By Chris Maggio
Fifty million American women travel for business annually. Seventy-five percent of them travel alone. Nearly a third report sexual harassment. The safety implications are huge, but include costly problems of retention resulting from travel burnout, and corporate executives are working hard to fix this, right?
Nope. It took a veteran businesswoman, one with 15 years experience traveling while representing various brands, to create Amelia, the first web app for women who travel solo for business.
Kate McDevitt Nichols was alone at a hotel bar on a business trip when the lightbulb turned on. “[I was] tired of eating alone, tired of exploring cities alone, and tired of worrying about being approached by the wrong people,” she wrote under Our Story at gojanego.co.
Amelia was still an idea when Nichols and her sister, Ellen McDevitt Saksen, both North Hills natives, attended Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Women’s Edition in March 2016. The three-day weekend event was at AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear in East Liberty. Attendees had 54 hours to network and then create and present a startup.
— Go Jane Go – Amelia (@gojanegoapp) August 17, 2017
The sisters met Sanjana Baldwa, who became Amelia’s UX (User Experience) Designer. They pitched Amelia to the rest of the attendees, who voted it as one of the top pitches. They then worked on a formal presentation for Amelia throughout the weekend, and the event’s judges declared it the winner out of 13 startup ideas.
“It was definitely validation that we weren’t crazy,” Saksen said. “Everyone got it, any woman who travels. And now we’ve spoken to thousands of women, and anyone who’s ever been on a trip by themselves for work totally gets right away what we’re talking about.”
They founded Go Jane Go, the company which houses Amelia, that month. “We liked [the name Go Jane Go] because it is plucky and implies forward motion, like most business travelers experience,” Saksen said. The name also nods to The Dick and Jane books.
Work on the business began in earnest in January 2017. Saksen, now CEO, quit her day job to work at Go Jane Go full-time. COO Nichols continues to work at Red Bull.
It’s no surprise that Amelia Earhart inspired the app’s name, though it was technically not named after her. Saksen said they made a list of admirable, historical women, and Amelia rose to the top. Earhart’s estate okayed the name as in the spirit of how she would have wanted to be remembered.
This is according to a 2014 GfK survey. So yes, there is a reason for women to still feel uncomfortable walking alone at night in a city or traveling alone. #travelingwhilefemale #stopharassment #womensrightsarehumanrights #womenempowerment #safetyinnumbers #womeninbusiness #womenintech #womeninsales
Users can download the free app, which is currently in beta testing, and then list their professional and personal interests to create their profiles. The app allows businesswomen to connect with others based on shared interest, shared employment, or geography. The app works wherever one can access it and if the country one is in allows it. Users can also sign up through LinkedIn.
The company makes changes to the app based on user feedback every week. For example, users could always message people individually. Now there is also a message board. Users will soon be able to post 10-second videos explaining whom they are as an extra layer of security.
The company also added links for cities that are highly traveled, such as Seattle and Phoenix. These city pages, every one monitored by an ambassador, list popular networking and nightlife spots. Saksen is Pittsburgh’s ambassador. To become an ambassador, a woman must count a city as her homebase and she must know someone on the Go Jane Go team or be a first-tier friend.
The team is working B2B (business-to-business) with corporations that have women groups, such as Red Bull, BNY Mellon, and AstraZeneca. When the beta period ends, Saksen hopes Go Jane Go can approach corporations and explain how Amelia addresses burn-out and gives companies a reputational lift. Then the businesses could buy advertising. The other hope is to grow the Amelia community so that data will be available to travel brands this time next year.
— Go Jane Go – Amelia (@gojanegoapp) August 13, 2017
Other developments include a blog for the female business traveler. Go Jane Go also moved into an office in Alloy 26 at Nova Place during the first week of July 2017. Alpha Lab awarded it a space prior to that.
Saksen recently spoke at The AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear Demo Day 2017, a morning of company launches. Christina Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority and an adviser, introduced her. Here Saksen gave those sobering statistics concerning businesswomen who travel. Amelia may not rectify those statistics entirely—that would arguably take changes in fair hiring and in attitudes toward sexual assault and harassment—but if its current trajectory continues, it will go a long way toward alleviating them.
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April 25, 2018