For former NBA player turned technology entrepreneur, Obinna Ekezie, his current foray into the Nigerian Internet space must mark the second interesting act in his remarkable young life where he has found both fame and good fortune.
At the age of 18, Ekezie left Nigeria where he had grown up for the United States. He earned a full athletic scholarship to attend university at the University of Maryland from 1995 – 1999. He went on to play for five NBA teams in the United States (the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, LA Clippers, and the Vancouver Grizzlies) and played professionally with Red Star Belgrade, Lottomatica Roma, Dynamo Moscow. Ekezie also represented Nigeria at the World Championships of Basketball in Athens Greece in 1998.
Then in 2005 he got injured and started thinking seriously about life after basketball. It was then that he ventured into the online travel sphere through a friend who introduced him to the space.
In 2008, he founded Wakanow.com as Nigeria’s first online travel company after he saw the gap and inefficiencies in Nigeria’s online travel space. Though it launched in 2008, the site took off around the period of the last World Cup in South Africa, giving it much needed early momentum.
With over 45,000 hotel partners around the world, the site has continued to grow, gaining strong brand recognition among Nigeria’s internet users and setting the pace in online travel in Africa. The company has pushed its mobile strategy aggressively, launching apps to suit Nigerians’ smartphone and feature phone choices and has heavily advertised its mobile site. To adjust to the Nigerian environment, the company has adopted an interesting offline/online strategy setting up offline service points in airports and various locations around the country and even sending its sales reps to market at embassies. At the same time, it is solidly marking out its online dominance, powering online ticketing sales for airlines and hotels across the country.
But the journey so far hasn’t been easy. In fact, according to him, during his first foray into the online travel space, he lost a lot of money but chose to persevere and give the idea another try.
So far, the venture has been self funded and according to him the venture also got additional investment funding in 2010. Ekezie is in the game for the long term haven assessed the vast opportunities in the continent’s online travel space.
For more on Obinna Ekezie’s inspiring journey with his company, Waknow.com, check out his recent Ndani TV interview below.