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Administrative professionals book a significant portion of corporate travel, yet tools are rarely built with their needs in mind.
Throughout her whole life, Julia Leibowitz has been the person in the room that pulls people together to get things done. Even as a child, she was organizing everyone to achieve a goal.
She majored in Public Policy at Duke University, where she chaired the Major Attractions and Joe College Day committees, bringing talented musicians and speakers to campus. All her life, she has felt equally a creative type as a quantitative person.
Julia received a Master’s in Business Administration from Cornell Tech, where she co-founded her startup, Cabinet, with three fellow classmates. Julia lives in New York City where Cabinet is headquartered.
Priscila: Hi everyone and welcome once again to another episode of DojoLive, connecting experts like you. My name is Priscila Solis and I’m here in the city of Hermosillo with my co-host Wendy as well. We’re at Nearsoft’s team building week, and also I wanted to introduce Carlos Ponce, another co-host that is in Mexico City right now. Say hello Carlos!
Carlos: I’m [INAUDIBLE].. you’re having a great time.
Priscila: And today is a very special day because we have Julia Hawkins with us. To introduce her, Julia majored in public policy at Duke University where she chaired the major attractions and Joe College Day committees, brining talented musicians and speakers to campus. All her life she has felt equally a creative type as quantitative person, Julia actually received a Masters in Business administration from Cornell Tech where she co-funded her startup cabinet with three fellow classmates. So, Julia, before we get into today’s topic, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and about Cabinet?
Julia: Sure, hi, thanks for having me. So, I grew up all over the US. I lived most of my time in Minnesota and then I went to Duke for college and stuck around the North Carolina area for eight years and I worked as an executive assistant at a venture capital firm. I worked on a start-up… I worked on two startups and after that I went to business a business school at this new university called Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. So it just started five years ago, and it was really tech-focused, something I’ve always been interested in and… who isn’t right now? So I decided to try and go to get an MBA there. I met my co-founder Evan who was in the engineering program at Cornell Tech and we decided to spin out an idea that we’d had. Part of our curriculum was startup-focused, so we had done a lot of user research, talked to over 60 admins, executive assistants, administrative assistants and felt this pain point just around the chaos that is in an Administrative Professionals Day, they are the there are organizers of Executive VPs directors’ lives, although everything appears very organized for the executive because of the admins work their workflow is really complex and we wanted to help them. I had that personal experience so I had some understanding of what those complex needs were but working with the admins the last, I guess we started it in May so six or seven months learned so much about administrative professionals and have sort of fallen now into the travel space which we can get into in a minute, but our what Cabinet is a website for administrative professionals across the world to come together to share knowledge, exchange travel tips, like, for example if you’re booking a trip to Congo for your boss and you need to find a hotel that has a restaurant where you can rent the private dining room this kind of information admins are the best people to ask and so to connect them to one another with the question and answer platform is what we do, but we have some… we’re only six months old so we’ve got a lot of ideas for how to build that out to improve the workflow of admins.
Priscila: That’s great, that’s awesome. I also wanted to introduce you to Wendy Maclean our co-host who is basically Los Angeles.
Wendy: In Dallas.
Priscila: In Dallas, I’m sorry.
Wendy: The other co-host is in Los Angeles.
Priscila: Yeah, that’s where the confusion came from, but yeah it’s her first DojoLIVE!, so Wendy why don’t you start us off with today’s topic.
Wendy: Well I’ve got a question for you around the topic what you spoke about complexities so what are some complexities that admins run into that we wouldn’t think about as normal people booking travel.
Julia: Great question! so, administrative professionals their job is it is very task oriented but it’s a lot about understanding people, and understanding the nuanced preferences of everybody and this is something people talked a lot about at Phocuswright was how, you know, improving the corporate travel or experience and that is exactly what admins do every time I book travel, how do we improve the corporate mind travelers experience and that comes from understanding you know, well what seat on the plane do they want, what meal do they like, what level on the hotel floor do they prefer, what kind of beds in the room, how far from the hotel, I’m sorry, how far from the meeting or the conference, did they like to because I’d like to do aventures while they’re there, all of these nuanced preferences these complexities are things that, it’s not passed down to you from admin to admin, it’s not given to you directly from your executive, it’s stuff you have to pick up on overtime and that’s just one example of course booking travel, managing cancellations, managing hiccups that come along the way… those, of course are complex, but those I think all of us can relate to those a bit more but certainly managing the preferences of other people we all become, becoming the traveler: that’s the job of the admin.
