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After securing $500,000, hospitality start-up eyes 3 African countries

Olajide Abiola is a military veteran and holds a B.Sc in Computer Science from the University of Ilorin and a certificate of army education in map reading. He is a co-founder of KiaKia, one of Nigeria’s pioneering and leading lending and AI-focused fintech which launched in 2019. He is the co-founder and CEO of Smart Residences Ltd, operating as Gidanka also founded in 2019.

In this interview, he tells Start-Up Digest Editor Odinaka Anudu about opportunities in the industry and his plans in the coming years.

Explain in detail what the company does.

Gidanka is a travel/hospitality company that creates beautiful and uniquely designed serviced homes and apartments of various space orientation in carefully selected neighbourhoods across cityscapes through an automated check-in and check-out process. It leverages technology to deliver backend operations and support services like keyless guest access, non-residential housekeeping, laundry and maintenance services to guests. Gidanka works with local developers and realtors to design and take out long leases on spaces in neighbourhoods determined to be travellers’ and tourists’ preferences based on research and data analytics. This way, Gidanka delivers the best part of the efficiency and safety of hotel services, and the privacy, flexibility and variety of personal home. Travellers simply visit the website, select their preferred city and space, view the amenities and make payment. Once payment is confirmed, they receive email and SMS notification of their door access code and Google maps address of the space. Once checked in, guests simply use Whatsapp or text messages to request concierge services which are available 24/7.

 What gap do you intend to fill in the market?

Travellers now want the privacy, functionality, flexibility and comfort of a high end home along with the efficiency of hotel services. Traditional hotels with their limited spaces and boring repetition of interior decoration have given rise to the demand for better lodging and accommodation options. People want to live in new and fascinating neighbourhoods like the locals whenever they travel. At the moment, it is an emerging industry in Nigeria with very little competition. Airbnb represents the only competition, but with limitations in that, quality supplies on such home sharing market place is like a game of Russian roulette. There are apartments of uncertain quality and uniqueness.

How are you funded?

We secured $500,000 in seed funding and have been able to lease out properties in four neighbourhoods to provide 35 unique spaces across the Abuja cityscape in the last seven months. We have hosted travellers from over 12 countries and achieved 75 percent occupancy rates. Interestingly, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our spaces have seen steady occupancy as a result of the service reputation earned within the short period. Initially, there was a one-week dip in occupancy rate as a result of the pandemic, but as the chaos ebbed, the demand normalised as people sought living spaces that felt like home.

How has the uptake been so far?

 There has been steady uptake and about 30 percent to 70 percent month on month growth since January 2020 when additional 28 space units were added. The revenue is steady, ticking up and good.

What markets are you operating in currently? Any expansion plans?

Gidanka is presently operating in the Nigerian market, and only in the city of Abuja at the moment. Through new investments, we intend to open up about 70 upscale spaces of varied sizes, designs and decors in the city of Abuja across fantastic neighbourhoods due to the rapidly growing demand and noted preferences by guests. Afterwards, we intend on expanding into five already identified Nigerian cities where addressable markets have been determined. By 2021, with the required funding, we hope to expand into three other African countries with determined addressable markets. Our plans between now and end of 2021 is to have 500 unique living spaces across Nigeria.

The new sets of our apartments and living spaces will be 100 percent energy self-sufficient without compromise on power rationing whatsoever. All will run on 100 percent alternative and renewable energy.

Tell me about your revenues so far?

Revenues are made from nightly, weekly and monthly room rates. We will be cash flow- positive before the 4th quarter of the year even in the face of the COVID-19. Out of the debt raised, 65 percent has been offset within seven months— five months ahead of moratorium.

What difficulties have you encountered so far?

One of the challenges here is reputation management. When one offers such high quality, efficient and high standards services that we are offering in an environment where consumers have lost confidence, restoring such can be such an uphill task. This is why we most times have prospective guests want to carry out an inspection to be sure that the pictures and the amenities aren’t too good to be true. There is also the issue of power supply stability. People want to be sure they will have continuous power supply at all of our spaces, which we deliver through alternative power sources.

When it comes to short-term home rentals, there are really no barriers to entry. Generally, regulation is friendly to hospitality service in Nigeria and across Africa because it is still a developing industry.


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