Episode 005 Mark Essien: Building a business around scalable distribution channels and why raising money too early can kill your startup


“Your product is only as good as its distribution channels”

Mark Essien is the founder and CEO of hotels.ng an online hotel booking platform in Nigeria. With over 8000 hotels on the platform, hotels.ng is one of the largest online aggregator in Sub-Saharan Africa. He has raised over $2m from the likes of Spark, EchoVC and Omidyar Network.

Mark is one of the most impressive founders I know. when I was planning to come to Nigeria in 2015 to get involved in the tech ecosystem, Mark dominated a lot of my research as someone I should meet. Since then we’ve met several times, and he was a speaker at the High Growth Africa Summit 2016 that I hosted in Lagos.

There are so many gems in this episode for anyone trying to build a company or currently runs one in an emerging market.

The first 25 minutes of this podcast is like a lesson in how to start a startup in  difficult places. We talked about he validated his idea, the grunt work done to gain traction in the early days. How he ran out of money, and yet was able to pull a winner.

We discussed how to raise money and why founders should not take money from everyone.

Also Read  Episode 23, Making Nigeria an easy place to do business- Tola Onayemi, SA Industry, Trade and Investment

We talked about why focussing on developing talent will drive the growth of the startup ecosystem in Africa.

This episode is brought to you by 

The Longe Practice is a legal firm that specialise in working with early stage startups in Africa. They understand the peculiarities of business as a startup. They are trusted by many other startups including the likes of paystack, callbase, pass.ng, techcabal, printivo, wecyclers, and many others. To get free consultation as a listener of this podcast… fill out the form on podcast.thelongepractice.com

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • A “formula” for building a company (in an emerging market) that your customers actually need
  • About the earliest version of Hotels.ng’s, how it worked compared to how it works now.
  • Building relationships that led to Hotels.ng very first investors
  • The different business models that they tried to arrive at the model they currently use.
  • Some thoughts on why Lagos is the place to be for businesses in Nigeria. How the ecosystem has changed between 2012 and now.
  • Mark’s list of things you need to run a successful company as well as some predictions for how the ecosystem will change over time
  • And much more

Selected Resources Mentioned in this Episode


Also Read  Episode 28, Startup is not equal to raising money. Chika Uwazie, CEO at TalentBase

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About the author

Dotun Olowoporoku

Dotun is an accidental entrepreneur, recovering academic. But found it more interesting to be a startup pirate than join the academic navy.