I’m a software dev and founder of Hotels.ng and HNG Internship. I also dabble in embedded systems and hardware projects.

Blog

How Government companies can be privatized successfully


The problem There are many Governments who struggle to run companies. It’s difficult - a Government is a huge organisation dealing with tens of thousands of problems. It’s difficult for it to build the attention and skill required to run multiple companies in different fields. And when Govt officials are appointed to run the companies, they are often not incentivized to make the companies work - their career is often unaffected by the company failing or succeeding.…
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Techniques, Feedback loops, Reactive/Initiative activities & Micro-motivation


Techniques A technique is a specific type of knowledge that a person can gain that is applicable in a wide array of circumstances. For example, I could learn the art of persuasion. This will likely take me a long time to learn, but once I have it, I can use it in many different situations. There are situations where knowing that technique puts me at a very big advantage (for example, in sales) and situations where it has very low utility (for example, software development.…
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Replicating your database on 3 machines


At Hotels.ng, we use 6 servers - all are fully dedicated, baremetal servers. That means we get the pleasant task of managing everything on the servers. It saves us a lot of money, but for that, we really need to go deep into the infrastructure. Sometime in November last year, one of our servers died. It had been running along for 4 years without a problem. Then one of the SSDs died - of course, in the middle of the night.…
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Decentralized, global Fiat Transfers using Crypto


One of the best things crypto could achieve is this: I go on a website in Nigeria, and I specify that I want to send 100€ to Germany. The price is displayed - ₦450,000. I pay, specify the bank target account, and within 30 minutes, the money has arrived in a German bank account. The entire process is mostly decentralised, and uses crypto. This does not work right now for all country pairs in the world.…
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Finishing a Project


The most expensive thing any company can do is to start a project, and not complete it. Every single man-hour, every single cent spent on that project gets destroyed, as soon as the project is cancelled or abandoned. One of the most expensive uses of anybodys time is also starting something that never gets completed. Every single hour spent in that project is destroyed when the project is abandoned - and on top of that, there is a huge opportunity cost - that time could have been used for something else.…
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Proposal for a new stock exchange for small businesses


Introduction In Nigeria, it’s very difficult for small businesses to raise small capital: funding of the range N3m to N100m is scarce. The Nigerian Stock Exchange is supposed to be a market that allows the raising of capital from the public, however, because of the large number of rules and processes involved, companies cannot easily get themselves listed. I am proposing a new, smaller stock exchange called the Small Business Stock Exchange (SBX), to be owned by a state government.…
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Designing a better Terminal


Click here to view the bigger version. I’ve been doing a lot of DevOps work recently, and terminals are horridly broken. There is so much copy and paste going on (well, unless you have a super memory). Why can’t we fix that? I have designed an improved terminal for people who deal with a lot of different servers, and need to do a bunch of different things. Easy access to the servers you usually log into On the left side, you can add all the servers you usually ssh into.…
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Radical Focus


We’ve all heard the advice about focusing, but it never quite seems to sink in. Or it gets mixed up with all the other advice we hear all the time. But I’ve come to find that one of the most powerful productivity methods you can try is that of radical focus. Taking a bit of time to find what to focus on, and then absolutely and only focusing on that one thing till it’s done.…
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The Butterfly In The Graveyard


Close to my home, there is this park that used to be a graveyard. Once all the graves were full, the city council planted grass everywhere, put a number of benches about, and declared it to be a park. I enjoyed visiting it to work on my book. I liked that very few people ever visited the park. I also liked the earthy smell of the park, the way the light splashed bright patterns on the floor, and most importantly, the many butterflies.…
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There Are No Rules


I recently watched the TV show Atypical on Netflix. It’s a show about a boy with autism and how he navigates the world. Because of the condition, he likes routine - things should stay the same so that he understands how to interact with them. He does not like new situations and changes. To achieve this, he has organized the world into a set of rules as to how things work (and should work).…
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Proof of improvement


In this post, I would like to suggest an alternative to Proof of Work and Proof of Stake in Crypto. I will call it Proof of Improvement. The idea behind proof of improvement is that crypto tokens represent a real world improvement in state of something. This way, as that thing improves over time, the value of the token and the entire network improves. A little background to the other two methods.…
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The Sunflower


A field of sunflowers sat beside another field covered with grass. Perhaps long ago that grass field was a pasture for animals, but now there was nothing there except an old tractor in the corner. An unusual gust of wind, going against the direction the wind usually went in that area, lifted a few sunflower seeds from a particularly full sunflower, and dropped them in the grassy field. All but one died very quickly, the tangle of the grass preventing them from taking root.…
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Mubarak


