Full Story of How Marek Zmyslowski Allegedly Defrauded His Nigerian Investors and Fled to Poland

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In his recent post, Mr Marek made a lot of inaccurate statements and even shielded vital information.
Full Story of How Marek Zymslowski Allegedly Defrauded His Investors and Fled To Poland

Marek Zmyslowski is still coming under fire for his recent post on Medium which went viral.

https://technext.ng/2019/02/15/marek-zymslowskis-latest-story-shows-how-nigerian-startups-could-be-vulnerable-to-powerful-godfathers/

Famed as an early bird in the Nigerian tech ecosystem, Mr Marek is drawing plenty of negative attention following numerous allegations in his post. Many of the most outspoken critics are some of the biggest names in the Nigerian tech ecosystem and that says a lot.

So we decided to follow the issue closely to understand it completely. We spoke to a few insiders and closely examined the tweets and counter posts. And here’s what we found out.

Why is Marek Coming Under Fire?

To start with, during the twitter frenzy, particularly between Flutterwave co-founder, Iyin Aboyeji and Marek, many persons began to question the latter’s credentials.

In his recent post, Mr Marek made a lot of inaccurate statements and even shielded vital information. For instance, his post was titled: “How Building the Amazon of Africa Put Me On Interpol Most Wanted List”.

To be clear, Mr Marek did not build an e-commerce platform while in Nigeria, neither did he build anything close to an “Amazon of Africa”.

Instead, he was the founding CEO of Jovago, an online hotel booking platform owned by Rocket Internet. At the time, the German group, Rocket Internet, was also a shareholder in Jumia.

However, Mr Marek remained CEO until Rocket Internet rebranded Jovago as Jumia Travel. He left Jumia in 2015.

Following his exit from Jumia Travel, Mr Marek went on to launch HotelOga. Now this is where the real story starts.

What Was HotelOga?

HotelOga was a hospitality software and destination management company founded in 2015. The company grew quickly and became a notable player as a hotel booking agency in West Africa.

Funding for the new startup came from Mr Marek’s own pocket alongside investment from “minority shareholders from Nigeria, India, and Poland.”

However, the problem here was that Mr Marek failed to disclose one important detail: HotelOga was a dual entity.

HotelOga’s technology was indeed owned and operated by another company in Poland called HotelOnline. Mr Marek was a co-founder in the Polish company alongside three other co-founders.

However, this hidden detail set the stage for the trouble that was coming.

Trouble With HotelOga Begins

According to a former HotelOga shareholder, Edmund Olotu, they were sold a single company.

“We the shareholders were sold a single company, not a dual entity,” Mr Olutu says while sharing a screenshot as proof.

https://twitter.com/iaboyeji/status/1096832576415776774

“We funded and paid all the operational cost of Poland, which we assumed were employees of HTS [HotelOga] not HO Poland [HotelOnline], as revealed later.”

The fact that Mr Marek hid this detail from his investors set the stage for a devastating crisis in the company.

Yet in his viral blog post, he downplays and still hid this detail. He chalked up the problem between him and his investors to “company vision and management style”.

This was a really sharp play. You have to give it to him, he really does know how to tell a perfect story. Too bad it is now been exposed as a lie.

But it gets better.

Failed Merger With Savanna Sunrise

In his post, Mr Marek says “we were able to save the company (HotelOga) by merging with our biggest competitor from East Africa (Savanna Sunrise).” But once again, this was debunked by Savanna officials.

To be fair, Marek was planning a merger with Savanna Sunrise, an East Africa based company founded by Håvar Bauck. In fact, some blogs at the time, (Not Technext), reported the merger.

However, in an exclusive phone interview, Mr Havar said the merger never happened.

“Marek came to us with a proposal for a merger,” he explains.

On what exactly was the problem with HotelOga at the time, Mr Havar explained that apparently, HotelOga had run into financial trouble.

