ID : 11000
Name: Havar Bauck
Location: Nairobi County, Kenya
Domain: Business Development, Entrepreneurship & Leadership
Job Profile: Founder – HotelOnline, TravelTech Entrepreneur
One of the famous Norwegian polar explorers and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Fridtjof Nansen, is a testament to the legendary figures who have inhabited the Nordic region. It is no wonder that the land of the midnight sun, Norway, has produced many successful entrepreneurs who have grown up among the Fjords.
This Nordic country has single-handedly given rise to many innovators and change-makers who continue to weave their magic into the entrepreneurial landscape. This is one such voyage undertaken by a seasoned entrepreneur who seeks to change the face of the hospitality and tourism network.
So, here’s introducing the multifaceted Norwegian entrepreneur Havar Bauck, who has co-founded the pioneering digital platform – HotelOnline, transforming the African hotel and hospitality sector. He represents a new breed of innovators changing the digital ecosystem of the African continent and has a personal connection to Kenya, which has become his homeland. His journey is taking that leap of faith against all odds and embracing a destiny close to his heart.
Growing up in Norway
Havar recalls spending his early years in the cozy town of Orkanger in the south of Trondheim Fjord, close to the Norwegian Sea.
‘I grew up in a beautiful tiny town by the Trondheim Fjord. It is in the middle of Norway, with a relatively cold climate, lots of snow, and untouched nature. Like most Norwegian kids, I was a passionate skier. It was a different life from where I am now. One can say that cross-country skiing was sort of a way of life.‘, he recalls.
He remembers how skiing and fishing were two of his favorite activities. Growing up in a Nordic country, he describes how skiing was a standard way of moving from one place to another. But one of the most important things that shaped his childhood was traveling.
He explains, ‘My parents were avid travelers. Every summer, we would go on a road trip and drive down the continent. Sometimes we would head over to Yugoslavia or West Berlin back then. I remember seeing the Berlin Wall. And not really understanding the significance of it. Since then, traveling has hugely shaped who I am today.‘
His father was one of the tech pioneers in his hometown who owned a computer and profoundly influenced his son toward technology.
‘My dad was one of the first to have a computer at home and did software development as a side income. Having a computer was a normal thing for me. I was exposed to technology for as long as I can remember.,’ he recollects.
The young Havar would learn to type on a computer before he learned to handwrite.
‘I was as young as two when I would sit and type on computers. I do remember the first language I learned was Basic. One can say that I actually learn how to read or write on a computer. No wonder my handwriting is terrible.,’ he recalls gleefully.
After age nine, he remembers his family moving to Nesodden, a suburb of Oslo, which was connected by a ferry.
‘I lived there for two years. And my passion for business started there. In Norway, we can return empty bottles to the supermarket for some amount of money. It was something we would do after school. It was an everyday routine for me. I would save the money and buy shares. I was a shareholder from a young age.‘, he gaily narrates.
The family moved to Brussels around 1988 after his father landed a diplomatic job there. He was enrolled at the Scandinavian School of Brussels and found his passion for French in the school.
‘I did really well in French. I cleared all the various levels, and within a year, I moved from an elementary level to the most advanced level. My French teacher recommended that I move to an actual French School, so I found myself at Lycée François de Belgique in Belgium.‘ he reminiscences.
This move proved to be a life-changing experience for the young child who found international exposure at a young age and discovered an artistic passion within himself.
‘It was a huge school, and I found another passion in the arts, especially in theatre. I would be in the lead roles, and the whole experience was just amazing. You could call it an amateur production with professional directors. Later in life, I would also play at the National Theatre in Kenya.’, he reveals.
An Entrepreneur’s Journey
After he graduated from the French School in Belgium, the family moved back to Norway, where he was mandated to undergo military training before joining university.
‘As military service is mandated in Norway, I joined the two-month boot camp at the Værnes Air Force Base in Norway. I was deployed at Andøya Airport as a Security Police. It was a beautiful experience with the Northern Lights and midnight sun. People usually complain about these experiences, but for me, it was quite an enlightening process. ‘, he reveals.
He had no doubts that he would attend business school at one of the prestigious BI Norwegian Business Schools after his brief military service.
‘My interest in tech peaked during this time. After my military service, I went to the BI Business School, and my most memorable experiences involved student activities. I was a journalist for my college newsletter and the head IT person for the student union. I dabbled in website development and general IT consultancy for local companies. It gave me so much exposure and helped me learn how to build teams.‘, he explains.
Being an all-rounder in his business school, he recalls being a member of several student clubs and committees like the international student exchange committees. These opportunities would lead him closer to his destiny.
‘These activities in the student community brought me to the internship opportunity in Kenya. At the end of college, I remember how the local chapter of AIESEC brought this student exchange program to Kenya by partnering with NOREC. It wasn’t well advertised, as most business school students take the traditional route of landing corporate jobs. I applied, and I got it. That brought me to Kenya in the first place and gave me direction for my life.’, he reveals.
Kenya became his destiny, and he found a calling in the country he now calls home.
