Patience is everything. Very few businesses are successful overnight. Avoid the temptation to make a quick buck if it goes against your mission and values. In the first year of growing our platform, we often turned down sponsored content opportunities when the fit wasn’t right for our overall purpose. Good, sustainable growth takes time, and requires sacrifices.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Trembath.
Alex Trembath is the co-founder of Career Gappers, a platform that inspires and equips people to take travel career breaks. Prior to this venture he is an accomplished communications and marketing leader, specialising in international membership organisations. A passionate advocate for the benefits of a healthy work–life balance, he is now developing a new content campaign to promote workcations, harnessing the surge in remote working as a result of the pandemic.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a multicultural family. My grandmother — who I remember as a jovial, eccentric woman — was an Austrian Jewish refugee and a Holocaust survivor. Before I was born, my mother spent a decade living in different countries across West Africa, and I grew up with two older Nigerian half-sisters. So, while I had plenty of advantages in my early life in the UK, I was raised to understand that everyone is different, and that life doesn’t treat everyone fairly — but also that diversity is a wonderful thing. My sisters and grandmother were highly influential role models for me as a young boy.
This diverse background gave me an interest in travel and exploring different cultures from a very early age. Both of my parents did everything they could to encourage this adventurous spirit, from father-and-son camping trips to my mother’s stories of her own adventures around the world. I will always be grateful for this.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have always loved the song lyric “you can travel on ten thousand miles and still stay where you are” by Harry Chapin. To me this says that no matter what journey you take, you will not grow and learn from it unless you truly embrace it. I first heard the line as a teenager, but it has taken on a deeper meaning the more I have traveled over the years. I use it as a reminder to always immerse myself in the journey as much as I can, whether it is a physical one or otherwise. There is also an underlying message about learning from your mistakes in life and moving forward.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am a big fan of Gimlet Media’s podcasts, in particular Reply All, which tells some fascinating stories about how the internet has shaped the world. Some time ago I went for a drink and a catchup with a friend of mine who was in the process of creating his own business, and we exchanged podcast recommendations. When I mentioned Reply All, he asked me if I had heard about the podcast StartUp. The next day I binge-listened to the first season, and was thoroughly engrossed by it.
In that first season of StartUp, recorded back in 2014, Alex Blumberg tells the story of how Gimlet Media was created. He does this in meticulous detail, including genuine audio recordings from the earliest business meetings, discussions about financial decisions, and conversations at home with his wife. At the time I was quite early in the process of creating Career Gappers, and I found it both heartening and motivating to discover that many of the barriers Alex faced when creating Gimlet — which was acquired by Spotify last year for 230million dollars — were similar to the challenges I had encountered on my own journey.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
My background is in journalism, branding and communications. In my last full-time job before going self-employed, I headed up the communications department of an international membership organization in the renewable energy space. I had the pleasure of traveling far and wide in this role, working on initiatives in China, Brazil, Sweden, Iceland, Ethiopia and Uganda. I was also lucky enough to coordinate a coalition of renewable at the groundbreaking climate change conference in Paris in 2015, and then again in Marrakech a year later.
I loved this job, but I left it behind to take a one-year career break and travel, something my wife Lisa and I had been planning together for years. The experience was transformational for both of us. Not only did we find great fulfilment in exploring new places, but being removed from our everyday working environment gave us space to reflect on our lifestyle back at home, and how we might change it for the better after returning.
We met many other people in similar situations. Career-driven people in their 30s and 40s who were taking an extended break, and in doing so discovered a fresh purpose. This planted the seed to create a platform dedicated to travel career breaks. And so Career Gappers was born.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The pandemic has created obvious challenges for a platform that focuses on travel career breaks. The viability of long-term travel is likely to be affected for quite some time, and people are naturally more cautious about the risk of taking a career break or sabbatical during a recession.
But while the pandemic has been devastating for the travel sector in the short term, there is one outcome that could be very healthy beyond that. Many people have a newfound flexibility to work from home, which has opened up the possibility for a different way of experiencing destinations: working while you are there. Otherwise known as a ‘workcation’.
There is every reason to believe that this trend will continue long after the pandemic. With organizations having spent huge sums of money to equip people for remote-working, and then seeing how productive people can be when working from home, how many will be rushing to open expensive offices again?
This is a natural pivot for our brand. The appeal of the workcation is a perfect fit for the audience we have already built for Career Gappers: ambitious, career-driven people, who are also adventurous, want to build travel into their lifestyle, and achieve a fulfilling work–life balance.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
The idea to pivot in this direction originated with an experience of our own. Lisa’s family were planning a trip to a coastal cottage in Wales for a week after the initial lockdown ended. We didn’t think we would be able to join them, as Lisa didn’t have enough annual leave days left to take. But then it occurred to us: why couldn’t we just work while we were there? Lisa was set up to work from anywhere, and her employer was open to the idea. So off we went.
While we were on the trip, it dawned on me how powerful the concept could be. The change of scenery gave me a sharper focus on my projects while I worked, and we could intersperse working sprints with walks down to the beach with the dog, and drives along the coast. During the trip I noticed an article on a prominent business news website discussing workcations as a new wellness trend, and I figured that we would be ideally placed to play a role in advocating for it.
