Q: Please tell us about yourself, upbringing and educational background that made you the consummate technologist, innovator and entrepreneur that you have become.
Essien: My name is Mark Essien. I am a software developer from Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. I have always been passionate about technology for as long as I can remember - this, in part, influenced by my father's tech hobbyist inclination - and when I went to Germany for my tertiary inclination, it was almost instinctive that I chose to pursue degrees in Computer Science and Computer Hardware Engineering.
Even before completing my M. Sc. in Computer Science, I was already gripped by the notion of applying technological solutions to strategically bridging the gap in Nigeria. I studied the online travel space in other countries, using the tech ecosystem in other countries with a similar structure as Nigeria's as a model. I returned to Nigeria and set up hotels.ng, providing a service that has turned out to be really useful to millions of Nigerians.
Although the hotel booking space was a big marketplace abroad, it was practically nonexistent in the entire sub-Saharan African market. I quickly understood the operational challenges that stifled the development of this market and set about to solve them. Building a team for that purpose, we were able to create a service that, on the first day it went live, handled hundreds of booking requests.
The problem we solve is a simple one: before the existence of Hotels.ng, it was impossible to look up any hotels in many cities of Nigeria. We have totally changed that now - and people can compare hotels, read reviews, and make judgment calls with our service to help along the way. Hotel owners and managers can now have their hotels out there without spending on advertising.
Q: Can you share with us a few of your tech ventures and how they came about?
Essien: I designed and personally developed one of the first MPEG Encoder software for the DirectShow platform. This software sold to a lot of large companies/corporations at the time, including Disney and the American military.
On the cusp of the iPhone app boom, I co-founded and assembled a team in Germany (Max Klein apps) and we created a number of iPhone apps including Ingolingo, a language learning application.
Q: Finally, from your own perspective and experience, how can technology, innovation, entrepreneurship coupled with investment enhance the socio-economic development of Africa?
Essien: First, there will be more entrepreneurs. Innovation will feed innovation up to the point where investor confidence in the abilities of African founders will become solidified, and when that happens, naturally, tech startups will abound, bringing with them solutions to the many limiting factors peculiar to this region. Tech will beget tech and it will produce more entrepreneurs until the entire continent makes a crucial leapfrog to take its long overdue stand in the world market.