Start-up snapshot: Convincing Nigerians to book their travel online

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Co-founder and COO of Travelbeta, Onyeka Akumah

Start-up: Travelbeta

Travelbeta is a Lagos-based Nigerian platform that aims to ease the booking of travel online. It allows and assists its users to book flights, hotels, travel packages, arrange airport pickups, and acquire visas. The company started business in July 2015, but officially launched in October 2015. How we made it in Africa interviewed Onyeka Akumah, co-founder of Travelbeta.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Over 21 million Nigerians travel through Nigerian airports annually, but only 3-5% book through online portals. Travelbeta was established to get more people to trust a reliable and customer-friendly online travel agency in taking care of all their travel needs. Currently, we provide our customers with flights to 900 destinations around the world and over 300,000 local and international hotels are listed on the website. We are positioning ourselves to become Nigeria’s premium destination management company.

2. How did you finance your start-up?

The market potential of the travel industry in Nigeria today has continued to create more opportunities for online travel agencies to provide more solutions, beyond the few that currently operate in the country. In making a business case for investors like Altheus Limited, we were able to showcase the right team and methodology of dealing with the travel industry opportunity.

Today, we have raised US$2m from a group of enthusiastic technology investors right here in Nigeria, who first saw the vision for a Travelbeta before the discussions of raising the money came up. Now, Altheus Limited is leading these group of Nigerian investors to provide seed funding to chase the goal of getting more Nigerians to book their travel online – rather than fighting against our competitors for the few customers who currently use online travel agencies.

3. If you were given $1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

Firstly, we would invest in improving our technology, especially for mobile. We would then create the right kind of buzz to showcase the value we want to offer Nigerians. We would also use the money to keep hiring customer-focused and enthusiastic travel experts to join our team.

4. What risks does your business face?

The biggest challenges we face today as a business are the same set of challenges every other business experiences in Nigeria – the high cost of operating as a business.

We are quite aware of these challenges and understand the best ways of using our resources as efficiently as we can. This includes generating power to run our offices, recruiting the best talent in our industry to build our company, protecting the relationships with our travel and technology partners, and finally getting as innovative as we should be to provide better travel services than an offline travel agency.

5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

My most exciting entrepreneurial moment was when I decided to leave paid employment to start my first venture in 2013 and two weeks later raised money to push the idea. The feeling of being able to convince my first investor (Chika Nwobi) who later became a friend and mentor was really humbling and exciting as well. This moment coupled with hiring my first team across the various businesses I have been involved in, have been the most exciting entrepreneurial moments I have had.

6. Tell us about your biggest mistake and what you’ve learnt from it?

Very early when we were building Travelbeta (months before we sold our first ticket in July 2015), we made a mistake of trying to implement a seemingly exciting travel model that we never knew how much was involved in it before we started on that path. We also employed the services of a technology team that was not prepared for the challenges ahead and these costed us thousands of dollars trying out a model that just couldn’t work – just because it was not the right time.

We had to go back to the drawing board, pick ourselves up, and try out a simpler model. Although we got to a point where we almost lost confidence in what we were building, eventually on the day our first ticket was sold, we found fulfilment in all the hard work and patience required to get the job done. This was entirely due to the team’s resilience in the face of our early challenges when building Travelbeta.