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My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything - Business - Nairaland

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My Startup Journey / Problem With My Startup / Nigeria’s Hotels.ng Grabs $1.2M To Expand Listings Across Africa (2) (3) (4)

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My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 5:31pm On May 27, 2015
Hello Guys,

I am Mark Essien, the founder of Hotels.ng and Hotels.ng just raised $1.2m in funding from international investors. I started this business on my own two years ago in Calabar, and now we have become a big business. Hopefully, some people will read this and know that it's possible to be innovative, creative and build something from nothing in a few years.

Nigeria’s leading hotel booking website, Hotels.ng, has raised $1.2 million from the Omidyar Network, the investment vehicle of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund, a seed-stage technology fund.

Founded in 2013 by Nigerian entrepreneur Mark Essien, Lagos-based Hotels.ng aims to provide affordable, safe and convenient online bookings for Nigerian hotels for both tourist and business travelers. It currently has a listing of more than 7,000 hotels in 21 regions across Nigeria and has facilitated up to two million hotel reservations since its inception.

This is the second time Hotels.ng would be raising money. In 2013, Lagos-based business accelerator Spark, made a seed investment of $225,000 in the company. The company is already profitable, though Mark Essien refuses to disclose revenue figures. In a private email to this writer, Essien said his company plans to use the new funds to invest further in its technology capacity and in pursuing expansion into Ghana and French West Africa.

“We’re forging ahead into relatively uncharted territory; E-commerce in Africa is a massive market to conquer, but there are no hard and fast prototypes from which to follow; We cannot simply replicate Western models here; we have to build our own blueprints from scratch, which takes significant investment, both in terms of time and money. This additional capital will allow us to realize the next stage in our ambitious growth plans, which will see us consolidate our position as Nigeria’s market leader in online hotel bookings, with a view to expanding our service into other African markets, such as Ghana.”
http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2015/05/26/nigerias-hotels-ng-raises-1-2-million/

Questions that people have asked me and answers. If you have any other questions, ask below and I will reply.

What's your view on competition? How closely do you follow what Wakanow, Travelstart, etc., are doing relative to hotels.ng?

Competition is necessary for you to have a baseline on which you want to improve from. Otherwise you can have a really crappy product, and you don't know because there is nothing to compare it with.

At the end of 2014, you made the following statement: "We recorded almost no customer complaints in last two months, while booking tens of thousands of people.” So...what's your approach towards customer service? And how has your team (apparently) been able to proactively address issues?

Customer service in my opinion, is about empowering customer service to do the best they can to help people, no matter what it costs.

As an entrepreneur, getting the right staff is usually a challenge. How do you get talented people? What is your recruiting trick for finding great staff?

I do things like this - https://medium.com/mark-essien/hotels-ng-interview-questions-to-screen-for-a-genius-49bb6cb9946a - to find people.

What was your biggest fear on the journey to this point, and how long did you anticipate it will take you to cross this threshold?
My biggest fear was that we would not make enough money in time to be able to survive, in case we did not raise money in time. Luckily, with focus and a bit of luck, we crossed that bridge.

What would you do differently if you were starting over today?
Differently - I would have avoided doing things that are side-experiments and been more focused on the main thing.

How many percent of your company did you have to give up for $1.2million. Do you own controlling shares?
Right now, I own more of the company than if I had no investment, but I had a co-founder.

Who are your senior management team? In every conversation about Hotels I only hear about you the founder, never about the team.
So far we have operated without a 'senior' management team. But that is about changing. Expect some news here.

Did you choose your investors or did they choose you? I am personally working on a service and trying to decide who my investors should be.
We chose each other, just like a marriage

Tell us three business development hacks you used to stay afloat while you raised money..?
1. staying very focused on what would contribute to bottom line and what would not

2. Implementing performance based compensation across board

3. 3. Deferring expenses that were not critical.

What is it about hotels culture that has made you successful and how will you keep it consistent as you scale.
Hotels Culture is one of everyone-do-your-best and always keep thinking. The overall philosophy is that people should not need to be controlled to do their best. The Netflix presentation on this is one of the best I have read, and I hope we one day achieve this.

Do you consider yourself a technology company or a hotel booking service?
We are 100% a technology company.

What inspired you to start Hotels.ng?
I was inspired by wanting to do something in tech in Nigeria, and seeing a big open market

Here's my question before you received funding from spark how many employees did you have?
First of all, it was just me coding the site, then after that I hired a friend called Charles Bassey - and we were working together getting our inventory in calabar. That was before I moved to Lagos.

