Karolina Dąbrowska-Uyttendaele: „I am driven by unknown and positive change. That´s why I chose opening new markets“

22. 6. 2016 +

Rozhovory

Karolina, Sales Director of CEE Secret Escapes, truly lives modern international lifestyle. In her prior sales experience she successfully ran new markets in many EU countries as well as in Australia. Quite a resumé for a woman who hasn´t even turned 30 yet! What keeps her passionate about day-to-day job? Unknown and dynamic environment with constant changes around. „You need to make it happen,“ she was told by Travelist´ CEO Tomasz Nowiński at her job interview. That triggered her interest, and fast-forwarding a couple of months – she´s already making it happen! Travelling between headquarters in Warsaw and London as well as her sales teams in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Slovakia, she managed to spare a minute for us.

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  • Karolina Dąbrowska-Uyttendaele, 29 years old
  • Head of Sales for CEE at Travelist by Secret Escapes
  • Responsible for sales&business development in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Travelist, found by Tomasz Nowiński’s more than 3 years ago, has grew 4× times in size ever since. In 2014 the company became a part of Secret Escapes, currently consists of over 300 people with offices in New York, London, Singapore, Berlin, Warsaw and is expanding all over the world. Google itself invested 60 mil. pounds in the company just in last 3 years.
  • Karolina is currently hiring strong Sales Managers and Key Account Managers in Prague, the Czech Republic. Click here and join her team!

Karolina, you´re managing multiple sales teams in multiple counties, that’s a lot on your plate. I´m even surprised we were able to catch you here in Warsaw at Travelist by Secret Escapes´ headquarters. 🙂 

I am really glad we met! But it is not an easy lifestyle, let me start with this. It requires loads of flexibility and effectiveness. Your organization skills are really important here. There´s no space for wasting time in my schedule and I do my best to pack every minute with getting things done quickly and with no mistakes if I can. I´m lucky in a way – I am able to really switch off from people and focus when working. So I´m making loads of work done on planes, in cafeterias if travelling but also in the Warsaw office where I am based. I am rather motivated by changes and dynamic environment. I don´t really need my own desk with that one coffee mug that´s only mine. 🙂

The only constant in life is change. The same applies to this business. To succeed, you need to get used to that and be driven by uncertainty

How does your weekly schedule look like?

I have some regular things like Monday kickoffs with my teams. This basically means I´m on call since 9 am to 2 pm talking with all 4 countries one by one and I´m also open for individual meetings. Tuesday to Thursday are sales-focused. Either I´m physically in one of those countries, or remotely from Warsaw, I´m involved in tasks that my teams are doing, listening to feedback, reacting, checking and supporting them. My hands are simply ‚dirty‘ with the job they´re doing. This also means loads of analyzing and working with numbers, target calculations and revenue. Fridays are for summaries, sharing and evaluating.

I try to keep this schedule, by my teams might smile now and think how many time we postponed or re-scheduled those very nicely scheduled calls (laughter), but you know how startups are and we are trying our best to keep this regular. You have to really understand what´s important in your day. I simply can´t drop everything because of every single urgent thing. I had to learn to respect myself, my time, and also time of others, so you can count on me always and this should be planned too. 🙂 My friends are laughing at me that I have agenda for everything –which could easily be true.

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Karolina tries to balance her fast lifestyle with sports and quality time spent with her family. She uses yoga and meditation to calm down and clean her head. She loves spa, which she admits is quite expensive sometimes, but helps her relax and switch off too. Meetings with friends, trying out new restaurants and wines from different parts of the world are things she always finds time for.

Working daily after hours doesn´t mean you are the employee of the year. It usually means you can´t manage your time well

Sounds pretty intense. How do you stay sane with such crazy lifestyle?

Who said im not crazy? (bursts into laughter) Sometimes it is really, really hard. Good example is me waking up in a hotel room thinking: „Wait a second. Is it Budapest or Zagreb? Oh, actually I was in Dubrovnik this week…“ And as I´m looking around, I´m slowly realizing I´m just visiting my grandma and staying at her place and that’s why it smells so good and these are pancakes on the table. So things can get mad, too.