Wendy: So what tools are available in Cabinet, to manage those preferences?
Julia: So nothing right now, we have, we wanted to start with a foundation of a network for admins because the biggest… I guess the biggest problem we’re solving – and it’s kind of beyond just travel, but any single admin is not going to know an answer better than a collective group of admins, just like in anything crowdsourcing ideas ia a way to get it to the best answer, there was a popular answer you know, submitting a chance of messing up and we wanted to build a network to connect that look at single admin to a whole network of admins and travel is something that we’re seeing and talked a lot about, last week we have an admins asking about hotel recommendations Dubai, my recommendations in Chicago, I’m [INAUDIBLE] London, if I supposed to do when you’re in Vegas outside of just gambling, and then of course bit but, we’re letting them talk about everything it’s not a problem they’re asking you if you bought two holidays, is someone how to install the toilet, just like [INAUDIBLE].
Wendy: I don’t install a toilet.
Julia: [INAUDIBLE] a toilet to buy, how to in somebody, that you know, pretty much ask an assistant to do anything and they’ll try their best to get it done which is grew the great thing about them.
Wendy: It’s another complexity that I wouldn’t think about.
Julia: Yeah, hopefully not to have to think about toilets very much, I have, I actually did some research into that one today.
Wendy: So Julia, Cabinet is a start.up and you and I met at Phocuswright, that was your first travel tech conference. So, what are some things that you took away from that conference that you learned that you can apply to Cabinet?
Julia: Well I learned a lot [INAUDIBLE]… one thing I learned was that there hasn’t been much innovation in the corporate travel space and now that discussed a lot and there was a topic about personalization like how that things like hey you’re making personalization and the corporate travel space easier and I thought that was interesting other things that I learned was just that there are there’is a los of money in travel, a ton of like one of my friends companies was our [INAUDIBLE] this year, they were at the conference and you know they were only a few years old, it was impressed that like the opportunities for startups and travel seemed so like there where a ton of them so I would encourage people now to look into getting into the travel space if you have an idea like there was a blockchain startup very met who couldn’t even say just has a technologi it’s not there completely all these loops, or concerns [INAUDIBLE] industries it’s great that some companies are so are taking these technologies into travel defense, eventually there’ll be opportunities figure all these bigger players have the money to spend to acquire companies.
Priscila: So Julia, I have a question, you mentioned that you learned recently that in the travel world people are not taking a lot of risk and there’s not many innovation going on do you worry about for example with Cabinet changing too fast and introducing risk to this environment and so like how do you think you can address that.
Julia: I don’t worry about, I don’t worry about us pardon, change to the corporate travel space and I don’t really know what I don’t know yet, I’m sure people I have gotten some advice not to get involved in certain aspects of travel and I listen to it but I mean, we’re not trying to do anything we’re not trying to disrupt travel, that’s not our mission we are really trying to help administrative professionals in any way we can ad they book a large percentage of corporate travel trips are booked by admins when you catch by admins and there where innovations I certainly saw innovations but I hadn’t seen like I did you know one thing I noticed is that I didn’t hear the word executive assistant or administrative assistant at all during the conference so I just wondered how much people were really pushing the envelope of what could be done and travel.
Wendy: That leads me to my next question, do you have competitors?
Julia: We have tools that admins use like it may go on Facebook I’ll to a Facebook group and ask people questions regarding travel or regarding their office administration world and of course LinkedIn that’s just that the network but and there conferences where these people get information but or we’re just a more specified tool that uses more robust technology to match people who have questions to the people who might have answers especially location centric answers, so no one’s doing it I think as well as us right now.
Priscila: That’s great, that’s great, and what’s the biggest challenge in your opinion in this industry overall related to improving the customer experience and its impact on adoption?
Julia: I think there isn’t too much about, we have not faced I should talk on what we haven’t fished faced a major challenge right so guard we I think in any startup where we where bootstrap us for money so we’re but it really forces us to do to think hard about to become not what decision where making so just be [INAUDIBLE] but is helping us you know if we spend a dollar here you know, how many members reach, it’s helping to think about that so I think raising a little bit of money soon will be we’ll be ready for that we’ll be ready for those answers well how are you gonna spend the money well we you know we’ve tested some things and this is what works.
