Set to become the leading destination management company in West Africa, Travelbeta was established October 1, 2015. To date, the company has raised over $2 million from investors. The business idea was conceived by a group of enthusiastic travelers who wanted more than what was offered to Nigerian travelers by existing travel agencies online and offline. The idea was conceived out of a passion to make travel ‘better’ for Nigerians and West Africans.
How did you come up with your business name?
The idea was conceived out of a passion to make travel ‘better’ for Nigerians. We decided on the name travelbetter, but used the pidgin word for better which is betá – Travelbeta.
Who inspired you to start?
Millions of Nigerians travel with very few options to book their travel needs online. We challenged ourselves with the responsibility of creating a well-informed travel society – of folks who are aware of the options at their disposal to include a travel aggregator with several flights to 900 destinations (literally every airport in the world) and over 300,000 hotels to book from amongst other services.
We are also motivated by the fact that Nigeria and Africa as a whole has beautiful travel destinations but many are not informed about these places nor know how to book a trip to experience these amazing destinations. We want to fill that gap as Africa’s premium destination management company starting out from Nigeria.
Who is your target market?
With over 180 million people in Nigeria today and with a growing working class of over 30% of its population, our target audience seats between 19 and 40 million Nigerians who travel on a regular basis. We are aware that just over 21 million Nigerians traveled in the last 12 months through local airports. The staggering thing is that only less than 5% of these travelers used an online travel agency to meet their travel needs. It is our goal to focus on these 19 million people and show them a convenient, open and reliable way of booking their travel needs online.
How have you financed the idea?
To date, we have raised over $2 million. When we started the project, we raised funding from our current pool of investors managed by Altheus Limited. The goal was to launch the business then show our investors the confidence in the market and how it was going to respond to our services. We are lucky to launch in a market like Nigeria where tens of thousands travel on a daily basis. Our growth came quickly as a result of effective PR and marketing around the launch of the business. This led to customers using our website to make their bookings and provided the much needed confidence for our investors.
What is your competitive edge?
We have the long-term vision to become the leading destination management company in West Africa. How?
- We have introduced Nigerians to our online booking system, which gives our customers access to different activities and tours. Although we are the first online travel agency to introduce this in West Africa, we want to continue to grow our activities inventory with exciting tours within Nigeria and Africa as well.
- It is our promise to give Nigerians all the information they need to make better informed travel decisions with a focus on providing detailed travel itineraries.
- In addition to this, our customer service technology is currently only rivaled by the technology you’ll find in telecommunication companies and we continue to train our team to improve on customer service so as to optimize the full potential of our investments.
What is the long-term plan for this business?
Once again, we are building a premium destination management business that will not just provide basic flights, hotel and general travel services but will lead more travelers to experiencing the best adventures cities have to offer.
Travelbeta aims to become the ‘go to’ online travel consultant for planning exciting, rewarding and memorable luxury adventures and holidays outside Nigeria. We want to concentrate primarily on offering various categories of holidays outside Nigeria to visa and non-visa destinations where the in-bound tourism market is very well developed.
What challenges have you faced this far?
In the early days of building this business, we were faced with the same set of challenges many startups in Nigeria have faced until they experienced what I call ‘the proof of concept phase.’ We had to deal with understanding whether the vision was the right one, whether it was in the right market and whether the timing was right. It was crucial we got the right answers from our research because every turn we took had costly consequences on our development capital.
We also had to deal with the challenge of recruiting the right team to build the vision. This included recruiting the right technology partners to manage the back-bone of the business – our technology. In addition, we had to build relationships with travel partners to include hotels, airlines and tourist managers to get competitive deals to rival competitors in our space.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
Understand your data: running an online travel business has brought me to a point of respecting the data on how much Nigerian travelers are willing to spend traveling and more importantly, how many people continue to travel irrespective of the economy. I am also surprised at how little is known about Nigerian travelers globally.
Nigerians love to travel and they travel a lot! We have learned that the average holiday instinct of Nigerians is gradually becoming cosmopolitan in nature. The new trend is driven largely by the fact that we have a larger youthful population heavily influenced by western media and lifestyle. Consequently, the desire for this new generation of Nigerian travelers has grown from just travelling to the regular top destinations for most Nigerians, to taking up challenges of touring a new country, experiencing the amazing sights and subzero temperatures across the globe. Some Nigerians are now excited about taking a safari adventure to see wild or rare animals to a broad range of adventures including hiking, surfing, bungee jumping, sky diving, sporting holidays and mountain climbing to name a few.
Pricing is key: you can educate a traveler about the benefits of an online travel agency over its competition, however the only thing that will influence a traveler\’s decision is pricing. For a 5% discount, a traveler is ready to change their travel partner.
