by Bunmi Adeponle/February 02 02:37 PMLast updated on My brother, Segun, was interning at Hotels.ng in 2016, and he talked about his work like he worked with the CIA. Only promising to reveal what he was working on if I applied. It did not stay top secret for long, but he sent me links to every job vacancy, so I applied. He was right. There were many things different about this place. I entered the lobby, and the first thing I noticed was this picture. Very swanky. The first person I saw was wearing a hoodie with a Beats by Dre headphone tucked in his ears. I looked down at my seemingly overdressed attire and I asked myself, " Am I in the right place?" I was waiting to be called in for my interview but the staff moving around made me look like a parent on a school visit; even my interviewer had on a t-shirt and jeans. The interview was friendly and straightforward with the emphasis on my skills and not my credentials. I was sure I was not the only one that felt this way on the first day here. So I asked around and it was clear that people familiar with the corporate world were thrown off balance by the culture of the startups they worked in. Being me, I thought it would be fun to chronicle the experience of my colleagues here at Hotels.ng ? Before we begin, let's start with the basics, Culture Shock. This is defined as the feeling of disorientation experienced by a person when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, a way of life, or set of attitudes. This basically means that when you employ someone who used to work in a bank as an account officer in a startup, he may find the new environment a little difficult to adapt to because of the use of more online tools and flexible reporting structure. So I asked my colleagues how they felt their first week here at Hotels.ng. The experience: I had worked in a different place with a similar work culture, but one thing that shocked me was the use of online tools. Everything is automated and the cloud storage system is amazing! It was different but for me a good kind of different. - Lolade (Legal/Admin) This is my first work experience so I cannot categorically say I have experienced a culture shock ( maybe if I go somewhere else?) However, working in this place has afforded me the opportunity to learn a lot of tech stuff. I believe I would have been a regular Joe had I worked in the corporate world. - Edith(Account Manager) In my first week, I was in awe because this was not what I thought an office environment would look like, but it is what I thought it should be like. Everyone is friendly, young and vibrant. I always look forward to coming to work. - Andrew(Collections Team) The first thing that caught my attention was the reward system in the office. When you achieve a great goal you are rewarded with lunch paid by the company (free lunch) or given a movie ticket. I have never seen that in any establishment. Another peculiar thing was the method by which you were reprimanded, it was not harsh or wordy (no too much documentation or query letter) you get a simple reminder on slack. -Peter( Department Head, Customer Support) No dress code; just dress within the boundaries of decency. I wish someone told my former bosses that. My first week here, I was seriously confused about the dress code. The first day everyone was wearing really cool clothes; jeans, t-shirts, short gowns. So I thought, nice; I would do the same the next day and get rid of the jacket I was wearing. Boy! did that plan not work. I had a meeting with one of our corporate clients the next day and I was looking a little odd when I went to a corporate head office in my t-shirt and jeans representing the Finance team. I got a hang of it and now my wardrobe is HNG official ? -Ann(Country Manager) I was overdressed. I never felt more uncomfortable looking dashing in a suit than I did at my interview here. I looked like a corporate investor rather than a job seeker and I was worried I wasn't going to get the job. So coming from a bank to a startup was indeed a culture shock. Another thing I found amazing was the use of Slack as a communication tool and the fact that there is a channel for everything. Seriously everything; the good, the okay and the bad... -Ikechukwu (Transactions Manager) I did not know coders existed until I got here. The tech world is amazing and I am always impressed with the things a little line of code can do. So you can say the most shocking thing for me was that our product team was not a group of people working in a factory or on the field signing deals rather a group of tech people who seat in front of their PCs making magic. - Kehinde(Collections Team) The one thing that stood out for me was the first name basis culture here. There is no Mr This or Mr That. I like it. -Seun (Operations Manager) I felt like a young Leonidas in the movie 300 when he was made to wrestle a Lion as part of his training. You are constantly mentally challenged here which allows you build the ability to think and to be very creative with problems. You get thrown to the wolves immediately you step in and the company has incredible faith in you that you’ll triumph. I guess it’s a bit like David Vs. Goliath. We’ve always been in a battle with giants (better-funded companies), but yet we always find a way to win. The culture pushes everyone to want to be better and more valuable. -Yemi (Chief Operations Officer) I have worked in another startup before so I was familiar with a lot of things before I got here. However, I must say that I love the dressing culture or the lack thereof. I also hate being called Mr. so working in a place where I am just Moses works fine for me. - Moses (Business Development Manager) All the stories brought to mind a Wednesday afternoon when a group of sales rep from a bank came to the office and I went over to attend to them but the man refused to talk to me insisting he wanted to see my madam (his words exactly). I promised him I could answer all his questions but he refused to listen. I will never forget the look in his eyes when my country manager walked in wearing ripped jeans demanding the reason for the meeting. Pure joy ? Days like that add extra sauce to my already buzzing day. I love the startup culture, the free spirit and the willingness to go above and beyond because you are passionate about your company’s product. As Brian Chesky said, a company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation.