But I´m a firm believer in balance which I’m still learning how to find, together with my coach. Not a fan of working after hours either. To me, if you are staying everyday until 8 PM in the office that doesn’t make you an employee of the year but most probably overloaded person with no ability to manage his/her time, delegate or ask for help. I work hard during the day so I can shut my computer off at 5 PM and not staying longer unless it’s really necessary or urgent, and then simply spend time with my family. Walk my puppy, be with my partner, play volleyball, do yoga or just lay on the sofa and watch a good movie if that makes me happy at that current moment. Hope this proofs I´m not 100% crazy yet? (laughter)

Also, you´ve been living this way for some time already. While working for Booking.com, you moved to Australia for almost 2 years, am I right?

I did and Australia was a great experience! But I knew I would be back sooner or later and never planned to stay there forever. So Poland is my place. I´ve actually been quite active already since university. I got into sales pretty early – I was selling these trips and vacation destinations from listings that were very popular at that times in Poland. I remember I was willing to get in sales so much I wasn´t even afraid of earning almost nothing at first. Then I was hired for few really big tour operators in Poland where I was responsible for main holidays destinations and its sale, contracting hotels over the phone which was crazy – I didn´t believe you can actually acquire a client by simply calling them but it did work. 🙂

Then your experience in Booking.com started.

In 2010, when I joined the company, we had slightly over 1000 properties acquired, and few years later it was over 15 000 properties. The whole industry is more and more educated and open to new marketing trends, which is awesome! I was then sent on assignment to the Baltics and opened an office there in beautiful Tallinn in Estonia. I left my heart there in the Baltics and its people i got to work with. Since everything was successful, I got an offer to relocate to Sydney where I lived and worked and from where me and my team managed to open first seasonal and then permanent office in Queensland. I hope they are doing well on the other part of the world!

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Besides sales, Karolina is passionate about training and coaching. She is into HR and psychology. What does she recommend to fellow Sales Managers? ACL leadership concept by John Ader that she follows since the very first time she learnt about it, One minute manager as in her opinion every manager should read at least once, and websites such as entrepreneur.com and under30ceo.com.

„This is your mission – Make it happen,“ I was told by our CEO

Why did you leave? Wasn´t it greater opportunity to stay with a giant like Booking.com, instead of joining a small startup in Warsaw?

Working for Booking.com was really great and I can’t say anything negative about the company, my managers, teams, people who inspired me so much and I learnt a lot there. To me Travelist by Secret Escapes was really the next logical step. Startup and all challenges connected with it – absolutely yes! And the fact that this company gives me opportunity to combine all skills and experience I have gained – building international teams, recruiting, forming, coaching, finding successful directions – makes me really fulfilled. I am able to make a real difference and contribute to the success of the company, I really feel it and this is not „just some talking.“

This job is much more complex than any other before. At my final interview, our CEO Tomasz Nowinski told me: „We´re launching our product to these 4 CEE countries. This is your mission – to make it happen from scratch.“ That really ignited a spark, so I literally just jumped and started making things happen together with Tomasz and with all the teams.

The best advice of my professional life came from my dad

Karolina, you´re young, stylish, smart. Beautiful woman. Does it help you or is it something that might work against you – let´s say in gaining respect from your team members?

I´m not thinking about it in this way. The truth is I´m still learning and growing, so I´m trying to stay 100% transparent, fair and open to feedback. I´m not afraid of saying „I was wrong“ or „I didn‘t know this, thank you for showing me“. I am a humble person who is very well aware of all her areas that need improvement. To be very honest though, I did have some problems with my age at the beginning. When I started my manager role, I was very young and not really ready (I don´t think anyone is at the beginning) and not everyone took me seriously or wanted to work with me. There was this one senior manager who called me „kiddo“ which drove me nuts. Luckily, my dad helped me a lot. „Why are you worried?“ he asked, „you are having the same experience as these people are having, and they are 10 years older than you. You still have those 10 years to grow and learn. Be open, learn from them, make mistakes!“

I assume you came a long way. What fails and rough moments have shaped you as a sales leader?

There were many and I´m glad they happened. Also, let me state here that as a manager you need to be open for not only yours, but also for mistakes of others. As long as no one is repeating the same mistakes and people are learning – it´s fine to me.  My biggest failure? I wasn´t really letting people go and do their work. I always tried being around and did a lot of micro-managing – I wanted things to be done my way, which gave my team very little space to work creatively and show their best. I thought I knew better….

