PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER, JITTERBUG TRAVEL | CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
Most people love the idea of travel; very few people love the idea of flying. That was the dichotomy that Jay Jovick noticed when he met Joshua Blum. Together they came up with the idea for Jitterbug, a door-to-door luxury coach service that caters to groups hoping to avoid the hassle of the airport.
Growing up in a family of five, Jovick knew the problem well: Getting there is never fun, especially when corralling several children who punctuate their boredom with a constant refrain of “Are we there yet?”
So he decided to tackle the pain points head-on, applying what he’d learned at the Tepper School to create a company — and a luxury coach — designed from scratch. Jovick came from a technology background, working in software with web developers to push projects forward. But he’d always wanted to reach outside his comfort zone. He started working on Jitterbug in January 2016, spending over a year working with a manufacturer on the custom-made vehicle and performing due diligence before officially booking trips in mid-2017.
Creating a company based on hardware was “mind-blowing,” he says.
What is your elevator pitch?
When traveling on vacation, have you ever wished you were already there? With our overnight services, you can finally sleep peacefully and wake up directly at your vacation spot.
The goal is making family and group travel effortless. Imagine an alternative to flying or driving on your next vacation: A luxury coach picks you up at home and drops you off. It has hotel-type amenities — a TV, beds, a private bathroom and big, comfortable seats. You arrive at your destination well-rested and ready to go.
What was the “aha” moment?
For me, it was a combination of factors: past experiences of really disliking flying and seeing how many steps you go through to fly. You take a taxi, or you pay for parking, wait through security lines, and that’s not counting catastrophic failures like the massive power outage that recently occurred at the Atlanta airport. You look at families in the terminal and they’re just exhausted. And driving to your destination can be fun, but also really stressful. I was looking at these frustration points that everyone is putting up with and saying, “Why not have something come right to your doorstep so you can enjoy the entire vacation, instead of just parts of it?
What skills did you have to learn to get this off the ground?
That’s a laundry list right there. One of the biggest challenges I faced is that we’re tackling two separate industries that have stagnated: Manufacturing for vehicle construction and transportation as a service. And the old phrase “hardware is hard” is definitely appropriate. When we were building the vehicle, I was agonizing over inches, needing parts to fit, corralling numerous suppliers who required dozens of phone calls to get a response. It’s just a totally different skill set that you need — high-energy tenacity to push through a slow-moving process. And unlike software, once it’s built, it’s built; you don’t have flexibility to change it. That was a different mindset for me.
What were your pivotal moments?
There were a few of them. We went through about 38 paper layout designs of our prototype, so when we found the one we wanted to go with and were able to press the “go” button, that was special. A second moment was when I was at the manufacturing site, literally seeing it being constructed. The paper version became a tangible product being built right before my eyes. I went inside the cabin, and my first expression was, “Wow, this feels like what I pictured.” The last moment would be when the first trip happened. We drove to a family’s house in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were waiting on their doorstep; the parents and kids had bright smiles on their faces, and we gave them the tour, loaded them up and took them to Disney World. We were seeing the vision come full circle.
How about growth?
When you’re in a startup, you never really know what’s going to happen. We have some areas we may go into or we may stay the course. We are in the infancy of the operations, so it’s still a little early to tell what the future might hold. Some people plan vacations more than a year in advance, so that is a serious roadblock in the sense of timing. We have to locate the right customers and have the right timing, which isn’t always possible in a long-cycle industry like this.
What skills did you have to learn to keep things moving?
I leaned more heavily on some past positive skill sets: forcing yourself to add structure to the chaos, determining what you’re really seeking to do and following that plan as closely as possible. It’s also a different kind of time management than I was used to before. In this context, there are so many nuclear bombs being thrown at you every day, and when you have 100 percent freedom, what do you do? You could fly off in the wrong direction. So I’m exploring adding structure around what I’m really doing and holding myself accountable for that. I had to slice out time to do things like looking for mentors, networking — things that won’t necessarily help directly right now, but help in the long term. It pays dividends down the road. Lastly, finding and evaluating employees has been a challenge. I’m hiring people with totally different skill sets: cleaning crews, drivers and technology roles.
What key piece of information gets overlooked when getting started?
Look at your business idea, and don’t run away from your weakest assumptions. Drill into them and have a very plausible explanation or approach for how you’ll tackle it. Ignoring problems doesn’t solve them. You don’t have to wait until everything is perfect, but if you have doubts about a weak link, don’t gloss it over
How did business school help shape your company?
I definitely think back to marketing, entrepreneurship and other classes and lean on them in different contexts. I think the biggest thing that we’re still using right now is trying to structure a framework of who the customer is and what the business is doing from a holistic perspective, and understanding this chaos through that lens. Taking those frameworks and thinking through the situation logically, creating a picture from that logic.
What is the best advice you have received?
Finding and hiring the right team is as crucial as they say. It’s the team that helps pull everything forward. Most importantly, learn this concept of intuition: when to listen to your gut and when to listen to your data. It’s an art form.