On being asked what his best decision in life has been, he cheerfully replies, ‘The Moi dictatorship had come to a peaceful end in Kenya at the time. It was an optimistic time. The whole euphoria in the country. The energy was addictive, and one of the wisest decisions I have ever made is to stay back here.’
And that is where the idea of HotelOnline came about.
‘It was a risky choice. Starting a business from scratch in Kenya was quite something. The greatest choices are the craziest ones. But I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So HotelOnline became the perfect opportunity.,’ he confesses.
Through a series of coincidences, he recalls how one of his college friends, Endre ended up living in the same neighborhood in Nairobi.
He recollects, ‘We lived in the same neighborhood and would discuss and exchange business ideas. This became a precursor to HotelOnline.’
Their business idea would revolutionize the African country’s online travel and hospitality industry.
‘We were always traveling. Endre was also running a small guest house at the time. We saw a gap in the African market. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, one of the major aviation hubs in Eastern Kenya, had no budget hotels nearby. We leased some apartments near the airport, bought budget furniture, and gave free airport transfers.,’ he explains.
None of the hotels were marketed online during that time in Nairobi, and Nairobi Airport Hotel, which was a precursor to HotelOnline, became the pioneer of digital hotel marketing in the country.
He remembers, ‘We became fully booked from day one. We were the most booked property in Nairobi on booking.com in 2014. Though we had a fairly basic knowledge of digital marketing, we were competing with international hotel chains. We realize how we could include all hotels that didn’t have an online presence.’
That’s when they would evolve from a digital marketing platform to a digital marketing technology providing hotels with the backend to manage their online bookings.
‘We needed to provide a simple and sturdy technical solution. We also provided training, which evolved to what it is today – a whole set of digital revenue management systems and tools with marketing services.’, he describes.
Since then, HotelOnline has come a long way with mergers and equity crowdfunding that has seen its meteoric rise to include 5000 plus hotels in more than 27 countries.
Uansett hva sinnet kan tenke og tro, det kan oppnå
When asked what the best advice he has received is, he immediately replies, ‘To keep it simple and make it simple. You create value for your clients by simplifying their businesses, and you succeed by transforming the complex task to something manageable.‘
He advises people to leave their comfort zone and explore opportunities to grow and challenge themselves.
‘The longer one stays in their comfort zone, the lesser the probability one would break away from it. It’s a paralysis, the longer you stay in it.‘, he explains.
The future looks bright for the spirited entrepreneur who is working tirelessly to ensure that HotelOnline becomes the digital cornerstone of the African travel and hospitality industry.
‘This whole continent represents endless opportunities, and at a personal level, the people’s energy for life and ambitions is on another level. The innovations and the optimism of the people are exciting. There is just joy of life, and the human energy makes it an amazing place to live.‘, he reveals.
It is a continent close to his heart, and the recent developments excite him for the future ahead.
He declares, ‘Africa rising is not just a slogan for me. It’s something I see every day.‘
His advice for budding entrepreneurs is to be ready to take the fall when it comes and to look beyond the initial hurdles.
‘Follow your passion would be my advice for people. Taking that leap of faith into entrepreneurship is hard. Most people would advise you to follow a safe career path. You have to feel in your gut that this is what you want. The road will be tough, and you need that passion and energy to drive you through it.,’ he suggests.
Passion is something that drives him the most through the setbacks, and he shares how one should keep their dreams alive against all odds.
‘When you find that passion and that drive to create something, do not hesitate. Go for it. ‘, he advises.
From growing up in a tiny town in Norway to becoming a globetrotting entrepreneur, Havar’s journey has been incredibly inspiring and, as he would aptly call himself, a ‘global citizen.’
He admits, ‘Travelling was always a passion. I remember our family’s road trips to countries like Spain and Morocco in the early 1990s. A trip to Pamplona was a shocker when the threat of terrorism came true as machine guns were fired on the streets. It was a pretty crazy experience for a teenager. Such incidents make you less afraid of things in life.‘
Having witnessed different situations in Europe, he recalls an exciting experience on a road trip with his dad to Croatia.
‘My dad was adventurous. It was during the war that he suggested we go for a road trip to Croatia on his way to a conference in Geneva without telling mom. I discovered the beauty of traveling off the beat and looking for hidden gems in destinations.,’ he reminisces.
He remembers how his dad’s best advice was to find out what you are good at and get better at it, a mantra he has been trying to follow his whole life.
He quotes one of his favorite lines from Abraham Lincoln, ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it.’
His incredible journey has created a new frontier in the African digital space. And his connection to the African Diaspora is also a part of his origin story.
‘My parents met at a University in the U.S. They jumped on a plane to wed in the Norwegian embassy in Nairobi. From my earliest recollection of their pictures and the stories, this country was always in my destiny.‘, he confesses.
As a famous Norwegian proverb says,
‘Uansett hva sinnet kan tenke og tro, det kan oppnå’.
Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.
It is only a matter of time till our ideas turn into reality.
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