African Start Up

Are you a genius? Explain why in 10 words and this CEO will give you a job

Story highlights boss Mark Essien uses Twitter to find new hires

He says social media can help African startups find talent and reach customers and investors

CNN  — 

There’s no denying it – applying for a new job is stressful. You want to give the best first impression. But how do you do that when the first question asked is: Which of these two is faster  –  Superman or The Flash?

Not that question two is any less peculiar: If Van Gogh and Mozart would have been in the crowd listening to the famous Mark Anthony speech on the death of Julius Caesar (as written by Shakespeare), what would have been their comments?

Sure, the questions are unconventional – but so is the entire application process. After all, the job – which nothing is known about – was posted on Twitter.

Quirky? Perhaps. But this is the way Mark Essien, CEO of, the largest hotel booking platform in Nigeria, hunts for his workforce. With social media at the core of the entrepreneur’s business model from the off, it was an organic progression for the company to find raw talent via social platforms. Caring little for an applicant’s previous experience or qualifications, 31-year-old Essien tells CNN more about his unique screening process and why it works.

Forget the job boards, go to where the people are

Mark Essien: On a whim I decided to try posting a job application on Twitter “only for geniuses.” The task was to apply for an unspecified job in 10 words only. As it turned out, even though it was just 10 words, the quality of the applications was way better than all we had to date. After a back and forth with a series of difficult questions, we got our first hire: Justin Irabor, our head of content marketing.

Mark Essien on the power of social media for startups

  • Social media has been one of the biggest helpers in taking from an idea to one of the biggest technology companies in Nigeria. The first investors found us on Facebook. We recruit constantly on Twitter. We reach new customers constantly using Twitter, BBM and WhatsApp.
  • It also serves as the communication platform for the entire technology community in Nigeria. It’s how we all meet and share knowledge in the small ecosystem, and that information sharing is what is driving most of the growth we – as an ecosystem – are seeing right now.
  • I am of the opinion that startup CEOs in Africa should use social media to amplify their brands and reach a wide audience. Even for startups for which it is not a great customer acquisition tool, it’s excellent for reaching investors and for recruiting, and those are two of the most essential tasks for any CEO.

    The interview questions were published online, and there was a lot of feedback that the questions were biased towards good writers only. So we did a second set of questions – this time selecting the questions to bias towards people that would be good at operations. We had another amazing set of answers, and we ended up with another employee, someone very different from Justin – and he became our head of finance.

    He knew very little about finance, but the theory turned out to be quite true – anyone smart enough will rapidly learn to handle things. Femi, the new hire, has increased the efficiency of the department from the low 70% to above 90%.

    Generally, I ask simple questions that require a certain way of thinking. A question like “how do you create a bow that shoots arrows around corners?” may not yield any practical answers, but it helps to see how minds work when faced with challenges.

    Are you a real life Sherlock Holmes?

    We just started a new recruitment exercise, where we are looking for a “detective and pattern matcher.” We don’t give further details of the job – the assumption is that anyone that is a great detective will be able to do the job.

    In looking for a “Detective and Pattern Matcher,” I was looking for someone with a certain analytical ability. Apart from that, however, my ideal candidate was going to be someone who could identify trends and historical data, predict future outcomes and also suggest an improved outcome based on critical forward-thinking.

    The first three questions I asked on Twitter were a kind of filter system – to ensure that only the people who could at least answer those first questions would receive my follow-up questions via email.

    The position I am hiring for with these questions is currently classified, but the winning answers to the three Twitter questions are:

    Winning Answer: Andrew Hillel.

    Winning Answer: Several situations call for the use of the median, but it finds good application for statistics with especially top-heavy skew (like income, net worth of significantly stratified earners).

    The median is more appropriate to use in calculating the average income of people working in a place like the Banana Island in Lagos. In a place like that, for every wealthy guy present, there are plenty low-income earners. This naturally makes the median the ‘true average’ of income in such a case.

    Winning Answer: While specialization by definition implies that some people are better than others in doing one thing in particular, it would be inaccurate to say people are only good at one thing alone. However, there is ample evidence to show that some people are better at drawing up blueprints while some have their strengths in executing on blueprints.

    The architect who designed the Burj Al Arab – Tom Wright – imagined a hotel out in the sea with an artificial island and he drew a plan based on that but other people had to brainstorm how such a grand plan could come to fruition e.g what kind of foundation to implement, protection again high winds etc.

    Consider Steve Jobs, too. I read he once told Engineers developing the iOS in such a way that each functionality mustn’t exceed a particular number of key-presses so as to achieve the current high user-friendliness iPhones are renowned for. I am almost sure he didn’t know how to actualize that.

    Learn more about how this brilliant entrepreneur took his startup from conception to mass market in just two years:

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    02:59 - Source: CNN

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