---
If you have any questions, feel free to ask, I will answer them all!

Me and the team

57 Likes 12 Shares

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by MRBrownJ: 5:43pm On May 27, 2015
why did you open that account today and not before?! before asking any question i would like to confirm that you are INDEED M.E, so please write on your Twitter account that you are answering question on NL, and then we can fire away.
Thanks

18 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Seun(m): 5:46pm On May 27, 2015
MRBrownJ:
why did you open that account today and not before?! before asking any question i would like to confirm that you are INDEED M.E, so please write on your Twitter account that you are answering question on NL, and then we can fire away.
Thanks
Yes, it's Mark Essien.

84 Likes 5 Shares

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Acidosis(m): 5:50pm On May 27, 2015
wow!!!
...can't belief this!
Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by adjain(m): 5:56pm On May 27, 2015
I am always pleased to read heart-warming victory tales from legitimate Nigerian business owners - especially internet business owners, so CONGRATULATIONS MARK! I am proud of you.

I have been following the progress of Hotels.ng on and off for the last year, and I daresay you are an encouragement to a young businessman.

I have a very generic question: if you had no software developing knowledge but identified the potential for Hotels.ng when you did, how would your lack of knowledge of 'coding' have affected you?

Please be as clear as possible with your explanation - it is of especial value to me.

Thanks!

15 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by JackOfAllTrades: 5:59pm On May 27, 2015
There are many unsuccessful startups today, so what did you do differently, how did you get your initial funding, and how do you pay your developers?

11 Likes 1 Share

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by hunkydory(m): 6:04pm On May 27, 2015
Great site.

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by MRBrownJ: 6:14pm On May 27, 2015
Seun:
Yes, it's Mark Essien.

oh really?! ok then......

@Markessien
- how would you rate Hotel.ng against the ever popular Jovago?

- what are the criteria that you use in order to BELIEVE that your company is the best hotel booking site in Nigeria?

- what do you think is the 3 fundamental tools that are needed to have a successful hotel booking site in Africa?

- you claim to be the largest booking site in Nigeria, have you (or your team) personally stayed in the Nigerian hotels you advertise on your site.... or is it just about numbers at hotel.ng?! i mean how do you make sure that all the hotels you advertise are tourist/client friendly?

- you raised some few dollars recently, could you tell us how you intend to spend that money in order to expand in Africa?

- what's next after hotel booking? do you intend to venture into other areas such as air travel, car rental etc?

11 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 6:17pm On May 27, 2015
MRBrownJ:
why did you open that account today and not before?! before asking any question i would like to confirm that you are INDEED M.E, so please write on your Twitter account that you are answering question on NL, and then we can fire away.
Thanks

Done!

11 Likes 1 Share

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 6:18pm On May 27, 2015
adjain:
I am always pleased to read heart-warming victory tales from legitimate Nigerian business owners - especially internet business owners, so CONGRATULATIONS MARK! I am proud of you.

I have been following the progress of Hotels.ng on and off for the last year, and I daresay you are an encouragement to a young businessman.

I have a very generic question: if you had no software developing knowledge but identified the potential for Hotels.ng when you did, how would your lack of knowledge of 'coding' have affected you?

Please be as clear as possible with your explanation - it is of especial value to me.

Thanks!

It would have been REALLY, REALLY hard. And way more expensive. If you don't know how to code, make sure you have enough money to partner and pay for someone who is GREAT at technical things!

11 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 6:19pm On May 27, 2015
JackOfAllTrades:
There are many unsuccessful startups today, so what did you do differently, how did you get your initial funding, and how do you pay your developers?

The secret is that we were in the right market, with someone that knew how to build a product to serve the market. Market is the most important thing.

7 Likes 1 Share

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by TheRealSage: 6:22pm On May 27, 2015
markessien:
Hello Guys,

I am Mark Essien, the founder of Hotels.ng and Hotels.ng just raised $1.2m in funding from international investors. I started this business on my own two years ago in Calabar, and now we have become a big business. Hopefully, some people will read this and know that it's possible to be innovative, creative and build something from nothing in a few years.

Questions that people have asked me and answers. If you have any other questions, ask below and I will reply.

What's your view on competition? How closely do you follow what Wakanow, Travelstart, etc., are doing relative to hotels.ng?

