How This Former Nigeria Programmer Turned His Online Hotel Booking Idea Into A $10+ Million Dollar Venture
Opportunities are everywhere, but their benefits are rarely ever just handed to you.
It takes time, hard work and effort to get your idea to the point where everyone takes you seriously, and this is something every entrepreneur knows.
The road to discovery is a tough one, but the persistent emerge successfully.
This is the story of an ambitious programmer who successfully built Nigeria’s largest hotel booking platform. His name is Mark Essien, the founder and CEO of Hotels.ng.
Here’s how he did it:
The Early Life And Education Of Mark Essien
Mark Essien was born on the 18th of December, 1980, in Ikot Ekepene in Akwa Ibom State, Southern Nigeria.
His education started at Monika Kindergarten and Primary School, after which he went on to attend Federal Government College in Ikot Ekpene before travelling to Germany at the age of 18 for his Bachelors in Computer Engineering (Hardware, Robotics) at the Beuth University, Berlin.
He later got his MSc in Computer Science at the Freie University Berlin, Germany.
Journey Into Entrepreneurship
Before Mark Essien could get admission into the university, he was required to study for a year for an exam similar to A-levels, which was extended by 6 months as he did not pass the mandatory German language test.
During this time, he spent his time studying and doing part-time jobs, one of which was taking care of a sick man during his night shifts while also learning programming.
In three months, he developed a file-sharing software called Gnumm, using Visual Basic, which was later acquired by a large software company called Snoopstar.
When he joined the company, they were rebuilding the software in C++, and he had to learn it in a short time; mostly on the job. But regardless, his work experience gave him a lot of advanced programming knowledge.
The Start Of Hotels.ng
The timeline between his Bachelors and Masters degrees was when he created the trial version of Hotels.ng, which was nothing more than a listing of hotels at the time. It was after that was done that he moved back to Nigeria and took to rigorous market research before launching in 2013.
Upon the launch of his business, he put out press releases, which In a short time caught the attention of Iroko TV’s founder, Jason Njoku, who had set up SPARK, a startup in search of prospective internet businesses to invest in.
Spark.ng started with an initial investment of $75,000, before making another investment worth $150,000 a few months later when momentum picked up significantly. This financial buffer helped them to grow the platform’s hotel listings and expand their customer base.
When asked why he chose to work on hotels by Techpoint, Mark Essien said, “I became very focused at looking at what the market wants, not what I want, and if I can go in to fulfil that. Picking hotels was basically a function of understanding that this was something that worked in many markets and could potentially work in Nigeria.
After making those two assumptions, I then tested them in the real world. So I created the website, I kept it on there for many months and I could see people showing real interest in it. So I knew that it would work. And if it hadn’t I would have kept trying something else until I found something that found potential to become much bigger than it was. So that’s why I picked hotels. It was simply based on analysis.”
On the challenges of running hotels.ng, Mark Essien said, “We did burn the money relatively fast – we spent the $250,00 in a year. I know, it seems difficult to believe. You see, one always thinks the money is so much but it’s never actually that much. One thing is the salaries. Salaries are the biggest expense by far. All the rest will be small compared to the salaries you have to pay.
We weren’t spending that much but we had a few significant expenses. If you are spending $20,000 per month, in 10 months you’ve spent $200,000. That’s roughly how we were operating. Obviously there was absolutely no revenue at the beginning (2012). So at the beginning of 2013, we then raised the first $75,000 from SPARK. We got the next round around July, 2013. By January of 2014, the money had finished and we survived. It wasn’t that difficult because we made revenue. For the entire 2014, we made enough revenue to keep the 25-man team alive and working well, until we were able to secure the recent round of funding.”
In 2015 Hotels.ng had received another $1.2 million startup funds after 2 years of existence from the Omidyar Network, the investment vehicle of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund, a seed-stage technology fund.
Hotels.ng continues to thrive and generate revenues via getting referral fees from the hotels on its booking platform till date, which refers to the commission paid per booking, controlling a vast majority of local hotel bookings in Nigeria.
Hotels.ng is said to be presently worth over $10,000,000 with over 100 staffs, with most of them constantly scouting for new hotels and updating the information about them on the platform.
Every state and town in Nigeria has been visited by Hotels.ng staff.
Mark Essien Today
Mark Essien made the Forbes list of 30 youngest entrepreneurs in Africa in 2015. He has also been nominated for the Nigeria Future awards amongst others.
In 2016, Hotels.ng co-invested with Jason Njoku and Spark in OgaVenue, an events booking platform. Mark Essien currently serves as a director on the board of OgaVenue.
Mark is a visionary who believes in Youth empowerment and opportunities for talented young individuals. As an established enabler, investor and thought leader, he has frequently delivered talks on leveraging networks to build a business, as well as how Africa can lead in the global technology space at TedX.
The success story of Mark Essien is a clear example of how valid your dreams are what you can accomplish as long as you keep trying to solve real problems that can change people’s lives.
Mark Essien taught himself programming and worked hard enough to gain the opportunity to learn more about advanced coding before immersing himself in research about the business he intended to build.
He started from ground-zero and proved himself worthy of every opportunity that was presented to him.
Are you working hard to show the world what you’re worth?