Alumni Interview: Nicole Cohen

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Nikki CohenWhile working as the Special Events Manager at Pace Gallery in New York City, Nicole noticed how the startup scene was taking off in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Curious and intrigued, she launched a travel startup and took a running start into learning all she could to ensure her new business took flight.

1. What were you doing before you came to GA?

I was the Special Events Manager in the Communications Department at Pace Gallery in New York City. I oversaw high-profile parties and marketing opportunities for the gallery including everything from exhibition openings to exclusive private dinners to fashion shows.

2. What brought you to GA?

I live in Brooklyn and had been watching the startup scene which made me really interested in starting my own tech venture. I had always been curious about tech, but had no background in the subject and didn’t really know where to start.  When I decided to launch a travel startup and was looking to learn as much as possible about web development so that I could hire intelligent and capable technologists to create my site, my brother told me about GA. While he is also a founder and extremely encouraging, when I told him I signed up for the back-end development course, he told me I wouldn’t be able to do it. That made me want to do it even more.

3. Have you always wanted to start your own business?

I have absolutely always wanted to start my own business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and it was inevitable that I would launch my own company, it was just a matter of timing. Once I had the idea for Bon Voyaging and did the market research, I knew it was time to jump in.

4. Tell us about Bon Voyaging.

Bon Voyaging is a platform that allows the discerning traveler to create a digital itinerary that makes travel planning easy and enjoyable. Our powerful search tools and sleek design make it simple to create custom maps tailored to your destinations, collect inspiring places and recommendations easily, and design well-crafted itineraries to share with like-minded travelers. My philosophy is that you should get lost in the right neighborhood. What I mean by that is you should collect enough research to find the coolest places, but also leave room for ongoing discovery. No travel planning site can be a substitute for wandering around and stumbling upon a cozy, below-the-radar cafe in Paris. Then you can add that to your voyage and share it with your network.

4a. Where did the inspiration for Bon Voyaging come from?

The initial idea for Bon Voyaging came from my personal experience of traveling and giving recommendations to friends without ever having one place to save my research or an easy way to share it. The concepts and ideas behind Bon Voyaging really solidified after I left my job in New York to live in Paris and travel through Europe in the summer of 2012. I emptied out my apartment in Williamsburg, put all of my stuff into storage and left for Paris. Once there, I immediately started wireframing and developing the product while traveling myself. Then I proceeded to build the platform that I wanted to use for travel planning.

5. How do you currently promote your business/brand?

Since Bon Voyaging is still in beta, I started to promote it predominantly through word of mouth and social media. I also love working with bloggers and highlighting their voyages which allows Bon Voyaging to reach their audiences as well. More recently, the site has been featured in several major news publications which drove a lot of traffic and signups. But as the founder, I just get out there and tell people about it!

6. Any challenges that you didn’t expect?

When I first decided to start the business, I thought that finding a dev team would be relatively simple. I quickly realized that as a non-technical person I was at a major disadvantage and that’s when I decided to go to GA. I wanted to converse intelligently and be smart when looking at different agencies so that my site would have a solid foundation. By taking the course at GA, I was able to learn the vocabulary and understand what back-end development entailed which helped me select a fantastic team. Learning more about tech is something that is an ongoing process.

7. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting your own business?

I can talk to strangers! I am not naturally a particularly shy person, but I am also not innately outgoing either. At my first networking event, I just took a deep breath and decided to talk to anyone and everyone who would listen and to always look for a way in which we could collaborate. The travel and tech scenes are surprisingly welcoming.

8. Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Get out there. Just look for every networking event, relevant conference, and meetup group you can find and go. Even if you don’t feel like it, you never know who you will meet. Always carry your business cards and start conversations. I joke that I’ve meet more people in the last year than in the last 10 combined.

9. Any crazy/funny/exciting startup stories you can share?

I was checking my analytics as I do every evening and one Sunday a few weeks ago, there was a huge spike in traffic. My first thought was that the site was broken, my second thought was that someone had hacked it. As it turned out, someone had reviewed the site in the Los Angeles Times! It was so incredibly exciting and I was grateful for the coverage and exposure to a larger audience.

10. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Besides the usual things like dark chocolate, which I don’t feel so guilty about, but my techy guilty pleasure is buying domain names. I love buying up urls and thinking of possible uses for them. I recently acquired my first four letter domain for a very reasonable sum and I am extremely excited about it.

Bon Voyaging: Travel Startup Looking to Build a Team

Bon Voyaging is looking to build a diverse team of dedicated professionals. This is a perfect opportunity to join an early-stage startup and help grow a company and brand. Experience in travel, design, and/or tech is a plus, but all skill sets (technical and non-technical) and time commitments will be considered.

To apply to please send a brief cover letter that includes at least one piece of constructive feedback on the current site and your resume to Nicole, ncohen@bonvoyaging.com.

Learn About Our Back-End Web Development Course Here