Mark Essien is CEO and founder of Hotels.ng; one of the fastest growing start ups in Nigeria. He recently raised a 1 million dollar investment for his company. In an interview with him, he tells us about the challenges, breakthroughs and the vision for Hotels.ng.
On why he set up his company, Mark says money was never the motivation. He wanted to create something and watch it flourish. ‘I wanted to build things more than I wanted to be an entrepreneur.’
Mark worked for a few years before he got into university. Those years laid the foundation for what he would eventually become. ‘When I got into university, I supported myself throughout by selling software.’
Hotels.ng is not Essien’s first project. I've tried many things and failed many times, I know it’s such a clichéd statement, but if at first you don’t succeed, you try again.’ Mark kept at it till Hotels.ng was birthed. Each failed project was a learning path that eventually led me to where I am today, he says.
‘We started out with research; what was missing in the technology space, and how big was the market? ‘ I believe that the market mostly drives businesses. The online hotel segment was not being addressed so I thought I can fill this space and I did.’
Mark started out in Calabar but has since relocated to Lagos where he says there’s a bigger pool of talent, investors and other tech entrepreneurs whom you can learn from. His first investor- spark.ng- was based in Lagos and it was important to be close to them. ‘Spark.ng has made a big difference to us and has been one of the key drivers of our success.’
Unlike most Nigerian entrpreneurs, Mark is not reluctant to talk about failure. Buttering his earlier statement, he reinstates that each of his previously failed project contributed to the knowledge he now has which has allowed him to make something successful. ‘ Even with hotels.ng, it was tough at the beginning. I spent the first year just finding lists of hotels online. It took really long before it slowly started picking up. Most businesses are birthed in the minds of founders for a long time before they slowly become a reality.’
For advice, Mark has this to say to young entrepreneurs: ‘I think that whatever one does, one must do something that challenges and forces one to learn about a lot of things. Building a business requires a broad range of information, and the more you know, the better prepared you will be for the things that will come your way.’
With 250 million naira safely deposited in the bank, Essien is ecstatic. ‘Now we know that for the next two years we can focus on growing the business without worrying about fluctuations in income. We’ve worked really hard but we also got lucky, we met someone who knew someone, who knew someone who was looking to invest in Nigeria. Introductions were made, due process followed- a lengthy one- our business fundamentals were examined before we eventually reached a deal.’
Essien plans to go international soon but isn't willing to say much about that yet.
Seeing that humans are obsessed with relationships, and maybe rightfully so. I had to ask Essien if there’s a woman somewhere in the picture or if I could take home the good News to the ladies in waiting.
‘ I am not married but in a serious relationship, so the line is already filled up :-)’ This is his answer. Sorry ladies, better luck next time.
PS. Mark grew up in Ikot Ekpene. I told you there's something great about us small town folks. Hehehehe.