Bora Bora! Bolivia! Finland! Zim Ugochukwu, Travel Noire Founder, Builds A Platform For Black Travelers

February 28, 2014  |  

MN: You spent some time traveling through India as a Henry Luce Fellow. What was that experience like for you?  
ZU: I actually lived in India for an entire year as a Henry Luce Scholar; I spent 12 days living on an Indian train, traveling pan-India on the Jagriti Yatra, the 12-day train ride. [It] was challenging, beautiful and life changing. While living in India, I learned about the value and importance of travel. I traveled because somewhere deep down, I wanted to feel the connection amidst the difference of culture, location, opinion and lifestyle. I wanted to know that we are all still human; we still cry, fear, laugh and hope, albeit in different languages and furthermore, that we still belong to each other.

There was something exhilarating about knowing that a flight as little as six hours could take me to a place so different, I had to strain to recognize it—my social cues were [challenged], I had to resort to my preschool English much of the time, and periodically grasped for my bearings. The magical thing though, was that once I stepped off the plane and escaped the place where I spent the most time, I suddenly became more aware of ideas that I may have suppressed, applying what I saw to problems back home. While living in India, I was introduced to new ideas in ways that would have never occurred if I stayed in the US.

MN: You mentioned something about Travel Noire Academy earlier. What is that?
ZU: Travel Noire Academy, an online platform that democratizes learning with travel courses and challenges, handcrafted for travelers of the African Diaspora. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to travel, the Academy guides you with actionable and tangible steps to get you where you want to go through online courses and challenges.

Our first course for the Travel Noire Academy is called Travel Hacking: How to Travel the World for Cheap. By the end of the course, students will know exactly how and where to spot great travel deals, earn free flights (at least one roundtrip flight), finance their next trip & get a free one-way flight every time they use miles. With course enrollment, each individual gets access into our exclusive Travel Noire Google+ Community, where they can take the conversation deeper with curators and like-minded travelers.

MN: What are your top three tips for first time international travelers? 
ZU: Make copies of your travel documents (passport, license, visa information, foreign registration documents, etc); always, always carry cash in local currency. Having a few USD bills won’t hurt either. And lastly, download or purchase a small guidebook. Learn a few common phrases in the local language.

MN: What is your favorite destination so far?
ZU: Kashmir, the disputed Indian territory. Having traveled to most of the states in India, Kashmir is radically different. It’s predominately Muslim, while most of the rest of India practices Hinduism, and the landscapes are absolutely breathtaking. It’s surrounded by the Himalayan mountain ranges with lush green hills. The mantra of the region beckons slow living. It’s just a phenomenal place.

MN: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received or learned along the way? 

ZU: Be authentic and build what you’ve experienced. Authentic entrepreneurs solve problems that they’re inexplicably tied to. Authenticity is an entrepreneur who deeply understands their market or is solving a problem that was personally experienced. Deep knowledge of a market increases an entrepreneur’s chance of building a successful company.

MN: What are some of your personal or professional goals for this year?
ZU: Take a think week. Every year, I travel to a remote location and completely unplug. I typically read and write for five-to-seven days straight. I also want to make an effort to get out more. When you’re starting a company, it’s easy for you to pass on evening plans with friends to get some extra work done. Lastly, I’m doing a huge personal branding push this year.

MN: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs? 
ZU: Great artists ship. That’s a famous saying here in the Bay Area. If you spend all of your time making sure your product or service is perfect, you’ll never launch it. You’ll be too worried about the details, so much so, that you’ll continue to push back deadlines or launch dates. There is something freeing about working hard on something and then launching it into the world. Not everyone will love your product. That’s fine, no one likes lukewarm consumers anyways. You want people to be enamored with your product. Focus on solving a problem and you’ll win. Enamored consumers sell products.

Sakita Holley is the founder and CEO of House of Success, a NY-based lifestyle PR and branding firm and editor of Hashtags + Stilettos. You can follow her on twitter at @MissSuccess.  

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