Obinna Ekezie is the Managing Director and founder of wakanow.com, Nigeria’s largest internet travel site. The former NBA player who retired from professional basketball in 2001 and set up Zeeptravel.com was a well known basketball player who played for notable NBA teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, LA Clippers, and Vancouver Grizzlies.
Obinna who is determined to change the way ticket bookings are made in Nigeria and Africa as a whole returned to Nigeria after a career ending injury as an NBA player and retired in 2007 which led to the establishment of one of the fastest growing and largest internet travel sites in Africa known as wakanow.com.
In this interview with Qismat Yinus, the former NBA Star speaks about his love for his online business and his journey to becoming a successful businessman.
What inspired the establishment of wakanow.com?
After I retired from professional basketball at the NBA, after my injury, I discovered thatthere was no online travel platform in Nigeria, and I used such platforms in the U.S. and it was very easy. With the internet penetration which was starting to grow in Nigeria around 2004/2006, we felt e-commerce was going to start to grow, with internet, and payment getways starting to develop. We felt it was a unique time to start an online travel company in Nigeria.
What are the challenges you face in this line of business?
It is just innovation. We have to solve a lot of problems, when it comes to payment, customer service. We have been able to build tremendous amount of technology for all of these. We work with payment platforms like interswitch, and banks too. We continue to innovate.
What exactly is wakanow.com all about?
What we do is to get best deals in flights, hotels accommodations, visa packages, tours, and we are also launching a prepaid card, which can be used to pay for services, and earn points to get discounts on different deals. You have a double travel sim, instead of buying different sim cards when you travel all over the world. We just want to provide products and services to travelers, so it will be a lot easier to travel and get value for their money.
How old is wakanow, and how has the journey been?
Wakanow is six years old, and it has been very exciting. The good thing about our business, is that we discover new things everyday. There is still a lot of work to do in terms of positioning Nigeria, and Africa as a whole to the rest of the world, using technology.
As a leading platform in Online business in Nigeria, how do you deal with competition?
Competition is good for the industry. It challenges us, but for us we gave a clear vision on what we want to achieve. Like I said, nobody else is thinking about what we are doing. Most of our competitors are worried about selling flight tickets, but we are talking about being global. We are not just focusing on outbound travels from Nigeria, but also on inbound travels to Africa. This is very important in exposing Africa to the world. The world is moving towards digital and so we have to keep up with that.
Wakanow is currently rebranding, what inspired this rebranding or refreshing process?
It is about going global and building a brand that would compete with any global brand. We want people to see wakanow in the UK and US, and say this is a beautiful brand, and want to associate with it. The logo and some other things were changed to this effect.
Can you tell us about your family and educational background?
I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland. I played professional basketball in the NBA. My Dad is Chief Ralph Obi Ekezie, the Chairman of consolidated Hallmark Insurance Plc. He also has an Oil and Gas company.
So did your Dad’s achievement as a businessman influence your choice of career?
Yes, My Dad is a very successful hardworking man. I saw him build his company while I was growing up, and I dreamt of building up my own company too. All of these came from all I learnt from my father.
Wakanow currently has different portals, what are the differences in these portals?
The portals are specific to the countries, for wakanow US, people in America will be able to have the best deals in the US. If you log in from the UK, you will see the wakanow UK. For UK, it will be charging in pounds, for U.S it charges in US dollars.
Would you say that you have been able to achieve your purpose for setting up wakanow.com?
We keep setting new targets everyday and we still have a lot of work to do in Africa. We need to still set up wakanow in a lot of African countries.
What would you consider the most outstanding achievement of wakanow?
There are many of them, but I’ll give you the most recent one which is building three or four platforms that we want to expand globally. It is huge for the company and also for the country. We’ll be creating a lot of jobs and allowing more people to come into the system.