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Alexa-Maria Rathbone Barker of ‘tripAbrood’: “Invest time in a network that tell you that you can, not that you cannot”

Invest time in a network that tell you that you can, not that you cannot This advice is directed to women, although I’m sure a lot of men could heed this advice too. As a female entrepreneur, there are so many reasons every day for me to think ‘I can’t do this’. The kids are sick. […]

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Invest time in a network that tell you that you can, not that you cannot

This advice is directed to women, although I’m sure a lot of men could heed this advice too. As a female entrepreneur, there are so many reasons every day for me to think ‘I can’t do this’. The kids are sick. The bills mount up. Exhaustion sets in etc. And in those moments where it felt like everything was all getting too much, it was my friends and family who picked me up and told me ‘You’ve got this’. I’ve seen others who’ve been told the opposite, and who’ve not completed that transition into entrepreneurship because of this. As an entrepreneur, it’s a lonely world. Surround yourself by cheerleaders — because you will need them throughout the rollercoaster ride that is setting up a business.


As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexa-Maria Rathbone Barker.

Alexa is the CEO & Co-Founder of tripAbrood, an award-winning tech startup shaping the future of family travel by creating the world’s first AI-powered family travel booking experience. Prior to founding tripAbrood, Alexa had a decade-long career in financial services running regional sales and operations divisions for Bloomberg L.P. in Europe and Asia, that sold and scaled technology solutions to the world’s learning financial institutions. Prior to Bloomberg, Alexa was the UK & Ireland Diversity Manager for Procter & Gamble. Alexa holds a master’s degree in Modern Languages from Oxford University. As a mother of three young children, she has experienced the challenges of family travel first hand and decided to found tripAbrood to solve these challenges through technology.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

As an only child, I was brought up constantly overhearing my parents talking about business-related topics. Both of them have been in senior leadership positions for most of their careers, and at the time, I felt I had the unfortunate position of having to listen to their ‘how was your day darling’ conversations. As I grew up, however, I learned to appreciate the gifts that this exposure gave me. The insights into how to run a business, examples of how to overcome obstacles and think outside of the box. Having such great examples of business leaders gave me a passion at a young age to make a mark. The first 12 years of my career, having left Oxford, I made this mark within world-leading corporations, progressing quickly up the ranks. But all along, I had a deep-seated desire to start something new. I’d fill this desire over the years by championing disruptive approaches internally. But I knew one day, like my parents, I’d want to start something myself. In 2017, I took the controversial decision at the time to leave my senior role at Bloomberg and lean into my three children. It was through this experience that I was able to reflect on what was most important to me and the regrets I’d have in life if I didn’t pursue my dreams. Encouraged by my children and my husband, I stepped into the world of entrepreneurship, with the aim of solving through technology the challenges that I’d continuously faced when booking family travel — problems I soon came to realize were consistent the world over. And thus the story of tripAbrood began!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I was once told ‘never turn down a meeting’. I learned this the good way. I was in one of the top London accelerators for a meeting with a friend. The meeting had almost ended and I was very conscious of the clock, knowing I had to get back for the school pick up. 5 minutes before the time I had to leave, past me walks a previous member of the government, one of our advisors Gio and Michel, the Chief Executive of Hertz International. My advisor gave a wonderful warm introduction to Michel along with my elevator pitch, perfectly recited. Michel then told me that he had a meeting to finish but was I free for 20 minutes? My heart I was like ‘oh *** I’ve got to get to school’. But my brain was telling me ‘you’ve got to take this meeting’. So, I sent an SOS for school pick up help, took the meeting and Michel went ahead and introduced us to our current investor director and invested in tripAbrood himself. Never turn down a meeting!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A rather funny story was when we were in Bangalore, India for Day 1 of a design workshop. We decided to take a local taxi from the hotel to WeWork. And ended up getting into a crash on one of the main roads halfway. With limited time to spare, we ended up getting a 30-minute rickshaw ride the rest of the way. It was one of the most enjoyable rides I think I’ve ever had. We arrived at WeWork, hair disheveled, clothes smelling of fumes, but with huge smiles on our faces. I’ll travel by Uber next time I’m in Bangalore. Not really sure what the lesson is apart from carpe diem!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

For sure — my hero is my husband. When people ask me how I juggle being a startup CEO & life as a mum of three young kids, my answer is simple. My husband is my rock. Despite all the responsibilities he has in his own career, he steps in without me asking, and at moments that make the biggest difference. Those times just before an important pitch when I need to psych myself up or when the pressures of getting a startup off the ground feel like they are bubbling over. There was one moment I’ll never forget when I got some disappointing news and I came out of my office with a sad look on my face. He asked me what was the matter and after filling him in on the news, he put his hands on my shoulder and said ‘You’ve done this before, you will do it again — you can do it Alexa”. And I went straight back into my office feeling like I could conquer the world.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

