Move over, Yelp. Traditional versions of customer review apps are being upended by companies who believe they can better serve the needs of a diverse customer base. For folks who regularly experience discrimination from businesses, seeing a simple five-star review isn’t enough.
Inclusive Journeys, a commerce-tech startup in Denver, is willing to bet it has the right solution.
Inclusive Journeys Origin
Co-founders Crystal Egli and Parker McMullen Bushman founded Inclusive Journeys as a data-driven platform. The platform works to provide an economic incentive for local businesses to shift their approach to customer service. Egli and McMullen Bushman, both Black women, have lifelong personal experience struggling to know if a business serves to be a safe space for them.
“It’s not that I think every place is out to get me, it’s that I don’t know. I can’t enjoy vacations or simple road trips to the other side of Colorado,” said Egli.
The signature product, Inclusive Guide, launched to the wide-beta, serving Denver users in December. Through the web application, users can write reviews for businesses based on inclusion. The aggregate of reviews creates an inclusion score that businesses can view themselves. Additionally, businesses can consult with Inclusive Journeys over best practices to expand their customer base.
“With the Inclusive Guide, we want to bring these different experiences to light. Yes, there are individuals within organizations who perpetrate these instances. But really, we’re hoping organizations start to cultivate a culture of inclusion that all of their employees understand. Often, organizations don’t realize [discrimination is taking place at their business] because they don’t have the data,” said McMullen Bushman.
Inclusion Guides in History
Providing a guide to inclusive spaces has historical roots. During the early to mid 19th century, folks who escaped slavery used quilt codes with hidden messages to find safe passage through the Underground Railroad.
Egli and McMullen Bushman see the historical parallels evident between quilt codes and Inclusive Guide. Honoring this history, Inclusive Journey’s logo is a quilt code representing safe shelter, food and water.
In the 20th century, Black and LGBTQ+ travelers navigated their journeys using The Green Book and Bob Damron’s Address Book, respectively. The web app is a modern, crowdsourced iteration for people of all backgrounds.
Inclusive Guide App Goes Live
Inclusive Guide launched to wide beta on December 10. Users can create a profile and provide basic demographic information. Inclusive Guide collects the demographic information, separates it from a user’s name and aggregates it to establish a baseline in their reporting. That way, they can better understand which businesses may serve certain groups, and lack inclusion of others.
Like Yelp, you can review any business you visit using inclusion metrics. Inclusive Guide encourages anyone and everyone to sign up for an account and use the app. The more people who use the app, the more leverage the app has to show that there’s an economic incentive to inclusion in business.
“We want this guide to be for everyone. Additionally, we need all our allies across the spectrum to use the app to allow us to establish a baseline. This gives allies an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. If you want to support places that are being inclusive, the guide provides opportunities to help shift the economy towards inclusion,” said McMullen Bushman.
Economy of Inclusion
Inclusive Journeys works with its community sponsors and partners to move Colorado towards an inclusion-based economy. It has two long-held community partnerships in Denver: Hope Tank and Golden Root. Two of its statewide partners include the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). The organizations share a mission to expand inclusive spaces across the state. Co-founder Crystal Egli is right: Safe road trips to the Western Slope aren’t a guarantee for everyone, especially BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. Inclusive Journeys, CTO and GOCO are ready to push businesses across the state to think differently about how they create a welcoming environment for customers.
“We hope to cultivate a culture where business owners can be humble in accepting honest criticism and that the data will demonstrate if there are any patterns to those who take issue with a business practice or the way they received service. Don’t be afraid of a low score! Instead, honor the fact that people are finally able to let you know how they feel and harness the resources offered to make the change. We believe true character comes from the ability to adapt and shift, and that there should be pride in accepting data-backed truths with grace,” said Egli.
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod is also a vocal supporter of their work. An avid traveler and advocate for increased traveler safety, Herod passed outdoor equity legislation during the 2021 legislative session. She spoke in support of Inclusive Guide at the December launch event.
Representation in Startups
As Black women startup owners in a field that severely lacks representation, the journey to building and scaling their business encouraged Egli and McMullen Bushman to create an airtight partnership. They hope to serve as role models for WOC entrepreneurs in Denver, a city blossoming with startup innovation.
“I don’t know anyone else who works the way Parker and I work together to support each other, and it is my hope that we can be leaders in a new way that demonstrates honest communication, humility to accept constructive criticism and leans on the expertise of a group as a whole rather than the individual. These are new concepts for each of us to practice, and a model that works for what we do. I hope we can demonstrate a new form of leadership that defies the norm and engages everyone’s true potential to accomplish something that’s never been done before,” said Egli.
Learn more about Inclusive Journeys here.