Genius Alone Cannot Hack An Absent Market
Innovation and entrepreneurial ambition seems to be booming all over the Continent. So much so that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg had to pay Lagos a visit. Despite of the recent economic recession, Nigeria's growing tech sand start up
Innovation and entrepreneurial ambition seems to be booming all over the Continent. So much so that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had to pay Lagos a visit. Despite of the recent economic recession, Nigeria’s growing tech sand start up scene still shows promise. Genius tech-entrepreneur, Mark Essien, is making a decisive impact in that realm with hotels.ng–an online platform that provides safe, convenient and affordable hotel booking space for travellers. The company started in 2013 in Calabar. With the investment it got from Spark.ng, Essien moved the company to Lagos. Hotels.ng currently has 8270 hotels in 320 cities across Nigeria and has facilitated more than two million hotel bookings and is looking to spread into other parts of the Continent.
Applause: What inspired hotels.ng?
Mark Essien: Market intelligence and an introspective career decision point. I was on the cusp of concluding my MSc. in Germany and I had two decisions: to stay back and take up paid employment there or return to Nigeria to execute on my research on the hotel booking space from a technical standpoint. The option of returning to Nigeria was the more attractive one so I came back and created the MVP that has now become Hotels.ng today.
Applause: How did you get Spark.ng and Omidyar Network to believe in hotels.ng enough for them to invest in it?
ME: All investors want to see the potential for growth in whatever venture you are presenting to them. This means you have to have shown historical growth and the potential for more growth. Startups uniquely need to show that they have the potential for exponential growth, and Hotels.ng has been able to attract investors on the basis of performance. Omidyar Network is a social impact investor and they saw our potential for growth and positive social impact before they decided to back Hotels.ng.
Applause: Has the current ‘technical’ recession in Nigeria affected hotels.ng? If yes, how? If no, why?
We try to operate very lean so that we are running at optimum efficiency at all times. However, when the oil price hit happened, we anticipated a spillover effect in the hotel booking space. That hasn’t happened yet — hotel rates are still constant and travel needs remain the same for the larger percentage of the market we cater to.
Applause: What other challenges do you face as a Nigerian entrepreneur?
ME:The overhead of running a business in Nigeria factors in electricity cost and data cost/efficiency. This ties into operational costs that have to be justified in your business margins. These are problems that I am sure are opportunities for further disruption — so it’s not entirely a bad thing!
Applause: Can you compare patronage to hotels.ng from outside Nigeria and in Nigeria?
Our primary market is Nigeria. We are beginning to see trickles of bookings from African countries like Ghana and Senegal — two of the countries we have entered in the last year. We also get bookings from several other countries in Africa and Europe, but our volume continues to come primarily from Nigeria.
Applause: Where do you see hotels.ng in five years? Are you going to add other services and expand out of Nigeria?
ME: Well, we have already expanded out of Nigeria — we are targeting an even larger inventory for the whole of Africa. I have mulled over the idea of incorporating flights in the past, but we’ll see how that goes.
Applause: Finally, any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
ME: I may have mentioned this elsewhere, but always test the market before you invest financially and emotionally in a business idea. Genius cannot hack an absent market.
Also — leverage on the experience of others. Chances are, for whatever you are about to embark on, there is someone in that field who has some experience you can leverage on.