The journey so far: Jonas Schwarz Lausten, co-owner, Nordic Hotels

Jonas Schwarz Lausten

Jonas Schwarz Lausten is the co-owner of Nordic Hotels, a collection of boutique hotels in Nigeria: The Nordic Villa and the Nordic Hotel are both located in Abuja, and the upcoming Nordic Hotel is in Lagos. Together, the hotels have a 125-room capacity.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

Back in 2011, when my partners – Nwaya Chukwuemeka Collins, Anders Mogensen and my brother Christian Schwarz Lausten – and I opened the first of our Nordic Hotels branches in Nigeria, we literally had no clue what we were doing.

All we knew was that we wanted to fill the gap in the accommodation market and offer a value-for-money product with Nordic designer furniture, complimentary internet and clean bedsheets in a home-away-from-home environment. We call it the “Nordic feeling”.

I’m sure we’ve reinvented the wheel 1,000 times during the years without knowing because we were – and are – not trained hoteliers. That, to a large degree, has probably also been our strength, not being bound by certain ways of doing things in the hotel industry.

Furthermore, as a Dane living in Nigeria, it’s been challenging to adjust and understand the cultural differences. But I feel privileged – I learn something new every day.

2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?

It’s a non-Danish thing to be open about your achievements, but, having lived so many years abroad, I dare say that my partners and I are proud of our team at Nordic Hotels, Nigeria.

We now have more than 70 young Nigerians on our team [and] 90% are younger than 30. [The young people had] no prior hospitality experience before joining us and they’re winning one award after the other and competing with some of the biggest international-branded hotels. To have brought the team to that stage is something we’re super stoked [about] and proud of.

Winning the prestigious TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award, which has only been given to 1% of all hotels in the world seven times is quite an achievement. We take pride in (almost) having disrupted the hospitality industry in Nigeria.

We have a high level of service and will go that extra mile – or even three if needed – for our guests, to ensure that their experience is world class. We’ll help guests find other restaurants in town or help them find shops, where [they can] buy new clothes or something else. It’s as if we have a personalised concierge service.

I am happy to announce that we are now bringing the Nordic feeling to Lagos. Nordic Hotel Lagos will have 64 rooms in our cool Nordic design style, with conference and meeting facilities, a restaurant, bar, fitness [facility] and a beautiful pool. Everything, right in the middle of Victoria Island. I’m so excited about this hotel and can’t wait to open its doors in early 2020.

3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

Weaknesses are inevitable, not only as an entrepreneur but simply as a human being. I do believe that weaknesses can be turned into strengths as well. I’m a Dane living in probably the most different country culture-wise from Denmark.

Now, where that may be a weakness, I see it as a strength. I bring something else to the table. More importantly, I believe it’s crucial to have the best people possible around you.

Since we began Nordic Hotels back in 2011, my three excellent business partners and I have worked closely together to create this success story. We complement each other with different competencies.

On a more practical level, I must admit that I do worry a lot – about all kinds of things. Also here, our partnership is, indeed, valuable. We use each other to spar with, challenge each other and come up with solutions.

4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

Many people talk about how many companies you have to fail before you’ll have success and I’m sure it’s true for some. We have failed a tonne of times, but never to the degree where we would have to throw in the towel. We have had a strong setup and a culture of trial and error, so we’ve pulled through those tough times when we’ve messed up.

At one point we had to close one of our hotels due to major issues with the building, however, we came out positively and found a new building, which became 10 times better and nicer.

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?

I guess it was a good thing I didn’t know much about starting your own business in Nigeria, or else I might have run away! Luckily, it has always been rewarding and exciting, to this day.

My educational background is a master’s degree from Copenhagen Business School, where I studied entrepreneurship and innovation, which provided me with an analytical toolbox.

But to be an entrepreneur equally takes a positive mindset and pure willpower to get stuff off the ground. You can study it and read cases, but to execute is an entirely different story.

6. Name an untapped business opportunity in Nigeria.

Anything [in] agriculture is super interesting. Coffee production in Nigeria is something I’ve been looking at. However, I’m not a farmer and know nothing about soil or crops, but coffee is the second-most traded commodity after oil.

Before oil became the moneymaker in Nigeria in the ’70s, Nigerian coffee exports were 3-4% of GDP. Today it is nothing.

Fast-moving consumer goods businesses are interesting as well. Products for the masses are intriguing, but it’s a tough game in terms of branding and marketing.