Yesterday, Mark Essien put out an amazing trifecta of posts about his startup, Hotels.ng on his new blog.
Part one – Hotels.ng is two years old, 5000+ Hotels listed, 30 full time employees, 2.3 million dollars in all time transactions, hit $40,000/month in revenue in December 2014.
Part two – Raising enough runway funding to succeed — in his case $225,000 over 2 years, mostly from Spark.ng
In the unlikely event that you haven’t read them, you should.
In any case, I am thinking many things about this. First of all —
Few can argue that Mark isn’t one of the ecosystem’s hardest working entrepreneurs, and gaining this sort of traction after spending all that time in the trenches is incredibly reassuring to all the other founders who like him are sweltering and burrowing away in their own trenches.
It is very good to read @markessien and know I am not alone. Facing a lot of those issues he raised currently.
— Iyin (@iaboyeji) January 26, 2014
Not two days ago, a another tech blogger inquired about Mark from me. “What kind of guy is he?”, they asked. I told them straight up, with my blogger’s hat off — Mark is a great guy, one of the best technical founders I know. He is pretty open for a Nigerian in his philosophies and adds value whenever he can.
— Tayo (@oviosu) January 26, 2014
The outpouring of support in response to Mark’s “testimony” was a sight in and of itself. People really like Mark. Contrary to what some people think, nice guys can actually make out okay. And when nice guys win, people are genuinely happy for them.
Whatever anybody says, Spark is a mini Rocket Internet. Not necessarily in the cloning aspect but there are clear operational parallels. Typical Spark MO is identify a market opportunity, pull some intelligent person from behind their corporate desk job or hire a “budding entrepreneur”, slap a CEO title on them and give them the resources to execute. Jason Njoku likes to hype Spark startups, but the jury is still out on how effective that model is.
Mark on the other hand is different from most of the Spark crowd in that he is no operational hit-man who was routinely drafted on, he already had a mission that he was totally committed to, financially and emotionally.
— ST (@seyitaylor) January 26, 2014
Spark’s $150k investment in Hotels was fortuitous and perhaps saved the startup from certain death. But for the kind of founder they got for a 30 percent stake, one wonders if Spark didn’t get a better deal.
What doesn’t kill one makes one stronger
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. — Two Years In The Trenches Building Hotels.ng, Part 3
Mark’s “testimony” — that’s what we are calling it now — is proof that local startups can hold their own, given the right conditions and sufficient amounts of funding. The current clamour that foreign competition is stifling local players comes off as a tad exaggerated. Hotels.ng is certainly not getting steamrolled by Rocket Internet’s Jovago. Jovago might be the one in trouble.
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. — Two Years In The Trenches Building Hotels.ng, Part 3
In fact, one might go as far as to venture that local startups are actually BETTER for having to contend with Rocket and their ilk. It is possible that Konga might not have been driven to be the execution beast that it is now if its management didn’t have to worry about Jumia gobbling up the whole market.
Another PR-meister is born
Looking at Mark’s new blog — before now, his thoughts were hosted on Medium — it seems that he has taken a leaf directly out of Jason Njoku’s book on these things. Markessien.com looks considerably less boosterist than Jason.com.ng, but I doubt that their ends are dissimilar.
Yes, I said Nigerian tech entrepreneurs should blog more, so why do I have a problem with it? I don’t actually. I’m ecstatic even. I just can’t help noticing the uncanny similarities of Mark’s new journal to that Jason’s. Moving all his Medium posts to a new tumblr-powered blog on the same day he chose to give us a glimpse at how his startup is doing isn’t without significance. Plus the sudden need to take control of his brand? “Part 1”, “Part 2”, and “Part 3”? Taking a jab at Rocket, right after his investor got a good dig in? This is of course is all in the head of a bored conspiracy theorist blogger.
Having said that, I like that unlike Jason’s, Mark’s blog has comments. And Mark has always blogged incredibly useful stuff, and not just about the entrepreneurial condition but the technical stuff that your average developer/growth-hacker as well as the larger ecosystem can use. Kudos, Mark.
Hurrah for traction – the Hotels.ng edition
Traction is good. But runway is finite. Eventually it runs out, by which time the pilot had better get the plane up into the sky. This is where I was coming to eventually. Stay tuned for the Hotels.ng edition, dropping anytime now, in which I look at what I consider to be the real story here – Hotels.ng’s funding and prospects for growth.