In just three short years, Christopher Weber (MSc 2018) and Jan Otte managed to launch their online platform Animals Around the Globe, although they had been developing it for quite some time before that. The website covers all aspects of the animal kingdom and now ranks second among its competition in the USA, which is their primary market. In fact, it boasts eight million visitors per month.
1. How did you achieve such remarkable success in such a short time?
Jan Otte: Chris and I first met as colleagues when we sat next to each other at Google’s offices in Dublin. It quickly became apparent that we shared a passion for new ventures and particularly for animals and wildlife. And we had so many friends around us who had created successful websites and blogs of their own, so we decided to give it a shot. Our mission, ever since the beginning, has been to help people explore and fall in love with the wonders of the animal kingdom. And I remember Chris and I having a lot of discussions, brainstorming ways we could establish a business focused on wildlife.
Christopher Weber: My own love for animals grew during the many trips I went on with my family, exploring diverse animal habitats along the way, from oceans to savannas. As Jan and I embarked on creating this website together, highlighting some of the wildest places on Earth to witness animals in their natural environments, we swiftly cultivated a dedicated community, and our content soon began to dominate certain search results on Google. Over the next four years, we collaborated with talented freelancers, most notably from South Africa, a country we both have a personal connection with. Admittedly, we’ve had our share of highs and lows on this journey, but that has only made us more resilient and knowledgeable in the end.
2. By your own account, you want to become the world’s largest animal entertainment company. Yet, Animals Around the Globe is about more than just entertainment. You also aim to educate your audience and collaborate with biologists and veterinarians for your articles. What would you say is your end goal?
J: We’re aiming to establish Animals Around the Globe as the most authoritative and trusted resource on wildlife and the broader animal kingdom. And to make that happen, we are entering into partnerships with experts in their respective fields. This will give them an outlet to share their invaluable insights and experiences with our readership. This commitment not only enriches our content, but also ensures its accuracy and relevance.
3. As enthusiasts for the animal world, wildlife protection is a matter close to your hearts. This is evident in your collaborations with partners such as the AMES Foundation (also founded by a WHU alumnus), an organization dedicated to protecting certain species in Africa. In your opinion, how can we improve global coexistence between humans and animals? And how can we preserve our respective ways of living?
C: Our conversations with wildlife experts have very much helped us better understand that we all need to make a concerted effort if we want to improve human/animal coexistence and bolster wildlife conservation. One key challenge is the stark contrast between populations in developed regions, which possess the financial resources needed to assist but often remain distanced from wildlife, and those in developing regions, which live alongside wildlife but often exploit it for sustenance and income to combat pressing economic need. Our masterplan to address this challenge is built upon three core pillars: First of all, entertaining people to capture their interest and draw them into the world of wildlife. Second, educating that audience, channeling the knowledge and insights of our experts and allowing them to share their own forays into the wild. And third, building an online community, one where users can immerse themselves in the topic and one that facilitates firsthand encounters (whether virtual or real).
Our strategy is to cultivate a greater sense of affection toward and deeper connection with animals. When people care, they are more inclined to protect. Moreover, experiencing wildlife firsthand—regardless of whether that’s on an African safari or in one’s own backyard—can further cement this bond. To facilitate the former, we can team up with tour operators. And for those at home, our app is designed to encourage them to venture outdoors and seek wildlife.
J: As for the populations in developing areas, the key is addressing their economic struggles. It’s tragic, albeit understandable, that people struggeling to survive foster the exploitation of wildlife and nature. Filmmaker John Varty offers a solution: He employs as many people as he can from communities surrounding his game reserve, supported by the revenue generated from tourism. This model transforms local wildlife into something attractive for tourists and, therefore, into an asset for the whole community. And that makes people less inclined to harm the very animals that indirectly provide their sustenance.
4. When you founded your platform, you deliberately chose not to rely on sponsorships and built everything yourselves. Why did you make this decision? And would you recommend this model to other founders?
J: At the outset, we considered going down the venture capital path. However, it was paramount for us to retain full ownership of our company for as long as possible. By doing so, we could ensure complete autonomy in decision-making, reap the entirety of the benefits, and remain accountable only to our dedicated community, rather than to external stakeholders.
C: Wherever circumstances permit, I always advocate launching and thoroughly testing a business model without seeking venture capital. While some business ventures necessitate substantial upfront investment, many do not. We’re immensely satisfied with the path we’ve carved out for ourselves. One pitfall I’ve observed with VC-backed start-ups is a diminished urgency to achieve profitability in a timely manner. By contrast, we’ve had to consistently prioritize profitability in our planning and decision-making processes.
5. You both met a few years ago when you were working for Google. What advantages did this experience offer you as founders? Do you think it is important for a founding team to have known each other in a different context beforehand?
C: Sharing an office space at Google, I had the privilege of witnessing Jan’s work ethic firsthand. Right from the get-go, I was impressed by his efficiency and the way he interacted with customers. We both seemed to operate on a similar wavelength, especially when selling ad products to Google’s clientele. Such mutual understanding and respect are invaluable, especially given that founding a venture together is akin to entering into a long-term partnership, replete with its highs and lows.
American entrepreneur Mark Cuban once remarked that if one starts a business with the sole intent of selling it, success is likely elusive. That sentiment resonates deeply with me, and I've never harbored such an inclination with Animals Around the Globe. Our tenure at Google, and by extension at other leading US tech firms, reinforced a belief I’ve always held: the realm of opportunities is boundless. Engaging with some of the world’s most influential corporations instills in you a conviction that nothing is unattainable and that embracing ambitious visions is the way forward. WHU admirably fosters an environment that encourages such grand aspirations. Yet, witnessing this ethos in practice is a whole other level. Regrettably, this “think big” mindset isn’t as widely celebrated in Germany, which is something I often have to contend with.