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The first time I heard about Travelbeta launch by Onyeka Akumah was in July 2015 at the official launch of HouseMax in Lagos. Akumah described the platform as one that would totally transform the travel space in Africa. Few months later, the platform was officially launched and a few week later, it raised US$2-million.
I recently caught up with Akumah to speak about the exciting travel company, startups and a range of issues they face in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Ventureburn: How has the market responded to the launch of Travelbeta?
Onyeka Akumah: It’s been exciting. Every day we keep growing in the daily usage of our platform especially after the Cyber Monday event, which was a huge push for Travelbeta. On that day alone, we recorded over 1 000 bookings on our website for the Cyber Monday sales with an average basket size of over N80 000 based on the sale.
Although, we couldn’t serve every customer with a deal that day (because the offers were limited spaces), it opened the doors for Nigerians to be able to see a bouquet of services we could render them.
We are learning every day and will be meeting the demands of Nigerians to expand to more states in the country to continue our customer education drive about how to book their travel online.
VB: Why is the attention shifting to hospitality space following the bust of the retail bubble?
OA: First, it will be good to clarify that ecommerce has many branches and retail is just one of them. The hospitality space is another sector that can be hugely influenced by people using the internet to trade rather than doing so physically.
I wouldn’t say there is a burst of the retail bubble, but rather, it is getting clearer to entrepreneurs that retail ecommerce is not just about building a fancy functional website but more about the logistics involved in operating the business.
A successful retail-ecommerce website in Nigeria today is one with the right investments in building their logistics channel to meet the needs of their customers. This is hard work — logistics, raising investments, keeping real-estates like warehouses and employing the right people. So overtime, people have realised that only the brave, quick, smart and most importantly, those with thick-skin to endure the years of pushing, can prevail in this sector.
VB: What spaces are still available for startups that lack significant capital backing?
OA: There are a whole lot of things that Nigerians can do with or without investors. I am a strong believer in the quote “Build it and they will come.” We first need to identify something. Whether it is an existing problem we can solve, a service we can render better than anyone else out there, or an innovative solution we can emulate; taking our unique environment into consideration, then build it.
The internet can make life better in meaningful and gainful ways whether its security solutions for Nigerians, financial solutions for Nigerians, media solutions for Nigerians, education solutions for Nigerians or health solutions for Nigerians.
Let’s think of solving problems in areas that have been ignored and you will spend lesser getting your idea to be noticed if it works!
Some people suggest that the startup ecosystem in Nigeria is in need of a leader. Do you agree with them? And who are those that you think could lead other entrepreneurs?
OA: This is true and I couldn’t agree more. We need true role models who have been able to balance the life of an entrepreneur in Nigeria, living in Nigeria with its ‘unique’ business environment and grown into a success legitimately.
There are quite a few people that come to mind as role models in the internet startup ecosystem, but these men and women have to tell their stories. They have to come out and tell the younger lads how exactly they navigated through their business journeys to becoming who they are or maybe its too early.
VB: What do you think were the major achievements in the ecosystem in 2015?
OA: My major achievements for 2015 will be:
More Nigerians used their mobile devices for online transactions than ever before. This was significant with over 80 million accessing the internet.
During the elections and when the results for the elections were announced, we felt the impact of social media in influencing the mind of Nigerian youths towards a cause. This was the first time I really felt its impact and commend its contribution.
The birth of new internet startups in sectors that felt like no-go-areas. I applaud the courage of businesses that chose to give Nigerians more options including Startups like Yudala, PayPorte and of course, Travelbeta.
More internet businesses have raised investments from Nigerians investors to continue to build their dreams including startups like Travelbeta, WebMall, MallForAfrica, Slimtrader, ACE, SimplePay and my friends at Printivo (who I met and wanted to invest in their business three weeks after they went live because I was one of their first customers, but that is history now) and more.
VB: What do you think would define the ecosystem in 2016?
OA: Real solutions for real problems. There will be more focus on startups solving real problems.
VB: What are your expectations for your venture, the hospitality sector and Nigeria’s tech space?
OA: More and more Nigerians will keep traveling and so Travelbeta.com will keep growing. As the Chief Commercial Officer, I will be focused on improving our revenue growth channels, making our customer service become the best in the industry and generally exploring new ways of doing what I love to do – marketing the business.
We are currently embarking on opening up more customer engagement points so very soon we’ll announce how far we’ve gone with that early 2016.
I will also be hoping that the new Ministers & State Commissioners for Tourism and Culture will embrace our destination management initiative to showcase the best Nigeria has to offer to the rest of the world. We would be exploring more around improving tourism in Nigeria.
Overall in the Nigerian tech space, we expect more serious businesses to come up with real solutions customised for Nigerians.
VB: Have you been satisfied so far with the new government’s handling of Nigeria’s tech sector?
OA: Sincerely, I thought we’ll continue to have the Ministry for ICT like it was under its former minister, Mrs. Omobola Johnson.
However, I am still waiting to understand which of the ministers will actively engage with internet startup business owners to grow our ecosystem. There is still a lot to understand so I don’t want to jump into conclusions, but as business men and women, let’s keep building. They will come.
VB: All mobile devices can run USSD but few startups have USSD services but why do you think USSD is not attractive to developers in Nigeria?
OA: Interesting question. Maybe no one has taken advantage of this yet. We are already exploring an opportunity at Travelbeta to serve our services using USSD, so let’s wait and see what 2016 has in stock for us.
VB: Do you plan to venture into other projects in 2016?
OA: For now, I’m focused on the ventures I am involved with at the moment. I have a lot of responsibility to build Travelbeta into a household name. This is a lot of work.
Today, I am responsible for the commercial activities of Travelbeta. The investors and owners of the business will demand that I focus on building this business into a major player within the shortest period possible with the most effectively managed budget. It’s a huge task that will take some time and demands my focus.
I also have my digital business that I founded when I left Konga in 2014 called Anozim. With a team of over 20, Anozim has an incredible team of business managers overseeing the business while I focus on Travelbeta. The business is growing with new things happening every day and I am happy that way knowing the team is achieving its goals.
I am no Jack Dorsey but at the moment, I enjoy what I do with the businesses in my hands. Travelbeta is growing and we are in a very exciting space as an ecommerce business.