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BN Making It!: Meet Innovative Geeky Entrepreneur, Mark Essien – The Brain Behind Hotels.ng

BellaNaija.com

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hotels-132BellaNaija loves innovative entrepreneurs!!!It’s even better when they’re as aesthetically appealing as the subject of today’s BN Making It! – As the founder of Hotels.ng, Nigeria’s leading hotel listing company, Mark Essien, is toeing an uncharted course in the Nigerian business space.

In a chat with BellaNaija, Mark, talks about the inspiration for Hotels.ng, his plans for the future, and how he copes in a relatively new sphere. We hope you enjoy reading about this intelligent and enterprising young Nigerian! Oh, and read on to find out if he’s single *wink*

***

Hi Mark. Thank you for agreeing to do this. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background?
I spent the early years of my life in Nigeria – my nursery, primary and secondary schooling were in Akwa Ibom – in the town called Ikot Ekpene.

As a kid, I was often fascinated by my father. He was always very interested in engineering, even though that’s not what he studied. My father built a number of fascinating machines. I remember the dredger he built from scratch with the purpose of extracting sand, and a robotic arm that was impressive in its dexterity. I would say that watching him do these things influenced me and set me on the path that I am on today, with regards to my skillset, my approach to business and the attitude I bring to problem-solving.

When I was done with secondary school at FGC Ikot Ekpene, I wanted to study engineering, and so my parents sent me to study in Germany. In Germany, I picked up a keen interest in coding (it was something I did to stay awake on a night job). I also acquired my BEng and MSc in Berlin.

Concurrently, and afterwards,I developed and built my own products and sold some of them to companies. I worked for some companies too.

Can you share some of your most memorable childhood moments?
Most of my fondest early memories occurred in Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria. I spent the first 18 years of my life in that beautiful, small and quiet town. In all that time, I travelled out of the town only sparingly – not more than ten times.

Of course at the time there was no internet so most of my time was spent in the library. I had a healthy appetite for science fiction.

Also – I remember the first time I travelled to Europe. It took me almost a week to figure out how to use the trains, which, naturally, resulted in personally hilarious episodes.

markHow did you transition from a degree in computer science and robotics into what you do now? Did you come from a 9-5 background?
The transition was pretty straightforward: after my B.Eng in Computer Engineering, I went on to acquire an MSc in Computer Science.

Before Hotels.ng I created a software, Gnumm, which was acquired by Snoopstar. I worked at Snoopstar for some time, before I began to build my own products. I created some useful iPhone apps when the appstore was still just revving up. I also created one of the first Mpeg Encoders, Standard MPEG, which has been bought by companies like Disney and the American Military.

I spent the years before Hotels.ng building my own products and doing contract jobs for other people.

So tell us about Hotels.ng
Hotels.ng is Nigeria’s first and largest hotel booking platform. We make it easier and convenient for people in Nigeria (and people visiting Nigeria) to make hotel reservations and find the right bookings for their location and needs at any given time. We currently have more than 7,000 hotels listed on our platform from all across the country.

What inspired you to start Hotels.ng?
The fire for internet startups in Africa had just been kindled and all anybody needed to do was to identify the emerging markets. At the time, Jumia, Konga and the others were already riding the waves and I observed that travel was also going to be the next big thing. I had seen it happen in Brazil and India and I could count on internet technologies adding the boost to an already-growing market. I was in the final months of my M.Sc and I was beginning to critically look at my professional future at this point, and it was in one of these moments of introspection I considered the veritable virgin land that was hotels and tourism in Nigeria from the vantage view of a startup.

Of course at this point what I had was mere conjecture, but I believed that if a comprehensive platform was created to serve a well-defined market, it would be a remarkable feat. Already we had another company dedicated to airline bookings and tickets (Wakanow) leaving the hotels ecosystem still fallow, which I capitalized on. I needed to test this hypothesis, so I returned to Nigeria to test my model and the rest, as they say, is history.

What is the staff strength of Hotels.ng?
We have 36 members of staff on-site, that is, in the office, and number of employees working freelance.

Did you have nest egg for capital to start or did you have to reach out to investors?
In the beginning I had some personal money, and this went into buying the domain name and the initial list of hotels when I was in Germany. I returned to Nigeria and started with Calabar. There, I – with the help of a friend – struck up relationships with as many hotels as possible, signing agreements and taking photos. We were already pulling impressive traffic numbers so much so that the day we enabled hotel bookings on the platform we instantly began getting reservations.

However, the expansion process that has led to what Hotels.ng is today started when I began to put out press articles which attracted the attention of Iroko TV’s founder, Jason Njoku. He contacted me on Facebook and told me that Spark.ng was interested in investing in viable startup ideas like mine. Spark.ng made an initial investment of $75,000 in Hotels.ng and I moved to Lagos to set things up. The momentum had picked up significantly and shortly after Spark.ng made another investment of $150,000. With this financial buffer, we began to grow our hotel listings and expand our customer base.

hotels-176Please walk us through the process you take for listing hotels?
We currently have 80 people out there, constantly searching for new hotels and updating the information about them on our platform. Every state and town in Nigeria has been visited by Hotels.ng staff.

