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UPDATE (18 October 2019): Marek Zmyslowski has released a tell-all book after Interpol in May 2019 took down the Red Notice it issued in January 2018 ordering his extradition to Nigeria (see this story) — Ed
He’s been accused by his Nigerian investors of defrauding them (which he denies), he’s been a regular in Nigerian gossip site Bella Naija during the time he lived in Lagos. But who really is Polish entepreneur Marek
While Zmysłowski (pictured above) denies that he defrauded investors, investors claim he siphoned off tens of thousands of dollars in company funds into his private account, that he went behind their backs to make deals to sell the company and that he ran a secret Polish-registered entity where the hotel management software platform HotelOga’s intellectual property (IP) was held.
But who then is Zmysłowski ?
Zmysłowski first stepped foot in Nigeria in 2013, after a chance meeting with representatives of German venture builders Rocket Internet in Paris, who were looking for someone to help roll out more internet businesses there on the back of ecommerce portal Jumia’s growth. It was there, in Lagos that he started hotel booking platform Jovago.
Former HotelOga and Jovago head Marek
Zmysłowski has been accused by his Nigerian investors of defrauding them but who really is he?
In 2015 Zmysłowski told a Startup Grind Lagos event (captured in a YouTube video date 11 May 2015 — see below) that in 2006, when he was just 21, he started working for an insurance broker for two years. Before that he had been designing robots at university.
It was the time when talk grew about social media platforms such as Myspace, so that’s when he thought of leaving his job.
His first startup was a dating website. Three months later it went bankrupt. Recalls Zmyslowski: “But I realised if I still want to do it, I just have to spent someone else’s money this time”.
He turned to being a waiter in a hotel and barman in a nightclub on weekend. Then he met Majiek Prostak, who would later become a co-founder in a Polish entity which the two registered as Hotel Online sp. z.o.o in November 2015 — and which (claim Nigerian investors) was the secret Polish entity that held the intellectual property for Zmyslowski’s later venture, HotelOga.
But back then before all this, Zmyslowski and Prostak designed an app to manage consumer’s spending. “So again I was solving my own problem,” he joked to Startup Grind Lagos participants back in May 2015.
He says he then left Prostak who sold the app off. Zmyslowski then set up an automotive sector platform and when his investor contended that there was more business to be made as a bricks and mortar business, he bought him out after getting a bank loan
When he visited a friend in Paris, he met some guys from Rocket Internet who asked him if he was keen to go to Nigeria to help them build a company there. At the time his knowledge of Nigeria was next to nothing (things like 419 scams and Boko Haram terrorists, is what came to mind, he told Startup Grind participants).
The Rocket Internet team asked him if he wanted to start something new or get involved in an existing entity. He said he’d prefer to start something new.
But two years later in October 2015, Zmysłowski left Jovago in a cloud. Some say he was fired. Nigerian tech site TechCabal said at the time in an article that here were “reports” that Jovago was planning to sue him. He even published a tweet at the time, promising to “reveal everything”, tweeting: “Who wants to read “Confessions of an ex Rocket founder?”. He never has revealed anything.
Instead it was a new startup that he started, when he registered two entities — one in Poland and another in Nigeria only a month later in November 2015. Just over two years later investors were chasing after him with extradition requests demanding he pay $300 000 to make up for the investment they say he defrauded them of.
‘Track record of lies’
Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who is a co-founder of Andela and former managing director of Flutterwave, claims he tried to mediate between angry investors and Zmyslowski, on request of Zmyslowski himself.
He told Ventureburn in a call last week, that Zmyslowski “doesn’t have any self-control and is now “insulting” Nigeria’s legal and political system by accusing Nigerian investors of trying to use Interpol “to extort” $300 000 from him.
He says the issue is a private business matter in which police and Interpol should not have been brought in.
“He has a track record of telling lies,” he adds. “He just lies shamelessly. He is not an entrepreneur, he’s a conman,” he says.
He says those involved in the Nigerian tech scene have known about the scandal for at least the last six months.
“Marek is known to be a reckless spender. He doesn’t comply with governance,” he adds.
He believes the burden of proof is on Marek to explain what happened to the money investor’s put in, and not on investor’s to prove that he defrauded them.
The lead Nigerian investor and the man Zmyslowski in a blog post earlier this month calls The Godfather, Kenyan-born entrepreneur Maneesh Garg told Ventureburn that he was sold a lie when he invested $150 000 in the Polish entrepreneur’s hotel management software company in 2016 (see the full story here).
Garg says Zmyslowski is a “sweet talker” who has low ethical standards, is arrogant and has cognitive dissonance.
“He is basically about ‘me, myself and I’ and extremely egoistic,” he said. “He likes women and partying,” he says, adding that Marek would at times disappear for two or three days on end, claiming that it was when Zmyslowski was using cocaine.
In addition, he says board meetings were often called off because Zmyslowski would cancel at the last minute. “He claimed I was old fashioned,” says Garg, about the Pole’s view on corporate governance. “We tried to have quarterly board meetings, he always claimed he couldn’t come because of girlfriend problems.”
He says Zmyslowski is a big spender. In June 2016 he gave him a $15 000 personal loan after he approached him to cover his living costs “so that he could eat”. He came to him a second time. Altogether he reckons he loaned him $20 000 to $25 000 in personal loans.
Says Garg: “He’s good looking and charming. He can sell a comb to a bald man”.
Now, for a timeline on the saga at HotelOga, see this story.
Read more: Marek Zmyslowski releases tell-all book after Interpol drops Nigerian extradition request
Read more: Norwegian Håvar Bauck’s Kenyan startup HotelOnline announces it’s raised $320k [Updated]
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Read more: Did Polish man accused of defrauding Nigerian investors lie about merger? [Updated]
Read more: Did Polish tech entrepreneur Marek Zmyslowski defraud Nigerian investors?
Read more: How it all went down: a timeline of the HotelOga, Marek Zmyslowski saga
Read more: It’s a lie, says investor over Polish man’s Nigerian ‘Godfather’ blackmail claims
Read more: How Nigerian business partner tried to bribe, take over my startup – Polish man
Featured image: Former HotelOga founder Marek Zmyslowski (Facebook)