To succeed with your tech startup, you surely have to take steps other successful ones took and avoid mistakes they made too. Mark Essien, founder and CEO of hotels.ng is no doubt, a successful tech startup founder. His startup has received funding from various investors like SPARK, EchoVC, and so on. Right now, they are right on their feet as a startup.
In this chat with TechMoran, Mark Essien shares a lot about hotels.ng. The propeller behind its launch, why they got funding, their business model e.t.c. And at the end, he leaves a priceless advice for young startup founders too. Read on.
What exactly inspired hotels.ng? Did you encounter problems booking hotel rooms?
After I got back to Nigeria, I sought to create a business that could create real value in the society. Since I grew up abroad I had seen numerous online businesses that worked well in the early days of the internet. Listing hotels online seemed like something that would work well in the early days of the internet here in Africa so I bought a domain name and paid someone to help me find and list these hotels. On booking these hotel rooms, we never really understood what the business model should have been in the early days, it took us a year to figure out what would be the best way to make money.
Did you envision going into tech from your childhood?
For almost every Nigerian kid born in my time, growing up to found a tech company was not a typical aspiration we had. It was not until I got to Germany that I knew what the possibilities could be. It was there that I got exposed to web development. After building a few tech tools that I sold to other companies that was when it became obvious that I had built the skills to create wealth for myself and many others.
Your startup, fortunately received funding to expand. What did you do differently from other great startups still seeking funds?
I was able to validate online hotel booking as a business in Nigeria early on. Asides that, I went out of my way to speak with a lot of persons to get decent press coverage. I was also fortunate during that period that Spark was looking for good Nigerian companies to invest in.
Your startup is leveraging technology to solve hotel room booking problems. Do you consider it more of a hospitality startup or a tech startup?
The entire business is powered by tech. More than 90% of all activities within the company is powered by tech. What we have done is to create tech that makes the entire process of finding and booking a hotel in a new city very simple.
What exactly is the business model of hotels.ng?
Our business model has existed for many decades. We charge a commission on every booking we bring in for the hotel. We tried different business models but we soon realized that in a marketplace value is created in the direction in which money moves.
How long did it take your venture to start gaining traction after its launch?
SEO validated our business model, so as soon as we were ranking for the keywords that mattered to our business we were getting traction.
When you sent a pitch to Rocket Internet and got no reply, did you ever think of giving up. If yes, what kept you going?
No. I had read a lot of stories about fundraising so my resolution was strong. I understood that it was a shot worth taking and if they did not see the value of what I was building another investor will.
At this point, can you call hotels.ng an overly successful startup?
I will be naive too. We got traction and were able to grow online hotel booking into a sustainable business in Nigeria, but that’s not the end. There are a thousand more miles ahead. We are in a good position, but I will not call us overly successful.
Asides this, are there any other startup/ideas cooking in the pot? Should we keep our fingers crossed?
All the ideas will flow through Hotels.ng.
There is surely a “tech revolution” going on in Nigeria. What do you make of it?
Revolutions come in waves. Within 2010 and 2014, there were many startups that came into existence. More than 90% of them are gone, and there is a new breed of startups coming up now. These new companies are different and have better talent than their predecessors, they also have access to knowledge too, and these are what separates the older startups that died from the newer ones. Plus the market has also grown and matured along the way. There are more people confident using their credit cards online than they were 5 years ago.
How do you know if a tech startup idea would scale, or not? This could be useful for upcoming tech entrepreneurs.
Simple. Is the market large enough for them to either grow fast or make a lot of revenue?
On the strongest advice he would give to young tech entrepreneurs, he says…
Validate your business very early. Do not build a business then go find a market. You find a market first then you can build a business.