Mark Essien, founder and CEO, Hotels.ng (Nigeria)
1. What was your first job?
My first paid job was in Germany as a night watchman guarding a paralysed man. The job required me to be awake and watchful most of the time, to correct slumps and ensure that my ward didn’t have any life-threatening complications at any time. I used to spend the entire night actively writing code to keep awake.
2. Describe the parts of your job that keep you awake at night.
In the beginning, I used to be involved in every process, but with our growth and diversification, I have a dynamic team managing specialised aspects of Hotels.ng’s day-to-day activities. If I have to stay awake at night, it would mean somebody isn’t doing their job.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
Various people have, in different times, had significant impacts on my career. Some of them have been notable businessmen and the others pretty regular people. I essentially find myself motivated by specific people in specific stages of my career and from these interactions I have gained useful life and business lessons.
4. And the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
“Focus on the market.” The market is everything; it is what will drive your business. It is possible to have a good product and ultimately get foiled because you were targeting the wrong market.
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
It’s a combination of factors. First, I was able to identify a viable opportunity and pursue it, a narrative shared by other businessmen. I have a system for everything and like to measure goals so that I am not wasting time on something that isn’t important to my short-term or long-term projections. I learned how to manage a business without money before I started managing one with money, so I have a fair understanding of prioritising and cost-effectiveness for good turnover.
6. Where is the best place to prepare for leadership, business school or on the job?
Both are important for their own reasons. You need the theoretical ammunition before you go out into the business world. If you do not have business school information, you will have to learn by mentorship or by experience. Learning by experience is often a long, painful and arduous process. Many people have failed simply because they had the passion, but no real-time knowledge.
7. How do you relax?
Twitter is unofficially my relaxation.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I like to be at my desk as early as possible. There is only so much time on the clock and tardiness is only more time lost.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
“What is 100/3?” It’s a very good filter question when I need to quickly determine the people who are actually worth interviewing.
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Explore. The African business ecosystem is brimming with opportunities and you just need to find what works. However, not every market is a good one, so you need to be keen enough to spot the difference.
Hotels.ng is a Nigerian hotel booking website. It has recently secured an investment of $1.2m from international investors EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund, a seed-stage technology fund, and Omidyar Network, the investment vehicle of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.