INTERVIEW WITH MAREK ZMYSLOWSKI, MD OF JOVAGO.COM; AFRICA’S #1 HOTEL BOOKING PORTAL
In 2013, Marek Zmyslowski left Poland for Nigeria to launch Jovago.com, an online hotel booking service. Jovago.com is part of Africa Internet Holding (AIH). In this interview, this internet geek shares with Yinka Brand how he keeps a positive mindset in difficult situations and how he attracted the right kind of people to help him translate his dreams and ideas into reality.
Thanks for joining us on Under35CEO today. Could you please introduce yourself?
Thanks for having me. My name is MarekZmyslowski, I’m the Managing Director of Jovago.com; Africa’s No. 1 Hotel Booking Portal.
Tell us about Jovago.com.
Jovago.com is an online hotel booking service headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, and founded by Africa Internet Holding. Jovago.com is Africa’s No.1 booking portal with over 20,000 hotels in Africa and over 200,000 around the world. On Jovago you can choose the hotel that fits your exact needs and book it just in couple seconds!
Why did you move to Nigeria to become a part of the African online revolution?
I have a strong passion for entrepreneurship with a strong leaning towards online businesses. I started several ventures in Eastern Europe and when the Africa Internet Holding team approached me about moving to Africa for an exciting opportunity to set up Africa’s No. 1 Booking portal, I knew it was just the right challenge for me. I moved to Nigeria and slowly but surely, me and the team have grown Jovago.com to become the go-to portal for booking hotels in Africa.
Who are the people behind the Jovago brand?
Jovago is part of Africa Internet Holding (AIH). AIH has built up multiple web companies including JUMIA, Zando, Kaymu, Hellofood, Lamudi, Carmudi, Jovago, Lendico and Easy Taxi.We have also now offices across Africa in Kenya, Senegal and Pakistan, also covering hotels in countries like Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zanzibar, Djibouti, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
You co-founded and sold two online businesses. Could you tell us more about that?
Before Jovago.com, I cofounded and exited two online ventures in Poland. Mementis.pl was an online network of funeral services. MotoRaporter.com was an online vehicle verification service. These were the two ventures, where I actually can say I raised capital to launch them from a VC and from an Angel Investor, that later helped me sell shares and taught me a lot during the whole process of building a company. Before that, I was trying to launch a few other startups on my own which didn’t quite work out as I had hoped, but I learned very valuable lessons from them.
How was growing up like for you?
When I was living in Poland as a young lad, I always sought to be independent and free to make my own decisions. Right from high school I tried to find a way to start earning some additional money. I started by giving some additional help to young children who had problems with mathematics. Then I moved into insurance sales as a door to door sales guy which I did for about four years, being promoted to sales manager of 50-person team at the age of 23. Believe me, insurances are not so most exciting in the world, and at the time I was a young guy with lots of ideas and energy. I felt kind of burnt out, so decided, I needed a change. This was the time that everyone in Europe was all about online start-ups such as Facebook, LinkedIn and the likes and I got inspired by all of this. So, I decided to quit my job selling insurance and other financial products.
Now, with the online business I found my passion – I enjoy this every day.
Have you always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur?
No, a long time I didn’t know what to do. Over the years I found out this is the right spot for me.
Tell us, how do you keep a positive mindset in difficult situations?
I always focus on the things that keep me grounded, and I try to reflect my work. Also listening to coaches or motivational speakers as Tony Robins and others.
What were the biggest obstacles, problems you had in starting Jovago.com?
Understanding the specifics of Nigerian market and finding the right people to my team. In order to understand the country you leave in, you have to listen way more than talk. It is also not easy to find people that share the same passion I have and sometimes even harder to keep the very good ones.
How did you overcome these obstacles?
By making plenty mistakes, but we sticked together from day one. I had the luck to find the right team.
Wow! So tell us, how did you get the right kind people to help you translate your dreams and ideas into reality?
There are three main things I look for:
1. Discipline – people that are training sports since childhood or having any other good habits.
2. Structure in thinking – being good at maths will show you that for example.
3. Being always hungry for more. People, who didn’t just study, but had additional activities, people with their own initiatives in life, proven in the past.
How unique is Jovago.com from its competitors?
Firstly, the personal verification of every signed African hotel ensures a strong partnership.
It’s the perfect communication we maintain with our partner hotels. This ensures the rooms’ availability, swift service and hassle-free cooperation.
Secondly, is the level of professionalism of our customer service staff.We found the best people in the market, and customers are always the most important people for us.
What’s your business model?
Jovago visits, takes pictures & does detailed write-ups for hotels that can be booked online on Jovago.com website. Jovago charges a small commission from the hotel for every successful booking made by our customer.
Tell us, how do you personally define success?
Being loved and having the freedom to do what you love.
By this definition, would you say you are successful?
Yes, and I’m thankful for that every day.
What do you think about Under35CEO?
I admire every initiative directed at exchanging knowledge, experience and passing good emotions. Well done Under35CEO and keep up the good work.
What’s your advice for young/aspiring entrepreneurs reading this blog?
Be prepared to sleep like a baby. Waking up every 2hours crying.
Don’t read more than act. Go for it!
Are you a young entrepreneur under the age of 35 with an interesting story of success (or failure)? If yes, then the Under35CEO community has something to learn from you.
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