Re-Imagineer: Melissa Bradley, Founder and CEO Indagare

We met when you were the Travel and Features Editor of Town & Country and then became the Founding Editor of Town and Country Travel. Your first career was as a very successful journalist. You went to Yale and then the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia. Did you always want to be in publishing? Did you have any other career ideas in those early years?

At first It didn’t occur to me that I could combine my love for journalism with my love of travel, which I also discovered at a young age. I chose to spend a year of high school living with a French family and another year in college in Paris. But then when I was looking for my first job after graduating from Yale, I was hired at a travel magazine called European Travel & Life — so I saw that I could put my two passions together. From there, going on to become the travel editor at Town & Country was a dream job — one that really laid the foundations of the rest of my career evolution. Of course, I have also harbored wishes to write longer form too, but I will have to slow down my travel pace to nurture a book.

For over 15 years, you have been the CEO/Founder of Indagare Travel, a very successful innovative travel company, which is a member-based online community for sophisticated travelers. You made the entrepreneurial leap in your early 40’s to move into a whole new world of luxury travel. Give us two or three of the best learnings so far.

Passion equals fearlessness. I didn’t set out to start a business so much as to solve a problem. I have been obsessed with travel ever since I lived in France at sixteen and experienced how new cultures can reveal an abundance of choices about how to be in the world. To me, it is the ultimate mind opener, and for that reason I think it makes most people better versions of themselves and members of a global citizenry. But I also think that it takes work and expertise to deliver great travel experiences and I wanted to help people make their trips transformative. After years of scouting the world for magazines, I wanted to go beyond just delivering information—I wanted to create a community for crowd-sourcing great discoveries and to improve the service element to assist people with their plans. If I had had any idea of just how hard it would be to create a media company and high-touch service business from scratch, I don’t think I would have had the guts to try but my conviction blinded me to the size of my ambition.

You have to be—and stay close to—your target customer. From the beginning, I have built something for myself but I have also spent a lot of time soliciting feedback from like-minded travelers. I started the business as an online magazine because I thought giving really robust, reliable travel information would be enough for people to plan their own trips, but almost immediately our members asked for more. They wanted someone to actually plan trips for them, so we added a unique kind of travel agency staffed by advisors who we sent out to scout destinations as journalists and to report on them but then also plan trips. Similarly, it was our members who asked us to start offering small, immersive group trips with special access. Those are key elements of our business now that came from listening.

Relationships create culture. I was super lucky to work under Pamela Fiori, the editor in chief of Town & Country, for more than a decade, and she cultivated great relationships with everyone she came in contact with from celebrities to receptionists; she modeled that how you treat everyone reflects your deepest values. Our culture at Indagare is rooted in the same, so we hire for intelligence and work ethic but also generosity of spirit, which is why my team is my greatest asset.

What is fascinating is how you have taken your expertise and talent in travel journalism and have woven it into your business model with engaging journalism for travelers. As you look out into the next years, what else will you be adding to your offerings at Indagare?

From the outset, we have had cultural values that haven’t changed. Our mission is to inspire and empower people to change their lives—and the world—through travel, and we believe that we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the environment, heritage and communities. We have focused on these from our launch, but how we do these things has expanded as we went from just writing about how to do this to actually planning trips and leading people on trips, bringing them to community and cultural heritage projects. When we first started, we planned hundreds of trips a year, now it is many thousands; and initially, we led two or three group trips, and now it is dozens a year. And it continues to evolve as we have launched an Impact program in which we offset our members’ travel carbon footprints and we donate a percentage of profits to conservation programs but also as we have developed virtual travel programs to bring travel experiences into homes during lockdown. Most recently, I launched a new radio show and podcast on Sirius XM, called Passport to Everywhere, in which I introduce listeners to amazing places and people who are transforming the travel landscape and acting as ambassadors to destinations. These are all just extensions of the original mission to inspire and empower people to change their lives—and the world—through responsible travel.