Article published in BusinessDay on 2019-07-19
Some Nigerian investors have taken a stake in HotelOnline, a Pan-Africa focused traveltech company, based in Oslo but started by to Norwegians based in Africa.
HotelOnline was founded in 2014 by Norwegian entrepreneurs Håvar Bauck and Endre Opdal, offering solutions for e-commerce and digital marketing to hotels in Eastern Africa.
The company was first known as Savanna Sunrise Ltd., until acquiring a Polish technology company in 2017, whereupon the new group rebranded to HotelOnline.
After growing rapidly in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, the entrepreneurial duo made a bold entry into the Nigerian market in 2017. Bauck had lived in Nigeria from 2012 to 2014, but this was a new industry, and they were basically starting from a scratch.
With help of a Nigerian group of investors, HotelOnline was able to establish a strong foothold in the vast new market. The Nigerian investors, who saw the potential of the still-young company early on, funded the first expansion of HotelOnline from a regional to a continental player.
Nigeria is now a cornerstone of HotelOnline’s business, and the successful entry into this market became a pivotal moment in the rise of the company.
In late 2017, HotelOnline became the first known African technology startup to successfully complete an equity crowdfunding.
In 2018, HotelOnline acquired Senegalese traveltech company Teranga Solutions, expanding their foothold into Francophone Africa. The acquisition was done through an equity deal, bringing in a substantial group of Senegalese shareholders.
As part of the transaction, serial startup investor Eric Osiakwan joined the HotelOnline Board of Directors.
HotelOnline currently works with 1,500 hotels and counting. In addition to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria and Senegal, the company is also present in Pakistan.
HotelOnline has recently raised additional funding in a Seed Round, where the Nigerian group of investors significantly increased their stake. Other prominent investors in the Seed Round, are:
Shravan Shroff, known as the first investor in traveltech unicorn OYO Rooms (currently valued at USD 5 bn) and co-founder of the Mumbai-based, angel investor-funded accelerator Venture Nursery.
Trond Riiber Knudsen, a prominent Africa-focused startup investor targeting disruptive technologies and digital services in Emerging African markets.
Shravan Shroff has also joined the HotelOnline Board of Directors.
Nnamdi Agbim, who leads the Nigerian investors, has joined the Board of Directors as an advisor, representing the Nigerian shareholder group.
Tore Hofstad, a highly experienced Norwegian startup investor with several recent successful exits in Europe, has taken the reins as the new chairman of the company. He is now the third biggest shareholder.