The 4 key skills shared between Business Development and wildlife photography.
Alexander Ley, Senior Business Development Manager, has grown significantly since he first joined GetYourGuide two years ago. The growth in his role is also consistent with his sharpening expertise in his hobby — wildlife photography. In today's post, Alex details the skills he’s developed as a Business Development Manager and wildlife photographer alongside pictures he’s taken on recent trips.
I joined the Business Development department at GetYourGuide nearly 2 years ago. Since joining, I’ve followed an interesting road with tons of twists along the way. I was initially responsible for our travel agency partners. I then moved on and became responsible for the online publisher segment and larger booking partners, such as online travel agents, airlines, and loyalty programs. I also now lead the online publisher sales team.
Next to a career in travel, my biggest passion is closely related: wildlife photography. When I was just 7 years old, I was lucky my parents took me on my first big trip to South Africa; ever since then, I’ve been hooked. My family and I constantly seek out new, unique destinations to visit each year. Some of the highlights have been Argentina, Brazil, Botswana, Central African Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Ethiopia, India, Uganda, and Zambia, to name a few.
When I compare Business Development to wildlife photography, I see many similarities:
Courage is a must-have attribute.
During my years as a wildlife photographer, I have been in many situations other people would consider crazy or, at the very least, risky.
One situation that stands out occurred when I was in Churchill, Canada, a town on Hudson Bay, which is known for polar bears. During a safari walk, we were fortunate to bump into a large male polar bear. He was quite curious and kept coming closer and closer to our group. He continued to approach until he was only about 7 meters (~23 ft.) away! Our guides actually had to step towards the bear, raise their voices, and clink two stones together to make noise and keep the bear away. By doing so, they were able to establish an invisible barrier which stopped the bear from coming any closer. After inspecting us for the what felt like the longest three minutes of my life, he decided to carry on. Though frightening, staring down the largest land carnivore on foot was incredible!
Though starting my career at GetYourGuide was not quite as scary as facing down a polar bear, it also required courage. Upon joining, I was thrown into cold water right away. I had just completed my Masters degree in International Business in London and moved to Berlin only a few weeks prior. I started off responsible for the travel agency and tour operator segments within the Business Development team. My main objective: make the segment work.
In the beginning, I visited many of our existing partners in person to gather first-hand feedback. I also conducted hundreds of calls and attended relevant conferences to get a better understanding of the industry and build my network. By doing so, I was able to establish close relationships with big travel agency associations, which allowed us to experiment and optimize integrations. I was often the only GetYourGuide representative, and a new one at that, so it took courage to lead meetings with some of our biggest partners in a room of eight or more industry experts.
The initial work paid off. In addition to signing several travel agency associations, we also onboarded the biggest association in the US.
Persistence and determination are the also important skills to possess. I never give up on a challenge and live this motto inside and outside of work.
I had the opportunity to demonstrate these skills on a recent trip to Brazil. During this trip, we dedicated a full week to photographing jaguars in the Pantanal. The temperatures were nearly 40 degrees (~104 degrees Fahrenheit) with incredibly high humidity; nevertheless, it was the best time of year to witness jaguars in action. Our goal was to see a jaguar catch a caiman on camera. To maximize our chances, we decided to stay all 7 days from sunrise to sundown on the river. While groups in other boats went back for lunch and took breaks, we stayed on the boat, fully committed to our goal.
In the end, it was worth the effort. After 5 days, we were able to photograph one of our best wildlife encounters ever!
We found a female jaguar resting in the shade and tied our boat nearby. After 30 minutes, the female started growling and a large male jumped out of a bush. It was mating season and we had front row seats just a few meters away.
In B2B Sales, I also need to demonstrate persistence daily, since I must constantly feed new leads into the pipeline. Regular follow-ups are crucial to success.
When leading bigger initiatives, whether internal or external, I have to be determined as well. The higher the number of stakeholders involved, the higher the risk of failure. Hence one needs to make sure to stay top of mind and a priority.
Mentoring is another skill I have been able to develop within GetYourGuide and through photography.
When I joined Business Development, the team was only 5 people. Since then, we’ve grown by more than 200%. With growth comes new opportunities. I currently lead the online publisher sales team and was part of the hiring process for all of our new Junior Business Development managers in the different language markets. Next to that, I lead the on-boarding process, our weekly sales meetings, and mentor my teammates on how we can improve our sales process. Time efficiency, quality of prospects, and outreach campaigns are some of the main areas we work on.
Even my passion of wildlife photography incorporates some mentoring elements.
For years we have been traveling to one specific National Park in Zambia, the South Luangwa. One guide, named Braston, got us hooked. Braston is a fantastic and extremely knowledgeable guide; he finds leopards everywhere!
Over the years, we’ve even travelled with him to various other destinations. We decided to give him our old camera gear as a present. This is when the mentoring started. We taught him about the basic functions of the camera, how to hold it, and what settings to use for which situation. As with everything: practice creates masters. Every time we return, we see how he has improved. He was even hired to take pictures at his friend’s wedding in his village.
A learning mindset is crucial to move forward on a personal and professional level.
Because of my passion, I travel to many new countries where I learn about the history, culture, and local traditions. Ethiopia comes to my mind immediately; the density of different tribes is enormous. One experience I will never forget was witnessing a Bull Jump Ceremony of the Hamer tribe. Above, you can see an image of me with another local tribe: the Nyangatom.
Over the years, my photography skills have also grown exponentially.
My dad and I started out only taking photos of big game. Then, as the size of our lenses grew to a fixed 600mm with a 1.4 converter, we learned value the smaller things in life, like colorful birds.
Some of my other key photography learnings over time:
An eye-level perspective is way more intimate. Carefully approach wildlife on foot and lie flat on the ground to take the image.
Master composition by placing the subjects off-center. Placing them in the middle is boring.
Always pay attention to the background of the subject. White sky vs. a green tree makes a huge difference.
Fixed lenses vs zoom lenses. Build yourself a collection of fixed lenses. The quality difference is immense.
Gain command of different camera settings and new technologies. I’ve recently started working with interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras, such as the new Nikon Z7. There is a massive weight and size difference of the lenses.
At GetYourGuide, learning never stops, and this is exactly what excites me the most. I began my career here learning about the travel industry as a whole. Then, I moved along different verticals within BD. By doing so, I gained a deep understanding of each of the segments and the integrations needed.
On the Sales side, I learned how to build a successful sales process from prospecting, through negotiation, to closing a deal.
Some of the negotiation tactics I honed over time were:
Use anchor points and always make precise first offers. You set the bar.
Create trust; be likeable and vulnerable.
Do your homework and organize your interests into buckets: for integrative issues you can make trade-offs, for distributive issues you should be prepared to go to war.
Understand the needs of the counter site. Ask yourself: why do they want this? Listen between the lines. We often believe the counter side wants the exact opposite, but that isn’t always the case.
Hone all your key strengths.
GetYourGuide was the ideal choice for me to start my career. Courage, persistence, as well as a learning mindset helped me to progress within this fast growing company and have also been crucial in improving my photography skills. In all things, personal or professional, it is key to be proactive and to take charge of your own development. Through constant work and dedication, you will receive more trust and responsibility and you will see your skills develop.
To sum it up: step outside your comfort zone. Never stop learning and never stop growing. I challenge everyone to think about their key strengths in their personal life and how they can apply them to their career and vice versa.
If you would like to follow along my latest trips in terms of wildlife photography, check out my Instagram: @wildlife_ley