I can hear the rain coming in the distance and my plans for today have been washed away. — @imogiemubarak June 6, 2017 Mubarak is never going to age. As we gray and become old men and women, Mubarak will always be young, walking with the smile he always had, making the jokes he always made. In our memories. We all live and leave a footprint on the world.…
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Startups in early markets


Some companies are too early in a market. A common scenario where it would happen is where an idea that is working in an advanced market is transplanted to an emerging market. In my opinion, the biggest threat for such a company is raising too much money very early. My logic is as follows: Companies will adapt themselves to the amount of money they have. They will base their hiring, their office space, their marketing spend not primarily on how much revenue they have, but on how much money they have available.…
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The hotels.ng internship program - a recap


A few months ago, I came up with an idea - let’s (Hotels.ng) do an internship program for software developers. We put out a tweet and within 2 days, more than 100 people had applied. People wanted to learn software development. Obviously, so many people could not fit into our office space. So we pivoted - it would now be a completely remote internship program. And not just that, but we would pay the interns!…
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A non-technical founder dealing with a technical team


There is this disconnect between a non-technical CEO and the technical team. Often, there is frustration on both sides - the CEO wonders why the team is not delivering, and the team feels the CEO is asking for things to be done in an impossible time frame. And many times, because of how little the CEO knows, this communication gap cannot be effectively breached - and the company ends up producing a bad product for 10x of what it should cost.…
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Observations about startups


Focus on making users use your product before you over-invest time in building the product. If people don’t want to use a simple version of the product, they won’t want to use a complex version. Building the first version of the product should take at most 3 months Give your technical co-founders equal stake, or have enough money to pay for the good guys. Or be convincing enough to convince someone good.…
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Observations on managing people


A few things I have noticed that one should take note of as one manages people: See the future You must see the future. This means that you often sit and think of all the bad things that could possibly happen and you start fixing them now before they happen. If you are good enough, it will look like you are being unneccessary cautious about things that never happen - but it’s because of the work you put in that they never happen.…
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An analysis of the hotels.ng 2012 pitch


(This post needs to be edited, the images are missing) I conceived of the idea for Hotels.ng in early 2012. I started working on it then (it was called hotels.com.ng), made a beta, and then went out trying to raise money. I knew next to nothing about raising money. One of the first investors I approached was Rocket Internet. I sent them a plan with the opportunity - they never replied that email.…
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Too early an expert


It’s quite easy to be good enough at something that everyone around you praises you. For example, you can read a few books, do a couple of courses and everyone will see you as a 3D printing guru. But that’s mostly because nobody else knows anything about 3D. In a place without a large density of engineers, it’s very easy to do this. It’s easy to claim you are good at hardware hacking, or SEO or Google Adwords, and because almost nobody knows what these things are or is good at doing them, you are instantly seen as a guru.…
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Building a call center with a raspberry pi


I posted this picture on twitter, and got some DMs and questions as to how we use that setup to power the Hotels.ng call-center. Here is a short description. Hotels.ng used to use a bunch of mobile phones to power our call-center. As we reached 200+ calls/day, it became unfeasible to continue like that. There are many expensive call-center solutions, but we always have to watch our expenses and could not afford any of those.…
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Interview questions to find a genius


Hotels.ng is looking to hire very smart people. People that like internet, that like startups, that want to be challenged to create order out of chaos. So I put out this tweet: Looking to employ full-time genius. Job description: Be smarter than 95% of people in world. Send me email mark@hotels.ng. 10 words only. — Mark Essien (@markessien) I had about 40 replies. Each person that replied got a series of questions to answer.…
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Two Years In The Trenches Building Hotels.ng


Hotels.ng is about two years old now. In the first year, it was just a website — no business built around it. It started off by me purchasing lists of hotels. The entirety of hotels that were available in any known dataset that was available in public or in any government archive was about 1500 in Nigeria. I listed them all on the site and put the site up. Only 100 of those hotels had pictures.…
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100 years from now


Recently, I have been introduced to the concept of “100 years from now”. Basically — will your business exist 100 years from now? Let’s look at an example of a business model that will not exist in 100 years— Airline Ticket selling. There are a limited number of airlines. There are a huge number of people selling airline tickets. The people selling those airline tickets are competing on profit margin. As they reduce the margins to compete, the businesses become less and less viable.…
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Evaluating Startup Ideas


The only true currency we humans have is time. Everybody is given a pot of time when they are born, and every day they take out a little from it. One dreaded day, the pot is empty. People will pay money to have a little more of that precious time. So many modern fortunes have been made with products that save people time, like the automobile or the telephone. The best way to evaluate the value of a startup is by looking at the value of the time it saves.…
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An idea on how to cheaply discover if a product will take off


