 2017 that I realized it.
Prior to that, I worked at advertising agencies BBDO and Havas with some of the world's most creative people. I thrived when we were working on innovation projects or new campaigns. Building, creating, engaging with people. It was the best.
I was discussing an idea for the medical cannabis sector with a friend. One thing led to another, and as I dug deeper into the issue, it became an obsession. This was the first time I realized that starting a company didn't have to be that complicated. All of these small efforts added up to form a fully functional business. That's when I made my first foray into entrepreneurship, leaving my advertising career behind.
I've created two other businesses since then and haven't looked back.”
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered while launching your company? How did you overcome it?
“Credibility is huge. Any new business requires it to make any kind of traction. But credibility can come in many forms. One of the biggest challenges in my current business is competing against some massive players in the travel industry that have been around for a very long time. They have the resources to do things we simply can't do (yet), and from a consumer perspective, people know what they're all about.
For us, we're creating a new way to book travel. It's taking the travel retail experience and flipping it. There's a lot of work we need to do to properly get the idea across, but we're doing that with community engagement. Specifically, TikTok. We're bring people into the conversation and make product decisions with real-time feedback. It's been incredible and a great way to bring people along for the ride.”
Feeling inspired? Learn how to launch your company with our guide on how to start a startup.
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“Our target market represents a segment of users who generally like to travel if the circumstances are fitting. They tend to be younger and in the know of growing trends. They distinguish between more cultural travels, i.e., seeing a play in a different city, and social travel with friends, i.e., to destinations like Las Vegas. For both kinds of trips, they are looking for the most frictionless experience, allowing them to maximize the amount of time they have at their destination. Convenience is essential.
All of our trips depart from our hometown Austin, TX. We have 25 destinations, all domestic and ideal for weekend getaways. We figured this out by building a community of TikTok followers who seek the shorter trips and look for destination inspiration.”
What's your primary marketing strategy?
“We focus on direct conversation and social engagement with a more content-driven approach, which means we use low-cost channels and organic growth. Our goal is to beat big competitors at their own game with a fraction of the budget.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“We started off doing user interviews and offering a special white-glove concierge service where we planned trips by hand using excel spreadsheets. Basically doing what the product does but with a more hands-on approach. This helped us figure out what travelers really wanted and the kinds of things they want done for them versus automated.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Social engagement is huge. We want to have an always-on strategy that eventually we can use for things like customer support and sales. Trips sold is another KPI, and we're working on a pretty cool promotion tool that I'm hoping leads to greater conversions too.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“Book: ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth.
Podcast: ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brene Brown.”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
“Spoon, Mac Miller, and Parquet Courts really get me on the grind.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“I would be lost without Trello. I use it for work and my personal life to make sure I'm keeping track of what needs to get done.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“It never feels like work. Sure, there are some difficult days, but those times also lead to some of the most fantastic days. I used to feel a little lost when I woke up in the morning. It was as though the overhead lights turned on when I decided to focus on my own business. I suddenly realized where I needed to go.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“This, I believe, is one of the pandemic's tiny victories. People were able to reclaim some control over their time.
My day begins with my children. We have breakfast, make some magnet tiles, and I drink some coffee as we hurry them out the door for daycare. The next few hours will be spent grinding nonstop. The morning is reserved for creative/strategic duties, while the afternoon is reserved for email/administrative tasks. I take quick breaks throughout the afternoon for 5-10min workouts. This is a lesson I discovered from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear (great read btw). The day concludes with me picking up my children, some play time before dinner, and then the nighttime routine with them. After that, I generally have a few more work tasks to complete before laying down with a book and going to bed.
It's a perfect blend of personal and professional time. I believe both sides benefit when I can focus on them separately throughout the day.”
When did you know it was time to quit your day job to focus on your startup?
“It wasn't until my mom passed that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. She constantly pushed me to pursue my curiosity rather than my passion. Because who knows what their real passion is anyway! She worked as an interior designer and had a unique outlook on just about everything. She was a huge part of my life, and her death crushed me. However, looking back on that period helped me to focus on what she taught me. It was this moment of clarity that emerged from my grief. She had been teaching me how to be an entrepreneur my entire life, I simply didn't realize it.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“I worked as a busboy at one of my favorite burger joints in Dallas, Texas (Snuffers for those in the know). It was fantastic. Working in the restaurant industry is one of the best schools I attended. I learned about deadlines, customer service, supply chain, teamwork, and managing expectations, among many other things. I've always said that my children will definitely work in a restaurant at some point in their lives. There is no better way to learn so many facets of business in such a short period of time.”
More on Govy
Justin Johnson, founder of travel startup Govy, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.