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Zakiyyah Myers, Co-Founder of Innclusive, offers an Alternative to Airbnb

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Innclusive could be described as the online version of The Negro Motorist Green Book. The “Green Book” was a guide intended to help Black travelers avoid discrimination during the period of racial segregation.  It listed businesses that would accept Black customers and even provided a service that made lodging reservations for clients.

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Fast forward to 2016. In addition to facing racism offline, travelers are now encountering it online as well. We no longer have The Green Book but we do have Innclusive. Innclusive is building a space where you can “Travel with respect, dignity, and love, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

I recently spoke to their Co-Founder, Zakiyyah Meyers, and this is what she had to say:

SB: So, who is Zakiyyah and how did you become involved with the creation of Innclusive?

ZM: Zakiyyah is this awesome woman…(Laughs) Nah, just kidding! I’ve worked in government for about 21 years and now, I’m retired…

SB: Wait, what? Retired? You should have seen my face when you said that.

 

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ZM: (Laughs) Yes! I’m retired. No one ever believes that, but it’s true. You should see the responses I get face-to-face. People are like, “Uhh, aren’t you like 20 years old?” I just made some great financial decisions early on that have put me in a position where I no longer have to work.

SB: Wow, that’s great. My bad, you kinda threw me off a bit with that but go on…

ZM: So, my plan after retirement was to travel the world. While I was doing that, my friend Rohan was discriminated against on Airbnb. After it happened, he called me and we talked about it.

 

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Rohan Gilkes – Founder of Innclusive

He said he was going to write about it and I encouraged him to do so, telling him I’d post about it in all of the travel groups that I’m a member of. Rohan’s post about his experience went viral. I kept sending him comments from people in my travel groups who were reacting to it and expressing similar experiences. We collectively thought it a shame of how often this happens and how we keep patronizing a company that obviously doesn’t care about minorities.

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At that point, we decided to do something about it. At first, I was somewhat skeptical but Rohan asked, “If not us, then who?” That really resounded with me and so I said, let’s make it happen. Enough of the hashtags, enough complaining….BOOM! Innclusive was born.

SB: Nice. Be the change you want to see, right?
ZM: YES! Absolutely.

SB: That’s great. So what would you say differentiates Innclusive from Airbnb?

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ZM: A few things. One, we really are welcoming of all people from race, religions and backgrounds. Well, minus the bigots and racists. We prefer they stay far away since all money ain’t good money.  We are for everyone that’s open and all about fairness, love, peace, and respect. It’s obvious that Airbnb is welcoming of racists and bigots and they don’t do much to kick them off the site once they identify themselves. We will be kicking racists off once they show their true colors.

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Second, we’re implementing several tech tools that will make it very difficult to discriminate against someone. For example, I want to book with Tony and stay in his spare bedroom. Once you accept my offer, you see my profile picture. You won’t see the picture until after you accept. You may see the pic and you say “Wait a minute, she has on a wig, I don’t like wigs. I prefer dreads. I’m canceling this reservation.”

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You have the right to do that. It’s your home and you may not want fake hair in your house. However, once you cancel, no one else can book for those dates. So, you have the right as a homeowner to say “Nah”, but I have the right as a business owner to say, “Cool, now you have just screwed yourself because you can’t book anyone else for those dates.”

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SB: “Congratulations, you played yourself”. You should include a DJ Khaled meme.

ZM: Right (Laughs) That’s about to be a pop up. LOL! People are gonna say,  “Wait, this company is a little too Black.”

 

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SB:Right! (Laughs) So Innclusive isn’t just for Black people but for for all who have experienced some sort of discrimination?

ZM: Absolutely. We’re for the people who have felt marginalized for one reason or another. Muslims, Latino’s, Trans, or handicapped. We’re open and welcoming. We just want travelers to know that they can get around and be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as a human being.

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SB: Have you received any messages or responses from non-Black people who have been discriminated against?

ZM: Oh, definitely! We’ve had several people reach out because they were discriminated against because of their weight. There was a white lady who expressed gratitude for the platform because she could never get a booking accepted with her Black husband in the profile picture. At first she didn’t understand why no one was accepting her requests. She changed her picture and then started getting accepted left and right.

Different people from all different walks of life reach out to us just wanting to tell us their story and thank us for what we are doing.

SB: So, this is one of those situations where there’s more to your business than just making money. You’re actually making a difference and making the world a better place.

 

ZM: Yes. That’s been my motto since I was a child. It just so happens that now I can make money from being a decent person. Do you know how great that feels? It feels so good.

SB: Would you say Innclusive is a form of social entrepreneurship?

