Hector Hughes, Co-founder of Unplugged
Welcome back to Friends with Leafage. Each month we catch up with a new entrepreneur to hear all about their business journey, daily routine and what they’ve been up to recently. Today we’re joined by Hector Hughes, co-founder of Unplugged, an off-the-grid cabin in the heart of Essex. We’ve been keeping an eye on Hector's journey with Unplugged since they launched in 2020, so we hope you love our chat.
Hi Hector, thanks so much for joining us today, we’re so excited to chat with you. To get us started, we’d love to know how the idea for Unplugged came about? We’ve heard you spent 2 weeks at a silent retreat in the Himalayas, tell us a little more about that!
Thank you for having me!
Haha that’s right. My co-founder, Ben, and I, used to work together for a tech startup. He was employee number one and I joined a year later. It was a fantastic experience- we grew to 70 people, and opened offices in the US and Australia. Ben left in 2018 and whilst I stayed on. Then, in 2019 I got burnt out.
Seeing this, a friend recommended I go to a Silent Retreat he’d been to in the Himalayas. I initially laughed this off, but after weeks of pondering, I decided to do it. It was incredible. Exactly what I needed! The best thing about it was the fact that on day one you check in your phone and all connection with the outside world and spend the next ten days offline. I came back completely recharged.
Ben and I had stayed friends and we caught up once I was back. He’s not the kind of person you’ll find at a silent retreat any time soon and we spoke about how much stigma there is around traditional remedies such as retreats and detoxes. So much of the benefit is simply from getting offline and into nature. We pondered an accessible experience that didn’t involve flying around the world. That was all I needed and I quit my job the following day.
The basic concept is that we put cabins in the countryside an hour from city life. On arrival guests padlock their phones in a box, we give them a map and a nokia and leave them to it.
Aside from launching Unplugged in the year of 2020, what’s been the most surprising thing about starting a new business?
Just how many wonderful people you meet along the way. It really wasn’t something I considered when starting out and yet has been such a joy. Pre-Unplugged I’d always wondered how to get to know people doing interesting things, and accidentally discovered that the secret is to do interesting things yourself! Obvious in hindsight...
I definitely try to practice what I preach - all the clichés. The big ones:
- Going completely offline from 6pm to 9am. Not always successful but great when it is.
- Meditation - I do Transcendental Meditation which is 20 mins twice a day and has been life changing.
- Reading, writing, walking - all so underrated.
I’ll have to add Terrarium-making to the list!
Can you tell us about something fun you’re working on currently, or any future plans?
It’s all about scaling. We’re at three cabins which are fully booked so people who want to come and stay currently can’t. We’ve got three more cabins coming in the next few weeks and we’ll go from there.
One new thing I’m excited about is we’ve had a couple of companies get in touch about sending every new starter for a digital detox at our cabins. Employer’s are certainly thinking more about their employees' well-being (as seen with the success of Leafage!) and so this could be a great fit.
Finally, we’re all about spreading joy at Leafage. Tell us about the last thing that made you smile?
I smile a lot generally. Reading this question actually made me smile.
Smiling is infectious so my biggest smiles this week were speaking to Kaew (founder of Leafage)- she’s perhaps the smiliest person I’ve ever met.
Hector's favourite book
Describe yourself in one word? Overrated
Name a book you’ve read that’s positively shaped you? The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
If you could be any houseplant, what would it be? An orange tree
Something you'd love to do more of? Sea swimming
If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing instead? Building a startup to tackle climate change.
Who do you want to see on Friends with Leafage next time? Cian Kennedy