Business and Economy founder talks about raising USD 1.4 million

A few months ago raised USD 1.2 million from Omidyar & EchoVC. We had a chance to catch up with Mark Essien to explore why his company became so successful.

How did get started? What was the influencing factor that got you started?

“I got started because I felt there was an opportunity to build a technology startup around that, and because I saw it as one of the businesses that was viable in an emerging economy. I am motivated by the ability to build technical solutions for problems people face. I enjoy engineering and building things – so no matter what, I would still have built a startup around a technical problem. I also enjoy working in Africa and I think that this is the best place in the world to have a big impact with technical solutions.”

How do you see your USP today? What are you doing that makes so unique?

“We have a large number of hotels and we offer prices that are quite low. We have more than 7000 hotels in Nigeria, and we basically created the category of online hotel bookings in Nigeria. We invented most of the methods that are currently being used successfully. We also focus a lot on making sure that our hotel rates are lower than walk-in rates, so people can see the benefits in booking online.”

What does your growth and traction look like, please share some of your key milestones in terms of the business?

“We sold more than $1m worth of hotel rooms by mid-2014 and we have raised USD 1.4 million total. More than 90% of our customers are Nigerians traveling within Nigeria. We are a very localized brand – well known inside the country, not so much outside the country. The general trend is that people travel more – traditionally, many places in Nigeria have been a bit isolated, but this is rapidly changing and more and more people are traveling.”

What else have you leveraged (programs, accelerators, platforms) in getting your company connected and to the next level?

“I used the Spark office building and network to meet people. The investment from Jason Njoku and Bastian Gotter was instrumental in getting off the ground, otherwise it would have been hard to find the necessary funding to get past the seed stage. Also, the biggest break I got was probably being able to go to Germany to study, and that in Germany education is basically free. This allowed me see the world and have access to all the things that allowed me learn.”

You have recently connected with new partners/investors? Can you please talk about that?

“We raised USD 1.2 million from EchoVC and Omidyar network. The most difficult aspect in closing this deal was how time-consuming it was, and how much time was spent on due diligence and negotiations. All the while, we were constrained in our ability to execute as we had to run off profits.”

What were your strategies to make this campaign successful? And how did you get EchoVC or Omidyar interested?

“First, I reached out to a lot of people, and made sure to avoid wasting time on the people who were not serious or were not a good fit. I have always known of EchoVC, he was one of the first people I reached out to back in 2012 when I was trying to raise money (the other was Rocket Internet). I always though that he would be a great investor, because he has both the Silicon Valley experience and the Nigerian experience. I kept on reaching out to him over and over again, and when we were at the appropriate stage, he decided to co-invest with Omidyar. I like the fact that he is tough! Omidyar I met through an introduction by a reporter Mich Atagana, who I met at an event like this. I hounded her for a while to publish an article on the startup, and when she finally did, she also did an intro to Charmaine at Omidyar network. I met them at a VC conference here in Lagos and we started the process that eventually led to the investment.”

What are your plans moving forward? Biggest challenge and your biggest opportunity?

“Biggest challenge and opportunity is in scaling the business across Africa. Some challenges that come with expanding operations are not knowing much about the other countries, finding the staff, managing remotely and so on. A big difficulty is simply finding the people who can communicate with country representatives and properly manage their performance.”

Thanks Mark. Great to read about all of your progress and great work with You join the growing ranks of founders that demonstrate what is possible in African markets today. And for other up and coming founders out there, follow Mark’s path by registering a venture profile on VC4Africa and start engaging our programs and partners today!

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