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In Bold: Hector Hughes

For many of us, locking our phone away for a few days might sound like a radical move. Could you do it?



“At an Unplugged escape the idea is to spend three nights offline,” Hector Hughes, co-founder of Unplugged, explains. “When you arrive, you put your phone in a lock box. We kit you out with a map, a Nokia phone for emergencies and a polaroid camera. Then you’re free to walk, read and relax.”


Growing bold

I grew up in a small village in the Cotswolds, so I spent a fair amount of time outside as a kid,” remembers Hector. “I liked sports a lot – although I wasn’t particularly good at it. But I also spent a lot of time playing computer games and looking at screens too.”

As Hector grew up and moved into the world of work, like many of us, he found his screen time increased – a habit he’s tried hard to shake; “I’m someone who can easily fall into bad habits and when that happens, I find it easier to just step away from it completely. I did it with drinking a few years ago and I’ve done a similar thing with technology. Obviously, I use a laptop and phone for work, but I’m much more disenchanted with technology now and spend less time with it.”

For many of us, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns intensified our relationship with technology. It removed a lot of the boundaries we had in place and left us asking ‘How do I get away from this?’” shares Hector.

A bold step


In 2019, while working for an exciting tech start up, Hector found himself feeling burnt out; “It was lots of fun and was how I met my co-founder Ben, but I realised I was living a busy life rather than loving life. A friend recommended that I go to a silent retreat in the Himalayas for ten days – and so that’s what I did.

When I got back, I caught up with Ben and we talked about how there's a lot of stigma about retreats and meditation, but also how it’s so beneficial to just get offline and into nature. We came up with some ideas about how we could give the idea of retreats a bit more sex appeal – we landed on cabins. That evening I spent some time looking into the logistics of things and on Monday I quit my job.

Driven by the belief that Unplugged could be a necessary antidote for our modern lifestyle, Hector and Ben remained enthusiastic in the face of frequent setbacks that came with getting the business off the ground. “We faced endless challenges at the beginning,” explains Hector. “When we ordered our first cabin we didn’t have a way to pay for it or anywhere to put it. You always think ‘build it and they will come’ but it’s just not like that. When we launched our first cabin we got two bookings – one of which was from my sistersHowever, it all taught me that as long as you keep going, you can get through pretty much anything.”


Bold, but bigger

Hector and Ben’s determination paid off and their cabins didn’t sit empty for long. “A notable tipping point for Unplugged happened after we worked with a popular influencer,” Hector recalls. “He had 300,000 followers and came to stay at one of our cabins, took some photos and shared them. Suddenly, we went from getting a booking a week to a booking a day.”

However, it’s not the number of bookings Unplugged has amassed that comes to mind when Hector reflects on the highlights of his journey so far; “The team that we’ve built has been the highlight for me. Everyone is passionate and a lot of fun to be around. Finding the right team of people is key to getting everything else right.”

And as for the lessons he’s learnt? “Unplugged has taught me that all sorts of things can go wrong, but those are the things that I look back on fondly,” Hector shares. “They remind me that there’s always a way through. However bad it feels, there’s always something you can do. And once you’ve gotten through it, you take that muscle memory forward and everything gets a lot less scary.”


I realised I was living a busy life, but I wasn’t loving life.

Feel better, work better. Helping your team get into a better headspace is the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business too.

Fueling bold

Building a business can be stressful – even when that business helps others to de-stress. That’s why it’s been important for Hector to find ways of looking after his own wellbeing; “Meditation has been a real rock for me, alongside walking and reading. I really feel that the best thing I can do for the company is to keep myself in a good headspace. If I can do that then I’m going to turn up better for everything else.”

And that’s a message Hector would like to pass on to business leaders too. “Whether a company is a small start-up or a huge business, it’s just a group of people all trying to work together,” he says. “Helping people to get into a better headspace, where they feel better and work better, makes sense for everyone. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also good for businessAs a leader, doing is much better than saying. Not being available at the weekend or sending late night emails sends a stronger message to employees than simply telling them not to always be ‘on’.”

Striving to be a good leader is important to Hector and is what brought him to the last thing that left him feeling inspired; “I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China.’ It might sound a little niche but I think there’s a lot in there that founders can learn from, as it’s about taking a pragmatic approach and trying to see the truth in a situation.”

A bold future

So, what’s next for Hector and Unplugged? “We’re taking our first step abroad in April and are opening a location in Spain, so that feels really exciting,” he shares. “I really feel like this is the kind of business that I was put on the earth to run and so I just plan to enjoy the journey. I’ve started the year with a calm mindset and so my plan is to continue with that, as I’m at my best when I’m unconditionally compassionate.”

Many of us will want to spend less time scrolling and glued to screens, but it can be hard to break the cycle. Does repairing our relationship with our technology have to include a lockbox? Not necessarily…

Get an alarm clock and get your phone out of the bedroom so that it’s not the first thing you pick up in the morning,” Hector advises. “And start small. You don’t have to go offline in a cabin for three nights, you could start by putting your phone in the drawer for half an hour. But the big thing is just to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back for spending time offline rather than berating yourself for spending time online.”

Hector’s advice to those looking to do something bold themselves? “The first step is the hardest step, and there’s always going to be a million reasons not to do something, but you’ve got to back yourself and go for it.


Thanks for reading

We hope you feel inspired by Hector’s story. It's not only a reminder to be kind to ourselves as we find a way to survive, and thrive, in a world that demands a lot of us, but how we can bring that to others too through our leadership – as individuals and as businesses.

Give yourself a pat on the back for spending time offline rather than berating yourself spending time online.

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