Travel Agents

“We need role models”: Naomi Simson smashes Women in Travel

Lauren Croft

In case you were wondering, the Women in Travel Awards went down a treat on Monday night.

There was champagne, canapés, and giggles – not to mention awards for some pretty amazing women in the travel industry.

But one of the stand-outs was Naomi Simson. She’s a businesswomen, writer, investor on Aussie TV Show Shark Tank and general all-round entrepreneurial powerhouse.

She’s the winner of numerous awards (like the 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Silver Stevie Award) and the founder of online gift experience retailer RedBalloon. She’s also our keynote speaker for the night.

Within five minutes, the audience is captivated – and in fits of laughter.

“Can I just tell you how weird it is to see yourself on national television?” She begins.

Simson started her career in the corporate marketing field – then started RedBalloon out of her home in 2001 with only $25,000 and a second-hand computer.

Now, she’s followed by over two million people on LinkedIn and a star on a national TV show. To say she’s come a long way would be putting it lightly.

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But tonight is about recognising the achievements of the women within the travel industry, and Simson has some darn good advice for them – have role models.

“When we have role models we can see ourselves in that person and we can see the possibility. And that’s why we need [awards],” she said.

“[This is] a wonderful celebration and it’s an important one. It’s important because if we don’t take a moment to celebrate success and achievement we don’t know what it looks like.

“We forget to stop and pause and say ‘we did a good job’. And thats what tonight is about,” she added.

One of Simson’s personal role models is Carol Schwartz, who turned Simson’s ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ when Shark Tank approached her.

“You need somebody around who’s going to tell you what you don’t want to here. Somebody who says ‘I’m going to challenge you when you don’t want to be challenged,” Simson said of Schwartz.

Originally, Simson had no idea what Shark Tank was when she was first asked to be a shark – and asked producers if she had to get wet once she found out what the show was called.

For the uninitiated, no, Simson didn’t have to get wet – but she did have to listen to business pitch after business pitch, and choose wisely which to invest in.

“Business is hard. I mean if it was easy, everybody would do it. Business is much harder than we thought it was ever going to be,” she said.

Simson’s right – only a third of the deals seen on Shark Tank actually end up making money.

Mostly, it’s the purpose, and the passion behind the business, that ends up winning a shark’s investment.

Simson didn’t discover RedBalloon’s true purpose until after reading a heartfelt customer story, which she proudly shared.

“A man wrote ‘For my fathers 84th birthday I took him to fly on the DC3. I picked him up from the Central Coast and drove him to Bankstown airport.

‘My father was excited like a little boy going to a birthday party. When we got there, I flew with him,’ she read.

“On the way home, his father shared with him that as a young man, he’d always wanted to be on the DC3. And today was the day.

“He said: ‘My father is a very quiet man. I’ll always remember today as one of the days he spoke.’

“And then I knew why I do what I do.”

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Simson added that contestants on Shark Tank are more likely to be successful if they have a true purpose.

“Purpose comes from how we contribute to others, and how we engage people in our purpose with the language and the words that we use,” she said.

Simson adds to this with a comical anecdote. When she wrote her first book, Live What You Love, two women who bought the book won high tea with her – but were extremely negative throughout the whole thing.

“And then one said ‘I’m sooooo tired’ and the other one said ‘Sydney traffic’s horrendous,'” Simson dragged.

“So think about this. How often do you bring this whole kind of negative thing into the room? ‘Hows the weather, oh shit’ – why?” She questioned the crowd.

“The words you use define your reality. And often we don’t think that.

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“I see a a lot of women in leadership, and I sit on a number of boards.

“And often this is how it goes. Women will come to a boardroom for three to four meetings before they say much. And by this time, most of the blokes in the room are wondering if they’re ever going to add any value. And then finally she says something, she says ‘this might be a silly question, but…’

“As soon as you say it’s a silly question, it is a silly question. The words you use define your reality.”

Simson also advises us to use every word wisely.

She uses an example of how women and men write emails: men tend to get straight to the point, whereas women’s emails are longer – and the point can get lost.

“Women in leadership, it doesn’t matter where you sit, if I could give you one piece of advice – it’s be succinct.”

“There’s those in life who watch what happens, there’s those in life who ask ‘what happened?’, and there’s those in life who make things happen. You be one who make things happen.”

These last parting words are recycled from her sons year 12 formal dinner – but we’ll forgive her.

Check out all the winners from the night here. 

And obviously, a humungous thank you to all of our amazing sponsors:

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