Michaela Guzy on Building Her Travel Business

Michaela Guzy knows a thing or two about travel. The former vice president of global travel and strategic development at American Express Publishing departed from corporate America to start Oh The People You Meet (OTPYM), a website focused on forging authentic local connections all over the globe.
The adjunct professor at New York University who is also a self-taught videographer and entrepreneur spoke with She Spends about the power of education, networking and following your passion.
How did Oh The People You Meet come to be?
My grandpa loved National Geographic. So I would sit there and watch National Geographic with my grandpa and I would see these animals on safaris and I would see the women with the rings around their neck and people jumping over cows in Ethiopia and I was like, 'Grandpa, one day I’m going to go there and I’m going to film that.' And he was like, 'Yes you will' and lo and behold, many, many years later I was traveling in corporate America and that was where I really got to start traveling. I started to realize that the most I was seeing of the different destinations was the fancy restaurants and the fancy hotels out of the back of a taxi cab window. While I really tried to maximize it, the more I traveled for work the more my wanderlust grew. With everything that was going on in publishing and advertising I was just like what am I doing? I’m in my early thirties and I’ve been putting off all these things that I want to do. Every choice that I had ever had to make was because it was the logical thing to do, because it was the right thing to do. In 2012 I was just over it and I was like if I don’t try it now I’m never going to. I’m infinitely happy and more connected to what I do.
What are some sacrifices you had to make?
The struggle is real: I didn’t have a home for a couple years. Even though I have a home now, I rented out and I stayed at friends’ houses and I traveled. I ebbed and flowed. I got rid of my office at WeWork. Everything material that I once had that I thought would make me happy ends up it didn’t and I’ve been finding my happiness through following my passion.
What was the first step in starting OTPYM?
I was going back to partners and trying to sell them advertising when they told me that they weren’t interested in the traditional method. I was like what am I doing? This is so frustrating, they can’t get out of their own way. From an editorial standpoint nobody was talking about why I like to travel that brought a destination to life.
To me it wasn’t about the fancy hotel, it was about those very special people.
Africa was your original dream trip. Was the first time you went your favorite time your favorite visit there?
Africa the first time is what set the ball in motion and the ball is fast and furious. When I started Oh The People You Meet it was a blog, it was my perspective of inspiring people doing inspiring things in Africa. What’s happened is this thing is a runaway freight train with over 111 contributors across the globe and we contribute to so many trusted sites.
I spend between six weeks and three months a year there since 2012. I have a closet in Cape Town, St. Louis (where I’m from), LA and then New York.
When you started OTPYM, what do you think was lacking in the travel journalism industry?
A lot of it seemed influenced by advertising but there weren’t influencers. Influencers were our editors, there weren’t random people out and about with Instagram handles.
You have a whole network of writers, you contribute to broadcast segments and you have your video series and of course you’re traveling all the time. How do you balance all of it? 
I don’t sleep much and I do a lot of hot yoga which helps keep me sane. My mornings are very precious to me. I wake up and I meditate and then I go to hot yoga and I sweat it out. I deal with a lot of different foreign countries and what not but I do my best to keep my mornings as thinking time, as creative time, as self-care time. Pretty much when I’m done with yoga at 9 a.m. things are off to the races and usually insane.
What’s your advice for someone who’s trying to start their own business?
Especially with intellectual property, befriend a lawyer that believes in what you’re doing because you can go wrong really fast. So many big brands know that young content creators want to make it and they’ll take advantage of that. You can’t be too careful.
Your website is all about making connections and immersive travel. Do you have any advice on taking advantage of your network?
Part of the reason I teach at NYU is because I believe in the power of education. Many of the editorial projects, whether it’s in our videos or stories, are about companies that support hyperlocal educational projects in whatever market they’re operating in. My whole course at NYU is based on the premise of each week I bring in a panel of experts across industries that I’ve met and done business with or even that I want to do business with and they have a panel discussion.
So you believe in putting out in the universe if you want to work with someone?
You need to be strategic. Of course networking is important. I’m not a blogger who fell out of the sky, I was the Vice President of Global Travel and Strategic Development at American Express. Most of the partners I work with are people that had done business with me and they’ve seen me speak at conferences and they knew who I was and they knew that I was trustworthy. I’m lucky that a lot of people I work with now are people that I’ve know or have done business with for over 15 to 20 years.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Find someone’s career that you’d like to emulate whether that’s an influencer or an editor or videographer, head of a production company. Find someone, or people, and find a way to get to that person or people like that person. Find those people where you can really emulate what they’ve managed to accomplish. Ask lots of questions. If you’re an expert in it, you would already be doing it. Asking questions and asking for help are some of the smartest things you can do, it’s not a weakness. You’re never done learning. Or you shouldn’t be.