Competition is necessary for you to have a baseline on which you want to improve from. Otherwise you can have a really crappy product, and you don't know because there is nothing to compare it with.

At the end of 2014, you made the following statement: "We recorded almost no customer complaints in last two months, while booking tens of thousands of people.” So...what's your approach towards customer service? And how has your team (apparently) been able to proactively address issues?

Customer service in my opinion, is about empowering customer service to do the best they can to help people, no matter what it costs.

As an entrepreneur, getting the right staff is usually a challenge. How do you get talented people? What is your recruiting trick for finding great staff?

I do things like this - https://medium.com/mark-essien/hotels-ng-interview-questions-to-screen-for-a-genius-49bb6cb9946a - to find people.

What was your biggest fear on the journey to this point, and how long did you anticipate it will take you to cross this threshold?
My biggest fear was that we would not make enough money in time to be able to survive, in case we did not raise money in time. Luckily, with focus and a bit of luck, we crossed that bridge.

What would you do differently if you were starting over today?
Differently - I would have avoided doing things that are side-experiments and been more focused on the main thing.

How many percent of your company did you have to give up for $1.2million. Do you own controlling shares?
Right now, I own more of the company than if I had no investment, but I had a co-founder.

Who are your senior management team? In every conversation about Hotels I only hear about you the founder, never about the team.
So far we have operated without a 'senior' management team. But that is about changing. Expect some news here.

Did you choose your investors or did they choose you? I am personally working on a service and trying to decide who my investors should be.
We chose each other, just like a marriage

Tell us three business development hacks you used to stay afloat while you raised money..?
1. staying very focused on what would contribute to bottom line and what would not

2. Implementing performance based compensation across board

3. 3. Deferring expenses that were not critical.

What is it about hotels culture that has made you successful and how will you keep it consistent as you scale.
Hotels Culture is one of everyone-do-your-best and always keep thinking. The overall philosophy is that people should not need to be controlled to do their best. The Netflix presentation on this is one of the best I have read, and I hope we one day achieve this.

Do you consider yourself a technology company or a hotel booking service?
We are 100% a technology company.

What inspired you to start Hotels.ng?
I was inspired by wanting to do something in tech in Nigeria, and seeing a big open market

Here's my question before you received funding from spark how many employees did you have?
First of all, it was just me coding the site, then after that I hired a friend called Charles Bassey - and we were working together getting our inventory in calabar. That was before I moved to Lagos.

---
If you have any questions, feel free to ask, I will answer them all!

Me and the team

Well done sir, you are a role model to aspiring technopreneurs. I'd like to know what languages you guys code in if the coding is not outsourced that is. Thanks.

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by UnknownT: 6:29pm On May 27, 2015
The prices on each hotel room, are they the least room prices in the hotels or the 'expensive' room prices?
Cc: markessien

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Nobody: 6:35pm On May 27, 2015
_

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Nobody: 7:05pm On May 27, 2015
Although i know how you started,but i am just curious what are the criteria for raising funds,do you have a minimum turnover you meant every year,i know from the look of the pictures going round on social media your staff strength is small which is a good thing,so are you just raising money to increase your valuation or do you plan going global now.Thank you and Congratulations

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Leyqute(m): 7:39pm On May 27, 2015
You're doing a good job sir. Keep it up!

2 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by pystar: 7:40pm On May 27, 2015
Hi @markessien
I would like to know the unique and tech related cost cutting mechanisms you introduced into your business. Examples, toll free numbers etc
Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by ebamma(m): 8:58pm On May 27, 2015
@markessien
Idung am proud of u
Mbok amayem gateman
Afo acontact
Nse kere Idiok udo

5 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by WhiZTiM(m): 10:51pm On May 27, 2015
Thanks seun, thanks markessien for this. ..

Can you tell us a bit about your time?
I mean...

1. how was your typical day like before hotels.ng?

2. How was your typical day like during the early days of hotels.ng?

3. How is your typical day like now?

Regards,
Timothy

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by newacca: 11:34pm On May 27, 2015
Hello markessien,
First,I must commend you and your team for doing a great job to make hotel booking easier for Nigerians. It appears to be a very huge task to get information of hotels, and to create such a huge database. How did you make it this far? smiley

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 12:05am On May 28, 2015
MRBrownJ:


oh really?! ok then......

@Markessien
- how would you rate Hotel.ng against the ever popular Jovago?

- what are the criteria that you use in order to BELIEVE that your company is the best hotel booking site in Nigeria?