“So they looked to us to help keep them financially solvent,” he said.

He explained that the merger seemed like a good idea at first.

“They had the technology and no money. We had a profitable business model, and no technology of our own.”

Plus Savanna Sunrise was huge in East Africa, while HotelOga was huge in West Africa. So it looked like a win-win, sort of.

But the deal failed to happen.

Thanks to insights from due diligence, Mr Havar’s Savanna Sunrise, backed out of the deal. Mr Havar wouldn’t disclose what the due diligence revealed, but Techmoran shared that “HotelOga had no business model [and] had massive debts”.

After the merger talks fell apart, HotelOga collapsed. Investors lost their money but Mr Marek was still solid thanks to his shareholding in HotelOnline.

But that too didn’t last long.

Marek soon got into conflict with his co-founders and ended up transferring all his shareholding to his other co-founders and left the company.

Some sources say Mr Marek went on to sell what was left of HotelOga to a South African company.

But this didn’t sit too well with his HotelOga investors. In another email screenshot by Mr Edund Olotu, investors wanted to “prevent him from selling it to anybody by sending a notice of dispute to make them aware of the issue with the shareholders.”

Meanwhile, Mr Marek’s exit from HotelOnline allowed Mr Havar’s Savanna Sunrise to pursue a new merger with the Polish company.

“We merged with HotelOnline and adopted HotelOnline’s brand and identity,” Mr Havar said.

When asked what Marek’s former partners thought about Marek and their conflict with him, Mr Havar responded: “They never really talked about him much after he left.”

So everybody just moved on, and the new HotelOnline is thriving in the aftermath.

But apparently, with his last exit, Mr Marek thought he had really freed himself from “the equation.”

But once again, he was wrong.

HotelOga Investors and the ‘Godfather’ Strike Back

HotelOga’s investors and the powerful “godfather” were aggrieved and wanted their money back. But Marek left Nigeria and went back to Poland.

Do you know how sad this sounds to a Nigerian? That a foreigner could come into the country, scam investors and waltz out like it was nothing?

Thus, before Marek could make it to Poland, his investors lodged his name with the Nigerian police who requested his extradition. Once he arrived in Poland, his name was flagged by Interpol, an international police organisation that helps tackle transnational crimes.

In his post, Mr Marek makes a demeaning rant about “how one can be pursued in the ‘First World’, based on some shady paperwork from one of the most corrupt countries in the World.”

This part alone generated a lot of anger from Nigerians.

Most importantly, Mr Marek claims the powerful Nigerian “godfather” was behind his ordeal. Yet he failed to mention that the so-called godfather is not even Nigerian! This revelation set off more nerves in the Nigerian tech space.

But he was set free by Interpol, largely because Poland does not extradite its own citizens.

Ever since that incident, Marek went on to sue the Nigerian police in a Nigerian court and got a judgement. And investors have been looking for other means to get their money back.

Despite all these, the issue was largely kept out of the media until he published the post on Medium.

In response, one of the investors says, “they take our silence for weakness. We aren’t weak. We are just busy building real empires. Not phoney empires only present on medium posts.”

What Happens Now?

For now, stakeholders are still sharing bits of information about the issue. However, the ecosystem is harshly resisting the negative image Mr Marek’s post is creating for the Nigerian tech space and for the country in general.

To falsely allege that powerful local investors tried to sabotage his company, attempted bribery and were powerful enough to get him arrested by Interpol? That’s the kind of pathetic narrative that could chase potential investors from Nigeria.

This is important more so thanks to the fact that the largest venture capital funding into Africa is coming from abroad. This kind of story is scary enough to force investors to seek premature exists.

It’s a terrible image for the country and the ecosystem is right to reject the narrative.

On the other hand, Nigeria is objectively still a corrupt country. Several indices support this. Nevertheless, things are changing, and the tech ecosystem is at the forefront of doing really good. No false narrative should be allowed to retard this.


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