Mark Essien is an entrepreneur, a software developer, and a startup investor. He is the founder of Hotels.ng, a successful online hotel booking platform in Nigeria. Mark’s success with Hotels.ng is inspiring, a story that should inspire and encourage every Nigeria youth. It pays to have focus and be diligent in your pursuit.
Background of Mark Essien
Mark Essien was born on 18th of December, 1980 in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom to Anthony Paul Essien and Monika Essien. His father, Anthony Paul Essien is a political figure in Akwa Ibom State while his mother is child educationist and owns a school, Monika Kindergarten in Ikot Ekpene.
Mark Essien had his primary education in his mother’s school, and his secondary education at Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene. After his secondary education, he moved to Germany for his university education. Mark Essien has a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng) in Computer Hardware Engineering from Beuth Hochschule Berlin, Germany and M.Sc. in Computer Science from Freie Universitat, Berlin, Germany.
Mark is happily married to Jenni Naiaretti, a software developer at GeneO Ltd.
Early Career Of Mark Essien
Mark Essien worked part time as a cinema attendant in Germany for two months while he prepared for his mandatory German Language Program and A-Levels examination. He then worked night shifts taking care of a paralyzed man. It was during this period that he learnt programming.
Mark Essien developed a file sharing software, Gnumm which was acquired by Snoopstar.com where he later worked before branching out as a freelance software developer.
The advanced knowledge he acquired in programming at Snoopstar helped him build other products and Hotels.ng.
Genesis of Hotels.ng
Mark desired to build a technology driven business that will survive in Nigeria. Luckily, this was the time Jumia and Konga was making waves in the internet space, so he felt that the hotel and travel industry in Nigeria could use some innovation.
He created the first version of Hotels.ng in 2012 which was just a list of hotels at the time. After observing the traffic generated by the site in a short while, he was convinced it was time to move back to Nigeria and work on his dream.
Fortunately, this was the time Jason Njoku was looking for a viable internet business to invest in through Spark.ng. So Spark.ng made an initial investment of $75,000 in Hotels.ng for the business to kick off operations in Lagos. Later, after observing their business model and the leadership style of Mark Essien, Spark invested another $150,000 in Hotels.ng. The funds helped Hotels.ng grow and expand their hotel listings.
Hotels.ng continues to grow unlike other start-ups that started with them. This is hugely due to Mark Essien’s leadership style. Mark has continued to run a lean methodology and has employed a workable SEO marketing strategy for hotels.ng and positioning himself as an authority on twitter.
In 2015, the company raised an additional $1.2M from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network, and Echo VC Pan African Fund to expand across Africa.
Early this year, Hotels.ng launched Hotel.africa and a corresponding flights service, Fly.africa. Hotels.africa has over 27,312 hotels in Africa and covers hotels in CapeTown, Sandton, Knysna, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Nigeria, Nairobi, Malindi, Masai Mara, Kenya, Mombasa and Nakuru.
Mark co-invested with Spark.ng in an online startup, OgaVenue in 2016. OgaVenue is an event venue booking platform with over 6000 event venues across Nigeria.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Skilled labour is a challenge especially software programming and design skills. A very skilled developer is likely to be with a big company or very expensive to hire. As the tech ecosystem in Nigeria is growing so is the demand for tech skills. There is demand for young people who can build ideas into great products. Mark Essien saw this challenge and did something about it by starting a Remote Internship Program. This program which started in 2016 train young people in software development. Interns are presented with real-life programs which they are expected to solve using programming and design skills. The interns are also rewarded with stipends. These interns have built amazing products like:
- Spots.ng – a directory of interesting places to visit.
- Hotels.africa –international hotel booking site in Africa.
- Fly.africa – a flight booking site for cheaper airlines.
- Hotels.ng Mobile App – for conveniently booking affordable hotels with the help of GPS locator.
Many organisations have come to identify with the internship program and so far the program has trained over 5000 people with 100 % job placement rate for participants who make it to the final stage of the internship.
Mark Essien speaks frequently on TEDx, an international community organized to celebrate locally-driven ideas elevating them to a global stage. Mark talked about leveraging networks to build a business at 2016 TEDxEuston, and how Africa can lead in the global technology space at 2015 TEDxGbagada.
Recognition and Awards
- Forbes list of Africa’s 30 Youngest Entrepreneur 2015
- 21 Nigerian Tech CEO’s at the Top of their Game 2015
- 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians 2016
- 100 Most Influential Young Africans 2016
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Photo Credit: Techpoint