Founder's story series - Joly Zou
Born and raised in China, Joly came to the UK to study a Masters’ in Marketing. She joined Nokia’s Global Marketing team after graduating and then moved onto Microsoft as a Senior Marketing Manager, overseeing the launch of Windows 10. In 2014 she was selected as one of the 30 future leaders to join the Marketing Academy Scholarship Programme.
Joly is a big believer in human relations and education. Other than working on Solocal, she is very active in working for Charities and Non-profits. She’s a Trustee for Relate, Marketing Committee Member for AMSR, and Mentor at Shaw’s Trust Enterprise Programme.
What makes you get up in the morning?
On most days, it is my cats’ jumping on top of me. Jokes aside, it’s the excitement of seeing what will happen today. Building your own business means whatever you put in, you see the impact straightaway. It can be very motivating – when it works. Though most of the time it doesn’t and you just have to get use to the kicks and move on to a new solution. I do welcome problems as I enjoy solving them.
it’s also about doing what I love and believe in because I know it will help others. There are days that I feel lost and in doubt and it’s the passion that holds me up during those grey days.
You are “CEO” of Solocal, what does that mean?
On paper, it means I make the decisions for the strategic direction of the business. I think it’s really just a fancy title to put on the name card.
In our team, I focus on the customer/user side which is really the core of marketing. Understanding the customer and inputing that into the product development, our strategy, finding the right channels to communicate the most effective messages to them and finding the best way to grow our user base. I look for funding opportunities, talk to investors and pitch at events.
As a small Startup team, we don’t really have very defined roles. Ben’s a very experienced marketer and he’s heavily involved with our marketing activities. Yes I do make the final decisions, but Ben and Andrii help me in reaching them. I fully trust them and am very lucky to have them joining.
What’s your biggest challenges since you started working on Solocal?
It was finding the right people! It is harder than finding a partner to get married! I spent 29 years finding the man, and in the startup world, you only have a few months! It is not just about getting the right skills, but most importantly: does the person believe in the vision, do we get along, are they willing to give it 100% just based on the belief? You see it is really like a marriage… I was super lucky to have Ben, Andrii and Beth. Without them, Solocal would still be only an idea.
Now our current challenge is on growth and traction. As an app with social nature, it relies on the number of users to succeed. It is a constant experiment to try different channels and methods to find the sweet spot. While we do believe we are building the right product for our market, it is the marketing that makes it succeed.
What’s your ambition for Solocal?
We want to be the integrated travel platform for all female travellers. We are entering the market by focusing on women who travel solo as we need to be focused with our solution and marketing. By building our brand as the trusted global travel brand for women, we will expand our service to all types of women travellers: business, leisure, women travel in groups, women travel with kids.
There are many travel apps on the market, how’s Solocal different?
As mentioned, we’re very focused on serving this specific group of travellers and employing technology to ensure our community is secure.
I do believe in the old-fashioned ways of communication, meaning you meet someone in real-life, have a chat face-to-face and do something together in the physical world. When I was working in Microsoft, I see how we let technology dominate our life. It is probably more convenient, but I do not believe it makes us happier. No matter how developed technology is, as human, we are social animals and need real interactions. That’s what Solocal focus on achieving: we are not just one more social network, but we help people to make meaningful connections with others and with the world.
What’s dose being an entrepreneur means to you?
It is a trendy word to put on LinkedIn. For me, it means someone who pursues a dream, and keeps going no matter how many times he/she falls down. It’s really the spirit, not the title.
What’s your dream trip?
A trip to Bhutan, the happiest country in the world. I’d just like to spend some time there to see how people live, share their wisdom, learn something about life, and bring it back to my daily life.
Contact Joly at Joly@solocal.travel