​From a scrappy list to 7,000 hotels & counting: here is how Mark Essien built a super successful Nigerian startup

‘For you to do anything that will actually be successful, you cannot have preconceptions. You must be flexible. You have to go and discover what will work and then do it that way. It’s a hard world out there, you have to find what you have to do to survive. You need to be able to switch your mentality from a certain sense of enlightenment’. – Mark Essien (hotels.ng) 

Hotels.ng CEO, Mark Essien , is one of the few successful Nigerian startup founders with a technical background.

Hotels.ng is a Nigerian online hotels booking agency which was launched in 2013. The platform was founded by Mark Essien who hails from Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria and claims to list over 7,000 hotels from 21 regions in Nigeria.

How it all started 

In 2012, while Mark Essien was studying for his MSc. in Computer Science at the Free University of Berlin , Germany, he developed an interest in the Nigerian technology space. His analysis showed that for an emerging market like Nigeria, a travel/tourism startup would work the quickest. Studying South American and Asian models of already-established hotel booking agencies, Mark tentatively created a hotels listing platform (which was what Hotels.ng was, initially.) He purchased a domain name and a list of hotels and put them up on the website.

It was nothing more than a list of hotels at the time. But immediately he was done with that, he left Germany to come home to actually build it into a business. He was just looking for a technological company he could build that would work in Nigeria.
‘When you are in the right market, you will survive, because the market is always big enough to keep you alive’- Mark Essien. 

First things first 

The first thing is that you need to make sure there is a market for your product. The second thing is distribution. You need to know how you’re going to distribute your product. If you don’t know how to distribute your product, it doesn’t matter how great it is, no one will know that it exists.
His advise to young entrepreneurers 

Market is everything. Pick the right market. If you are in a bad market, nothing will save you.

Don’t be stubborn. If you hear a wise counsel, accept it and do it that way.

Tell your story. Don’t go and hide what you’re doing, thinking you will become big once you get featured on a tech blog. One story is not enough. Let people know who you are, let them be aware of what you are doing. Don’t hide in the shadows.

If you are not technical, make sure you start learning enough to actually create tech products.

Finally, read and write. Reading expands your mind, writing helps clarify your vague thoughts.

Published by Ogunbowale Olugbenga

Ogunbowale Olugbenga is a multiple award winning social entrepreneur & digital skills expert. An alumnus of the Leadership in Business Institute of Kellogg School of Management (USA), He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria). Inspired by the plight of millions of unemployed youths, Olugbenga founded Epower.ng, a digital agency passionately growing businesses & accelerating the application of digital skills for economic prosperity across Africa. To help institutions prevent scandals & promote performance, Gbenga founded Polivoice.Work, an anonymous employee feedback tool that captures & analyses feedback anonymously in real time to detect, predict & improve work place conditions. A Mandela Washington Fellow, Tony Elumelu Fellow, Royal Common wealth society fellow, YALI star of business & YALI network influencer, Olugbenga is the founder of Africa’s biggest orphanage outreach, The Orphan Empowerment Society, with a 5,000 strong volunteer force and a presence in 19 African countries empowering thousands of orphans with free vocational skills, medical care, & food. He is also the co-founder of the communication & leadership organization, Pacesetters Leadership Club.

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