“I was very intimidated by my business idea for many, many years.”

Anke Bodack, Founder of Twelve Senses Retreat

Credit: Twelve Senses Retreat

Since I was 16 years old, I always dreamed of Palm Trees. Back then, I wanted to do an exchange in Hawaii, which never manifested, but instead, I ended up doing an exchange in upstate New York at a Waldorf school. Later on, I studied product design in Germany and I did an internship that I was lucky to get through my father. He was the Head of Design for the German Railways for many years. Besides that, I also did an internship at BMW in California and was just super inspired, particularly in what they were doing in color material design. So, spending all this time in California, or in general in the US, definitely inspired me to want to move to the States.


When I graduated college, I travelled with my then boyfriend to Los Angeles on a vacation. We also took advantage of our time here and interviewed everywhere for design jobs. I was lucky and actually managed to land two job offers; one at Samsung, and the other one at Nissan in San Diego, which I ended up choosing. Nissan was quite amazing. I remember walking in there thinking “I can’t believe they’re actually paying me for this.” Working there had more of a feeling of going to a university; it was incredible and almost felt like a college campus. Nissan sponsored me and I got the working permit. My boyfriend also got an offer from another design company in San Diego and we ended up moving there.


I spent around a decade designing concept cars and the color material trimming for multiple vehicle lines. But then the company was going through a rough patch in 2008 and they were offering severance packages for the designers. I just had a baby and I thought I should just take the severance, which was a year’s worth of salary, take some time off and focus on my family. But then, within a week, I landed a new job at a startup in San Diego. The concept there was incredible. It was basically the production of a very sustainable, very fuel-efficient and affordable car for about $10,000, which you could buy at Costco or Target.

Time moved on and I totally got used to this startup vibe. I was fully aware of the challenges of startups and that they could go down any minute, but I just enjoyed my time there. I was just one of the employees, but you tend to get a pretty good idea what it means to run a business and think entrepreneurial. After working there for about three years, the company didn’t get all the funding they needed and I left. I decided to go out my own as a freelancer in the color material design space and be able to spend more time with my son. I loved the flexibility and the money was always great. I was very lucky, because even though I never even had a website, I never had to look for clients. They all kind of came to me. That experience definitely helped me to feel quite comfortable, free spirited, independent, and self-sustained later on when I opened my hotel.

Fast forward, one day, I hosted one of my big brunches and had some of my design friends over. I always loved to cook and spend time with loved ones. I also had a Bali hut in my backyard, which is basically a Balinese Gazebo I ordered from Bali a couple of years before. My friends loved to spend time in there so much, that I thought about maybe ordering a couple more of these huts and just host little retreats. And that´s basically how the whole idea with my business started.


The idea to run this hotel as a retreat came from my own background. I worked a lot in my previous jobs, often being stressed out, and I need to pay more attention to self-care. I started doing yoga, healing and wellness, everything from acupuncture, alternative medicine, and meditations. I felt better and better, so I thought I really want to create something that’s very nurturing and healing for my guests. But also, coming from the automotive space, the topic sustainability had already a big impact on me. Everything is full circle. People will feel much better just with applying the right materials. For example, our rooms are completely sustainable. I actually just asked one of our guests how she slept and she told me that she usually suffers from really bad insomnia, but last night she slept six hours straight, without even doing any of our healing modalities or our sound baths. I think that comes from how the room is designed; it´s very peaceful, no TV or media, they only have iPads with Chopra meditations. If you ever come into our hotel, you won´t see anything digital. Everything is just handmade nurturing.


So first, I was going to buy the Bali huts, but then I ended up looking for properties for almost two years. I researched a lot about the idea running the retreat with the Bali huts, but unfortunately it was not possible due to the strict building permits and the occupancy requirements from the city of Encinitas. I would need to either buy commercial space, which is very expensive, or I would have to buy a hotel. I also found out that I could build a Bed & Breakfast with up to five rooms, but it would have to be part of my house and all the rooms needed to be interconnected. So I had to let go of that idea at first; that didn´t mean that I gave up on it though. This was my dream and I was going to manifest it somehow.