by Yemi Johnson/November 17 01:49 PMLast updated on Close your eyes for a minute and picture this: A few years from now, you take a stroll in Yaba, the beating heart of the Nigerian tech space, and the characteristic colour and vibe is drained out –a depressing and gloomy array of grey tech firms in its place, name placards are dropping off, and dangerous cobwebs don the walls. Picture that, and you would have seen what the Nigerian tech scene could transform to in a few years –a ghost of its present self, set loose by the lack of a sustainable structure that can dynamically discover, groom, and create a stimulating environment for the growth of local developers. We at hotels.ng understand and appreciate this threat, and it led us to invite and manage over 170 interns in a move that had a singular aim –developing the next generation of developers. We understand that aiding the growth and discipline of developers in the collaborative environment that the internship provided will create a ripple effect that will improve the quality and output from our tech scene in Nigeria. https://twitter.com/markessien/status/765844571616079872 In mid-August, Mark sent out a tweet to the world, inviting young people with basic coding knowledge to an internship programme irrespective of their academic background in a move aimed at prioritizing skill over certification. In just two days, the tweet had drawn over a 100 applications –proof that people were hungry to learn. The number would quickly soar to over 170 applications, a number that excited us and that created new challenges –office space for hosting the developers, and a fair remuneration package for the interns. In our typical fashion of providing simple yet effective solutions, we adapted by making the intern developers work remotely and also designed a funnel system to reward the developers that showed the most passion to learn and creatively deliver. Just as a funnel converges to a small opening at the bottom, we retained only those who had shown great passion and creativity as the days passed by, paying them for tasks completed, and ending up with 30 interns after 2 weeks and eventually some 15 brilliant developers that completed the entire programme and walked out on the 16th of November, 2016 through our doors as pro developers. Hotels.ng had a big story to tell, and together with everyone that reacted to that tweet from Mark in August, 2016, we did –spectacularly. We wanted to tell a story that would demystify computer programming, one that would attribute great coding to hard work, passion and grit, and not to mere talent or genius, and with Vanessa Ekwegh, we did just that. Vanessa, before the commencement of the internship programme had never written code for the web, and she ended up as one of the outstanding participants, eking out a spot in the final 15. We had to rewrite the all too familiar story – of Nigeria’s best talent being shipped abroad, and William Olojede, a Nigerian schooling and remotely participating from Cyprus did that for us, perfecting program front ends with the same ethos of minimalism, responsiveness and intuitive simplicity that runs through the entire company. A story had to be told, of Nigeria’s abundance of hidden geniuses who only need to be located and placed in an engaging and competitive environment to thrive and with Stephen Afam-Osmene, a developer that started his university education at 14 and picked up programming at a very early age, we told that story. We had to tell a story that painted pictures of the Nigerian spirit, perseverance, and grit, of ingenuity and the characteristic one-way-or-the-otherness, and every single one of the finalists did that for us – coding in cyber cafes where they could get electricity, coding back home and throughout the night on their phones when their laptop batteries ran dry, and making big sacrifices to learn and grow. They helped to tell stories of passion, of tenacity. We wanted to show to the world that young and smart people can learn on the job, and in a display of efficiency that would stun even the most experienced HR managers, Faith Dike, one of the finalists managed and helped coordinate the entire project, and the entire 170 through virtual collaboration software. We wanted to tell big stories in simple ways, show to the world that Nigeria’s tech space can rise to the heights of India’s Bangalore, China’s Zhongguancun, and California’s Silicon Valley, and we did show the potential. We couldn’t have told this story better than through launch of four heavyweight projects that the interns helped developed and that will revolutionize our approach to some basic everyday processes: Spots.ng – a listing software for points of interests and attractions in Nigeria, Raven – a simplified in-house mailing system, Locations API – a searchable database of locations worldwide, Hotels.ng for Businesses, a project that is being optimized for premium delivery. In the same spirit of hiring and grooming the best minds at hotels.ng with the anticipation that they become internet entrepreneurs themselves or work for other tech firms, we anticipated a problem in the Nigerian tech space, and went right ahead to show Nigeria a solution that works with the expectation that soon the idea of technical and goal oriented internships become an established norm. By January, 2017, yet another edition of the Remote Internship Programme shall commence with the primary aim of identifying, grooming and developing the next generation of developers. Are you ready?
