We had the good fortune of connecting with Lawrence Phillips and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lawrence, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My thought process behind starting my business was to be able to address two pain points that I experienced while traveling around the world to 30+ countries and all 7 continents (including Antarctica) back in 2015. They were two pain points that are still very relevant today. They don’t just apply to me but other black travelers as well. First, as a black traveler, I was nervous going to certain countries because I was not sure how locals in a destination would treat me based on the color of my skin. There were no resources that I could find that would tell me how racism was in a particular county and how people would respond to my blackness.
Secondly, it took an absorbent amount of time to research each destination. Because I was traveling to so many countries back to back, this pain point became clear. I constantly had to use multiple websites to figure out what to do, where to eat, where to party etc. There was no platform that could provide a consolidated overview of a city. Because of that I created WeWorkToTravel.com (soon to be called GreenBookGlobal.com) where we provide comprehensive city guides by travel style and couple that with a custom rating tool where instead of rating an activity you rate your overall experience in a city. We are essentially creating a Black “Tripadvisor” with some unique twists.
Destinations have a score for Relaxation, Adventure, History etc. and even what it is like Traveling While Black. We have over 500 destinations and 5000+ reviews on our site left from black travelers. You can also book your trip using our partners like Booking.com, VRBO.com, Viator.com, Marriott,com etc. Ultimately we wanted to create a tool that could inspire and empower black travelers to confidently explore the world.
What should our readers know about your business?
What makes WeWorkToTravel (soon to be Green Book Global) unique is that it is the first Black Travel Review site to be created. There are existing platforms that have guides, articles, and content related to Black Travelers but there is nothing currently in the market that is dedicated to sharing the voice of black travelers on a global scale via travel reviews. There was no Black “Tripadvisor”, until now.
I am most proud of being able to create a platform that black travelers love!! Comments like “I really love that your website includes a “traveling while black” section. So so important and lacking in the tourism/review industry” @foswhy or “Thank you for creating a platform for black people to merge and share their travel experiences. Its like the new age green book” @editors_picks1 are what keep me going! I started the business in 2015 as I started my journey to all 7 continents. Whenever I had downtime from exploring a new city I would spend time designing, testing, and then redesigning the site. It definitely was not easy. I had to fire at least 5 different developers before I landed on one that I currently have, and that was some time in late 2017. Before then my developers were terrible! In addition, my site crashed multiple times, it was completely unstable, outdated, and was also hacked on various occasions. What allowed me to overcome these challenges was perspective. I knew that every frustration that I encountered would make me a better entrepreneur and business owner in the future. Because of this I knew I had to continue to push forward no matter what the challenge.
In addition, it was also the perspective on the purpose of the platform that kept me going. I would constantly remind myself that if this platform could just help a handful of black people see the world then it was worth it. If I could help a black traveler get the courage to hop on a cruise, get on a fight, or travel to a foreign land then this was time well spent. Well now with over 115K followers on Instagram we are motivating thousands of black travelers to see the world and providing them with the tools to do so effectively on our web platform. I learned a lot as I was developing this business.
However, I would say one of the most important lessons was to trust the process and trust in myself. Sometimes I did not know whether I was making the right choice or what my next step should be but I didn’t let that stop me. I would just continue to make decisions that I thought would help the development of the idea or the brand.
For example, I had no clue before I started my trip around the world that I would create the first black travel review site. I just knew that while I was traveling some idea would manifest itself. That was me trusting the process and trusting myself. I also learned that no one will be as passionate about my dreams as I am. I realized that it is dangerous for entrepreneurs to look for approval from others, because if that does not happen it could derail you from having the motivation and energy needed to elevate your brand. There is a thin line between receiving feedback and looking for approval. You must know what side of the line you are on and be sure to act appropriately. I would like the world to know that WeWorkToTravel, soon to be called Green Book Global, is going to change the landscape for black travelers on an international scale. The change in the brand name is actually part of that landscape change as our brand is unapologetically dedicated to the black travel experience. As a quick history lesson, the original Green Book was first published in 1936 by a man by the name of Victor Hugo Green. It was essentially a Black Travel Bible that allowed black travelers to safety navigate the United States. It provided restaurants, hotels, gas stations and cities that were safe for Black Travelers to visit during Jim Crow and Segregation. We are doing something similar with our web platform but doing so digitally and on a global scale.
With our platform, black travelers now have the ability to score destinations based on what it was like Traveling While Black and then those scores are averaged together with other black travelers. Content is shared between black travelers on places to go, places to eat, where to stay etc. We have created a space for Black Travelers to share travel tips and their authentic travel experiences whether good, bad, or somewhere in between. In addition, we are currently conducting a Black Travel Review Survey with over 50 questions and have received over 1000 responses from black travelers thus far. This will help us cater to Black Travelers like never before.
Lastly, we have some new technology coming soon which will help black travelers identify black friendly destinations on a global scale with the click of a button. Being Black is researching what racism is like in another country before traveling there. Now we have a tool and platform that can help this be done effectively. We have our own Black “Tripadvisor”
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, I live in New York so there is a host of different activities to do in the city. However, in a world of COVID I am not sure if many of these places are still open but one can hope. Here is a little itinerary of a range of activities I would do in a Pre-COVID world.
