Traveling is hard. Specifically, planning for travel is hard. That’s why many people book travel agents or use various online booking sites to lump together a vacation. Yelp or TripAdvisor can be helpful, but they’re also full of negative reviews and more hotels, restaurants, parks, etc. than most people can sift through in a lifetime. Surfing one of these website to find a single restaurant can take an hour, but to plan a whole vacation? Weeks to months… even years. But what if you were always in the process of planning your next vacation, if your absentminded Instagram scroll had purpose?
With Pao, a burgeoning social media–travel app, users are able to plan a vacation with ease, because chances are they’ve already done half the work. Users of Pao swipe through “spots” that their friends or family (the people they follow) have uploaded. Spots can be anything from a restaurant or a lookout to a hotel or a public pool—the possibilities are endless. When users see a spot they want to try, all they have to do is save it, and Pao organizes their spots automatically by city, making it almost effortless to plan a trip.
For example, if users go to the New Zealand section of their “saved” spots, they might already have 10 places stored that they want to visit. That’s two things to do every day for a five-day trip! And you can trust that the spots are worthwhile because your family and friends are your travel guides; they recommended the spot. And the negativity that comes with a bad review? Erased. There’s no such thing as a bad review on Pao, because users only upload the spots they enjoyed. With this app, users can basically start their vacation planning process two steps ahead, just by checking out their friends’ profiles or swiping through their feed.
Last week, Observer had the chance to speak with the app’s CEO and co-founder Anna Zervos about her vision and journey creating Pao. She addressed the problems surrounding the digital age and how Pao can help.
“We’re in this day and age where you can get anything you want from sitting on your couch,” Zervos explained. “You can press just a couple buttons, and you can binge-watch a Netflix show. You can swipe right on Tinder and flirt. You can order food delivered to your door, and you literally don’t have to leave. But the second you try to find a hike or a smoothie place in L.A., you’re on your computer for two hours with 15 tabs open, and you still don’t know if that’s going to be worth your time.”
The app offers the same visual stimulation of Instagram, given the amazing photos of food and travel, but without the mindlessness. It’s a social media platform designed to get people off of social media. This might seem impossible to accomplish, but due to its innovative idea base, it is possible.
“I set up Pao where it’s social media on the front but very purposeful on the back,” Zervos said, explaining that once you click on a spot, you are given critical information to help you get there. Directions, hours, travel and parking tips—you can even see which of your friends have “verified” it, meaning they’ve been there and enjoyed the experience. “The only thing that’s stopping you from walking out that door is yourself, at the end of the day, because you have everything right there for you,” she continued.
A recent UCLA graduate with a limited background in software and graphic design, Zervos took a truly hands-on approach to create Pao, designing the entire app herself. She explained that the first version of the app was drawing the screens with pen and paper, adding, “I design all the screens the way I want them in Photoshop, using the colors and photographs that I want, so I can create a very realistic version of the app, but it’s basically a picture of it. And then, I save it, and I put it into this program called Envision, which is a prototyping tool.” To clarify, Envision is a way to link different images together to get the base version of the app before testing.
Although this app was Zervos’ brainchild and passion project, she has had a lot of help from her two co-founders: her mother Sara and her best friend Maddie Myall. “I don’t think just anyone can work with family and friends. I think you have to have a very specific type of relationship,” Zervos explained. “Luckily, my mom and I have been very, very close since I was young. You know, we’ve been through our ups and downs, but we’ve wanted to try and be as honest as possible with each other at every point of the day.” She also gave a tip for working with family: “A lot of times when you’re in a start-up, it’s really hard to turn off work mode because you’re kind of in it 24/7, but you have to find those times, whether it’s an hour for lunch or a weekend getaway, where you promise each other that you won’t talk about work at all, and you just focus on cultivating your relationship.”
In addition, Zervos spoke about the necessity of taking different opportunities in life, even if they’re not part of your predetermined plan. “I was always going into graduate school for clinical psychology,” she explained, “and I wanted to go into criminal psychology, so this was never really in the plan.” Nonetheless, “the stars aligned; I was graduating college, and my mom had just quit her job in finance, which she had for over 20 years, and she was looking for something else to do. I asked her to join me, and my best friend from college decided to join in as well and hold off her law school plans, and we all kinda just decided, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens.'” And it appears that they have succeeded; since its launch in February of this year, Pao already has thousands of users in over 50 countries around the world.
So what’s next for the app? Zervos has one super-secret surprise to be launched later this year, which she said “is definitely going to be a game changer.” The company is also in the process of another round of fundraising, as well as creating Pao’s version of the commonly-used “suggested” feature. This will display users you may want to follow based on the kinds of spots they upload and if your interests overlap. Along with that, there will be an improved notification system. If a user is in SoHo, New York, then Pao will notify them of nearby spots they have saved, or even suggest a new spot in the area. These will be useful for every type of experiencer, from the spontaneous traveler to the hometown explorer.
And speaking of trying new things, Zervos says that although being a CEO and co-founder of a company takes up most of her time, the app itself is helping her, too. “The good news [about Pao],” she explained, “is it’s all about experiencing really cool spots in whatever city you’re in, so I’ll challenge myself. Instead of eating at the same place that I know I love, I’ll go and try different spots. I try to never eat at the same place twice, if I can swing it. [Pao] is always encouraging me to push myself outside my comfort zone.” She even discussed an upcoming trip to Pakistan and how Pao can help transform social media’s representation of travel destinations away from being so disproportionately Western European: “I think that our country has raised us to think of that part of the world as off-limits to us, but it’s not, and three of my programmers are actually in Pakistan.” She later explained that her programming and development team are like family, wherever in the world they may be.
For Zervos, Pao represents a new age of self-conscious and purposeful social media, something that is very exciting for those who are in the market for a life of experiencing, rather than simply viewing the lives of others. So whether it’s downloading Pao or going off and exploring your own neighborhood, let’s join the app’s mission of “getting one million people off the couch!”