This Week on Girlboss Radio: Melissa Biggs Bradley, CEO and Founder of Indagare


If life is all about the journey, then Melissa Biggs Bradley is doing things right. The founder and CEO of the boutique travel agency and website Idagare has traveled to over 100 countries, six continents, and can rattle off hotel recommendations at the drop of a hat. Prior to Indagare, Melissa worked at Town & Country magazine for 12 years and launched Town & Country Travel which was nominated for a National Magazine Award for General Excellence by the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). On the podcast, Melissa recounts her long childhood plane rides to Australia, gives us some trips for traveling on the cheap, and tells us about her incredible #girlbossmoment.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Further thoughts and advice from Melissa

Advice to girls just starting out: 
Align yourself with people you respect as visionaries and leaders, but also as people. I think your work environment really matters—not whether it is prestigious or not. I worked in the Hamptons one summer as a gossip columnist for a rag that was given to you at the check-out counter at the grocery store. At 20, no one else would give me my own column, and I learned a lot doing it. But whoever is at the top of the food chain will have a big impact on setting the tone of the workplace. Tyrants or people who are only out for themselves will stifle and undermine the potential of those who work for them. Generous, confident, collaborative people are better partners and leaders, and that goes for investors, too. There are people out there who are just looking to cash out quickly. We had the Gilt Group approach us early on, and they were interested in acquiring us for content. They had raised a lot of money and probably believed that our content and community could be really valuable in juicing their traffic and volume, but it was clear to me that they didn’t actually care about the customer; they wanted quantity over quality. And while I wanted to make money, I started Indagare because I truly believed in our mission to give our customers—who I really view as friends or friends of friends or potential friends—an incredible experience in travel and have them share theirs with me. You will learn infinitely more surrounded by capable and generous people than in a cutthroat environment. Take risks and don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because they are the best way to learn about yourself and your talents. Listen to criticism; there is usually a real gift in it. Remember that no one but you manages your career, so don’t wait for opportunities; make them.

On the topic of hiring: 
The Stanford psychologist Carole Dweck has published a ground-breaking book called Mindset that I think connects quite directly to the power of travel and to what I look for in hires. She argues that people tend to fall into two categories: They either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. These mindsets can change, and there is a lot of nuance to her research, but in simplified terms, she explains that “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. [However] In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” And I would argue that it’s essential to great joy, too. 

I believe that when we are traveling we are pushed into a growth mindset, regardless of whether we tend to be more fixed or growth oriented, and we are open to new ideas and possibilities, which is why travels often set in motion a change. Over the years, I have had people tell me about trips that set in motion everything from job changes to divorces, adoptions and moves to charity projects. Travel opens us up, and when we are open we can be transformed.     

Thoughts on failure: 
I have made so many mistakes, but I learned from all of them, and I really am a believer that mistakes are there to teach us. I have hired the wrong people and thought that it was okay to have someone on the team who was highly capable even if I knew that they didn’t share a lot of our core values, like valuing others or putting the team over the individual. I learned that one toxic person can pollute a culture, so now we are vigilant about only letting in the good guys. We have a team interview process and it has to be unanimous. We have become really disciplined, and unless we feel like we have found a total star, we pass. 

On why travel is booming:
Today, the consumer is craving a sense of identity in an age that can be really anonymous, where machines have taken over so much of our lives that people want to be uniquely identified or branded and they want to feel alive, not just like passive observers. Travel allows them—or forces them—to be present, and it often pushes them outside of their comfort zone so they look at the world—and themselves—differently. When I was at Town and Country travel, I watched this massive moment of nesting that Martha Stewart had helped to launch, where masses of people began defining themselves through nesting and designing their houses. I believe that we are in the age of questing, where people are using their travels and experiences to define themselves. Rather than identify as wife, mother, lawyer, or doctor, they can use their passion for discovery to help create the identities that are most meaningful to them whether they do that through a biking trip or cooking adventure or girlfriend spa trip or educational family trip. The way that we do that is to make travel really personal and customized. You start with information and then go to planning and then storytelling, which are all elements of our brand. I think people want to be more awake to the wonders and beauty of the world and to living. We want to feel deeply, to stretch ourselves. And in those moments that are distinctly not part of our normal, everyday lives, we are more aware; days are etched more deeply into our consciousness. Whether we are alone or with loved ones, it is those days in far-off, unfamiliar places that stand out in crisper relief in the moment and in memories.