by Solomon/September 21 12:42 PMLast updated on In the middle of August, Mark sent out a tweet, calling for anyone interested to sign up for the Hotels.ng remote internship program for software developers. The invite was open to literally anyone, whether they had a tech background or not. Only requirement: you know the drill by now. Soon afterwards, a number of persons applied to join in and the program kicked off. The interns were coordinated via Slack and handed a couple of tasks to test their mettle via a bounty system. Those who completed their tasks and hit the bounty progressed to the next stage of the program. Naturally, there were those who didn’t make the cut as they dropped off at some point. The goal of this program, Mark says, is to train a set of intern developers who could eventually get hired as pro developers by Hotels.ng and other companies in the ecosystem in search of tech talent. Someone who can relate well with the ideals of such a program is Iyin Aboyeji, Co-founder of Flutterwave. His previous company, Andela, trains interns to be pro software developers and then connects them with top jobs afterwards. Iyin was quick to chime in on the Hotels.ng Remote Coding Internship program, by reiterating the need for everyone to work together to increase the local supply of developers. It'll be interesting to see the overall impact such a movement eventually has on the industry; more so, for the teeming amateur developers eager to hone their skills and garner experience by working on real-time, industry-related projects. Stephen Afam-Osemene, currently a back end developer intern at Hotels.ng's Remote Internship Program says while the program is challenging, being on it has forced him to get familiar with new tools and understand how product development in a collaborative environment works. It's the general feeling shared by everyone else who made the final cut. While there are a number of ways to bridge the [tech] talent gap that the industry needs to thrive, programs like this will go a long way. Maybe other Tech companies will join the bandwagon as well and start programs that will make this happen faster. There's no telling what the cap will be on what opportunities and companies these efforts will bring. PS: The next admittance into Hotels.ng's Remote Internship Program will be in January 2017.
by Solomon/September 14 11:18 AMLast updated on [caption id="attachment_1178" align="aligncenter" width="253"] Milly Dubouchet - Africa Business Fellow[/caption] Over the last three months, we had Milly Dubouchet here at Hotels.ng as part of her Africa Business Fellowship program. I had a sit down with her on her last day at the office two weeks ago and she spoke about her time here in Lagos, the African start up culture and her projections for the ecosystem. S: Hello Milly. Thank you for sitting down with me for this. Please what is your program about and how did you end up here in Lagos at Hotels.ng? M: The name of the program is Africa Business Fellowship. It’s an initiative to increase the business relationship between the US and Africa. Essentially, a couple hundred people applied and 14 of us were selected to be paired with a host company, based on our qualifications, experience and our background. We didn’t exactly choose the companies and we didn’t know the countries we’d end up with. So, I didn’t choose Nigeria; Nigeria chose me, so to speak. I just only knew that the options would be Nigeria or Kenya or South Africa or Ethiopia or Rwanda. S: So, since you didn’t choose, how did the match up get sorted? Did fellows get assigned by AFB or did the companies make their requests based on who they needed? M: So, they basically had a bunch of companies in Africa that were interested in getting a fellow. Like, yeah, we have this project that we could have somebody come and help us with… And, depending on the companies that expressed interest, then they went through all of the applicants and then match Fellows up with companies based on their suitability to the companies in question. S: Okay. What is your take on the African start-up culture and what are your projections for the years to come based on your short time here? M: It’s been an incredible learning experience for me. I went to South Africa for the first time last year, and that was very different from the experience here in Lagos. I mean, SA is much more developed and modern, like Europe and, you know, all the things that people say, but I knew that West Africa would be a little different – and I wanted to know what it was like and how different it would