Falling in love with African books at a young age, Tobi Eyinade realised that many people do not have access to good books. Excited about reading books by her favourite African authors thanks to her bibliophile brother, she had nobody to discuss them with. “My peers did not even know that African authors write good books. They only had access to poorly printed books sold under the bridge” Eyinade recalls.
After getting a degree in English Language from the Obafemi Awolowo University and completing her National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) service year, Tobi was ready to conquer the corporate world as she had always dreamed. However, the jobs she got eventually did not bring fulfillment. “I worked at Ventures Africa and Insidify as a writer for a while but I did not get the fulfillment I wanted so I had to resign” Tobi Eyinade said.
It was during this break that the idea of RovingHeights was born. RovingHeights is an online book distribution and sales platform with a wide range of books of different genres.
Tobi Eyinade shared her passion for books and her journey to building the RovingHeights brand with me in this interview.
Titilola Oludimu for Techpoint (TO): How was it like starting RovingHeights?
Tobi Eyinade (TE): It was exciting. I started with supplying highly-demanded books to bookstores across Lagos and since the world was going digital, it made perfect sense to go online. I opened social media accounts for the brand. Attracting followers was a challenge initially but we found a way around it eventually. After spending so much money on digital marketing, I had to learn how to come up with good content and pictures to save cost.
Eventually, we began to get orders through our direct messages (DMs) and I was so excited. I made deliveries myself and had to get a logistics company to deliver books to our customers outside Lagos. Then we got our website.
TO: What was it like transitioning from paid employment to entrepreneurship?
TE: Leaving the guarantee of getting a salary at the end of the month was not easy but I have learnt to cut expenses and live within my means. About 7 months after I started RovingHeights, I got a job at Phillips Consulting — a management consulting firm. I took that step because I wanted to experience working in the corporate world. I believe that a good business should be able to run on its own without its owner so I had an amazing team holding the fort while I was away.
I left Phillips Consulting in June after about 13 months and since I was not employed for too long, transitioning was quite easy. Before I took the job, I already knew it would be for a short while because RovingHeights was something I wanted to do for a long time. It is exciting and fulfilling even if I do not get all the money in the world doing it right now, I know it will come eventually.
TO: How did you get initial funding for the business?
TE: Most of the initial funds came from family and friends especially my brother who is also my business partner. When they saw the passion and drive I was putting into it, they were willing to chip in. So far, we have not had cause to reach out to any financial institutions for support but we have applied for a few grants. Unfortunately, the book business is not considered as profitable.
TO: You were featured in Punch newspaper last year, what impact did that have on your business?
TE: It was a massive exposure for the RovingHeights brand. After the feature, we got more traffic on our website which converted into sales. People wanted to know what RovingHeights was all about. Some other media houses like The Nerve Africa and Channels Television also reached out. I think it’s a good thing that media outfits are promoting small businesses by giving them exposure.
TO: What is your biggest challenge right now?
TE: First is getting people of like minds to work with. We want to ensure that the people we hire fit into the brand’s vision. Regardless of job descriptions, we want people who genuinely love to read and are fascinated by books. Getting people like that was initially difficult and my fear is that as the business grows, there will be a need to hire more hands.
Another huge challenge is logistics. The cost of shipping is high and ensuring prompt nationwide deliveries is a struggle but we are gradually getting better at it. I look forward to a time when we can deliver books to anywhere across Nigeria within 24 to 48 hours.
TO: What notion of running a business did you have before starting RovingHeights that proved to be wrong?
TE: Before starting my business, I thought entrepreneurs had all the time in the world but now I know it requires serious work. You can spend up to 18 hours working, unlike the regular 9-5 working hours. I have had to put in extra effort because I have salaries and bills to pay and it is difficult to make time for other things because life for me now revolves around my business.
TO: What other services asides selling books does RovingHeights Offer?
TE: Asides selling books, we offer a core distribution service for self-published authors. We help them distribute their books across Nigeria. In a bid to distinguish our brand from others, we deliver books in attractive book packs and bookmarks with words to encourage reading.
A while ago, I discovered that quite a number of reading clubs exist in Lagos. Some are even vibrant enough to have an online presence so I reached out to them for partnership. Now, more book clubs are emerging and are reaching out to us.
We assist them to overcome the challenge of getting the book of the month across to every member of the club. We also suggest books they can read and interesting ways to encourage reading. My dream is to make books the new cool and gradually, reading is becoming a social activity in Nigeria. I am proud to be a part of it.
Asides partnering with book clubs we have the “Donate a Book” initiative where we partner with NGOs to donate books to the less privileged. It has not fully taken off but we are working on it. Also, we have a “gift a book” option on our website where you can order a gift card for a loved one. I believe that the gift of knowledge trumps any material gift any day.
TO: How do you go about bringing foreign books down to Nigeria?
TE: It is a long process actually. Most times we reach out to the publishers and open an account with them. The challenge is getting the foreign currencies to buy the books especially when the exchange rates were high. Like every other business in Nigeria, the economic state affects us as well.
TO: What are your top 3 favourite books of all time?
TE: First is Shonda Rhimes’ Year of yes. It helped me to be more confident as a woman and to be unapologetic about following my dreams and doing the things that I love.
Second is I’m judging you by Luvvie Ajayi because it’s so real and hilarious. If I had to pick just one book on a journey all my life I would pick this book because it helps to laugh about the serious things in life.
The third is David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. The book gave me the confidence to face my market and to pay attention to little details.
TO: What advice do you have for aspiring womenpreneurs especially those looking to start a business like yours?
TE: Make sure that you are passionate about whatever line of business you are venturing into. That way, you are more determined to succeed because, without passion, your interest will wane eventually. Also, take advice but do not allow them to affect focusing on your goals.
In Q2 2018, Nigerian startups raised a total funding of $73.6 million. Download our report to find out more.