Irrespective of the economic situation, we know that the Nigerian travel industry will keep growing 9 to 16% annually. This therefore presents a growing opportunity for businesses like ours to ensure that the growth is experienced with online customers as well.
From my discussions with the media, investors and general travel enthusiasts, it is clear to me that not much is known about the Nigerian traveler and the tourism sector as a whole. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility as destination managers in this region to tell more stories, to throw more light and to add value to this sector.
What five (5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
Do the work: understand that there is no set-in-stone master plan to get your ideas from ground zero to hero overnight. You’ve got to put in the hard work and build your businesses based on feedback from your customers.
Embrace Failure: be ready to embrace failure as part of the learning process in building a successful business. We should learn that many successful businesses led by celebrated entrepreneurs are a product of a journey. Many business men I know in one way or the other have failed in an idea or a start-up in the past before they got one successful.
I too had my own share of failure with a startup I launched back in 2012 called QwikGist. We raised funding, developed a product that scaled quickly but the startup ran out of money when the growth could not translate into income. The problem then was neither that it was a bad idea nor that we had a bad team, but the timing of the product and there was not enough investment or income generated to get us over the line to ensure profitability and sustainability.
From this experience, I learned several things – the art of raising money, the art of building your startup team, the art of earning value really quickly before you run out of cash and many other things helping me today in my current ventures.
Hire Right: learn to value the first set of people who join your team. Appreciate them, keep them together, develop rapport and build amazing stuff with everyone’s contribution. A business is only as successful as the team behind the entrepreneur. The emotional satisfaction as against monetary satisfaction of your team can go a long way in building your business.
Innovate: innovation does not always mean inventing something new. I will encourage startup entrepreneurs to build stuff for our environment based on the needs they see in our society. We can find solutions in developed countries, bring them home and customize for the needs and peculiarities of the Nigerian consumer.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
Find your strength: A young person looking to start an idea should explore their areas of strength and learn to offer value, with or without the motivation of money.
Develop lasting solutions: Young entrepreneurs should focus on building lasting solutions that will create jobs and provide a lasting impact for the society they find themselves. We should learn that the greater the value we can offer, the bigger the opportunity of earning an equal reward.
Create Value: Build something needed by everyone and you will never lack the money to execute the entire plan – this is my motto in building the businesses that I am involved with at the moment. It applies to attracting investors or creating sufficient income until you become profitable.
Explore sectors: explore sectors in the economy that has less competition and would impact millions of lives assuming it becomes successful. You will spend less to build your prototype and then convince potential investors with the demonstration of the impact your prototype can have on lives.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
We need to keep sharing our stories. These stories will guide youths on the path to take to avoid pitfalls and mistakes made by other young entrepreneurs, while creating paths for them to emulate good decisions that will make them successful. Young entrepreneurs who have successfully built their businesses into major players should find younger entrepreneurs to mentor, support and if possible, provide funding to grow their dreams.
Finally, let us spend less time fighting each other\’s success and spend more time creating the path for more brave entrepreneurs.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I have created over 200 jobs. If I combine my time recruiting teams at the several startups that I have worked with or founded in the last 8 years.
At Travelbeta, we are a few months-old and currently have a 30-person team. We plan to grow rapidly in the next 12 months as we continue to expand our operations to high-density cities across the country. We plan to keep hiring as we grow. Some of the teams we will recruit for include our: technology, marketing, operational and most importantly our customer relationship management team.
How has technology enhanced your business?
Technology is the backbone of our idea. It has not just enhanced our operations, it serves like the air by which Travelbeta breathes on. We are very careful about how we manage our technology, taking into consideration that we do not want to lose the trust of our customers while providing them with more access points to reaching us. From our website, to our mobile site, CRM tools and travel experience center systems, we keep pushing for 99.9% optimal operation of our technology on a daily basis without any excuse of a break.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
Education is the bedrock of a successful and innovative society. I strongly believe that our government should invest in education. We need to develop stronger institutions and encourage leaders who can bridge the educational gap for our younger ones in order to build bright minds for the economic growth of the continent.
Also, we need to celebrate brave entrepreneurs who have developed innovative solutions, tell their stories, then get our government to strive to ensure that our business climate is conducive enough to attract investments and the exchange of knowledge with more developed countries.
Finally, I will encourage entrepreneurs to build ideas and businesses out of the selfless need of creating lasting value for Africans.
Today, we have raised around $2 million and used this to get us to where we are now. As an entrepreneur, I am aware that I need to keep raising funds to sustain the business until profitability.
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