Q&A with Yaa Birago, founder of Femmebnb, a new travel platform for women

Yaa Birago is banking on pandemic fatigue to get women on the road again. (Courtesy Femmebnb)

Airbnb has revolutionized the way people travel. Femmebnb wants to revolutionize what this experience looks like for women.

Yaa Birago, a Ghana-born, Toronto-based mother of two, came up with the idea of ​​starting her business after being subjected to dangerous conditions while on getaways to Rome and Paris in 2017. In Italy, she has been harassed outside her apartment – from which she was locked out. “I was sexually harassed to the point where I stood in the doorway, the door was locked and I had nowhere to go,” she said. Her host, a male, told her that she shouldn’t be worried – he says incidents like this happen “all the time”.

After this disheartening experience, Birago, IT consultant and travel enthusiast, launched Womanbnb in 2020. It is an online platform with a sleek and familiar design that harnesses artificial intelligence to help women traveling alone feel safer and more welcome in their new destinations. Since starting out in Toronto, she has recruited over 4,000 guests and potential hosts from 60 countries.

Below is a condensed Q&A edited with Birago.

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Tell me a bit about Femmebnb. How is it different from other travel platforms?

Femmebnb is essentially a social networking platform that alleviates the safety concerns associated with women traveling by helping them rent spaces with other women. [hosts] in the hope of maximizing safety. At the same time, there is a unique space called Her Community. It’s an AI-powered space that allows women to connect with other women, play interactive games, and also create personalized routes. So, at any time when you are on Her Community, you can connect with women around the world and also enrich your travel or accommodation experience.

How did you launch Femmebnb? Did you go looking for investor money or did you choose another route?

I started with my own money (over $ 50,000 to date). Currently, I am still in the process of starting. We have won competitions that have shed light on us. We won first place in CB House competition last year. We were also recently nominated for The Bessie Prize by Wanderful, an award for organizations making a difference in the way women travel.

We hope to start raising [funds] in the next four to five months. We have interested investors. However, we are still trying to figure out exactly how we want to make the investment. We want to make sure women get the first bite as well.

Being a woman of color, diversity and inclusion has always been the initial thought when starting anything. I wanted to make sure that there are other voices that I can bring on board that will allow us to grow. I believe that diversity and inclusion create this environment where innovation is born.

How does Femmebnb keep female travelers safe, so that what happened to you in Rome, hopefully, doesn’t happen to someone else?

Some platforms have discrimination policies where women cannot rent only to women. We are therefore making sure that this is possible. With our current platform, you also have the option of uploading a 30 second or 1 minute video just talking about you so people can get to know you.

We do everything we can to increase credibility and trust on the platform. We make sure there is full verification for both guests and host during onboarding. We have protocols in place for guests to follow, as well as emergency numbers where, in the event of an incident, the host can reach us immediately and we can intervene.

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What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up around 6 a.m. I do a little devotion because I am a faith based person. I also do meditation for about 30 minutes. And then I do what I have to do personally – prepare my two boys for school. And then after I have my appointments, time for work. I’m trying to squeeze in some time in my day right now, even if it’s just an hour to think, because rest and self-care are really important. Last year I was really exhausted because I was doing so many things. And then around 4 o’clock, my boys come home and everything becomes chaotic again. And then, maybe at 7:30 am, that’s when things start to calm down. I have meetings, maybe a team meeting. And then at 9 a.m., when all is calm for me, I focus on myself and drink a glass of wine if I can.

What will the post-COVID journey look like?

At the moment, we are keeping a waiting list for women who wish to register or perhaps book on our platform when travel resumes. We have almost 550 women on this waiting list, which we started in January.

Many women find travel a way to get away from it all, a way to truly explore and discover life. So with the pandemic, it definitely keeps us in a box. And I think once it’s all over, the trip will explode.

What are your current priorities for Femmebnb?

Get people to know more about us, our mission and what we do. Our focus is not on reservations. Our goal is to get people to our platform and get more people to sign up, especially getting more hosts to list their properties and prepare when the demand for travel increases.

[Related: ‘Super Sema,’ Produced by Actress Lupita Nyong’o, is a Win for Representation]

Zoya Hasan contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: The Story Exchange celebrates its 10th anniversary with the launch of the annual Women In Science Incentive Prize. To apply now for the chance to receive $ 5,000 in funding for your climate-related research or startup. Deadline: July 31.

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