I obsessively followed that thought in my thinking, my manifestations, and I meditated every day to stay centered and not lose track of my dream. At some point, my son, who was about 10 at the time, asked to me why I wouldn´t just do it in my own house. For some reason, I never really thought about it! The more I thought about it, the more I realized how brilliant that actually would be. We lived in Encinitas, a town close to San Diego that had become a very popular destination for tourists and visitors. Furthermore, my house was in a perfect location; less than two miles from downtown, and we were able to see the ocean once we built our terrace on our roof. Another major advantage: I would be able to pay off my house because I had bought it many years ago and I had a good amount of retirement savings.


I went for it, used almost all my retirement savings and invested it into myself and my business idea. Of course, it would have been nice to have this money set aside when I would retire later on, but I thought about it more as a “I’ll never retire”. I would always have this little hotel. Wouldn’t that be just the safest, if I would invest that money into my future and myself, instead of just waiting for the money to grow and still don´t get my dream realized?


Credit: Twelve Senses Retreat

Credit: Twelve Senses Retreat

Credit: Twelve Senses Retreat

It took me a couple of years to make the first plans. We had some architects come in, which were actually some of my best friends and my sons’ previous nannies. Both of them went into a business partnership together and now they were able to help me with my vision. I also had another amazing designer, Steven Moneypenny, on board. He did the first sketch of the hotel, only in black, but I loved it right away. It looked modern and cool. It was amazing and very inspiring to see all my beautiful friends, people I met over the years in the industry, come in and help me with designing the concept and the hotel. They believed in my story and in me building this.


The first year in business was pretty much survival and everything was different than I anticipated. Before COVID hit, the economy was great and we didn’t advertise a lot. We had publications like Design Hotels writing about us. But then, three or four months after we opened, we had zero guests for almost two months, and that was extremely scary. I just did a lot of self-care and tried to figure out what I can do better in regards to running the hotel. For example, I did some renovations on the house and I even started spending time in our rooms, just to experience each room from a guest perspective and to understand how my guests feel when they stay with us. And I was actually really amazed! I couldn´t believe that I slept until 9am in the fire room.


I also started to collaborate with another really nice other Bed & Breakfasts in town, which literally sent me the first guests and brought me hope. About two months later, it started to kick off again and we were getting slowly but surely more and more requests. Most people stayed one day, which was tough for us as a hotel because we don’t make a lot of money with one-night bookings. But at this point, I almost didn’t care that there weren´t so many guests coming in. Just the ones that stayed with us were so meaningful to me and they gave me such great feedback. A lot of them had literally not left their house for a very long-time time. Nothing is more satisfying than a guest who comes very, very stressed, stays two or three nights, is getting our amazing organic breakfast, maybe a massage, yoga, and then leaves relaxed and like a different person. When the second year of the pandemic came around our bookings would become more stable, guests would stay much longer and the business overall became much healthier. We were pretty much sold out almost every weekend. It was pretty awesome.


Collaborations were always an important factor for me; I built this hotel in collaboration. When I had this idea, everything was on me to run, manage and design. I was very intimidated by it for many, many years, so much that I even thought about getting a business partner involved, because I thought I couldn´t do this on my own. As soon as I would tell someone about my idea and what I wanted to do, people felt my heart and passion in this and showed so much empathy, they wanted to help. It’s incredible how much support and help I’ve had. Every time I thought I can’t do this on my own, people came in and offered their support, e.g. amazing helpers who made breakfast for my guests, yogi’s or massage therapists who came in to do lessons, chefs who created amazing dinners, or we collaborated with other local companies doing little events on moon circles. When I saw that, I wanted more of that in my life and in my business. If you’re open-minded and willing to share, you get so much back. People love to help and support in so many different ways. I’m very outgoing personality and I always like to share ideas from early on. I already talked about having my own hotel maybe five or six years before I started. I would put it out there and talk to people because I was really confident, I really want to do this. Nobody ever told me that this would be a crazy idea, instead they pushed me more towards realizing it.


To this day, I haven´t left the design industry for good. It’s actually been hard to get my foot out of it, because I’ve done it for over two decades and I really enjoy doing it. But once I had the idea for the hotel, I really wanted to be focused and be in the hospitality space. I opened the hotel three months before COVID hit. So I was actually lucky to still have my foot in the door in the design field. It was nice to have this financial backup to balance the hotel with additional income, especially because it was fully self-funded and I spent already more money than I budgeted on the construction. So it definitely made sense to of run these two companies simultaneously.




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