True innovation comes from a passion and burning desire to better the lives of others and a commitment and dedication to do what it takes to acquire the knowledge needed to make the innovation. You can only give what you have and you cannot give what you do not have. When you have an understanding of the dynamics behind what you want to innovate and a passion to bring about a change, you will have an upper edge over anybody in the field.
Youths of our generation use the internet mainly for social media purposes, and to know the latest trends in fashion, gadgets, accessories, clothes, games, music, movies etc, but here is a story of a young man who used the internet to create a platform that provides a unique and valuable service to people. He had no hotel but he built the first and most successful online hotel booking website in Nigeria.
Mark Anthony Essien is the founder and CEO of Hotel.ng, an online travel and hotel booking website in Nigeria. Apart from been the CEO of hotels. ng, he is an entrepreneur, software developer, motivational speaker, role model for young entrepreneurs and a start-up investor.
Mark Essiens was born in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria on 18th of December, 1980. He attended Monika kindergarten and Federal Government college secondary school all in Ikot Ekpene. At the age of 18, he completed his secondary school and was sent to Germany to study engineering.
Mark graduated from Beuth University, Berlin with a Bachelor’s Degree in computer engineering (Hardware, Robotics). He also did his MSc. at Freie University Berlin in computer science also in Germany.
According to Mark in an interview with Premium times, during his teenage years, he spent most of his free time in public library in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom state. Like it is said, “Readers are Leaders”. Apart from being a reader, he was a good observer. He observes very well and ask lots of questions coupled with the fact that Google was yet common as at the time he was growing up.
Thanks to his father who understood the potentials of his son and guided him through his career. Parents, guardians and teachers have a role to play in the life of our growing teenagers and youths they find around them (especially those who ask too many questions). Always give attention to that child that seeks attention, give the right answers to every question they ask you intending to know about a subject. Break it down to the simplest form using the right names. These answers are registered in their subconscious minds whether right or wrong. They hold it so tight as a belief and work with it.
Starting His Career
According to Mark Essien, for him to be admitted into the University in Germany, he had to spend a year doing something related to his A level field. He didn’t pass the compulsory German language test so he added 6 months to his one year making it one and a half-year. During this period, he started as a ticket tearer in a cinema, he worked in the cinema for 2 months after which he took up a night shift taking care of a paralyzed man.
Although he was familiar with coding skills in Visual basic, he used that period to practice more and learnt programming. He built applications for the then Nascent Apple App store. He also built a file sharing software called Gnumm which was acquired by snoopstar. com but was later shut down and a language learning start-up called Ingolingo.
Mark finally joined the University. When he resumed, they were building same kind of software in C++. He was given two weeks to meet up with the class using a book given to him by his boss. Those period seems like a work experience for him and he became advanced in programming knowledge.
In the course of his study, he started looking for a technological company that he could build and make it work in Nigeria. Mark became interested in technology space. He did a market survey in Nigeria and found out that travel/tourism technology online is lacking in Nigeria compared to other countries like South America, Brazil, India and Asians which already has hotel booking agencies. With this, he came back to Nigeria after graduating from the University, he created the first version of Hotel.ng. It consists of a list of hotels at that time in Nigeria and as days goes by, he built it into business.
“For you to do anything that will actually be successful, you cannot have preconceptions. You must be flexible” these were the words that kept him going. He wrote this on his blog post and repeats it to himself everyday. He believes that for you to be successful, you have to find out what will work and make it work. According to Mark, switching your mentality from a certain sense of enlightenment can bring you out of the crowd.
Initial Personal Sacrifice
In 2013, Mark launched the listing of hotels on his website. This recorded a huge number of people who were interested, hence, his hypothesis was confirmed. He continued updating the website using manual, he hires people who go to every place where there is a hotel, take pictures of the hotels and upload them. Although it requires hard work to do this across Africa but according to Mark, it was worth the effort. Mark hired lots of contract workers who made up the field agents: they take pictures and do some write-up. He pays them on a performance basis.
Funding & Opportunities
After the launch of Hotel.ng, Mark published articles that caught the attention of the founder of Iroko TV, Jason Njoku who also runs a start-up fund called Spark. ng and was looking for a good internet business to invest in. Jason Njoku through Spark.ng, made a first investment of $75,000 in Hotel.ng. Few months later, he made another investment of $150,000 which enabled Hotel.ng to grow and expand its hotel listings.
Mark partnered with friends too and they started taking more photographs of hotels and signing agreement with as many of the hotels.
Hotel.ng continued to grow and attract more investors even from Dangote Investment group which supports building entrepreneurs in Nigeria and invested $10 million in Hotel.ng.
It also received $1.2 million investment from the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar network and from EchoVc Pan Africa fund on 26th May, 2015 and was expected to be used to expand hotels. ng across Africa starting with Ghana. This was as a result of the profit, $40,000 in monthly revenue announced in 2014.
Hotel.ng launched Hotel.africa and fly. africa as an expansion and working towards their goal of becoming the defacto system for travel and hospitality in Africa and increasing hotels inventory on hotel.africa from 25,000 to 100,000 within the next four years.
The Company Today
Today, Hotels. ng has become the largest website for booking hotels in Nigeria with about 80 employees. It has over 7,138 hotels in its list and its operation spread across 320 cities in Nigeria and over a million hotel searches to date.
Twitter profile is one of Mark’s marketing assets where he has 33.8k followers and his personal website which serves as his blog.
In 2015, Mark Essien was listed among the 30 youngest entrepreneurs in Africa by Forbes. He was reported to be profitable in just two years after it started operation. Mark serves as a director on the board of Ogavenue.
As a motivational speaker, Mark frequently deliver talks on leveraging networks to build a business, how Africa can lead in the global technology space at TedXEuston and TesXGhaganda.
Mark is also a lover of the environment, an environmentalist. Hotel.ng has a corporate Social Responsibility Portfolio where it educate the public about Nigeria’s flora and fauna, it’s aesthetic and the potentials it holds. He talks of the endangered species and disappearing ecosystems and how to mitigate the effects. He also embarks on social campaigns.
Mark launched #ThisYearIMustVisit# a campaign that talks of the less known tourist sites in Nigeria and #RestoreOurCampaign# where he tried to rehabilitate iconic landmarks in Nigeria in January 2016. According to Mark, the death of Jos Lion prompted the campaign about Africa’s diminishing flora and fauna population.
The story of Mark Essien is a true motivation to the youth. Find something you are good at and make a success of it, no matter how insignificant it might be. Keep working on it everyday until you succeed. If you don’t give up or get discouraged, with time, your efforts will pay off and you will soon become someone whom the world will reckon with because you provided something valuable to people.
Why not wake up today and activate the creative powers within you? Begin to look for something that needs to be improved, start thinking of how to make life more easier, how to save more time and money in doing the things we do and how to do things more conveniently and faster. It is good to think about developing something that has never existed, but is easier to start from that improving the things that are already in existence.
“The focus for Nigeria and Nigerians should be on producing and building right now”- Mark Essien.
“Market is everything. Pick the right market. If you are in a bad market, nothing will save you”-Mark Essien.
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About the writer:
This was written by Chiamaka Uduezue, content contributor at MyAfribusiness.com. She is a graduate of Environmental Management and enjoys learning new things and sharing knowledge with others.
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