Luckily that´s over. I trust my teams and don´t need to be everywhere. Sometimes I´m still like „I want an update“ but then they text me: „Sorry I´m busy now, will call you later“ and that relaxes me – I know something good is being made. 🙂

Your manager can´t motivate you. Motivation is not a package. You have to have that in you!

How do you motivate your people?

For me, there is no such a thing as your manager can motivate you. Because people cannot motivate other people. They can drive you, they can challenge you, they can assign you to some tasks that may or may not ignite motivation. But they cannot give you motivation as a package. It all depends on you, your level of awareness, how much do you know about yourself and what works best for you in terms of focus and productivity.

How does actually your sales team look like?

At this point there are 4 countries, our biggest and best structured is Croatia with one team leader and 3 sales managers. Then we have 2 very experienced people in Slovakia, 3 in Hungary and not one yet in Prague.

Why none in Prague? Are you guys that demanding, or is Czech market peculiar?

Both. We had quite some applicants but we need highly independent and motivated people who see great opportunity in working their way up in a global startup. And that´s not always easy. Although we want to grow fast in the Czech republic, I´m also keeping my very reasonable hand on recruiting process as we need local experts who have the courage to come to us and say: „Look this won´t work“ – and offer solution. Someone experienced in sales and able to convince people to buy from them.

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This may not come as a surprise – Karolina loves travelling and discovering new tastes and smells. „Im not a typical girl who follows gluten-free diet. I´m very much aware of healthy lifestyle and try to stay active, but I´m also a meat person and when in Prague, I never resist smažený sýr. 🙂 Besides how can you live without a good stake, seriously?“ Her favorite place is Andalusia. „It has a lot to do with tapas and wine, of course, but mainly for the atmosphere and special memories I will always have with this place.“

Why should you join? Because its FUN! It´s a lifestyle that makes you feel alive

At this point, you are making brand awareness and building Czech team. What will they be responsible for – in other words, what kind of product is Travelist by Secret Escapes?

Travelist by Secret Escapes is a members only travel agent which is specializing in hand-picked luxury travel offers. As a salesperson, you are basically picking and then pitching hotels to work with us so that can inspire our members – guests to book and enjoy luxury holidays with a really nice discounts, packages and facilitates! We offer hotels new online marketing way of growing their businesses. There are over 2 million members of Travelist and over 40 million members worldwide so the word has been spread already which makes it really interesting. 🙂

Although I must stress that working for a global startup isn´t like having this very fancy building with an office on a 35th floor where your assistants pretty much make everything smooth for you including printing yesterday’s report and making you a coffee. This is all dynamic. You are on the market. You are visiting clients, you are travelling to other parts of your country. You must be result-driven. Your goal in the end is the revenue – always.

How much will salespeople here in Prague make?

This is something I´d like to be very transparent about. Unlike other companies, we do not operate on low base and higher commission package. We pay our people quite good money, being very specific, contracting salesperson makes 1500-2000 € monthly (gross salary together with the bonus), Teamleader has more responsibility and is evaluated accordingly and Key Account Manager makes around 2500-3000 €.  We have pretty organized motivational system and very clear strategy. All is negotiable in terms of salary and of course this is roughly as you can increase this amount accordingly with your results.

The job won´t be easy. No one knows Travelist in Prague, salespeople will have to be independent, ready to face some difficulties, constant changes. Tell me honestly, why should they join?

Because its FUN! It´s a lifestyle that makes you feel alive – never boring. You can grow and be a part of something amazing. You can really make an impact, those skills you have will be used, those ideas you have will be implemented. You will be responsible for creating your day the way you want it in order to get successful. I´m not saying you´ll be at the beach drinking margarita, but if you tell me you´re meeting 12 clients today and you´re opening a bottle of red wine with your partner tomorrow because that´s what helps you with making this business right – go ahead! In Travelist, I can guarantee you one thing – you will stay highly motivated by what you will be doing everyday.

Have you been waiting for this opportunity to build strong sales team with local knowledge? Join Karolina now!