About me

I am a Norwegian traveltech entrepreneur, living on planes and in airports, but based in Nairobi with my family. I am one of the founders of HotelOnline, Africa’s leading digital marketing and e-commerce partner for hotels. I have visited 54 countries (141 to go!), lived in Norway, Belgium, Kenya and Nigeria, and done business in more than two dozen other countries across Africa, Asia and Europe. Travel has always been my great passion, and nothing beats the thrill of visiting a new place! That’s why I have pretty much adjusted my life to fit that never-ending urge.


My life changed beyond recognition in 2002 when, straight out of college, I landed in Nairobi for what was supposed to be a one-year internship exchange program. Since then, I have kept traveling back and forth on the African continent and in the world in general. During those years, I also lived in Lagos, Nigeria and halfway relocated to Kinshasa in 2015. The whole story began in 1977, though:


1980 My parents and me in Orkanger

I grew up in the town of Orkanger, south of Trondheim in Norway. I was only a small kid then, but I have some very fond memories of the place. With only 8,000 inhabitants, it is by no means a metropolitan place but certainly, one surrounded by beautiful nature. Being located by the Trondheim fjord, it is also a great place for fishing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that was one of my favorite childhood activities. Probably part of the reason why I am still crazy about seafood!


At the age of 9, I moved to Nesodden, a peninsula across the fjord from Oslo, reliant on the 25-minute ferry ride linking it to the city. Surrounded by water and to a large extent covered by forest, this is basically a 62 km2 suburb with a population of only 16,000. Hardly a place for thrill seekers or party animals, but great for those who love the sea or who find peace of mind in the forest!


When my father landed a diplomatic job in Brussels in 1988, I was once again on the move. Those almost five years in the EU capital city ignited my passion for travel. Most of Western Europe was a short car ride away, and we explored the countries in the “neighborhood” almost every weekend. This was before the Schengen agreement, and the ability to skip border queues with our diplomatic passports was an opportunity we used for what it was worth.

For the first year and a half, I went to the Scandinavian School of Brussels. I kept learning French keenly and eventually decided to move on to Lycée Français de Belgique. That was another life-changing decision I never regretted!

The Lycée Français system is far more learning-intensive and also more widely recognized for its quality than the public schools in the Scandinavian countries. The system is tough, for sure, but also inspiring. When we moved back to Norway in 1993, I stuck with the decision from three years earlier and continued at the Lycée Français d’Oslo.

Moving back to Norway from Brussels when the country was at the cusp of a referendum about EU membership, I threw myself into the campaign with a passion. I launched a local chapter of Europeisk Ungdom, the pro-EU youth movement at Nesodden, and led the team of local activists there. Nesodden voted solidly in favour of EU membership, with a 60% majority. Unfortunately, Norway as a whole voted narrowly the wrong way, and is yet to correct that mistake. To date, I remain an unapologetic Euro-federalist.

Having discovered the joys of political activism, I also launched the local chapter of Unge Høyre (the Young Conservatives in Norway, coincidentally also the most staunchly pro-EU political youth movement) and became a youth candidate for Høyre in the 1995 municipal election in Nesodden. The outcome of the vote differed from my aspirations, though, and with less than a year left of high school, my mind was soon shifting towards a different type of service to my country.

Military Service at Andøya

Air Force 1997
Me in the Air Force in 1997

Norway still has mandatory military service for all men. At least in theory. Getting away is very easy for those who don’t want to serve, but draft dodging was never my style! Military service is only mandatory for one year, and while many complain loudly, I enjoyed the experience. After a two-month boot camp at the Værnes Air Force Base, I was deployed at Andøya Airport as a Security Police soldier.

Andøya is primarily known for whales and northern lights, and for almost triggering WW3 in 1995, the year before I served there. When a weather research rocket misfired into Russian territory from a civilian base next to the military airport, a more-than-slightly inebriated Boris Yeltsin (ah, the 1990s with Yeltsin in Moscow and Clinton in the Oral (pardon, Oval) Office.. I miss the political jokes of those days!) mistook the incident for a surprise nuclear attack from NATO and later went on TV, claiming he had almost pushed the nuclear button. My months at Andøya were not exactly that action-packed. It was certainly an exciting experience in spectacularly beautiful natural scenery, though.


