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Nick Farina understands just how frustrating frequent travel, especially frequent business travel, can be. He also understands how lonely traveling solo can be and his desire to simplify the process and increase the traveler’s ability to connect en route guided the development of JetZet, an itinerary and relationship management platform for frequent travelers and travel companies.

As CEO of JetZet, Nick wears a lot of hats and does it well. In 2012, PhoCusWright, the travel market research firm, named Nick one of the top 35 under 35 in the travel industry. With Nick on the JetZet team are Kiran Patel, founder and CTO, and Joe Razza, design director, and their efforts helped JetZet earn the distinction of being one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Brilliant Companies of 2011–JetZet’s first year of business.

A graduate of Haverford College, where he studied Japanese history and wrote a thesis on ritual suicide during the Meiji period (not for the faint of heart) and a visiting student at Oxford University, where he studied history and screenwriting, Nick has a love for the arts and an appreciation for social causes. When he is not running, supporting local theater, or writing a screenplay, Nick serves on the boards of the Chicago Access Corporation (a public television network) and Mighty Rights Media (a startup media platform aiming to increase engagement with human rights issues).

Clearly, Nick is busy, but he took time to talk to us about JetZet and his other startup experiences from JetZet’s Manhattan office:

 

 

How is JetZet improving travel?

We’re passionate about creating a product that will make life easier for frequent travelers. We began by asking ourselves about the  problems that frequent travelers face. And answering that question guided us to focus on itinerary, relationship management, and automation. For the itinerary, we saw that there is so much that can be improved upon with itinerary design and use, especially in terms of streamlining and enhancing user experience. JetZet users can organize all aspects of their itinerary (flight, hotel, rental car, calendar, maps) in one place with a user-friendly interface.

 

 

Improving relationship management for frequent travelers is our second focus. With JetZet, you can connect your existing social graph with your travel plans, so you can say, “Hey, I’m in San Francisco,” and then see a list of all the people you know who are currently in San Francisco and coordinate plans to meet up. Or not. We know that many trips are not social by nature, and our itinerary service is useful by itself.  Privacy features are another very important part of JetZet, and JetZet users will always control who has access to their travel plans. To facilitate this, we’ve created a circle system for sharing travel information. For example, for some trips, you might want everyone in your social network to know your plans, and then for others, you might only want your boss or your wife to know. 

And our third focus is automation. Everything updates automatically and in real-time: social graph matching, calendar sync and maps. If you change your itinerary–say your flight time necessitates a change in car rental, your maps and directions update automatically. Also, we are rolling out a new partnership with ExpertFlyer that will offer seat alerts. If you book a flight and want two seats together and they’re not available, or if you want an exit row or an aisle, JetZet will notify you the second those seats are available. 

Can travelers meet new people using JetZet?

Certainly. You have the option to do both–connect with people already in your social network or connect with new people with similar travel plans.

 

 

Where is JetZet in its development?

JetZet is live and in its beta phase. We’re gathering user data and feedback and evolving accordingly. We plan to launch our finalized product and our marketing campaign in summer 2013.

You had several different startup experiences prior to JetZet. What did you learn?

I began working with my first startup in college, and senior year I had to make a difficult choice between working with a startup or teaching English in Japan after graduation, and I chose the startup. Looking back, I’m glad that I made that choice–that was really my first entrepreneurial risk. The work with the startup didn’t turn out the way I had planned, but if I had gone to Japan instead, I think that not immediately jumping into entrepreneurship would have had an opportunity cost. For me, the moral of that whole story is that you have to take the risk and you have to take it early because everything you learn shapes what you can produce later. 

I’ve also learned the importance of a good team and of standing by that team. I really believe that the most important rule of building a startup is to be the dumbest person on your team. Build a team of smart people whom you respect, and then, to prevent groupthink, create an atmosphere where people feel free to speak their minds and disagree.

Once you have your team in place, stand by your team. People, especially the talented people you want for your startup, have a lot of options for where they want to work. Keep people on the journey with you. Respect that they are giving you their time, often at low pay, which is a huge gift. Every single day that someone works for your startup, they are making a decision to stand by you and stand by your vision.

 

 

My philosophy on standing by your team was tested when I was working with a previous startup. One of the employees made an inappropriate joke on Twitter about one of our most important clients, and the client found out. It was a bad situation all around. Everyone felt bad–the employee, the client, me, and I had a lot of options for how I could respond. I went with the option that respected both the employee and the client. I made a sincere apology to the client and promised that it would never happen again. Then I made sure that it never happened again, and I increased the team’s awareness of appropriate conduct, especially on social media. It was a great learning experience, and on our team it paid off in increased camaraderie and respect.

Have there been other setbacks?

Every day we have some type of setback–an unhappy customer, a partnership that doesn’t work for whatever reason. That’s just the cost of doing business–the cost of continually pushing forward. The path to success is continually pushing forward and growing your company, and you’ll face setbacks. If you’re not encountering setbacks, then you’re not growing.

On a personal note, I’ve encountered career setbacks, and I’ve learned to push through and keep going. In 2010, I was fired from a columnist job for an online media company after writing only a few articles. It stung quite a bit, but in the end, it became a talking point for my career and got me a meeting with a very important tech writer where we bonded over our mutual dislike of that media company.

What advice do you have for sustaining yourself emotionally through the setbacks?

You must have work-life balance and some kind of outlet to take your mind off things. Have a support network of good friends outside of work, and unplug from work when you have occasion to, even if it’s only once a month.

And most importantly, since you’ve lived and worked in both cities: Chicago pizza or New York pizza?

New York pizza. Definitely New York. Sorry, I still love you Chicago.

 

JetZet Demo Video from JetZet on Vimeo.

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