The biggest obstacle certainly for mums like me, is the pressure that mums have to step into childcare duties in a disproportionate way to their partners. This trend has been exacerbated in the recent lockdown months, as parents have had to step into childcare duties whilst schools have been closed and support home learning. And this duty has fallen more on the mums than the dads. The biggest shift that can occur in my view is for parents to see parenting duties as co-parenting duties. For dads to share the load and release their partners to follow their dreams. If this happens, we will see more women released into entrepreneurship as they are able to realize their potential more fully.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Access to affordable childcare is a super important lever for being able to engage more female founders. As women tend to have to bear the majority of childcare duties, they need help and support from other people if their partner cannot provide this to enable them to fulfill their ambitions. Childcare options can often be more expensive than the typical salaries earned in an early-stage business. And thus the entrepreneurial route becomes often too costly for women to step into. This sits at the government level as well as the businesses that provide childcare options.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Our ability as women to multi-task is off the charts. Try simultaneously running a business, whilst homeschooling 3 children during a lockdown. Women by nature look at multiple competing tasks and find ingenious ways of combining them together to create value. As a young mum, I remember breastfeeding my daughter in between meetings when she had bottle refusal. We were living in Hong Kong at the time, and my wonderful helper would bring my daughter to my office 3 times a day so I could feed her in the nursing room. I was running the Hong Kong Sales office at the time and I have so many memories of continuing meetings on my phone, whilst feeding my baby just to avoid any disruption to work deliverables. Women are massively resourceful and we lean on others when we need help. For women, there is power in collaboration. And we don’t see that as a weakness but as a strength. Combine insane multi-taskers, with collaborative operators and you have the recipe for the ideal founder. We just need more women to be empowered to take on founder roles so that all these strengths can shine through to build world-leading companies.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

“I need a product to raise money”. A roadblock for many first-time founders to get started is the view that they need to have built a product to raise that first important cheque. This becomes a real chicken and egg scenario for some founders — where they are overstretching themselves to create a product & validate the product before they raise money. Whilst this can work, my experience is that raising money from family & friends based on a validated idea then allows you to have the money to bring in the right people to help you build the product & gives you a greater chance of success during your product validation cycle.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

The number one attribute needed in my view to become a founder is to have resilience. Resilience to sustain the constant rollercoaster ride. The multiple ups and downs of each day. And to not take the rejections personally. Resilience often comes from having experienced knocks yourself and having the experience of bouncing back. This trait is something you can nurture over time but is also a quality that many people either have or don’t have. If you struggle to take constant knocks, then being a founder is probably not the best career option for you.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. The fundraising process is hard

I came into the world of founding a business with no idea how challenging raising capital was. The stories you read online tend to be the ‘I raised my seed round in 4 weeks’. I can assure you these stories are not the norm. Fundraising takes persistence, the ability to build a strong network, guts and determination. And most of all, resilience to bounce back from countless no’s until you get that yes. Read the stories of Airbnb and Peloton — those are the real seed stories. And look at what those companies have become.

2. Surround yourself by trusted advisors from day 1

Founding a business is fraught with challenges. Find people that you trust who have been through the entrepreneurial journey before you and can advise on how to handle the many challenges ahead. I found that bringing on my first trusted advisor was a pivotal moment in my ability to create my founding team & get our first round closed. It becomes more than just you — as you have the instant credibility of a trusted hand who is guiding you through the initial few months/years.

3. Don’t take no for an answer (when it’s ‘not yet’)

For me, this comes pretty intuitively. I’ve been a salesperson most of my career and got what I wanted most of the time by not taking no for an answer (not in an annoying way — she says!). You will get so many no’s from investors and from potential partners. It’s important to not take these personally and work out when a no is a definitive no, or a ‘not yet’. There are so many examples I have throughout my career where a first no has led to a yes, and it took persistence and discernment that it was a ‘not yet’ to get to that all-important yes.

4. Dream big

When it comes to disruption, this rarely happens when you look through a lens of what is in place now. I remember when I first started thinking about tripAbrood. I’d come up with a blog page all about personal recommendations on family holidays. One of our early investors had sat me down and said: ‘Great start Alexa but there has to be something bigger than this’. It took this steer and kick in the right direction for me to stop constraining myself to the reality of now and start imagining the future needs of my customer base. At that point, the magic of disruption started coming to life and the building blocks were put into place for the initial direction of the business. As with all startups, that initial direction has adapted since, and we are now live on www.tripabrood.com with the world’s first digital assistant for family accommodation. This only happened through challenging the status quo, bringing people around me that could dream big, and letting my imagination run wild! Always dream big.

5. Invest time in a network that tell you that you can, not that you cannot

This advice is directed to women, although I’m sure a lot of men could heed this advice too. As a female entrepreneur, there are so many reasons every day for me to think ‘I can’t do this’. The kids are sick. The bills mount up. Exhaustion sets in etc. And in those moments where it felt like everything was all getting too much, it was my friends and family who picked me up and told me ‘You’ve got this’. I’ve seen others who’ve been told the opposite, and who’ve not completed that transition into entrepreneurship because of this. As an entrepreneur, it’s a lonely world. Surround yourself by cheerleaders — because you will need them throughout the rollercoaster ride that is setting up a business.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Success is a broad term — I wouldn’t say we are successful yet! We’re certainly working towards making tripAbrood a success. And one of the things I’m most proud of is how the team has helped families through the recent lockdown periods to virtually travel the world. One of our core missions at tripAbrood is to inspire a love of culture in the whole family. We’ve done this so far by creating activity packs that explore different countries around the world. Children get to learn the history of the country, play country-themed games, create local crafts, cook authentic recipes and learn some local language phrases. They’ve been hugely well received and we feel proud about the difference we’ve made in families’ lives throughout this really hard season. Our mission to combine learning & travel will not go away as actual travel starts rebounding — watch this space!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

“Diversity of thought”. When I look ahead at the world my children are growing up in, one of my biggest fears for them is the polarisation of thought that has happened in the world. The way we all seem to have to pick sides that are mutually exclusive and opposing. That’s not the world I want for them. We’ve lost our ability to cope with the grey — the possibility that there are AND solutions. Where two thought processes can coexist. This is one of the missions of tripAbrood — to bring diversity of thought to families through travel & learning. But this mission is much bigger than just us. It’s a mission that affects humankind.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Brian Chesky. I admire greatly what he’s done at Airbnb and I think we’d have a lot to talk about!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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