Thoughts on Airbnb’s chances of Succeeding in Nigeria

When in 2015, an excited Bill Gross stood before a TED audience and declared that timing is the single most important factor in startup success, his conclusion was immediately met with a barrage of reactions. Bill had argued that of the five most important factors in startup success which include funding, teams, business model, ideas and timing, that getting an amazing product or service to a ready market at the right time is more important than having the best of ideas or even tens of millions of Dollars of investors’ money.

Hold on. Wait a minute, ehen how does that affect anything or rather as my Nairaland folks would say, how does that affect the price of garri in the market?

Now imagine waking up one morning to the news of Airbnb’s launch in Lagos. What will your reaction be?

e no jus’ possible

It won’t work…

Nigeria is not ready yet…

They must be joking…

Who wants to rent out a room to a complete stranger?

I must admit that, naturally, the aforementioned conclusion would involuntarily kick in before reason will ever manage to find a line of defense. But before we go too far, I’d like to think of Uber for a moment. Before Uber maturity and relative success drowned most of our misgivings, people even in the US had laughed at the idea of giving rides to total strangers — it simply was unthinkable, but it eventually happened — when the timing became appriopriate. Same story when it launched in Nigeria, in many quarters, the Thomases kept wondering, which sane Nigerian, especially in present-day Lagos will dare give rides to total strangers because Uber says it is safe? As a nation, we obviously weren’t anywhere as liberal as Americans neither were we as adventurous, but you know the rest of the story.

The question then, is not will Airbnb come to Nigeria, but rather are Nigerians ready for such a service? How easy will it be for Nigerians to rent out a room to a total stranger in a country where people do not as much as trust their shadows? Will it give rise to hybrid hotels as we see in places like the US, where people build houses and don’t rent them out to tenants nor label them as hotels but rent them completely on the Airbnb platform, thereby making more money and avoiding taxes? How will their venture into the Nigerian hotel ecosystem affect hotels and by extension hotel booking platforms like hotel.ng? Will it result in increase in rent as already seen in certain parts across the US?

‘It is difficult to say if it will be successful,’ Mark Essien, founder of hotels.ng told me in an email, ‘People may be hesitant to share their apartments.’

‘Every time you introduce a new disruptive service, you will have to go through a painful process of getting the market used to it. You will have first early adopters, the naysayers and probably a lot of negative PR because of first negative experiences of first users.

‘AirBnB will have to go through it anyway, doesn’t matter if they launch in Nigeria now or in 2 years. Because it doesn’t look that there is any other player big enough (Cash wise) and ready for the challenge.’ was all Marek Zmylowski, co-founder of AIG’s Jovago would say in response to my email.

Although I don’t have a crystal ball, and I believe you don’t have one either (yes you can inform me if and when you finally have one siting in your wardrobe), a few things are possible:

You will remember that the borderless Africa project has been flagged off and should it go according to plan, in the next few dozen months, a single passport will allow any African irrespective of race or country of origin to walk into any African country without the need for visa — at least the way we know it now. What this means is that in the next couple of years, given Nigeria’s status as the second largest economy in Africa, there will be a huge influx of migrants from across the continent for various purposes and their best bet in terms of getting safe and cheap lodgings in areas where they can interact with locals is with the help of Airbnb and what this means is accommodation places like Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt is likely to become harder to find with time.

Will it affect the hotel ecosystem in Nigeria? Clearly, yes. How? Probably in ways we are yet to anticipate. I wager that hotels will eventually latch unto the Airbnb boom and use it to fill their rooms. Will it result in rent hike? Yes of course — especially in Lagos, but this is subject to the amount of influx of immigrants. Will Nigerians get round to trusting strangers just because Airbnb said so? Yes. Why, because every user’s very personal information such as bank details are involved, so tracking usurpers is very easy and there would be little, if any case of Multiple Airbnb accounts being retained by an individual for dubious purposes.

So is Airbnb really going to come to Nigeria one day? Yes. Will Nigerians buy into their story? Well, slowly, but surely.

Update 1 (2/6/2016, 9:33 AM): Uya E just informed me that Airbnb operational in Nigeria for about two years. This is getting interesting. Seems like they still do not have a physical office yet.

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