be. Culturally, it’s been a real eye-opener to see that people could live two completely different lifestyles here and not be very far from one another. You know, seeing the dichotomies that exist here have been really fascinating and, more than anything, taught me to not take things for granted. This has been more of a personal journey for me than anything. Culturally, the experience has been shocking but not incredibly shocking – I think people expected to be more shocked. I think, maybe it’s because I come from New York City – it’s already fast paced and kind of crazy. My family is from the Caribbean Island – my father is from Cuba and my mom is from the Dominican Republic. When I go to the Dominican Republic, it looks a lot like this. People on bikes, there’s a lot of flooding, and, you know, pretty much the same things you find here in Lagos. So, because I’ve experience all of that, this is not shocking to me like people expected. So... What do I project for the future? I mean, there’s a lot of potential here, a lot of opportunities, you know, a lot of things that should change, but, obviously, those things take time, like infrastructure and, like, yeah, the things that everyone knows, like the obvious things. And I know that it’s a big animal to take on. And there’s a lot of people in Lagos that need and demand things to be a certain way, but, you know, government is an issue, corruption is an issue, like all these big problems – I feel like they’ll continue to be a problem for a long time. On the start-up culture, there’s so much room to grow here that it’s impossible for it to plateau anytime soon. Like, there are so many brilliant people here – so many people who are passionate and who are hustlers who just want to create better lifestyles for themselves and have creative energy. I was always told that there was a lot of that here, a lot of people who were entrepreneurs, but actually seeing it, it’s fascinating, like, because you don’t see it that much. Like, in NYC, yes, there are a lot of entrepreneurs, but it’s a totally different ride. Like, most of the time, when you hear people having random conversations, they’re talking about their jobs – the companies they work for. They’re not talking about their own companies or things that they’re looking to build. But here, everywhere I go, someone is having a conversation about what they’re doing, or one of two or three things that they’re doing and it’s incredible. I just think that if they had access to the right resources, they could do a lot more and, oh yeah, there’s so much potential to do a whole lot, so it’s only going to grow for sure. S: Okay, that kind of ties into my next question: What do you think this ecosystem needs more of to effectively thrive? M: I think what we need is people of influence – people with power, people with money that have some sort of influence here to invest in the talents that exist here. Like, I don’t know, and I’m not saying that to say that it’s not happening. Like, I don’t really know how much of it is happening – Like, I’ve met so many really smart people that have the potential to do really great things, but they don’t really have access to the money. Or the support, like, just the mentorship – the people to guide them to do it. I feel like, where does someone go here? Like, if I’m someone who has a product that I’m looking to develop and I’m really smart and I have plan, I have this idea and me and my friend, we’re going to work on this thing, but we need access to capital – we need money. I feel there’s a lot of talk around investment. Like, people are always talking about investors and funders and whatever, but I come from a background like, how do you make it happen yourself without having to give up control and give up a piece of your dream to someone else? Like how do people bootstrap here? Like, do they bootstrap? Or do they have no choice but to immediately think, well, let me go to the people with money who are willing to give me money if I give them something. So, I feel like, more of people just willing to give to those who need the money, who are willing to and have the potential to contribute to the environment here in really big ways, without making people feel like all they have to do is ask somebody for money and give up some of their company. The investment landscape seems to be really vast here, but I’m a fan of bootstrapping – at least at first. For as long as you can. Like, do you have to seek investment? I think a lot of people just kind of go to that as default without even thinking it through