Community Food & Juice – This is one of my favorite breakfast spots. They have a wide range of breakfast items and some of my favorites include their Hueveos Rancheros, Brioche French Toast, Country Breakfast or some of their light and fluffy pancakes that can also be made gluten-free. Their pancakes come in as a strong second to my wife’s pancakes. You can’t go wrong with this as a breakfast option.
Central Park – After breakfast I would go for a stroll in Central Park to work-off some of those breakfast calories. It is always crowded but you can still find some quiet paths to take in some fresh air. I would bring a blanket and just hang out in a field with some friends and relax. As the day progressed, I would slowly make my way down from the northern side of Central Park in Harlem to the southern side of Central Park near Columbus Circle.
Lobster Boat – By the time I am getting ready to leave the Central Park I would be ready for lunch, so next stop would be the Lobster Boat. It is a boat that leaves just about every hour from Pier 81. There is a $10 entry fee and then you pay for your food. You may have to fight for a seat but once you find one on a sunny day it really is quite amazing. The boat goes up and down the Hudson River and you can stay on the boat for as long as you want. I typically get a bucket of coronas, a full lobster and/or a lobster roll and then chow down.
Brooklyn Bridge – To finish of the day I would head over to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge. It is a very scenic walk over the bridge and also checks off of one of NYC’s major landmarks. You have to do a bit of sight seeing when in NYC, right? Once across the Bridge you can walk up and down the East River to a variety of shops and restaurants. One Hotel Rooftop – I would end the night in Brooklyn at this rooftop bar. You can enjoy the amazing skyline of Manhattan as the sun sets. The drinks here are decent but you are really hear for the view! If I did get hungry and wanted some real food, I would go to Cecconi’s Dumbo which is a short walk away.
Jason’s Pickles – I would start off another day with Jason’s Pickles. I would sleep in a bit and then go here for lunch. Make sure not to eat anything before brunch because their portions are huge and the taste is oh so good!! The Honey Chicken and Pickles, Buffalo Mac & Cheese, and their Biscuit Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream is to die for! It will seriously leave you in a food coma. So after indulging in some delicious food that is not good for your waist line, I would go back to the apartment for mid-afternoon siesta.
Woodland- There are so many brunch options I would be remiss not to mention Woodland. However, this is THE brunch spot for a different reason. This is the brunch spot for the turn-up. People don’t come here for the food, which is actually relatively good. They come here to party. It actually is the most turn-up brunch spot I have ever been to in my life so if you are looking to party at 2 in the afternoon then this is the place for you. Be prepared for at least a 2 hour wait no matter what you do. Let’s just say by the time you leave here, you will not need anything to do later that night.
Apollo & 125th Street in Harlem – There is so much history in Harlem that I would have to at least take a stroll down 125th St so you can feel the energy and the vibe of the neighborhood. You will see an assortment of retail stores and street vendors as you walk up and down this busy street. However, on a Saturday afternoon, that is where you will really see 125th alive as it will be inundated with locals, vendors, and tourists alike. Harlem’s 125th street is truly the the heartbeat of the neighborhood. I would also try to grab a show at the Apollo at some point during the week.
67 Orange – This is my absolute favorite place for a drink in Harlem. This black owned cocktail bar has an eclectic/speakeasy feel and the bartenders put their heart and soul into each drink. I have taken a number of people here and we always leave with a story. One such instance was with my Dad. He actually didn’t want to go to the bar, but 4 drinks later you find him dancing in the middle of the bar. However, keep in mind, there is no dance floor lol. There are a ton of drinks to pick from and I am still making it through their exhaustive list but my favorite drink so far there is the Smokey Old Fashioned!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There is an organization that I was part of almost 20 years ago which has been a major contributor to my success as an adult. This organization is Summer Search. Summer Search’s primary goal is to develop resiliency and confidence in inner city youth despite their circumstances through summer experiential learning. It allowed me, as an inner city 15 year old boy, to go to the other side of the United States to backpack for 30+ days throughout the wilderness of Washington state. Having never camped a day in my life, and with this being one of the most challenging programs offered by Summer Search through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), coupled with the fact that this was the furthest I had ever been from home on my own, let’s just say I learned a lot about myself. In addition, Summer Search also allowed me to go to Spain the following summer for an exchange program. These summer experiences in my teenage years helped me develop into the determined and focused man I am today. Summer Search is a major contributor to why I felt comfortable leaving my job to travel around the world because I learned to just believe in me. Also, it may sound cliche but I would say my parents. My mom has always been super supportive of my travel but like any mother she was always very nervous. I started traveling more and more after college and despite her wanting me to check-in constantly during my travels (which I rarely did), she knew that I loved to travel and would always push me to continue to do what I loved. Now, my Dad sometimes worried more than my mom when I traveled. However, if we fast forward to 2015 when I took my trip around the world and started developing the first iteration of WeWorkToTravel, my Dad said something quite profound to me. As I was explaining the concept of the platform to him, he didn’t necessarily think it was a good idea and moreover he just wanted me to come home. However, he stopped himself and then said “Don’t let anyone ever stop you from going after your dreams, even if it is me”. Hearing that coming from him meant a lot and showed me that even though he had no clue what I was talking about, it was reaffirmation that if I believed in myself, that was enough to keep going after my dreams.