What was the catalyst that finally drove you to start your own business?
(H) In 2019, on paper, my life was great. I was running marketing for an early-stage tech startup and we’d recently opened offices in the US and Australia so my time was spent dashing around the globe. So why did I feel a gnawing dissatisfaction?
A friend suggested I tried the 10-day intro to Buddhism course in the Himalayas. At first, I thought they were being ridiculous – until I found myself starting at 6am on a retreat. The days were made up of three hours a day Buddhist teaching, three hours of meditation, and a smattering of chores and meals. The silence was easy – fun even.
I arrived back to find the startup I worked for in chaos. We’d missed a key round of funding and had to close our US and Australian offices, and although this would normally have rattled me, I felt like there was nothing in the world that could break my newfound contentment.
I told my good friend and now co-founder Ben about the retreat about a week later. I told him how wonderful it had been to simply disconnect, to which he lamented his own inability to switch off and sheepishly confessed to clocking up seven hours on the iPhones “screentime” feature.
The more we chatted the more we wondered why it was necessary to fly halfway around the world to disconnect. What if we could give people a space to disconnect a stone’s throw from London?
It was December 2019 when I chatted to Ben. Three months later we finalised the designs of the first cabin and in July, our first guests arrived at the cabin to switch off from it all for their first digital detox.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced starting your own business?
(B) The whole experience is completely new. We worked together for a few years straight out of uni, him on the sales side of things, myself on marketing and we launched Unplugged this year aged 26/27. We’re first time founders but also first timers learning how to put up blinds, hang shelves & change light fixtures. All things somehow we had never had to do before the cabin. It’s been a humbling experience!
How have you found running a business through the pandemic? How has it impacted you professionally and personally?
(H) Not only have all of our work meetings moved online, but lots of our conversations with friends are also through our devices as well. So, with no real boundary between work and home, we’re rolling between one device to another.
I think now more than ever, busy city workers are looking to truly disconnect. With us all stuck inside, we are all working almost an hour extra each day so the reaction is now “God I do really need this”.
Allowing guests to take a digital detox is a huge part of what Unplugged offers. What have you found the impacts to be if people don’t find the time to fully switch off and recharge?
We live our lives in an always on, always connected, always available state. This causes stress that results in worse sleep, damages productivity and negatively impacts our mental wellbeing. And that’s a dangerous cycle.
We’re now so busy we can’t “find” the time to fully switch off so we need to o actually commit and MAKE the time to say “I’m switching off”. If you do you’ll actually realise that the world won’t fall apart if you don’t answer that email or respond to that Whatsapp.
(B) You get 3 reactions to people when I tell them about the concept.
- I need this
- My partner needs this
- Wait what?! You actually lock away people’s phones?!
People understand that a detox is beneficial to them or their loved one, but are too caught up to give themself the opportunity to do so. To be honest I was in camp 3 when Hector first pitched that plan to me. I laughed, then felt nervous and ultimately thought, I’m not sure if I could cope without my phone for 3 minutes let alone 3 days.
After their stay, guests have this amazing, relaxed glow about them. We’re thinking to release a before and after gallery. What we really hope is those that stay, remember to switch off from time to time when they do return to city life.
Mental health and a healthy work life balance has been hugely important over the last 18 months especially. What steps have you taken to ensure the care of both yourself and your employees?
(H) We promote balance. It may not seem like it, but we’re both from the tech world. We are very much not anti-technology. There are definitely benefits of being connected online and being able to work from home. But we just also think that busy city workers can really benefit from some true time offline.