ZM: I would. Down the line you’ll see aspects of that. Eventually, we plan to be more than a home sharing network. We plan to be a social network that goes out into various communities around the world creating social change.

SB: What parts of the world have most of the responses come from in terms of people wanting to be a host?

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ZM: Honestly, there are so many I couldn’t even begin to name them all. When we first put up our site and started accepting hosts, our very first home added was from Vietnam. Isn’t that crazy? We literally have homes in most countries right now. At one point, we had almost 30 back to back bookings from Italy. We had no idea how that happened, but later found out that someone out there ran an article about us. We actually had to google translate the article once we located it. (Laughs)

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SB: So, I’ve signed up for updates and I have friends and family that have done the same. How many other people do you have waiting for the updates now and how many people do you have waiting to host?
ZM: Right now, we have a couple of thousand ready to host and want a few more thousand before we launch, just because we want people to be able to go into the site and say, “Ok, there’s a host everywhere I’m trying to go.” So, right now we’re pushing hard for hosts to come on board.13627006_273172329707405_6678560449215088237_n
They can go to our website and add their bedroom, spare room, office, or whole house. We recently had a sailboat added to our site. You can literally go onto the boat, sleep on it, take it out, and it comes with all kinds of other water amenities. You could host the back seat of your classic Chevy.
There might be someone out there with a fantasy of sleeping in the back seat of a Chevy in Compton (Laughs). No, I’m kidding. It’s whatever space you have that you want to rent out.The beautiful part is that it’s a win-win for everyone because it’s a stream of income and also builds your network.
SB: What areas would you like to see more hosts coming from?

ZM: We have several events coming up, including Afropunk London, so we would like more homes in London. We’re looking at huge events like Carnival in Trinidad and focusing on those cities because of the large amount of travelers that will be there and need a place to stay.
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SB: What security measures will you have in place to ensure the safety of guests as well as the hosts and their property?

ZM: There will be insurance on every stay – protecting home, owner, and traveler. Identity checks will also be done

SB: Cool. When is the official launch and how much longer do we all have to wait for this awesomeness to go down?

ZM: We are really focused on getting hosts right now so that travelers get the best experience when they log in and look for a place. We’ll be launching in September officially.

SB: Ok, great! So, its apparent that you travel a lot. Where are your favorite places and why?

ZM: That’s a really hard question. I’ve been to over 40 countries.942597_10207383434877343_2562438672050573097_n

SB: Has this travel been for business, personal, or a mix of both?

ZM: The first 25 countries were business in the beginning, but I found personal time to do things. The last 15 or so have been personal and will be personal from now on. My favorite continent is Africa, without a doubt. I truly love Zimbabwe and Namibia. I would say those two really stand out to me. I also love Thailand and Barbados. My next trip to Africa will be to Nigeria.
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SB: I’m biased, but I think you need to make that happen.

ZM:  I have to go. I did DNA testing and that’s where my ancestors are from. I feel this calling to just hurry up and get there and meet my relatives.

SB: You should! They are there waiting for you. Innclusive was initially called Noirebnb, why the name change?

ZM: It was a sheer coincidence that Noirbnb and my company, Noirebnb came up with the same concept. We didn’t even know they existed until we put something out officially on Twitter. That same day, they put out an official announcement also and sent us an email saying we should work together.
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Their company started 3 weeks before ours, but they didn’t do anything with it until our company came on the scene and they learned of it. While in the midst of talks with them and coming to terms on what we were going to do, they trademarked our name. That hurt. We are all here trying to come up for the community. There’s room for everyone to eat.

SB: I hear you. So, you’re a mother, entrepreneur, and a world traveler. How do you balance running a company and all of your other responsibilities?

ZM: Firstly, I have a great support network. I have a great team at Innclusive. Our team of about seven people are amazing. On my team, no one feels the weight of the world on them because we’re all pulling our weight and make sure that when someone has to go down, for whatever reason, you know we’re stepping up and helping out.
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Secondly, I have a community of support for my children: aunts, uncles, and cousins. Thirdly, I’m in a great position financially to hire nannies to help me with the children. As a single mom, I have no problem saying, “I need help”.

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Da kiddies!

I can’t be with my children all the time I don’t think that’s the best mothers are the ones that are always home and never leave. I need my mental breaks I need to travel. I need t give them a break from me and I need a break from them and I make sure I do that for my mental health and theirs.

SB: What advice would you have for other entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs?

ZM: Start! Don’t just continue dreaming about it, make it happen. Even if it’s little stuff every day. When an opportunity presents itself, like #AirbnbWhileBlack did to me, take advantage. People often come across potential opportunities but get lost in them. They get caught up in the emotions caused by the problem instead of coming up with a solution for it.

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