How would you been able to wade through the murky waters of insufficient data bases and the inherent infrastructural issues in Nigeria?
By adaptation. The Nigerian business ecosystem is unique in certain regards, and we have learned to take all challenges in stride. The issue of insufficient databases, for example, was a potential setback, but then again it was the opportunity for us as we became the first to beat the odds and rack up data where it was hitherto non-existent.

How profitable would you say running hotels.ng is and what is your projection for the next 5 years
Hotels.ng’s profitability has been established by its records since inception, and we expect to control 90% to 95% of local hotel booking in Nigeria and 50% of the African hotel booking market within the next five years.hotels-192

Wow! That’s interesting. Please describe a particularly difficult bottle neck you encountered and how you rose above it?
Finding the right people to work with has been known to slow down the flow of business, but with smart relationship building and streamlined recruitments, we have been able to surmount this.

What are the challenges you face as an entrepreneur in the modern day Nigerian business space?mark essien
We face the same mainstream problems: electricity, internet downtimes, bureaucratic bottlenecks.Do you have any plans for expanding into other aspects of travel and tourism? It is a possibility we are keeping open, allowing Hotels.ng’s growth curve inform our decision-making.

What would you say is the defining marker that sets you apart from other players in your industry?
I educate myself more. I am never tired of reluctant to learn new things. In addition to that, while I am very cautious, I am not afraid of trying anything.

What would you say is your biggest motivation for continuing hotels.ng
I have seen the potential in Hotels.ng, and that is what keeps me going.

How do you family life with work? What keeps you going?
I have a fairly balanced work-family ethic, with my time shared between the two. My love for my family is akin to my love for my work, and my family understands the importance of my work. I am quite passionate about my family and my work. I find that once you have defined the things that are most important to you, you are less likely to run the risk of neglecting them.

What would you say is the highlight of your journey so far as an entrepreneur?
It has to be the profound realization that I could achieve the things in my head – and that they would actually work!

What’s the most profound thing you have NEVER said in any interview?
Always look at what you are doing at any time in this way: knowing the information you know now, is this the best choice? If you look back in time, would you understand why the you-of-the-past made the choices he did? If this is so, then you must pick that choice and support yourself with all your might.

markkkLet’s relax a little bit.

If you read BellaNaija, then you’d know that our readers will take a look at your photo and scream “Is he married?”. So tell us… are you married or single?
I am single, but I am also in a committed relationship.

How do you unwind after a very difficult work day?
I do any of a number of simple things: I read science-fiction, write, have refreshing discussions with fascinating people and mentally review the day’s activities in preparation for the next.

How would you describe your fashion style?
I’d describe it as utilitarian. I try to dress as comfortable as possible.

Three items you won’t leave home without?
My iPhone 6, my keys (which include USB and Bank Token), and a moleskine notebook for random ideas.

Photo Credit: Hotels.ng

33 Comments

  1. CEOchrissamuel

    May 13, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    I have been regular visitor to his site but i never knew this energetic and vibrate younger man is the sole brain behind such outstanding initiative.He’s indeed inspiration to young Nigerians and African at large.

    • Meena

      May 14, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      …then she stylishly asked if he’s single by using BN readers as a font. Smart girl.

  2. pinkie

    May 13, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    so cute and so successful.

    • Nil

      May 13, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      LMAO

  3. bruno

    May 13, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    ” If you read BellaNaija, then you’d know that our
    readers will take a look at your photo and
    scream “Is he married?”. So tell us… are you
    married or single?”

    EXCUSE ME!!!!! what do u take us for?. like we are thirsty sluts or something. pls we have self control. we can control our thirst thank u very much. I feel insulted (rolling my eyes in a very dramatic way)

    biracial boys will be the death of me.
    first it was chef alex oke now this one. this guy is giving me sexy geek realness.

    bellanaija I have to commend you. You’ve been giving us hot looking guys for the past 2 days. u people are on a roll. kudos. pls keep the hot guys coming (no pun intended), loooool biko I’m tired of looking at girls.

  4. Ify

    May 13, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    I’ve used them quite a number of times and they are very efficient. They actually call you a day before to confirm your booking. Very professional.

  5. polypoly

    May 13, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    omo boy ur market for BN dey start oh, am sorry for ur gf or bf…cos these husband snatchers, know no bounds…..lol

    no shade but…..isn’t this a copy of hotels.com (US version). this wasn’t any spectacular idea imho….no hate!

    BN- kai, u just sold out we commenters sha…..as Bruno said, thirsty sluhts….LOL!!!

