Interview With TJ Sassani, Founder & CEO at ZOZI

TJ is an avid adventurer having pursued his passion in over 30 countries, running the gamut from wreck diving in Australia to canyoning in New Zealand to backcountry skiing expeditions. A 2-time IronMan triathlete he has also completed an unassisted solo cycle expedition from Portugal to Italy, crossing the Pyrenees.

After quitting a job with long grueling days, TJ spent a  year traveling the world. While traveling he found it difficult to book local excursions, so he decided to create a company that would enable travelers to book local, low-cost excursions.

Over 6 million people have used ZOZI to discover and book things to do around the globe, purchasing nearly a billion dollars in activities.

Who are your ideal clients?: ZOZI serves both consumers and business owners. Our most passionate consumers tend to have a spirit of adventure, are driven to discover new places and push themselves to try new things. For businesses, we serve a broad range of companies offering experiences that span outdoor adventures, tours, classes, and rentals.

Is this your first business?: This is the third business I’ve started. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and am driven every day to be the best leader possible for my team.

What is the biggest reason for your success so far?: ZOZI’s success is fueled by our talented team and the culture we’ve created. We’re united by our mission of inspiring people to experience the world. This is what attracted all of us to the company, inspires us to do our best work and acts as our north star for what we do.

What were the earliest indications that this business could be successful?: The earliest indications of the magnitude of the opportunity came from my own personal experience while doing extended international travel. I found it really frustrating to find and book things as I traveled from city to city. I knew technology had a huge role to play in transforming the way experience operators market their business, and how consumers discover and book these activities. As I researched, I discovered there was a $200 billion annual spend on activities globally, which made the magnitude of the opportunity very clear.

What position did you hire first?: Our first hire was a talented, scrappy and hungry generalist. He started as our Email Marketing Manager, but he has worn just about every hat at our company. He’s part of our executive team today and is one of our biggest culture and brand champions.

What is working best for your marketing right now?: Marketing plays a critical role in driving awareness and educating experience operators on how technology can help them grow their business and provide the best experiences for their customers. Our marketing focuses on developing a trusted relationship with our B2B customers, helping them be great at what they do, and being much more than a software provider.

What is your biggest differentiator?: Our two-sided platform is our biggest differentiator. For our experience operator customers, in addition to providing an industry leading SaaS software to power their business, we offer access to new customers through our ZOZI activity marketplace, where over 6 million people have used ZOZI to discover and book things to do around the globe. For consumers, we offer discovery and bookings of tens of thousands of activities, with many of those being instantly bookable. This is only possible to provide because we manage operators’ reservation systems.

What is the toughest decision you've had to make in the last few months?: Our toughest decisions at this stage of the company involve prioritization and focus. Our team can accomplish anything we set out to do, but selecting the highest impact areas to focus our collective energy is where we spend most of our strategic cycles.

If it was possible, what advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?: Ten years ago was actually when I decided to quit my ‘safe’ job in search of something more fulfilling. I’m not sure I would do anything different, to be honest. I had a vision of ZOZI and what I wanted it to be and went after it.

How did you meet your co-founders or business partners?: My co-founder and I were both part of the early team at Lux Research. We created a common connection around our entrepreneurial interests and when I identified the opportunity for ZOZI, he was the first person I went to for ideas and feedback.

Has content marketing been successful for your business?: Yes, content marketing has been very successful for ZOZI. We use content marketing to build a partnership with our customers by providing them educational resources to help their businesses succeed.

What book are you most likely to give as a gift?: My favorite book is The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I use many principles from this book to shape both my personal and professional interactions and to inspire my team.

Favorite place to travel to?: Byron Bay, Australia is a special place for me, as I was staying there when I wrote the business plan for ZOZI. I’ve been back multiple times since for personal reflection and to return to my core.


What is the best small business in your neighborhood?: San Francisco Food Safari is a great example of a fantastic small business in our neighborhood and one you can book through ZOZI. They offer culinary tours through North Beach or the Mission and visit pop-up restaurants, markets, and off the beaten path delis, coffee houses and bakeries. A truly local experience.

What is your favorite app or online tool?: The Strava app is the first that comes to mind. I use it both for tracking and analyzing my workouts and bike rides, but also for competing against others in their community. Hyper-addictive.

How did you finance your business?: ZOZI has been backed with over $45M by some of the most experienced and successful investors in travel and technology, including Sir Richard Branson and Pritzker Vlock Ventures.

What advice do you have for new founders?: It’s written about a lot as of late, but for founders, tenacity and grit are truly critical to success.

Twitter: @tjx

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