first. I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs here and it’s almost always like, oh, investment, you know, I’m good. But do you need to yet? Do you even know what you’re going to do with the money yet? These are the questions, I guess. So, my background is personal finance, you know, helping people to manage their money better, save money to get out of debt, credit and all of those things. I’m not too familiar with what that system looks like here. Like, do people borrow money a lot to start a business? Or do they get a loans? Because it seems like, first step, get an investor. I’m also opposed to loans too. Like, how can you avoid owing somebody else anything to get your idea off the ground? But I don’t really know if people are leaning on banks to get loans. Are there programs that exist that support entrepreneurs – that give them small loans so that they can kind of like build something. I’m not so sure. S: Final question. You’ve been at Hotels.ng 3 months now. What has the experience been like for you here? M: It’s been a ride, it’s been a crazy ride. But honestly, it’s been challenging, but it’s been challenging in a really great way. I mean, for me, it’s a lot of new things at once. Because I have a background in finance and Biz Development, like entrepreneurship – that’s my area. I don’t have a background in sales at all, like, I’ve never done sales before in my life. So, I was just willing to take on the challenge to see what I could learn and what I could develop here. And it makes me really happy to have been able to contribute to the significant difference that we’ve made in that regard. Like in my mind, I was like, I’m going to be here 3 months – almost 3 months, like, how much am I really going to be able to do? But if I could at least develop something, like, plant a seed that can then be further developed, then I’m happy. And it seems like we’ve been able to do that, which is awesome. I’ve been really impressed by everyone here. Like, there’s a lot of really smart people here, a lot of people who are just good people, who I see so much potential in. Like, you guys can do whatever the hell you want. Like, I know you can. You know, and there’s so much room to do a lot here. So, it just a matter of, again, getting access to those resources and continuing to grow and then just executing and making it happen. But, it’s been really, really incredible. Like, for me, it’s like, I will forever be connected to this company. Like, everyone here will forever live with me, whether I’m here or not. So, if there’s a way for me to continue to contribute, I’m happy and willing to. We just have to figure out how to do that. S: Thank you so much for everything, Milly. M: Sure!
by justin/May 20 03:07 PMLast updated on Recently we had Mark on Bella Naija, a Nigerian blog giving what we thought was an interesting perspective on his life leading up to his founding Hotels.ng. In a feature on BellaNaija's 'Making It!', Mark spoke openly about his career path so far: from a young man studying computer science, then robotics then becoming the CEO of Hotels.ng. Some particularly noteworthy questions he answered included those about his life growing up, his time in Germany, and his thought processes that led up to the birth of Hotels.ng. He also - surprisingly - answered a question about his relationship status! Read the full interview here
by justin/February 25 04:13 PMLast updated on [caption id="attachment_917" align="aligncenter" width="740"] Mark Essien[/caption] Mfonobong Nsebe, a writer for Forbes.com called Africans to compile a list of Africa’s brightest and aspiring entrepreneurs for the Forbes’ 30 entrepreneurs under 30 list in Africa, which is an official recognition for recognizing young entrepreneurs in the African society. “Nominees must be entrepreneurs who have built businesses that employ at least 4 people. Ideally, the companies they have built should be generating revenues above $1 million, and be profitable. But if they are yet to break even, they must have good prospects for the near future. For instance, if an entrepreneur has raised a significant round of funding from investors, but is yet to turn a profit, he or she is of interest.” Said Mfonobong Nsehe Receiving about 800 nominations for the list, CEO of Hotels.ng, Mark Essien made the list alongside Uche Pedro of BellaNaija Blog, Abiola Olaniyan of Gamsole and 3 other Nigerians, 14 names on the list for this year were featured last year and 16 new rising stars to watch. Mark is referred to a rising star to watch in Africa, as the company has over 7000+ sign on the platform.