Wendy: How are you finding customers now?
Julia: Good question, ok, so one of the best thing about administrative professionals is that they are always by their phone, right, they’re always trying to be accessible to their leaders and they’re very helpful, they’re very nice on the phone, they have great business acumen they can talk to anybody on the phone and so I used to pick up the phones for four years so I definitely know how to talk to an admin and not sure make sure I’m not wasting their time but also you know, let them know I’m not here to get to their boss which is what most people who call an admin a lot so.
Wendy: We’re rushing.
Julia: Yeah, exactly, and so a lot of cold calling cold emailing going into the differents groups that where admins are currently talking and being like hey I actually had this question on Cabinet can you have any of you guts answers this question because we had no members that can answer that question so kind of cross, cross-pollinating on the different tools that they’re currently using we have a blog, we write on the blog, we tweet follow our author article they’re helpful if you’re an admin so we just try to bring like helpful content out there
Carlos: I have a question, well I was thinking there is a very strong component a human component right, in Cabinet mostly you know the admin part and all that and all the people that you need to get in touch with, so, but my question even though that I’m not an engineer and I have to say that up front, being very honest here, even though I’m not an engineer but I am very interested in AI and this is because we have had a lot of guest recently who’s main part of their core business results, there’s a very strong AI component so taking this into account Julia, how do you if applicable, how do you envision AI in your vertical in your space if applicable and is it gonna be for the good, is gonna be you know, something you’re not looking forward to, how do you envision AI overall in your industry.
Julia: Well I think AI is helpful for all of these industries a lot of the mundane tasks it can it’s gonna be helpful it’s not something I’m scared in the near future definitely further out I can see where it becomes a little concerning it but or at least just disruptive on a bigger level but it’s an interesting topic and the world of assistance because most people when they take the word assistant an Ai in the same sentence you’re thinking Google Home Amazon Alexa, yeah, there’s a bunch of there’s a bunch of companies listen startup, XAI Thin, sort of doing a lot of this like robotic assistant work you know , book a me a restaurant, what’s the weather, but that stuff doesn’t that does have with what we’re doing it’s not the same type of assistant AI it’s more AI for assistance the Ai for placing assistance is actually a helping assistance and some of the ways that we plan to use it is well when we do build out more of a tool for managing travel which is a little bit more like a SAS model a monthly service you can use it to manage your leaders travel what part of that will we’ll use AI to push recommendations on hotels and restaurants that are, you know, what other Cabinet members are saying are great places to stay and eat in their area, that are in the same industry as you are like they work in finance let’s say, they work in a venture capital firm even more specific here are the restaurants here the hotels, and using you know, categorizing all that data making sure we’re doing that properly now so that in the future we can provide better recommendations you know, more this personalization aspect we’ll probably use it similarly to how companies like TripAdvisor use it.
Carlos: Thank you so much Julia for my answer my question, before we continue Julia, here’s something that I’d like to just remind the audience if you have any questions for Julia you can send them right here ok, on Twitter you all got to use you’ll know how to use Twitter so there’s no secret tool, on here @DojoLive the questions, reading right here back to our guest and she can respond here in real time or maybe it you just can forward with her or whatever you know Twitter works, and so anyway that being said Wendy, back to you.
Wendy: Back to me, ok, offline we spoke about your lack of sleep the CEO of a star-up so what keeps you up at night related to growth tech platform and market challenges? Or anything else.
Julia: Yeah, well, so right now we have a fairly healthy group a good size of members I have gotten to know most of them personally which I’m really, it’s a honor to get to know your customers personally and but it keeps me up at night that like we’re growing and I’m not able to you know, address their feedback or answer their questions on Cabinet if they have a question on Cabinet and no one knows the answer you know, how do I get the answer for them so I think I fell a lot of responsibility in finding you know and helping them because they’re giving my team so much help they’re giving us so much feedback, helping us grow and you know, I want to be able to fulfill what our value is with just you know, helping them get the knowledge that they need to get this stuff done, so that probably keeps me up the most but yeah, I mean, last night it was, I was up because I have had a combination of I live on campus at Cornell Tech I’m in like a student housing and so we live in this like eco building I think it’s the only LED certified building for residents in like the country or something, I love the air conditioning is like crazy wack so I was up because there was like it was super hot it’s really cold in New York but it was so hot thought in my room because they can’t change the temperature because it’s like a LEED certified building like which I asked you port but then I was just like emailing customers and stuff and I don’t know.
