Hitha Palepu is an entrepreneur, author, and activist - she is also an experienced traveler and a constant inspiration to us in SO many ways. We sat down with Hitha to catch a glimpse into her life and learn about all of the hats she wears. She is always overflowing with incredible travel tips, organizational ideas, and overall smart solutions to help people live better. Read on to learn about her journey and how she found success by pursuing her passions.
Hi, Hitha! Please introduce yourself.
I'm an entrepreneur, writer, and an angel investor. I graduated with degrees in Biochemistry and History from the University of Washington. After working for Cisco Systems and then SciDose, I left to start Bridge2Act, a technology platform that connects context to action and allows you to donate the moment you feel compelled. I somehow wrote a book the same year we launched the platform, and I had a baby - something I would NOT recommend doing!
You've been traveling all your life. Tell us a little bit about your parents, upbringing, and how in the world did they potty train you on a plane (lol)?! What is your favorite place you've traveled to thus far?
My parents are the American dream - came here with $8 and created an incredible life for themselves and me. I was born after my father completed his Ph.D., and we moved around quite a bit as his career as a pharmaceutical scientist advanced in the industry. We continuously traveled, from annual India trips, to tagging along with my father to his conferences. My parents put a high value on experiences and education, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. The potty training story is a funny one. My mother and I were flying back from India when I was two, and I kept bugging her to go to the bathroom to get those miniature cups and soaps that they used to dispense. After the second visit, she told me I could only go if I was actually going to use the toilet. 14 hours later, we landed back in the States, and I was potty trained. As you can see, my mother is my traveling role model. My travel has decreased significantly since having Rho, but my husband and I do make a point to take a trip (just us) once a year to reconnect. We take Rho with us on long weekends locally, but we'll be taking a big family trip to Hawaii this December! It's hard for me to pick just one favorite place I've traveled. Saint Petersburg is a fascinating city (and one I'm lucky to have gone to 3 times!). I'm (obviously) partial to India, and still can't get over how diverse the country is. You can visit it ten times and have a different experience every time. I love Buenos Aires and want to visit more of Argentina, especially Mendoza and Patagonia. In the United States, I love New Orleans. Incredible food, people, and culture. My kind of city.
"My parents put a high value on experiences & education,
& I'm incredibly grateful for that."
What was the catalyst that made you quit the pharmaceutical industry to co-found Bridge2Act and become an investor and mentor to women-led companies?
Working with my father in the pharmaceutical industry was a lifetime dream of mine, and I thought I would stay in the industry forever. That said, I'm an instant gratification kind of woman, and I found the time between licensing a product and the product hitting the market took too long for my liking. I was already looking at other options, and Samira approached me about the concept of Bridge2Act. I was immediately drawn to the idea and was ready for a new challenge. Investing happened organically for my husband and me. At the time we were ready to make our first one, MM.LaFleur happened to be raising their first round. Having been one of their early customers and brand ambassadors, it was a no-brainer for me. Our second investment in Werk happened the same - Annie, their co-founder, and co-CEO was a longtime friend and informed me they were raising at the time we were ready to make our second investment. I think the fact that our first two investments have been on women-led companies has been a happy coincidence. We're open to investing and advising companies that are solving problems that we either personally face or observe as a new opportunity. I will continue to advance our portfolio in companies that are led by women or directly impact the lives of women.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs/startups looking to raise money?
First, make sure you're solving an actual problem, not a perceived one. Market research is only the first step and should be where you spend the bulk of your time in the beginning. Make sure your team is all-in --not only laser-focused on the mission, but can put in the long hours to solve the problem you're facing. Be ready to answer the question "why you?". Why are you the only one?
Congrats on your book, "How to Pack"! How did this project come to fruition and what was your process for writing your book?
I was very lucky to be approached by my publisher to write my book - I didn't have to submit a proposal or manuscript. I received the first email in mid-March 2015, signed my deal two months later, and submitted my final manuscript that December! I tried to write for a few hours every morning and during the afternoon, but I wasn't making the progress I needed to. In the end, I removed everything non-book related from my schedule and wrote nonstop (with a lot of help from my agent) for the first three weeks in December. My publisher, illustrator, and I worked together in January to finalize the images and layout of the book, and we submitted the final manuscript, fully designed and illustrated, in May 2016! It was a whirlwind and a very atypical experience. I would love to write more books in the future but plan to do it the traditional way (proposal and all) next time.
With that said, what are your top best travel tips? What items can you not live without when you're going somewhere?
Only pack the items you actually wear at home. Think of the contents of your suitcase as your security blanket. What makes you feel comfortable and confident? Pack those things, factoring in the weather as well. I'm a strict follower of my accessory math rule - 3 shoes, two bags, one hat, one scarf, and one pair of sunglasses. I always pack my travel steamer, my Kindle, and two extra pairs of underwear. Ask the bellhop for restaurant recommendations if you're staying at a hotel. The concierge will direct you to higher-end places (where they usually receive a kickback). The bellhop will recommend local gems you probably wouldn't have heard of!