‘African Start-Up’ On CNN: How An Entrepreneur Built Nigeria’s Leading Hotel Bookings
“I think the model that we have created here in Nigeria…it's something that is viable across the rest of Africa”
This week, ‘African Start-Up’ on CNN International meets Mark Essien, a Nigerian tech entrepreneur who launched an online hotel booking service, Hotels.ng in 2013.
From small beginnings, the business has grown to be one of the leading hotel websites in Nigeria, with ambitions to expand across Africa.
Nigeria is a major business destination in Africa, and online booking services are benefiting from the increasing demand for hotel rooms from travellers.
31-year old Essien explains to ‘African Start-Up’ what inspired him to launch Hotels.ng: “What really drove this is that I wanted to build a technology company in Nigeria. This business has the technology elements that I wanted, and it was something with my own resources that I could also launch. I was studying in Germany at the time, I said I'm going to come back to Nigeria, and I'm going to build this.”
Essien completed his studies and spent some time working in Germany, before returning to Lagos in 2013 to start the business. He used his own money to buy the company domain name, and then he began visiting hotels.
He tells ‘African Start-Up’, “I went door to door to each of the hotels and told them I'm going to bring you online traffic. All of them looked at me and thought that's crazy. But they also thought, there's no harm in it. So they said sure, go ahead. That's when I got noticed by people who invest in companies in Lagos, they said we're going to invest $5000 in this business, I said yes, and it's grown.”
However, Essien tells ‘African Start-Up’ that it was challenging at first to gain trust from hotels and customers: “We had to deal with the fear that hotel managers had, the lack of understanding that they had for the business. We also had to deal with the customers. A lot of customers, then, and even until now, they still do not trust online services, they think a lot can go wrong.”
Hotels.ng worked hard to combat this, proving to hotels that the service would be beneficial to them.
Essien explains to ‘African Start-Up’: “We did not make any money in the first six months because we just wanted to demonstrate to people that we are actually creating value for them. And even till now, when we sign up a new hotel, we say we want to first of all bring you five customers. If we don't bring you five customers then we won't ask you anything related to money.”
That hard work paid off. In its first year of trading, Hotels.ng signed up 3,000 hotels and attracted approximately $225,000 in investments.
Essien tells ‘African Start-Up’: “At the end of the year we were out of that money but we had been able to transition to become a profitable company. We were doing bookings of over 1 million dollars. And at the start of 2015 we went into talks to raise further capital, a few months later we were able to raise $1.2 million.”
Hotels.ng says it now lists 7000 hotels in Nigeria, and according to Forbes it is Nigeria’s leading hotel booking website.
With this success, Essien is looking to the future and exploring what’s next for the business. He concludes to ‘African Start-Up’: “I think the model that we have created here in Nigeria…it's something that is viable across the rest of Africa. We're very strong in Nigeria, we have built a good brand with hotels and the customers and I think we can replicate the same across the rest of Africa.”
‘African Start-Up’ airs Wednesdays in ‘Connect the World’ at 1600 on CNN International.
Tune in to CNN on DStv Channel 401.
About ‘African Start-Up’
‘African Start-Up’ follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the African continent to see how they are working to make their dreams become reality.
It explores how they generate their ideas, formulate their business plans, raise capital and distribute their products.
Twitter: @CNNAfrica #africanstartup #CNNAfrica
About CNN International
CNN’s portfolio of news and information services is available in five different languages across all major TV, internet and mobile platforms reaching more than 395 million households around the globe. CNN International is the number one international TV news channel according to all major media surveys across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the Asia Pacific region and Latin America. Over the years it has won multiple prestigious awards around the world for its journalism, including most recently the Asian Television Award Cable & Satellite Network and Channel of the Year, and is a two-time winner of Royal Television Society News Channel of the Year. CNN Digital is a top network for online news, mobile news and social media. CNN has 41 editorial offices and more than 1,100 affiliates worldwide through CNN Newsource. CNN International is part of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company.