Jess Ainlay: Let’s begin near the beginning. Where are you from originally and how did you move to the United States?
Laura Moffat: I’m from Scotland originally. I played golf competitively for Scotland and Great Britain, and got a scholarship to come to America and play at UCLA when I was 17.
Jess Ainlay: Wow! Do you feel more American than Scottish at this point?
Laura Moffat: I think so, and I don’t know how my parents feel about that. But your formative years are between 18 to 25, when you are finding yourself. I was here, and socialized here, so I do feel very American.
Jess Ainlay: And you ended up in New York because you got a PhD here?
Laura Moffat: Yes, in Neuroscience. I did my undergraduate in California, thought about becoming a professional golfer, but I realized I wanted to pursue more intellectual aspects. I came to NYU for a grad school interview, and fell in love with New York. I didn’t care what I studied, I just had to be in New York.
So I came here, went to grad school, finished my PhD and then started working as a management consultant in the pharmaceutical industry, then at an agency. I learned what I know about business and marketing from doing that.
Jess Ainlay: How long did you do the corporate thing?
Laura Moffat: I did this for about seven years, from 2007 to 2014 when I quit my job and went traveling.
Jess Ainlay: Were you comfortable working in the office, or was there a part of you that wanted to do something different?
Laura Moffat: No, I definitely really struggled with it, but I was on an H1B visa, which is a work visa. So, I was at the whim of whatever company I was working for at the time. It was a really demanding job, traveling all the time for work, my relationships suffered, but I couldn’t just quit, because I didn’t have a Green Card. I could have quit, but the day you quit you have 30 days to find a job or get out of the country.
I never got to do a gap year like most kids in the UK and Europe, so I always had it in the back of my mind. I think I knew that as soon as I got the green card, I was going to do my own gap year.
Jess Ainlay: When you got the green card, you decided to go traveling. So many people would like to go do that, too, but believe it isn’t attainable or achievable. Can you walk me through that decision?
Laura Moffat: I had been thinking about it for a year. I presented the idea to Kelly, my wife. She thought it was a really cool idea, but was nervous about leaving her job as a teacher, because she could lose her tenure. She worried about what would happen if she left and couldn’t get a job teaching when we got back. But I was relentless about the idea. I kept saying, “this is happening. We’re going to make this happen.”
Jess Ainlay: How did you convince her to take the leap?
Laura Moffat: I wondered if I was jeopardizing my own career, too, but when you tell people what you want to do, or what you did, they get really excited about it and think it’s really cool.
I rationalized the steps with her. Would the principal bring you back? Yes? Then why not?
You have to look at your fear, and explore whether it is founded in fact. Then, you just figure it out - when is it going to happen? What’s the timing? How are we going to execute the plan?
We ended up quitting our jobs, and planning a wedding while we planned our trip, and took it like an extended honeymoon.
Jess Ainlay: Where did you start your trip and how long until you got hit with the idea for your business, Kirrin Finch?
Laura Moffat: We started in the Maldives, went to Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, flew back to New York for a couple weeks to chill - because traveling is really hard. Then we did South America. In total, we traveled for nine months.
Jess Ainlay: What was your biggest challenge while you traveled?
Laura Moffat: Anxiety. When you’ve quit your job and are about to go traveling, it feels great, and you are totally free. But for me, I’m no good at aimlessly wandering around the world, I kept wondering what my purpose was. The freedom to travel was also a lack of structure - which was also a challenge for me.