How are things going with this new initiative?
We began by creating a guide to workcations, published on the Career Gappers website. This explains what a workcation is, how to plan one, making arrangements with your workplace, tips on making the most out of the experience, and some suitable destinations. We are now preparing to build on this by visiting various remote-working destinations in Europe to highlight in a series of workcation location guides.
We have had an enthusiastic response to the idea from tourist boards. While there is still uncertainty around travel restrictions, we are in advanced discussions about sponsored content campaigns from Spring 2021 onwards. Not only has this given our platform a new lease of life, but we are now positioned to play a part in advocating for a concept that is completely aligned with our values and our motivation for creating the platform in the first place.
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?
My good friends Greg and Bernadette, the founders of Diabetes Africa, have taken a journey that has closely coincided with my own. Having recently established a platform that addresses an issue they are passionate about, they have met major challenges this year as a result of the pandemic. We have been co-mentoring throughout this difficult period, which has been invaluable. Their unwavering ambition and determination to find a way forward has been a huge source of inspiration to me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
What I have found fascinating is the flood of stories I have been hearing since we launched our workcations guide. From the people in the Career Gappers community who have contacted me, to the representatives of tourist boards with whom I have discussed the idea, it seems that everybody knows somebody who has taken a workcation of some kind this year. I’ll get messages saying “Oh, I didn’t realise it was called a workcation — my sister did that last week, she went to Cornwall and worked from a beach cottage”.
For me, this is another reason why this trend will be here to stay. Once people have experienced the flexibility to work from anywhere and mix up their surroundings, will they really want to go back to an office grind?
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Patience is everything. Very few businesses are successful overnight. Avoid the temptation to make a quick buck if it goes against your mission and values. In the first year of growing our platform, we often turned down sponsored content opportunities when the fit wasn’t right for our overall purpose. Good, sustainable growth takes time, and requires sacrifices.
- Beware of imposter syndrome. When you see somebody achieving great things in your field, it’s natural to draw comparisons to yourself, and feel like you are not good enough. Self-doubt can be fatal if you let it dominate. Instead, ask what you can learn from good examples and apply them to your own journey. Be inspired, not deterred, by other people’s successes.
- Always be ready to adapt your plans. Having a solid business plan is a great start, but you need to be flexible and willing to respond to new information or external events. A ‘black swan’ event like the pandemic is an obvious example, but changes to your business environment are not usually so sudden. You will encounter many smaller disruptions along the way. Make regular time to identify how your market is changing, analyse your positioning and adjust.
- Look for long-term trends, not passing fads. When the world started going into lockdown, there were a lot of hot takes on how the world would be permanently changed. For anybody in the travel sector, this created a temptation to rush into making changes or starting new campaigns. But it was always going to take time for some clarity to emerge on which trends would be long-lasting and which would pass quickly. In a situation that is both fast-moving and filled with uncertainty, it’s best to take time to assess the bigger picture.
- Never stop learning. Be proactive in making personal development a part of your journey. I keep aside 90 minutes every week for some form of personal development, whether it is reading some useful articles, attending a webinar or having a conversation with a mentor. This growth space has often been the source of my best ideas.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
One thing that has helped me a lot is applying the ‘90-minute rule’ to my working schedule, which allows me to build plenty of downtime and breaks into my day, and make sure I am not overworking. I was already doing this before the pandemic, but it has been especially useful throughout this year’s lockdowns in staying productive while looking after my mental health.
The rule is based on ‘ultradian rhythms’, which are alternating periods of high-frequency brain activity. According to some studies, 90 minutes is the optimum amount of time to engage your brain in an activity before you begin to lose focus. So, organizing your day into 90-minute sprints can be highly effective. It has worked great for me, and I fill the time in between work sprints with mindful activities such as taking walks, reading, playing music, having a phone conversation with my parents, or spending time with Lisa.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The principle that underpins what we have built with Career Gappers is the power of time off work. I believe we would all benefit greatly from building several sabbaticals into our careers, in the same way that we build timeouts into our days, weeks and years in the forms of coffee breaks, weekends and vacations. If I could play a part in inspiring a movement around career breaks that helps them to become as normal a part of our lives as weekends, I would be very satisfied with that.
The benefit of time off is an important part of our message on workcations, too. They should not be used as a substitute for taking complete breaks from work. A healthy lifestyle would involve mixing several workcations and vacations into your calendar. My big hope is that the trend towards remote working that has been accelerated by the pandemic will make this kind of lifestyle much more normalized.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
This is perhaps an obvious choice, but it would be great to have lunch with Tim Ferriss. He has been one of the most influential pioneers in advocating for time off work, and giving people the tools and mindset they need to do it. I am sure we would have a lot of common ground to discuss.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our website, careergappers.com, is where you will find all of our work on travel career breaks, and where our workcations resources will be published. You can also look up ‘Career Gappers’ on any social media platform and give us a follow.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!