- what do you think is the 3 fundamental tools that are needed to have a successful hotel booking site in Africa?

- you claim to be the largest booking site in Nigeria, have you (or your team) personally stayed in the Nigerian hotels you advertise on your site.... or is it just about numbers at hotel.ng?! i mean how do you make sure that all the hotels you advertise are tourist/client friendly?

- you raised some few dollars recently, could you tell us how you intend to spend that money in order to expand in Africa?

- what's next after hotel booking? do you intend to venture into other areas such as air travel, car rental etc?

Hotels.ng compares favorably with all competitors in terms of number of hotels and bookings. We were here before all the others and have been able to maintain the top position through the years.

To have a successful hotel booking site, you should have technoogy to show people the hotels they want to see.

No further fields, just hotel bookings!

4 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 12:06am On May 28, 2015
UnknownT:
The prices on each hotel room, are they the least room prices in the hotels or the 'expensive' room prices?
Cc: markessien

Least expensive

1 Like

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 12:07am On May 28, 2015
uruba23:
Although i know how you started,but i am just curious what are the criteria for raising funds,do you have a minimum turnover you meant every year,i know from the look of the pictures going round on social media your staff strength is small which is a good thing,so are you just raising money to increase your valuation or do you plan going global now.Thank you and Congratulations

We are going africa-wide! To raise funds, you need to make investors believe that the business will be much more valuable in the future than it is today.

15 Likes 2 Shares

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 12:08am On May 28, 2015
pystar:
Hi @markessien
I would like to know the unique and tech related cost cutting mechanisms you introduced into your business. Examples, toll free numbers etc

Software that monitors each persons performance. Cost cutting is not as important as money making. Cost cutting is optimisation.

10 Likes 2 Shares

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by markessien: 12:09am On May 28, 2015
WhiZTiM:
Thanks seun, thanks markessien for this. ..

Can you tell us a bit about your time?
I mean...

1. how was your typical day like before hotels.ng?

2. How was your typical day like during the early days of hotels.ng?

3. How is your typical day like now?

Regards,
Timothy

1. I would code all day

2. I was designing the product

3. I am talking to people about what they are doing.

5 Likes 1 Share

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by WebSnaz(m): 1:02am On May 28, 2015
Hi Mark,

Nice One! You just gave me an extra-motivation.

Please kindly respond to the question earlier raised by: "TheRealSage" as I am also interested to know.
"Well done sir, you are a role model to aspiring technopreneurs. I'd like to know what languages you guys code in if the coding is not outsourced that is. Thanks."

Thanks.

3 Likes

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by CVWizards(m): 5:19am On May 28, 2015
@ markessien: I'm happy for you. Pls I'll like to know what medium(s) you use in creating awareness for your business.
Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by dcodesmith(m): 7:41am On May 28, 2015
@markessien, what is your current technology stack and how do you intend to go about getting the best designers and developers to work on hotels.ng?

1 Like 1 Share

Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by efilefun(m): 10:01am On May 28, 2015
Cool
Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Saifullah01: 10:02am On May 28, 2015
Question loading
I have a few questions.

1) what would u advice someone venturing into online business for the first time (no background in IT, but knows basic computer utilization and use of Internet)

2) how do you get traffic to your site (that is given online advert rates are high and could affect profitability of the start up)

3) generally how would you rate the cost of running online business viz a viz the turnover,

4) finally, any general advice for someone interested in online business like me with no background in IT (majority of Internet start ups i see are owned by IT gurus)
Re: My Startup Hotels.ng Just Raised $1.2m. Ask Me Anything by Comsol: 10:02am On May 28, 2015
First I'd say a massive congratulations to you on this great achievement.

I have been a great admirer of you and what you do. I was just discussing this your giant stride with a group of colleagues yesterday that are very ambitious in what they do also.

My questions are as follow,

1. Do you think that the success of a product can be highly dependent on its design at the first stages of a startup? This is because I have seen some horrible designs that have enjoy great success in recent times.

2. You said you code all day on a typical day, what if as an entrepreneur you're not so savvy in coding, will it be a good idea in finding a technical talent? If yes, how do you go about it?

3. What 3 best advice can you give young entrepreneurs that are true to what they do

Thank you.

cc Seun, we also discussed about you that there's need to step up your game, nairaland has huge huge potentials, case in point things like this AMA. We believe you'll get there someday.

This thread has made my day, a topic for discuss with my colleagues today. Kudos

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