Avid globetrotter and online entrepreneur of Roomorama.com, Jia En is a force to contend with. Energetic, endlessly curious and always optimistic with an infectious laugh, she makes us fresh squeezed OJ as we bask in the glow of her sunny disposition and light filled home to talk about her travel style, how she leads alongside husband and co-founder Federico, and what hard lessons she’s learnt along the way.
Travel is a part of the job for you. How do you keep the wonder of a new destination?
For me, keeping the sense of wonder is very easy - I am a very very bad planner, so I never plan in advance. I love just arriving and figuring out the places to see and things to do by talking to locals and following where my eyes and feet take me. With technology these days, we can find and navigate almost anywhere, so there is that sense of freedom in getting lost.
Are there even any more new destinations for you?
Oh yes, plenty! The world is full of places to discover, and rediscover. I recently read about an amazing dive in Iceland, called the Silfra Fissure, where the North American and Eurasian continents meet. The pictures I’ve seen are breathtaking and other-worldly - I cannot wait to see for myself.
What’s the best thing on your bucket list and why?
I would like to learn to kite surf. What’s not to love about being able to semi-fly, above the water, and see the shore from the other side?
What drives and motivates you everyday?
Knowing that I do something that people love, and actually use for their travels.
What’s your leadership style, and how does that work with your co-founder and husband Federico?
I like to lead by example, and try to keep people motivated by my own enthusiasm, but also by giving them the freedom to explore what they might eventually excel in.
We all know the ups of Roomorama. What’s a down that you learnt from?
We were served with a very frivolous lawsuit in the first two years of our existence. We were not able to raise money, and our very existence was tenuous. This forced us to bootstrap and figure out how to keep the business going, despite this huge shadow looming over our heads. From that experience, we also learned that the most important thing in starting a business is to surround yourself with people you can trust, and who share the same values and principles.
Tell us about your objects – we asked you to bring one travel essential and another of a favourite travel memory.
I always carry a multi-purpose cashmere scarf with me - it keeps me warm when it’s cold, provides shade if it’s hot, and dresses up a casual outfit for an evening out.
Very unromantically, my portable battery charger is also probably my trip essential. This is a life saver when you are on the road all day and don’t have a chance to charge your phone, and desperately need your GPS to work.
My favourite memory - perhaps more appropriately, my most vivid memory, is of the time when we were robbed in Lima, Peru. It was in the middle of the day, we were sitting at the beach, watching other beachgoers and surfers. Suddenly a guy comes up with a machete on his side, and demands for us to give him everything we have. I gave him my cardigan, which was hanging out of my bag. But on second thought, I realized that if I gave it to him, I would be stuck for the rest of my trip feeling chillier than I should - so, I just reached out and took it back. Out of ignorance (I did not understand Spanish), I ended up not losing anything at all, because I did not understand the robber’s threats. My then boyfriend (now husband), on the other hand, made no mistake about “give me everything, otherwise I will shoot her”, and of course, valiantly surrendered his phone, his wallet and his camera. While we would never want to ever experience that again, I have to say that we are thankful that we at least lived to tell the tale!
After spending five years working in The Big Apple with Bloomberg and many more years renting out her apartment to subsidize her habit of perpetual wanderlust, Jia En joined forces with then boyfriend Federico to launch Roomorama.com in 2009. The company has since become a leader in online rental communities and enables insider travel with websites like How Not To be a Tourist. Jia En has since married her co-founder and lives in Singapore with her husband, their mischievous dog, Pato and new joint enterprise, baby girl Ella.
We are inspired by her zest for life and passion, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design. Jia En is featured here in the Classic Wideleg in Bhalka print.