The big man at the door glared at me for an uncomfortably long time. I stood there, the bright light shining in my face. He then moved to the side and motioned me in. The club was dark and huge. Loud minimal house music boomed all around. People jumped up and down everywhere. At the windows, several people sat, looking dazed and drugged. Somewhere in this berlin club was an American and I had to find him.…
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Half-viral products


You often hear people say that you should make your product inherently viral. An fully viral product is a product like Skype. If only one person uses Skype, then Skype has no utility at all. A non-viral product is something like a Tax Calculating software. You basically use this all alone and by yourself. Fully viral products are dangerous because they have the chicken and egg problem. If only one person uses it, it’s useless, so when people try it, they abandon it almost immediately.…
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Rejections without Feedback


I’ve noticed something that is not immediately obvious - rejections without explanations can also be very helpful. Imagine you are applying for a job, or for funding for a project of yours. You are confident going in – everything seems to be in place, and you are sure you will get accepted. But then you get rejected. The first question you will ask is: why? You want to know from the person exactly why you were unsuitable.…
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Abstraction levels in UI design


Graphic designers and programmers are two people who need to work with abstractions a lot, and because they are so used to them, they often forget that dealing with the abstract is very difficult for many people. An abstraction is something that is separated from the concrete, it only outlines or represents the concrete. That’s why many normal people don’t like science fiction, for example; the difference from normal life is too great for them.…
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Building around a traction channel


When you launch your web application, desktop software or any other type of software, the biggest problem you are going to face is very simple, but very hard to solve: People will not find your application. For example, imagine Mr. A opens a shoe store and puts it in the corner of the town, in an area where there is no foot traffic. Very few people will find it, he goes broke, and he soon closes down.…
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Do you need a co-founder?


Co-founders are both the most important thing that your company needs and the most likely reason your company will fail. If you don’t have any co-founders, when you hit that dip, that speed bump along the road, you will be unable to continue. There will be nobody to talk to, nobody to brainstorm with, nobody who will come up with fresh ideas or new ways of doing things. When the customers are complaining, when you hit an impossible bug, without a co-founder, it is easy to give up or just bury your head in unimportant work.…
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A Chinese Villager Software Developer


I was alone in the center of a small Chinese town, the weakly glowing streetlights hardly illuminating the streets. The silence was heavy and absolute. It was very different from the eternal light and sound of Shenzhen, and the high elevation gave the air an unusual taste. Things were not the same up here in the mountains, and this strangeness seemed a bit menacing. The roads had been tarred, courtesy of the rich central government who gave special attention to the Chinese minorities, but the villages up here in the mountains of Yunnan province did not have many cars to wear down the roads.…
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Ruthless co-workers


A few years ago, I was consulting in the technical department of a big company that makes electronics. One day at a company party, a young guy about 24 years old, roughly my age, walked up to me and introduced himself. He was a new recruit and was working in business development. He was funny, charming and intelligent. Over the next 6 months, I would watch him ruthlessly work his way into management, jumping over the heads of people who had been there for years.…
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Simplifying your product


We spent two weeks designing and creating an iPhone app. I sent an email to my mum with the name and the one line description of the app. She wrote back a single sentence: “I don’t get it.” We threw out the code and the product and started over. The most important lesson that we have learned in the app store and the majority of failed app store developers have not discovered yet is this: if my mum understands it instantly from the title and 1 line description, it will sell more than 30 copies a day.…
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It's not enough to be smart, work hard


In 2004 I was in Brazil, walking down the hill in Lapa to get some lunch. I was with a friend who I had met in the hostel I was staying – his name was Ofer. We were having a discussion about intelligence, and what role it plays in success. Then out of the side of the road stepped a man. He was holding a knife in one hand and a bottle in the other hand.…
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How to successfully hire a coder from a freelancing site like Upwork


I’ve been on freelancing sites for 10 years, first as a coder (I used to be a top 10 coder for a few months), then I migrated to being a buyer. Here are some principles to successfully using freelancer sites as a buyer, in a manner that is fair to both you and the coder. What to know before you start Most freelancer sites do not have skilled developers from western countries.…
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One-Hit Wonder


I’ve observed that most people, at some point, have a hit. Some hit blog post, some hit song, some hit startup, some great party and so on. But then that’s it. They try again, but it just doesn’t work the second time around. They try to do things exactly the same way, but it just does not work. Why is this? Why do some people have consistent hits and keep growing and getting better, while others just have one hit that they can never reproduce?…
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