Jumia Travel’s East Africa MD Explains Why She Doesn’t Look at CVs When Hiring

· @anneodengo ·

You say adventure, Estelle Verdier-Watine will be right there with you, guidebook in hand and ready to explore! Estelle is a surging ball of energy, constantly on the hunt for a great vacation. “I like to travel and discover new places,” she admits.

As a child, she lived all over France and Canada. She’s even taken a three-month road trip from Nairobi to the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. But Estelle isn’t just a 21st-century Marco Polo, she’s found a way to make a living out out of travel and tourism as the managing director of Jumia Travel’s East Africa operations. Jumia Travel, formerly known as Jovago, is an online hotel booking platform that offer customers discounted rates on 25,000 hotels in Africa and 200,000 properties worldwide. 

In 2013, Estelle was looking for a challenging, high-octane job after spending the last seven years working in telecoms, nongovernmental organizations, and a Kenyan startup. She heard that Africa Internet Group (AIG) was recruiting. When she discovered that Jumia was a hotel booking website, she knew it was the perfect fit — it combined her passion for travel with her prior professional experience. She got in touch with the investors and was offered a job as managing director. Her first task? To launch Jumia Travel, then Jovago, in East Africa. 

Estelle kicked off Jumia Travel East Africa from her car — no office, no team, no website. “Just me,” she laughs. Three years later, she manages a team of 100 staff in Jumia Travel’s East Africa office, based in Nairobi, and works with 7,000 hotels in East Africa, offering some of the best deals in the region. 

Estelle had a chat with AkilahNet to share just how she did it and why she doesn’t look at CVs when recruiting new employees. 

What were the early responses you received from hotels you approached in 2013?

It was tough. People thought it was a scam. I would mention the investors, but people were skeptical. I had to adapt my sales pitch to people. I would simply explain to hotels that it was a travel agency that would secure bookings. I would talk to 10-12 hotels and eventually convince two. Six weeks later, we launched the website with 50 hotels.

How many unique visitors does Jumia Travel get monthly?

Under the AIG, we have different brands: Jumia Travel (formerly Jovago), Jumia House (formerly Lamudi), Jumia Food (Formerly Hellofood), Jumia Market (Formerly Kaymu) and Jumia. We decided to unite our strengths with one big platform, and that platform receives more than 15 million unique visitors per month. That’s about half the Kenyan population. Ninety-five percent of our unique visitors are from Africa. Nigeria, Kenya, and Ivory Coast are our top countries. Morocco and Egypt are also strong. The objective is to have at least 70% market share of Africa’s 1 billion people aware of and using AIG brands.

“It was tough. People thought it was a scam. I would mention the investors, but people were skeptical. I had to adapt my sales pitch to people.”

How does Jumia Travel maintain steady client bookings in spite of travel bans on countries such as Kenya?

We have to be pragmatic and aware that if there is one problem in one part of an African country, it’s not the whole continent. The tourism industry needs to diversify instead of focusing on the volatile internationals who may pay more. Local and regional markets are more stable –- they travel during conventional high and low seasons, and that’s why we encourage East African hotels to focus on them. We have a strong economy and the fastest-growing middle class.

How do you manage running a startup and raising your daughter?

I am not sure that I manage very well (laughs). I try my best; it is a challenge and opportunity at the same time. I want to spend time with her, so I make sure when I am at work, I am super efficient and when I am home, she gets my undivided attention. To have a private life helps you balance your work and family life, which gives you a healthy equilibrium.   

What are the challenges you face at work?

The main challenge is to find the right people, to help them grow and fit the values of the company. It is difficult to build a team that shares the same passion, energy, and principles. It is essential to create unity in the team to run an efficient company.

What do you look for in new hires?

First I don’t look at the CV (laughs). The CVs are super long and contain a lot of declarations of “I am this, I am that” and so on. Mainly we look for good people. We are looking for people who are entrepreneurial, ambitious, curious, with good energy, and who can adapt and embrace change. They need to be smart and willing to put themselves in challenging situations to see how to overcome the challenges.

What’s your advice to entrepreneurs and professionals eager to grow their businesses?

An idea is not enough — execution is key. You need to have an excellent execution strategy. You need to be focused on customer delivery and experience.

It is exciting being an entrepreneur. I would say it is easier when you have a bit of experience from employment to get insight on business operations. When it’s your business, you need to do the work and you need to find the people who can help you do the work well.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

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