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Millions That Came To The Entrepreneur Who Waited

Mark Essien shook up the technology space in Nigeria by launching the country’s leading hotel booking website. He spurned many investment opportunities along the way.

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The journey to a million dollars can start in Ikot-Ekpene, a town in southern Nigeria famous for its palm oil, kernels, yams, cassava, taro, corn and raffia. As a child, Mark Essien watched his father, a graduate of the social sciences with no vocational training, build makeshift machines for communal use, such as excavators to pump sand out of the river. A proclivity to build was sown in Essien. It bore fruit decades later and thousands of miles away, in Germany, where he was attending university.

Essien got a job as a night watchman. He had to closely observe the bodily movements of a paralyzed man, which could possibly be fatal. During these long nights, Essien taught himself computer programing. He soon developed a file-sharing software that was bought by Bertelsmann Media, a German multinational mass media corporation. Essien was also hired by the company. Soon, his skills were in high demand. He made a living, and financed his university studies, by selling software to Orange SA (then known as France Telecom), Walt Disney and the United States Armed Forces. Soon, he got bored.

“I wanted to get out of buying and selling software products and move into start-ups. Start-ups are a different beast,” Essien says placidly while sitting in his office, a recently remodeled colonial building in Yaba, a suburb in Lagos.

This time, in between wrapping up his Bachelor’s degree and waiting to begin his Masters’, Essien, in collaboration with friends, launched a start-up based on iPhone apps. This was around the time when the iPhone was first introduced to the world. The business performed fairly well, but Essien sought a new challenge and handed the reins of the start-up to his co-founders.

He was looking for a bigger challenge – one that would allow him to play a role in the technology space on the continent. In January 2012, Hotels.ng became this challenge. The online business was formed as the infant tech industry was taking off in Nigeria, and in Africa. In a few years, a content streaming service, a flight booking platform, online malls, car dealerships, real estate directories and more have sprung up in Nigeria. Hotels.ng joined their ranks, providing online solutions for people in need of temporary accommodation in Nigeria, from Ikot-Ekpene in the south, to Sabon Gari in the north.

Hotels.ng was started with financial contributions from family and friends, as well as Essien’s personal money. Starting the business was easy, making it a success would be more difficult.

“We were very lucky that we had some capital available and we were able to raise it pretty quickly. We were able to raise $75,000 after three months of operations,” says Essien.

Usually, start-ups are not this fortunate. It is believed Essien had an unnamed investor when he launched. However, in the tech ecosystem, local investors are still hard to find. Essien thinks this is because they are not seeing other investors make massive returns. He also doesn’t think much of those running start-ups in the country today.

“Investors don’t invest in ideas, especially in Nigeria when there’s so much execution risk. Every start-up has been done somewhere else successfully so the idea is good but can the person build it? I don’t think enough smart and resourceful people are in the start-up space.”

It would seem Essien doesn’t belong in this category. A few months after launching, he was made an offer by Jason Njoku, founder of successful content streaming service, iROKOtv, and start-up incubator, SPARK. He turned it down, stating he wouldn’t need investment for the next six to twelve months as he had enough from his first seed round.

“There’s a philosophy I have that every start-up should follow. You must be able to build a business with what you have. If you are dependent, your business will be vulnerable. I’d rather take no money than take bad money,” says Essien.

Hotels.ng managed to grow independently and, in 2013, Essien decided to sell 35% to SPARK for $225,000. This year, Hotels.ng raised $1.2 million from the Omidyar Network, the investment vehicle of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund, a seed-stage technology fund.

The investment was a result of a six-month search, involving 60 to 70 investors who were interested in Africa. Essien insists, however, that the investment is not a magic wand and while some problems will disappear, bigger ones will take their place.

“Scaling a company up is extremely difficult. I have gone from me and one guy, to me and 49 people. You have to build structures, management. We need to understand what it means to have regional offices across Africa. We are going to start in Ghana. The stage we are in the market is still early. We have a bit of leeway to be slow on things. When you are faster than the market, it’s the quickest way to kill your business.”

Essien makes an interesting comparison. Before YouTube, there had been a number of video file-sharing platforms that were just as innovative. However, there was no global internet penetration to support their success. There were not enough people online, or even aware, to enjoy these sites. YouTube came at just the right time. Essien believes Hotels.ng must perfect such impeccable timing.

Although Essien’s journey, and that of his start-up, has only just begun, he knows where he is going.

Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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Entrepreneurs

Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.

Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.

The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.

President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.

Watch below:

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