Wendy: Just working all the time.
Julia: Yeah, I do take breaks because like you gotta reset.
Priscila: I imagine startup life is crazy.
Julia: Yeah, it’s really fun , you find a good team it’s like working with you know, your best friends is great.
Priscila: I was gonna ask a question so, regarding Cabinets, what kind of partnerships would you find strategic and why do you think so.
Julia: Thinking a lot about this right now, a lot of companies really want to reach admins so like brands from a office supply brand to like even travel companies so I’m open to figuring out the best way to like connect the two I’m not really sure financially what we what we want to or if we want to get anything out of those but I like the ideas if it can help the admin to be able to provide them you know, they’re always asking like once I was a tech tool I can do this or you know, what I would snacks do you keep in the office that are healthy like things like that, happy to partner with brand that can provided some answer to those questions but also there’s all these admin groups out there like I really want to work more with a couple of these admin brands that are doing cool things that are you know, pushing the admin brand forward not like you know, the secretary the image of your admin working at the secretary stapling all day long like that, that brand of admin group I’m not really into but yeah, Nearsoft, Dojolive.
Carlos: So we’re approaching the final segment of today’s interview so what I would like to ask you is Julia, this sort of an open question but I think it would be, your response might be encouraging for other entrepreneurs out there in the tech world, and a travel tech space if you had to start over what would you do differently and why I mean, I know your startup buddy you might have learned something along the way that you that allows you enables you to say maybe I shouldn’t go this way maybe I should do this you know, something like what kind of advice would you give your audience?
Julia: That’s a good question.
Carlos: Words of wisdom you want to share with the audience.
Julia: We’re so like we’re so new or only six month old that like we’re still in the beginning so it’s like there are thing that I learned I mean, I learned little things everyday but I think I wouldn’t redo any of the major decision I think the best thing entrepreneur can do is talk to their customers as early as possible and find a customer who is willing to work with you and maybe the future buy because you need to have some sort of motivation like perseverance and it can come in the form of money you know some people get motivated by fundraising I’m not really one of those people I worked for I was an executive assistant for venture capital firms so I saw a lot of startups just take money and money and money and not spend it right and so I feel it kind of the opposite on taking people’s money but okay, users having customers is probably what motivates me the most making revenue of course if you can do that early on do that, but like we thought about that we thought about forging for it initially but we decided not to because we wanted to be as accessible to as many admins as possible and there’s actually a lot of admins in the US there’s ten million in the US, 250 million in the world which is more than there are developers it’s more than our teachers so we didn’t feel like we needed we wanted to get a good number of those on Cabinet and then we’ll figure out what compares what pools you can build that we can charge for potentially to make a business so I don’t know, working with customers is probably my answers but if you can make money do that.
Wendy: Do you have a timeline for the rollout of that subscription plan?
Julia:Well I think we’re thinking in the by middle to end of next year 2019 that should be available at least in the beta form.
Wendy: Do you have people lining up that are there your task users right now who are asking hey when i can I start with a more advanced
Julia: [INAUDIBLE] and that was home last week who building or tutoring it towards people who [INAUDIBLE] I went today he was like in the middle of booking a trip she books like a trip almost everyday she’s managing some trips so for some people think [INAUDIBLE]
Wendy: It’s great.
Julia: Yeah, hopefully will keep them going, get out there.
Carlos: I think we’re ready to, we’re about, coming up on time so I feel already serial part right, the only thing left on me it’s was Julia and you a big heart felt warm thank you for having me with us I hope our audience also has taking advantage of today’s conversation you chose still that being said, that’s all I have for now so back to you.
Priscila: Yes, so Julia I just wanted to thank you a lot for your time we really enjoy talking to you in this episode and thanks everyone for broadcasting to another episode of DojoLive connecting experts like you and see you next time.
Wendy: Thank you Julia, it’s was a pleasure.
Julia: Thank you, nice to meet you.