Africa’s #1 travel booking portal
Founders: Obinna Ekezie and Ralph Tamuno
Age of founder at start: 35(Obinna)
Background: Professional basketball player, Banker
Year of foundation: 2010
Business Type: Online Travel Portal
Present staff strength: Over 500
Present net worth: Over $15million
State of origin of founder: Orlu – Imo state
Operating Countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Dubai.
As the son of a prominent petroleum engineer, Obinna grew up dreaming of an O&G career path. Today, rather than working on becoming the MD of an oil company he has moved from being a professional basketball player to leading the innovation behind the fifth fastest growing company in Africa today.
How did Obinna make this shift?
While in the states’ Obinna picked up an interest in basketball and quickly excelled beyond most of his peers. In the 1999 NBA draft, he was picked in the second round and joined the Vancouver Grizzlies. Throughout the years that followed Obinna played for ********///// five different teams and was also a member of three different international teams.
Obinna sustained an injury in 2005 and took his recovery time to seriously consider what he would do at the close of his basketball career. The next chapter of his life was right around the corner.
As a professional NBA player, Obinna travelled a lot and made occasional visits to Nigeria. During his visit in 2005, he consciously noted with amazement the difficulty that can be associated with Nigeria’s travel processes. He observed that booking any sort of transportation to or from Nigeria was significantly more difficult than travel booking in and around the U.S.
He noted how easy it is for Nigerians to complain or look for whom to blame, even more glaring was that no one thought of fixing it.
It was the perfect opportunity he was looking for, Obinna recounts the experience thus
“When I came back to Nigeria and tried to book a flight, there were only brick and mortar travel agents and online booking was non-existent” he recalls
“Booking arrangement was manual, tedious and opaque. I couldn’t see what the reps were doing behind their computers, I couldn’t see the fares, I couldn’t see the best deals and payment was cumbersome”
Obinna eventually retired from pro basketball in 2007 and moved back home to pursue his dream. He contacted a then bank friend of his – Ralph Tamuno, they both co-founded a travel website in 2008, Zeeptravel.com which later metamorphose into Wakanow.com
Two years later, through a series of aggressive business strategies and a strong concentration on customer service, Obinna and Ralph used the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as a cue to launch the improved Wakanow.com
It has become one of the largest and fastest growing online travel sites in Africa.
Obinna and Ralph understand that to remain relevant, Wakanow must constantly be innovative.
“The Wakanow online platform isn’t simply a website,” Obinna says. “It’s an innovative booking engine that took 2 years to build,” prior to 2010 “Our front end was more complicated than what you would see on the average retail website. Now the information that displays on the front end is real time. It is coming from somewhere, so what we have is not just a website, it’s an engine. We had to build the technology and content from scratch because there was no blueprint to follow. We had to develop to develop a relationship with suppliers at a time when nobody knew what we were talking about.”
The understanding that the customer is the king has prompted them to look for better ways of serving and keeping customers happy. From Wakanow pay small, small, to Wakanow mobile app to Wakanow International Travel Sim cards, they ensure patronising Wakanow is as seamless as possible.
On finances, (as is expected) it was difficult for the duo to get investors to believe in an idea that was alien to the Nigerian market. It was a trying time for the duo but they were convinced and weren’t just going to give up because of finance, they sacrificed a lot and endured all the pain to get to where they are today.
Difficult it was, today your guess is as good as mine. Several organisations are now seeking to be part of the Wakanow success story. Most notable was the 2014 ground breaking ₦1billion partnership with Union Bank plc.
From being threatened for lack of capital five years ago to recording over 500,000 domestic and international airline and hotel partners. A master card travel partner with co-branded credit and debit cards from financial institution partners.
Obinna advises entrepreneurs
“If someone had to rush from the U.S down to Nigeria to start one of the most innovative companies; if someone who schooled, lived and worked in the U.S believes Nigeria is the place to invest.
The first thing I want Nigerian youths to understand is that there are lot of opportunities in Nigeria. If only they can think in terms of solving problems then they can make it big here than in any other place; after all there is no country where jobs are picked on the streets.”
“How They Started – Innovative Nigerian Brands”
Written by Kachi Ogbonna
Reviewed by JOHN O.E For Hexavia.
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