    • Beautiful

      October 1, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Look into what it took to build hotels.com and hotels.ng before you jump to such gullible and uniformed conclusion. It’s like saying rice dey copy beans because they are both food. There’s Google, there’s Bing, Yahoo, etc. There is hotels.com, trivago, tripavisor, etc… all have similar mission but different functionality and most certainly, neither was built the same way. Anyone who has or has tried to do tech related business in Nigeria knows how gruelling that can be considering issues with electricity, slow Internet speed, connectivity issues and so on, so whatever challenges businesses hotels.com. trivago and co has, hotels.ng probably has it worse by a long shot. Again, before Iroko there was Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and more… so if every dreamer or business person had your mentality (as it pertains to your comment) most businesses will not exist today.

  6. Tosin

    May 13, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    very nice.
    well done, Bro.

  7. Ides of March

    May 13, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Very inspiring! Can’t wait to start my own business, these ideas are killing me!

  8. tunmi

    May 13, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    The issue of a central database or several databases in Nigeria is seriously worth exploring

    • Idomagirl

      May 14, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      @Tunmi, I agree. It’s something I’m interested in getting involved in.

  9. Paix

    May 13, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Wow….very inspiring…..keep up the good work!

  10. daiva

    May 13, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    I don’t care I want him, first light skinned guy av been attracted to

  11. bellaNaija fan

    May 13, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! . i died when bellanaija said our readers would look at your pictures and say is he married.. i was thinking the exact same thought**covers face in shame***.
    But sha you are not married . pls find me when you uncommit yourself

  12. Kete Kete

    May 13, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    The part I enjoyed most is his life in Germany. We have a lot of talented Nigerians here in Germany.

    Kudos to Bellanaija for the interview.

  13. Devika

    May 13, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Omg go hotel.ng ..so proud of you mark…my Nm brother Of life….we proud of you..God bless you..and in between all my lovely nigerian babe’s asking no hez not single lol..my nigerian sisters ooo ladies don’t carry last lol

  14. Muyiwa George from Lekki

    May 14, 2015 at 12:45 am

    Now I know. I was saying this Mark Essien looks like the one I knew at FGC Ikot Ekpene. He was in Ogun house and in SS3 when I was in Jss1. I used to watch him skate in the dinning hall lol. FGC IK guys doing great Eloh of Terragon etc.

  15. Dee-USA

    May 14, 2015 at 2:37 am

    What I’d like to know is if in his research he has come across anyone who’s into the concept of swapped housing (ala Air BNB.) My curiosity has me wondering if Nigerians will ever be trusting enough to swap houses.

    • o

      May 14, 2015 at 10:41 am

      not only Air BnB, what of Couch Surfing??? I dont think we are ripe for that yet sha

  16. Zizii Luccii

    May 14, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Welldone Mark…I just looked up the website and would be using it for my bookings from now on..

  17. Enn!

    May 14, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    that smile…..*sighs*

  18. aj

    May 14, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Hey handsome Mark…How you doing? I will check your website out!

  19. Idomagirl

    May 14, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Mark is so fine!!!! *_*

  20. didi

    May 14, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Remember that smile from the days of Monica kindergarten, sure ur mom(our proprietress then) would be mighty proud of u. Well done

  21. SASSYCASSIE

    May 14, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Kudos to Jason Njoku for investing in Nigerian start ups. Now, if only more wealthy Nigerians would become business angels to many brilliant young brains without the much needed finances to launch their businesses.

  22. Babs

    May 14, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    @PolyPoly that’s the idea behind entrepreneurship and innovation; building on the foundation of others while creating a completely alternate or competitive solution. In this case it’s filling a market void and they’ve been very resourceful and efficient doing that.

  23. Sifonde

    May 21, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Thank you so much BNteam for sharing this inspiring young man’s story. Keep Doing your thing MARK, your team rocks…..yippee..hotels.ng is wow.

  24. Somiii

    May 24, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Great job you are doing Mark. A quick question, do you have an affiliate program for wedding bloggers like myself. I have a target audience who will be interested in hotels.ng
    I introduce you to prospective clients, I earn a commission when they book through my blog.
    Looking forward to your response.

    • Royal Priest

      April 13, 2016 at 6:34 pm

      He’s most probably not going to see your comment here. I’ll advice you write a proposal to the company(not personal) if you are still passionate about it. Since what both of you care for is business, you sure will get a favourable deal if you play your cards right and the terms are right. Cheers!

  25. fergie

    May 26, 2015 at 3:28 am

    wow, interesting, i dnt like reading interviews when its not my favourite actor, musician, politician etc, can scan through but not take my time to read, but first his looks captivated me, then his convidence dat goes with everythung he says wowed me, nice one mr hotel.ng, keep it up. And i think u will be a nice person to work with too #wink lol

  26. jane ikpeme

    June 6, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Very inspiring.glad he is from Akw

  27. jp24

    October 30, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    You sir has inspired me to think main stream. soon enough ill call up for a better appreciation. thank you

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