BI Norwegian Business School

After saying goodbye to my military fatigues and my G3, I was facing some major choices about my future. I had never really doubted that I wanted to go to business school, though, so it was never a tough decision.

BI Norwegian Business School is the second-largest business school in Europe. They are locked in perennial competition with the other major Norwegian business academy, NHH, in Bergen. For decades, the two have been fighting about having the best international rankings, the most famous professors, etc. In recent years, BI has, however, outgrown NHH by far.

Siviløkonom, or Master of Business and Economics, is a flagship title from BI. It was a distinct academic degree in the Norwegian system until the transition to the international system of Bachelor/Master/Ph.D. around the turn of the millennium. The siviløkonom title was so deeply ingrained in Norwegian academia that it is still used as an alternative term for the Master of Business and Economics degree. With that one crowning my efforts, I was well-equipped for the job market!

During my years in college, I played an active role in the student community as a journalist in the student newspaper, Inside, and later as Head of IT of the whole student union with its numerous sub-committees. I was also on the International Committee and the Yearbook Committee (yes, those dreaded pictures that are coming back to haunt you. Blame me! 😆)

This blog actually evolved from a college project, as our lecturer, Espen Andersen, encouraged us to post our assignments online.

Towards the end of my years at BI, I was craving an opportunity to expand my horizons again. Getting away from Norway wasn’t enough. I wanted to try something outside the Western world!

Breaking out of the comfort zone!


The opportunity came almost out of the blue. The local chapter of AIESEC was one of the most active committees under the student union. When they entered a partnership with Norec (an executive branch under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) for a management internship exchange program in Kenya, I didn’t have to think twice! Most of my friends thought I was crazy, as everyone else was busy landing the typical jobs most business school graduates yearn for. Not me! I landed it, and I was set for the greatest adventure of my life: the one which is still ongoing!


Håvar Bauck (Lamu 2003)
Me in Lamu, in 2003

Kenya was in election mode, as the dictator of the past 23 years, Daniel arap Moi, was stepping down. The mood was upbeat. Everywhere, people were chanting “yote yawezekana bila Moi” (everything is possible without Moi).

Luckily, the fears of a chaotic transition were dispelled. Moi’s chosen candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta (who succeeded 10 years later in the 2013 election), lost, and Moi handed over power to the opposition peacefully. The country exploded in optimism as the new president, Mwai Kibaki, launched sweeping reforms to rebuild infrastructure and get the economy back on track.

Being in Kenya through that disruptive time was a life-changing experience. I could literally see the country changing by the day. My passion for travel was stronger than ever. I never missed an opportunity to travel and explore some amazing places along the East African Coast, such as Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, and Zanzibar!

Through my AIESEC/Norec internship, I was seconded to the Kenya Investment Authority, an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry in charge of promoting Kenya as an investment destination.

My AIESEC traineeship was an action-packed year in most ways imaginable. In addition to backpacking across the region, I also stumbled into some acting opportunities at the Kenya National Theatre and in a TV show at KBC (Kenya Broadcasting).

After successfully completing my first year, I wanted to stay on. There were not many relevant for a young Norwegian with a fresh Master’s degree, though. The job offers I got, were less lucrative than my just-concluded, government-sponsored internship. The best way to find a job, was to create it.

Consulting business in Nairobi

I went back to Norway for two months to chase consultancy projects. That worked almost surprisingly well, as Africa had started appearing on the radars of at least some companies already then. I had a starting point for my business in Africa! Using the contacts I had in Norway and Kenya, I was able to land and deliver a range of projects over the next two years, with a lot of traveling involved (did I mention I love traveling? 😉).

Most of the projects were small, though, and I realized that to play in the big league, I needed a few years of experience from Norway or another European country. My focus was still on building my experience in an industry that could get me back to Africa in the future, so I went into telecoms.


