Video Ring

Your Timeless Journey Awaits...

Building connections, to me, suggests a mutually beneficial relationship where neither party is out to use the other selfishly.

“The currency of real networking is not greed, but generosity.” — Keith Ferrazzi

How I started a luxury safari business by accident

I’m not a fan of the term ‘networking’. The insinuation is that it’s an attempt to try and schmooze as many people as possible, only to see how they can use them to get ahead in business.  

I prefer to talk about making connections. Building connections, to me, suggests a mutually beneficial relationship where neither party is out to use the other selfishly. ‘Connections’ suggests, rather, a more giving and generous mindset that extends to all my relationships: family, friends, acquaintances, business partners and sometimes even strangers online. 

The quote by Keith Ferrazzi resonates deeply with me because it alludes to a value that I’ve come to live by being open-handed and always ready to link a person with a problem to another person with the solution. And, in essence, that’s how I started my safari business… by accident.

Undone by Africa

My lifelong love of African safaris was ignited on my first visit to the Kruger National Park over 30 years ago. After I began exploring more game reserves in Southern and East Africa, I soon found myself helping to connect friends, friends of friends, and my fellow YPO (Young Presidents’ Organisation) members with the right safari lodges. As my visits and passion for the bush and Africa’s exceptional wildlife increased, along the way I became friends with several game lodge owners in Southern Africa and East Africa, who helped me understand the safari circuit on a deeper level and introduced me to other safari enthusiasts and service providers.  

It was during a conversation with a close friend where this friend, after listening to me sharing how I had helped another group of people explore Africa, interjected with, “Marco, do you realise you are running a business for free?”  

The truth is I wasn’t looking to start a business. I already had other businesses that I was running. And yet, my friend’s suggestion was the first time that I realised what I had been doing as a pastime had already turned into something more – a way to share this incredible continent far and wide.

The Start of Timeless Africa Safaris

In 2002, I officially turned my hobby into Timeless Africa Safaris by hiring my first employee to manage the admin and logistics. Since then, the company has grown, attracting a wonderful team of equally passionate souls who share my commitment to looking after guests, giving them a once-in-a-lifetime journey, and sending them home richer in spirit and memories. 

I’m not a safari guide, nor did I have a background in travel, but over twenty-one years I’ve curated safari holidays for thousands of people.

I’m not an artist, but I’ve arranged an African art immersion with a safari add-on for a group from the Guggenheim Museum. That trip led to another museum-group art immersion, then another.  

My point is that by prioritising connections you can do anything. You’ll never be a master of one-hundred things, but by connecting with an array of masters you can create wonderful things for those around you – and maybe even launch a new business. 

With the Timeless team busy onboarding new members, there has been a lot of in-office talk about our history, how the business was built and the core values driving how we operate in the world.

My 5 approaches to help make connections and solve more problems

1. Become an Initiator
2. Cross the Street
3. Get Good at Asking Questions
4. Become Part of the Solution
5. Passion Makes it Memorable

1. Become an Initiator

Meeting new people has always been a rewarding experience for me. While, admittedly, that’s most likely because I’m naturally extroverted, there are mindsets that help me to initiate conversations and meetings with total strangers – or at the very least feel at ease in environments where I don’t know everyone in the room or on the safari vehicle. 

If it doesn’t come naturally to them, I now encourage my team members to switch on an ‘initiator’ mindset as often as possible: that is, they should plan to start conversations and interactions with complete strangers throughout the day.

The Mental Hack:

If you approach anyone with a smile, a warm greeting and the belief that you have something to learn from them, approaching strangers and starting conversations is easier than you think. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

2. Cross the Street

Initiating conversations takes effort, but it’s always worth it. If I spot an acquaintance in a shopping centre, at an art exhibition or on the other side of the street, I will always make the effort to go and greet them. The value beneath the behaviour is respect.

The Mental Hack:

A long-term study on factors influencing the life expectancy of men revealed that the quality of their relationships at 50 years of age was the most powerful predictor of how long they would live. “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80,” according to the study (Harvard, 2017).

Not whether they smoked. Not cholesterol readings. Not how often they exercised. Not if they cut out carbs. Rather, the quality of their human connections. Not far behind was the quality of their incidental relationships – that is, their interactions with strangers such as tellers at the bank, store clerks and for any South African readers, petrol attendants. How incredible that your ability to connect with humans can impact your longevity. In essence, crossing the street’ is good for your health.

3. Get Good at Asking Questions

Nobody enjoys a conversation where someone talks only about themselves. I find that if I choose to go into a connection moment with curiosity about the other person, it safeguards me from talking about myself and my interests too much. 

Asking insightful questions is a way to build connection. Going into a conversation with the goal of learning something and understanding the other person’s business, hobbies or volunteer experiences will make you a much more memorable and enjoyable person. After a positive interaction with you, your new connection will also be more likely to recommend you to their friends, colleagues and family when your skill set is required.

The Mental Hack:

Start conversations with what you know about the person already: what they do for a living, their kids, where you last saw them or a recent social media update. When people are given the opportunity to be listened to about subjects that engage them the most, they tend to think well of the person who gave them the opportunity. By asking good questions you are opening doors to deeper relationships and improving your reputation.

4. Become Part of the Solution

Something that gets me excited about meeting new people is knowing that one day they will have the answer to one of my problems – or the answer to a problem facing one of my connections. I get a lot of satisfaction from introducing my connections to one another to help solve a problem – usually via email. 

Some of my favourite and most gratifying connection moments have been introducing local artists to organisations offering wonderful opportunities in the art world, connecting fundraisers with individuals or groups who need funds for a worthy cause, and connecting two people I know with similar business interests who started a fantastic business together. The opportunities to become part of solutions are endless.

The Mental Hack:

Becoming part of the solution requires a decent memory. Remembering people you meet and asking for their contact details are essential aspects of becoming a successful connector. Luckily, it has become a bit of a hobby for me. Meeting people and remembering their names, organisations and skill sets feels like an infinite puzzle that I am continually solving.

5. Passion Makes it Memorable

If you are passionate about a subject, you don’t have to remember your lines. Passionate people naturally find it easy to talk about their interests to the people that they meet. People are far more likely to remember someone they’ve met who is excited about the work they do, the cause they support or the organisation they volunteer for if they’re enthusiastic about it. Even if you feel like what you’re passionate about is not of interest to others, it’s often your tone, your manner, your stories and your descriptions that make it interesting, not necessarily the content itself.

The Mental Hack:

Let your passion show. When someone asks about your area of interest, give yourself permission to visibly show your excitement using hand gestures to reinforce your words’ meaning and some animated facial expressions. Most of us fell in love with a subject in school because we had a vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic teacher. Don’t be afraid to let people know why you love your job, cause, family or hobby and you might just spark a new connection or even make a new friend.

What are your tips for making new connections and helping others solve their problems? I would love to hear them.

In this article
  • Starting a luxury safari business by mistake
  • Undone by Africa
  • 5 Approaches for connections and problem solving
  • 1. Become an Initiator
  • 2. Cross the Street
  • 3. Get Good at Asking Questions
  • 4. Become Part of the Solution
  • 5. Passion Makes it Memorable

Discover Our other travel stories

Read our travel stories for inspiration and updates.