by justin/January 26 03:20 PMLast updated on Hotels.ng is about two years old now. In the first year, it was just a website – no business built around it. It started off by me purchasing lists of hotels. The entirety of hotels that were available in any known dataset that was available in public or in any government archive was about 1500 in Nigeria. I listed them all on the site and put the site up. Only 100 of those hotels had pictures. The pictures were scraped from the hotel websites. In October 2012 I moved to Nigeria to try to build a business out of this hotel booking website. I landed, rented a flat in calabar and convinced a friend of mine, Charles, to join the project. I and Charles hit the streets of Calabar and started snapping photos of the hotels in Calabar. Soon we had the largest online list of hotels in Calabar. But none were yet bookable. We coded a booking form one day and bought a company phone. We turned on the booking form and put the phone number on the site. We received 20 bookings for hotels in various parts of Nigeria that day, and had 100 missed calls on the phone. We could not book the hotels yet and we barely had time to address all the queries we received, so we took the number back off. We kept the booking form, but nothing would happen when people booked. Some time later, Jason Njoku wrote me a message on Facebook that he was starting an investment company called Spark and that he wanted to invest in Hotels.ng. I went to Lagos, we had a 30 minute meeting on a hot balcony together with Bastian, then I returned to Calabar. The next day, they made an offer. A bit of negotiation and in January 2013 Hotels.ng received funds from Spark. In the last 1 year, I used the investment money to build Hotels.ng into a company. We have 15 full-time staff, 5 contract staff and more than 70 ad-hoc staff. Those 70 people went everywhere in Nigeria and got hotels on our site. We now have 5080 hotels on the site. We have full pictures for 4000+ of all those hotels. We have addresses and driving instructions for all these hotels – we have massively accelerated the move of an African industry online. The total value of the bookings that we have done for hotels in Nigeria on our website alone is currently 2.3 million USD. That value was generated without spending any money marketing the site. By its very existence, it is useful and people patronize it without us needing to tell them to use it. By the end of the year 2013 we hit $40k in monthly revenue. I will follow up this post with other posts detailing how the process has been. How has it been building a tech startup in Nigeria? Everyone always on the outside tries to show how their startup is doing awesome and taking over the market and all what not, but that’s not how it is on the inside. The past two years have been like climbing a mountain – blindfolded. To do what we are doing, there is no roadmap. There is no book teaching how to create something that has never existed in this market before. So it was all experiments and trial-and-error. I never knew what would work and what would not, so we would need to spend to test out different things to find what seems to work good. And even when you find something that works, you need growth, so you need to find what works even better. From composing the teams, deciding how to approach hotels, getting people across 36 states in Nigeria, figuring out how to book hotel rooms with hotels without internet, and even the small stuff like getting our own internet working, it has all been a journey of uncertainty. Getting started with $50k Our initial raise was $75k, of which $25k went to buy a car (to close deals in Lagos). So we had $50k to deploy people across Nigeria and pay a team of 12 people. That’s N8 million. At the time, I though that it would be more than enough. But quickly I realised that things were far more expensive than you think they are. If you have N8mill for 6 months, you have about 1.3m per month. Salaries will take half that money. Developer will take a big chunk. Data purchase another big chunk. The money will finish very rapidly. So we had to do another raise with Spark, this time $150k. In the first 6 months, the sheer amount of things that needed to be set up and built meant that it would have been very hard to build the neccessary relationships to raise any kind of investment from other parties. My take-away from the initial raising money is this: If you are going to raise money for something complicated, make sure the money will last at least 1 year. You will need 6 months to build a lot of the processes and start generating revenue and another 6 months to build the relationships you need close your next round. The initial building process When we first started, I had no idea how to build a team. I had never been in any kind of managerial position with more than 4 people. Initially, we had the system where everything was being controlled by me. After some wise advice from Victor Asemota, I split up into smaller units with team leaders. This was far more efficient and resulted in better performance. Jason and Bastian were very helpful in this phase – they had far more experience than I in managing and hiring, and looking around at what was going on and discussing things with them helped clarify a lot of what the approach should be. Jason told me one of the other useful things I learnt, which is that a low performer in one field can become a high performer if you swap their job roles. So (forgive me for this, co-workers), a lot of the initial stages was me moving people around till I could find a good person/job-fit. During this period, we had to figure out how to make things work. Now it seems so obvious in retrospect how to book hotels, but back then I genuinely did not know. I did not know how to fulfill a booking efficiently, how to approach the hotels to strike a commission deal and how to invoice the hotels in a way that would ensure that they paid us. And most importantly, how do you do this across 4000+ hotels without getting confused with the amount of info you are dealing with? The first 6 months was just about building the processes, building the software systems we needed to manage this, figuring out how to field deploy people, etc. [caption id="attachment_908" align="aligncenter" width="815"] Hotelsng[/caption] The key take-aways from this period to me is: The things you do internally, they may seem super easy when you have figured them out, but they are not easy to discover. You cannot copy a company from the outside. Also, very importantly, a word is enough for the