Voicelink by IPDrum. A pre-smartphone Skype-to-phone bridging device
Voicelink by IPDrum. A pre-smartphone Skype-to-phone bridging device

At first, I was doing B2B commission sales, selling mobile telephony solutions to Norwegian companies. After a few months, I landed an international sales job in an innovative tech startup called IPDrum, a pre-smartphone Skype-to-phone bridge solution that had gained some notable press coverage at the time. The product was the first and only one at the time offering a solution in high demand: The possibility to make cheap, international mobile calls! I spent one year successfully building their distribution channels based on presentations and prototypes.

The VoIP market evolved fast at the time, though. Within less than a year, there were several other promising mobile VoIP players in the market, and one of them contacted me with an unbeatable value proposition.

Vyke Communications

Vyke Communications

So exactly one year after joining IPDrum, I started in Vyke Communications, in charge of all their African markets.

Vyke was a Norwegian startup also offering cheap mobile calls but with different technology and good traction. They were on the London Stock Exchange and on the front pages of Norwegian business newspapers. Having just landed a massive funding round, they were a vibrant place to work. The founders certainly didn’t hold back on perks like the best phones, team-building trips to five-star hotels in Cannes, and sumptuous company wining and dining!

Vyke had a vast marketing budget for their flagship product, a PC-to-Phone app with the cheapest calling rates, where users would buy credit online with their cards. That product, touted in the press and in their annual reports, however, represented a small part of their actual revenues at the time. The bread-and-butter business was cash calling products, which we sold through distributors in Africa and the Middle East. Less fancy than the high-tech-ish app advertised on buses and taxis in London, but it was selling like hotcakes!

We targeted markets where mobile operators still charged exorbitant rates on international calls. Basically, authoritarian countries with telecom monopolies, such as Angola, Ethiopia, and Equatorial Guinea. In most of those places, international calls were ridiculously expensive at the time, to the particular detriment of low-income immigrant communities. Cheaper options for international calls were not easily available in those markets, and services like Skype were usually blocked. As a result, there was a massive market for the few of us who succeeded in building distribution networks in immigrant communities.

Kyoto Energy

Kyoto Box, by Jon Bøhmer
Jon Bøhmer’s flagship product: The Kyoto Box., Winner of the Financial Times Climate Change Challenge 2009

Since 2008, I had been in touch with a Norwegian inventor based in Kenya. Jon Bøhmer had developed a range of innovative off-grid solar energy products and was working on getting a business up and running. Bøhmer had gained some earlier fame in Norway in the 80s and 90s, with some notable successes in tech entrepreneurship. He needed funding for his project, though, and wasn’t ready for a commercial launch yet.

Kyoto Energy had the potential to become commercially viable. It could also have a tremendous impact on the livelihoods of the rural poor. Bøhmer’s track record made it plausible, albeit still risky. When Bøhmer won the Financial Times Climate Change Challenge in 2009, his project gained further traction. Our dialogue intensified.

I helped him raise a soft loan through a philanthropic foundation to fund a commercial launch. The lender specifically earmarked the funds for my employment, and with that reassurance, I left my job in Vyke and moved back to Kenya. Returning there felt like a great victory!

Unfortunately, the reality looked different on the ground. Bøhmer had forgotten to mention some key “details”. For starters, his first products were stuck in Customs, and there was nothing to sell. The first months went into sorting out that mess. I eventually got the award-winning solar cookers out from the Mombasa Port and cleared the solar torchlights through Customs. By then, Bøhmer had already burnt the entire loan I had secured for him. Bøhmer turned out notoriously unreliable, and my last attempts to save the situation were in vain. I wasn’t ready to take any more chances, so I took Jon Bøhmer to court and had his company liquidated!


A recruiter was looking for a regional sales director for Upstream, a Greek mobile technology company with a growing presence in Africa. The position was a perfect match for me, and the package was too good to resist. I guess it was meant to be. Nairobi it was, again!

I joined as the spearhead of Avyra, a subsidiary they used for specific markets and target clients. From my base in Nairobi, I was their one-man army, building and managing C-level relationships with the mobile operators in the region.


Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. Osumba Mbadiwe Avenue
Victoria Island, Lagos. Ozumba Mbadiwe Road and Carter Bridge. The construction site with the red cranes is where you find the Civic Tower today!

