(Afrotech) Veronica Woodruff, The Founder Of An AI Platform Letting Travelers Book a Personal Assistant at the Airport
By Samantha Dorisca @ AfroTech
January 26, 2024
Entrepreneurship chose founder Veronica Woodruff. At the age of 8, Woodruff convinced her dad to buy bulk candy from the store so she could sell the sweet treats to her classmates. When she hit middle school, she would often win the fundraising campaigns. Her hustling nature stemmed from her family of entrepreneurs. “My grandfather was an entrepreneur. My aunts and uncles are entrepreneurs. I’ve been around a lot of entrepreneurs,” Woodruff told AFROTECH in an interview. When Woodruff was 21 years old, she moved from Monterey Bay, CA, to Atlanta, GA, after her father passed away. What kept her rooted during this transitional period was encouragement from her former college advisor. “I went to college at California State University, Monterey Bay. I remember telling my advisor that I was moving to Atlanta, and he said, ‘Atlanta’s a good city. It’s home of the world’s best Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies.’ He said a lot of people come from all over the world to start these amazing companies. That was the seed that was planted,” Woodruff recalled.
Identifying a Problem
With a goal post in mind, she would initially work in retail while looking to transition to an entry-level position in Atlanta. She then received various internship opportunities, which led her to work with various CEOs while also helping small businesses. Woodruff would take countless flights from Georgia to California during this time, so her friend suggested she consider becoming a flight attendant. Although she knew this would not be a permanent job post, it brought her one step forward to her aspirations of becoming a founder of a company. Woodruff worked as a flight attendant for over a decade, and during that time she observed the various obstacles travelers would face while at the airport. She even inquired from passengers if they would consider paying for services that made their travel arrangements more convenient. From personal experience, she also understood that having reliable travel assistance would be a service she’d readily accept, especially as a mother of a newborn. “At that time, I was a new mom and I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom. So, each and every time that I traveled, there was a struggle of having someone to help me because I was traveling alone while my husband was working,” Woodruff said. “And I literally needed to pack a stroller, a car seat, and I just needed an extra set of hands. I always relied on a stranger, if it was a good travel weekend. The reality was I would’ve paid for assistance if there was assistance available, and there was nothing available to me.”
Building a Solution
What would ultimately embolden Woodruff to bring a solution to market was her participation in various hackathons. She had no prior experience in technology, but she learned she was helpful in finding solutions for larger corporations. Woodruff says she was a winner in many of the events she would attend, and one investor took notice. “I would go to these community events here in Atlanta at the Atlanta Technical Village. I would see the same investor that I didn’t know. He was a stranger, and each and every time I won, he would come and congratulate me. And the last time that I won, he said, ‘you know you need to solve a problem of your own,'” she reflected. That solution would be her creation of Travelsist in 2018. While still working as a flight attendant, Woodruff embarked on research focused on customer discovery at Georgia Institute of Technology to determine how her company should price its services. It initially embraced a direct-to-consumer model, offering baby gear rentals and on-demand concierge services. From there the company launched its services on Shopify.
Pivoting During the Pandemic
In 2020, she was panicked due to the implications of COVID-19 on the travel industry. However, conversations with travel industry leaders propelled Woodruff to scale and advance her company to meet the needs of the market. “I remember me freaking out because I’m like, ‘OK, we’re launching a travel startup and the government just said travel is shutting down.’ So instead of hanging my company up on the shelf, what we did is we started meeting with airport leaders. They all said, ‘Can you do travel assistance?,” Woodruff explained. “Our concierges, we designed them to go and assist families, but they wanted to know if they can help meet and assist people who had disabilities, people who had issues with mobility and accessibility, the elderly people with wayfinding, and people who have special needs.”
Travelsist then pivoted to become an artificial intelligence (AI) powered platform that helps travelers book a reservation with a personal assistant who will assist them in getting through the airport safely, seamlessly, and on-time. “We designed our technology that gives power back to the people where they can have control over their very own experience, where they can go to the palm of their hands and request and receive assistance wherever they’re located within the airport environment,” Woodruff said. According to the company website, Travelsist users can download the app and share insights into their trip and details surrounding their needs to request assistance. The software will then match users to nearby Travelsistants who can fulfill their requested tasks. Once the Travelsistant has claimed the request, the user can chat via the app. On the day of their departure, they will need to verify their unique job ID with the Travelsistant at the location. From there, it will be the responsibility of the Travelsistant to ensure the user makes it to their correct gate or to their transportation if they are departing from the airport. Currently, the platform is available in the Atlanta, GA, area, and exercises its platform at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Looking ahead, Woodruff hopes to reach airports across the globe, with plans already to enter new cities in 2024. “Success for us looks like operating out of the 41,000-plus airports around the world,” she said. “We are redefining passenger services when it comes to accessibility. We feel that people should have more control over their experiences, where right now we don’t. And we can do that powered by AI and machine learning.” At the time of this writing, Woodruff’s tech efforts have been backed by $1.1 million in venture capital funding, and she has participated in accelerators including J.P. Morgan & Techstars and The Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) in conjunction with The Rockefeller Foundation’s Opportunity Collective (ROC).
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