wise! When you have a problem, someone with far more experience can tell you just one word and it will make things suddenly fall into place. Talk to people who have more experience than you in the things you are doing! After the first 6 months of furiously building Hotels.ng, things started running on their own. I was no longer an essential part of the process. So I took a 2 week holiday in Germany. That holiday was super-useful in discovering the parts of my process that were not working well and still needed me. I advice everyone to disconnect from the company for two weeks and observe how well it runs independent of you. If it requires you to be there, then it is not a scalable business. So the day I came back, a tech founder friend of mine called me and said he had to tell me something important. I asked him what he was. He paused, then said: Rocket Internet are building a hotel booking website. It’s just like yours. Rocket Internet. The guys with five hundred million dollars. Coming up against me. I had barely $70,000. I started sweating. I had actually pitched those guys a while back to open a hotel booking website in Nigeria. I searched my email for the pitch-deck to see if it gave away anything. Reading that document made me realize how different assumptions about a business are from when you actually start the business. That would not help them. How do we beat Rocket Internet? They had everything. Over the following week, I kept thinking about that. But then I noticed something – they kept studying us, trying to find out how we did it. They were trying to beat US. That’s when I realised that somehow or the other, barely knowing it, we had become the largest hotel booking website in West Africa. So I didn’t have to beat Rocket Internet, they had to beat me. If you think of it in battle terms, at this point we have two armies, both moving in darkness, trying to get as fast as possible to a particular location. The battle has not started. We were in the deployment phase, and we were far ahead. So far, we had moved much faster than them. We had done smart things. Even when they started moving, we were accelerating faster than them by any metric you could count. And at a fraction of what they spent. Our total budget of our 20 man team was not up to the annual salary of their MD alone. So on reflection, I understood how we could beat them. In this movement phase, I will always be faster because they have so far not demonstrated any ability to outsmart us. At some point in the future, both sides would have arrived and it’s time to start the actual battle (which involves having the site the customers prefer to use). A lot of that is based on your ability to market wisely and to build a product that delights customers so much that they market it for you. In both of those aspects, if this were something that more money means you must automatically win, then there would be no instagram or snapchat. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know that the team we have at Hotels.ng is good enough to win, even against a deep pocket competitor like Rocket. They have been around for 6 months now, and barely dented our number 1 position. The way we move will make it stay that way. The hassles When you are doing something that is changing the way an old and established market like the hotel industry in Nigeria is, with a lot of old rich men involved, you will face a lot of people who do not understand what you are trying to do. We have faced a lot of hassles from different sectors – from the troubles our inventory guys face to the banks not understanding our business to the police trying to find out more about what we do, to our cars getting arrested. This is Nigeria. This is Africa. This is normal. My advice: Have backup, have friends in high places, because if you truly disrupt, you will need their help to solve problems. The reason so many foreign companies came to Africa and left again is that they could not deal with the problems. You have to know that there will be major problems, and you just solve them and keep going, without ever being distracted from the mission and vision. Firing People It’s not easy to work with someone in close proximity for many months and then fire them. But the role of the CEO of a company is that of a care-taker of a company. You are there to do the best for the company. If a person genuinely cannot contribute to a company, a CEO is obliged to lay the person off. I think it is better to just maintain a high standard when hiring and fire fast if you must fire. Because we are all humans and all kind – when you know someone well, you may be hesitant to do what’s best for the company because of pity. The tech scene What we are building is not in isolation, it’s in the middle of the tech scene. This scene has been invaluable for the company and for me. I have never been a big fan of Lagos, but the fact of the matter is that this is where Nigerian tech is going to be. It will cluster in Lagos and likely in Yaba area. Since coming to Lagos, I have met a large number of the “twitter famous” people. Each of those people have straight-up provided me with ideas or information. And those words really made a difference. I strongly believe that technology is so complex and wide that without being in a community, it can never really take fruit and become something significant in the countries economy. One person discovers something, tells someone else. And the second person can use that info and connect it to solve a problem with his business. The Nigerian tech community is small, but it is helpful. It needs to grow so that we can build a real technology industry here in the biggest African country. The success of technology in Nigeria will determine the success of technology across the rest of Africa, and in my opinion, I think any continent that is left behind in technology industry will forever fall behind in the global economy. These small apps and websites we are creating now are important for this continent. They have the ability to change and transform it. They are what will create the future industries. So no matter what, we must never stop trying to build a local technology eco-system. Final Words Building Hotels.ng has been hard. But it’s worth it to look at the site/business and see it working. See people booking hotels every day and it all somehow keeps running. All of this was done with the help of a larger technology eco-system, people who were willing to risk capital and the persistence and hard work of the team. It’s been a good two years. Looking forward to the next two!