In late 2012, Upstream was opening a new Nigeria office in Lagos, the vibrant, pulsating megalopolis of West Africa. That became my task, so I moved to a city that, at the time, few people would ever describe in positive terms. Of course, the negatives were grossly exaggerated. Lagos is quite a pleasant city: A thrill and a headache at the same time. It has its charm in the midst of all the madness. It is definitely an acquired taste, but one that keeps growing on you.

I retained a base both in Nairobi and Lagos, though, with the 5-hour flight becoming a big part of my life. When my daughter Sunniva announced her arrival, commuting across the continent started taking a toll on me. For all its goods and bads, Lagos wasn’t a place where I wanted to raise my child, so Nairobi it was, once again! 🙂

An exciting business venture

While I was still based in Lagos, my friend Endre and I launched a business project together in Nairobi. We leased some budget apartments next to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, put in some budget furniture, and started marketing the venture online as Nairobi Airport Hotel. To make the value proposition totally unique, we also added free airport transfers. The traction beat even our most optimistic estimates, and we had full occupancy from the moment go!

We expanded and were still at full occupancy. Looking for ways to expand further, we realized that our top competitive advantage was our grasp of online marketing. We knew something about which others in the market knew nothing. Our fastest expansion route was to apply our online marketing expertise to other hotels.

As we began to onboard hotels on Expedia and Booking.com, we realized that the skills gap was even bigger than we had thought. Most hotels were actually struggling to receive and respond to inbound online bookings. To deal with that challenge, we set up a 24/7 customer service to handle guest inquiries on behalf of the hotels. We had become a combined virtual marketing department and central reservations desk for the hotels. As the business grew, I left Upstream, realizing that major life goal of becoming a full-time, self-employed entrepreneur.

Father of two

As I plunged into my entrepreneurial venture, the next main person in my life came knocking on the door, as my youngest daughter, Ylva, announced her arrival. Just a few days into the new year, she made a bold entry into the world, and Sunniva became a big sister. I was and am blessed with the two most amazing girls in the world!


HotelOnline - Africa's leading traveltech company - by Håvar Bauck and Endre Opdal

We started Savanna Sunrise, which later became HotelOnline, as a solution without a technology. A team of Polish entrepreneurs in Nigeria had tried copying our business model while adding a technology. They had investor money but hadn’t gotten the business model right. They found themselves having great technology while losing money with every booking they got. After running out of cash, they approached us proposing a merger and then rushed out a press release the moment we had signed a letter of intent. In the meantime, we conducted a due diligence, and the result was not encouraging. So we pulled out. The Nigerian commercial entity of our merger partners collapsed almost instantly, while their Polish technology entity, which was separate, was up for grabs. That became a much smaller but better merger.

First equity crowdfunding in Africa

Even with the best business models, scaling a startup requires money. In the beginning, we scaled almost exclusively based on our cash flow. To accelerate the growth pace, we eventually raised some money from some individual early-stage investors. In late 2017, we decided to take it one step further. Nobody had done an equity crowdfunding in Africa until then, so we broke that barrier in a USD 250,000 round!

Expanding through mergers and acquisitions, we reached the coveted goal of breaking even and becoming profitable in late 2019. We were not just proud, but ecstatic. The future looked bright, and 2020 seemed set to become the best year ever. What could possibly go wrong..?

Somebody in Wuhan decided to eat a bat for lunch. That could go wrong! From the highest peak, we plunged into the valley of the shadow of death and entered survival mode for two years during the Covid-19 pandemic. In came Yanolja, a Korean traveltech giant, backed by Softbank. With a significant investment from them in 2022, we were able to step on the accelerator again and reach a new all-time-high in 2023. With performance above pre-Covid levels, we shifted our focus back to the coveted target of profitability, which we reached in Q3 2023!


  1. Greg Kwiek July 6, 2023 at 4:15 pm

    My name is Greg, i live in Toronto, Canada…
    Just have a one question…in that polish team one of those guys was Marek Zmysłowski?

    1. Håvar Bauck August 26, 2023 at 1:37 pm

      Hello Greg. He was part of the initial team, but exited before we acquired them.


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