Career 180: Her world travels led to a new business

Acting on an idea most only dream of, Stacy Schwartz paved the way for her new career by quitting her job and traveling the world. After working in marketing and publishing, first at Time Inc. for five years and then at the parent social media site cafemom.com, she left her career last April to tour Europe and Morocco — 11 countries total — for about three months. Having spent some of her trip in fitness and other active programs, Schwartz came back to New York City in July and set out with a longtime friend to start Ketanga Fitness Retreats, a travel company that plans fitness-based vacations in other countries. Schwartz, 29, has spent her life in Manhattan and currently lives in Gramercy.


Why did you decide to quit your former profession?

I always loved what I did and I was l was lucky to have jobs where I felt challenged. It wasn’t necessarily a decision to leave publishing, it was more [that] I always wanted to travel the world and through that experience it made me see what I was doing in a different light and then I had this idea of totally changing my career.


How were you able to fund your travels?

I’ve always been really good about managing my money and I’ve always worked really hard to make sure that I was at a good level at my jobs, so I had been saving up. And this is something I knew I wanted to do for a while and when I finally bit the bullet I had saved up a good amount of money. In addition I had been doing a lot of research to figure out what I wanted to do in each place and how I could manage my money best I could so I could get the best experience out of it.


Were you always interested in health and fitness?

I always have been but really just as a hobby, I never thought about it for work before this trip, but I always loved being active. I got really into boxing a few years ago.


How did you tie fitness into the trip?

I wanted to travel the world and obviously what comes with that, is there’s a lot of eating, there’s a lot of drinking — just tasting your way through [different] countries. But at the same time I always loved being active, so it was important to me to try out these different work outs and just be active in the places I visited. I was able to find places to go riding throughout my travels so I could see the country through horseback. Really everywhere I went, I tried to do at least one or two things that were active. In Majorca, Spain I connected with a trainer out there who — this was the one part of my trip where I let myself splurge a little so I stayed in a pretty nice hotel — for three days straight we worked out together.


When did you get the idea for Ketanga?

The idea for Ketanga started when I was trying to figure out how to take my two passions, travel and fitness, and turn them into a career. After traveling for three months, I realized there are other people like me who want to see new parts of the world while being active. So after doing some research, and talking to a lot of trainers, studios and fitness enthusiasts, I saw there was a huge opportunity for organizing fitness retreats, and I was ready to give it a go.


How do you plan the retreats?

We work with the trainers and studios to figure out what kind of destination they’re looking for and what kind of trip they want to have. If it’s a running trip, there needs to be trails; if there’s a Pilates trip, it needs to [have shade available]. We’ll start doing some research, scout out some locations and then we start developing the itinerary and work with the trainers to bring it all to life. 


Do you get to travel for work?

I do. For right now, either my business partner or I will be on all of the trips. It is a great perk. We’ve been to Mexico, Costa Rica, Florida so far. Soon we’ll be checking out places in Nicaragua as well.


What kind of profits have you made?

Not yet but we’re working on it. We’re still very much a startup, it’ll come down to basically volume of the number of trips that we’ll have. Ideally we’ll be looking to spread the model that we have to other key markets in the states. Right now we’re really focusing on doing an awesome job with our first couple of trips, perfecting our product.


What was the biggest challenge in launching your new biz?

The biggest challenge was when we had our first sign up on our first trip and then there was a lull. We were very afraid that no one else was going to sign up and then we were going have to cancel the trip. It really made us re-evaluate what our brand is all about. So that was definitely a turning point for us and then luckily we were able to secure more people for the trip and then it went amazingly.


How does your former career help with this one?

In my former career I was always sales support, meaning I would be helping the sales team come up with the proposals. Now I’m doing that but I’m also pitching to clients so I’m the face of the brand now and I’m technically in sales. So I think all the years of learning how to talk to clients has really, really helped as well as the marketing angle.


Any advice for readers considering a career 180?

Talk to anyone and everyone without necessarily sharing your entire idea up front, but sometimes talking to people who have nothing to do with your industry will have the best advice.