Tobi Eyinade: This Bookpreneur rejigs the reading culture in Nigeria
Roving Heights is an online platform for all books. Since it commenced operations in August 2015, the startup has sold over 20,000 physical copies of books within and outside the country to avid readers, delivering directly to their doorsteps. It is also a distribution service company helping authors connect to readers who love their books by leveraging brick and mortar stores and other e-commerce platforms to make books more accessible to readers.
Tobi Eyinade, the brain behind Roving Heights has a desire to connect to people on the platform of books. She is passionate about solving a deeply rooted problem in the book industry in Africa. Tobi started Roving Heights at one of her lowest points. “I desired more but it wasn’t coming and the kind of jobs I was getting were a far cry from what I wanted. Without anything to fall back on I decided to resign from my job and sit at home. My brother has a collection of books in the house so I spent my time reading them with the hope that I would get inspired to take the next crucial step of my life. Then the click happened one day when I was wondering how to get some latest titles to read. I went to the nearby bookstore but couldn’t find the particular title I wanted; then I discovered there was a gap that needed filling. That was how I started Roving Heights.” Tobi told Outrepreneurs.
The journey continued as she discovered that Nigerians read all types of books spanning travel, memoirs, motivational materials and so on. Roving Heights is promoting everything literary and getting people to read again but there is still room for improvement. Tobi explains, “You will be surprised at the number of books that are released in Nigeria on a monthly basis. Being an author seems to be like a good thing to add to your profile these days. Everyone has something to say, something to write about but, the essence of writing is to get the content into the hands of those who are interested in reading it. This is where Roving Heights comes in, practically in everybody’s face with books. As time goes on, we will see this improvement continue and in two years, the change in the reading culture on not just Nigerians, but Africans will experience a major improvement.”
For someone who is in the business, Tobi admits she actually struggles to make out time to read. And in peculiar places like Lagos it is even more difficult to find the time to read after the hassles of the day. There are so many factors affecting the poor reading culture in Nigeria but Roving Heights tries to give people reasons to read. “We have intervened by establishing book clubs across major parts of Lagos and gradually penetrating other parts of Nigeria. Small groups of people that are reading a particular book will empower one another to read again by discussing the content of the book on a monthly basis. Reading groups interact through social media, especially Whatsapp groups. That way, they make reading more interesting and encourage each other to finish a book and pick up another one. Another issue is access. There are very few structures in place as the book industry in Nigeria is evolving accessibility and so we are trying to solve this by placing books in unconventional places.”
The whole intention as relates to iteration in the business is to break grounds and grow. Tobi seems pretty comfortable with competition and believes the sky is big enough for everyone to fly as everyone in the book industry shares the same passion. While some do digital books, she is in the business of selling and distributing physical books. So, she doesn’t get distracted by her competitors.
As with any other startup operating in Nigeria, Roving Heights faces its challenges but the peculiar one is that people mistake the book business for a social enterprise and do not see it as a full business enterprise forgetting that Amazon started as a book-selling online platform. “It is pretty challenging for investors to take interest in this. We have applied for grants and funding but for some reason it is not coming through. Then the regular infrastructure challenge such as power supply, ineptitude of logistics companies and trust of the buyers. We deal with buyers’ trust by referring them to the feedbacks from earlier buyers. The feedbacks are positive; it quells their fears.” She says.
Tobi has learnt her lessons in business and dropped some nuggets for those interested in becoming entrepreneurs. “Personally I have learnt to come out of my shell, be more persuasive and confident. Value is the core of what I am trying to build and I have learnt to think long term. The first 5 years is the true test of what you are doing. I am very careful about the experience any customer gets. I am defensive of that. Ask yourself what the ‘whys’ of venturing into entrepreneurship are and give answers to your ‘whys’. In the face of so many challenges in the business it is the answer to the ‘whys’ that will keep you going. Stay focused on the big goals. Think long term and pay attention to the little things.”
Despite the experiences and lessons, Tobi believes she is one of the very few people that do not focus on regrets. “I see every life experience as a learning point. I believe they are the core of my journey, a part of my story and so irrespective of what the outcomes are, I do not regret them. If I concentrate on the sad parts of my story, I will not learn and move on from it. Perhaps taking a break from this business at some point to join the corporate world might have turned out to be a mistake and the greatest regret I might ever have, but in the long run, all of those experiences ended up shaping me and what the brand stands for right now.”
Chiamaka Akuba50 Posts
Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.