Struggles of a Startup: Bringing back the books

Gone are the days when visiting a bookstore was a boring experience. Thanks to game changers like Roving Heights; it’s a lot more social now. The Lagos-based book sales and distribution company is at the forefront of reshaping this very experience, incorporating fun, creative and thought-provoking activities into its business model as a way to bring back the reading culture.

“It’s all about the experience,” cofounder Tobi Eyinade said. Driven by a vision to make books “the new cool”, Roving Heights has taken strategic steps towards enhancing consumer experience. It delivers books to customers who can make purchases directly from their mobile phones with no additional cost. It also organizes book reviews, fairs, and other fun events to build a socially active customer base. This has resonated well with its rapidly growing customer base, with over 10,000 books sold since Roving Heights opened for business.

Tobi shares more of this amazing story below:

Roving Heights

Roving Heights, fondly called RHBooks is a socially minded book sales and distribution company with the focus of making books the new cool. We optimize the new (social) media and e-commerce to reach an array of book lovers within and outside Nigeria. We also distribute books to major brick and mortar bookstores in Nigeria to make books affordable and accessible. My co-founder and I have always had an entrepreneurial interest in books. We are ardent readers and grew up in a house filled with books. Outside of my home, I began to notice a dismal interest in reading amongst my peers at an early age. My contemporaries were not acquainted with the kind of books I am deeply fascinated about and couldn’t share my excitement about books. A degree in English Language from the Obafemi Awolowo University, a side hustle selling books for my bibliophile brother made me realize that I needed to convert my love for books into a business and the rest is history. Today, we are a recognizable brand for the reading public. We have sold more than 10,000 books since we started out and our goal is to fully optimize our online platform to sell books and also create brick and mortar stores in locations where the business case for them is compelling.

There are several big playing brands that offer similar services but RHBooks has managed to differentiate its offerings.

First, we pride ourselves to be socially minded. We strive to give a portion of the sales we make to supporting reading; donate books to libraries, support book reading, we optimize the offerings the new media presents and remain open to feedbacks and new ways of bringing books to people- whether through book-fairs, book reading events and other viable platforms that promote reading. We are practically in your faces as we push new frontiers for marketing books to readers of all genre beyond the bricks and mortar stores. We are a lean but driven team and will go to the ends of the world to get books for our reading. You need to read the feedback from satisfied readers on our social media handles to get a sense of how happy our customers are with the customized services that we provide them and these customers are our greatest evangelists.

The launch of Roving Heights

It’s interesting what the combination of boredom, love for books and passion can make you do. My brother, my co-founder had started it while he was still living in Nigeria and it sort of went comatose after he left. Before now, it was a kind of side hustle for myself and my co-founder. I was in-between jobs and I had ample time on my hands. During one of those lazy days while hunting for what to do, I checked around me, saw many books that were in our study and thought of what I could do with them. And that was how it all started again.  Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my brother who is my partner and other Nigerian publishing houses who shared in our vision and believed so much in our offering and zest.

The experience of managing a business that deals exclusively with books/novels in Nigeria.

The experience is at once exciting and frustrating. The popular lingual is that Nigerians do not read. I mean, there’s this saying that if you want to hide anything from a black man, put it in a book. But then, I make bold to say that narrative is changing. I think what the issue is that publisher, writers as well as other stakeholders in the industry have not been doing a great job at brandishing books in the faces of Nigerians enough. Marketing of books in Nigeria is very poor and shoddily done and only made to appeal to a particular class of people only- the intellectuals and not the reluctant readers I strongly believe that books of all genres should be marketed to a broader section of the reading public. Sometime when we sign up to help publishers distribute books we notice that there isn’t any budget for marketing and publicity. Little wonder some titles do not sell their first print of 1000 copies in a nation of 180 million people. We see the potential of the book industry and that is why we have kept faith with it.

The most common or pressing challenges faced daily by Roving Heights.

Delivering on our promise of timely nationwide delivery at customer’s doorsteps does not come easy. We have to deal daily with the ineptitude of the very few courier service companies with the vaunted capacity to handle nation-wide deliveries. Convincing people about the price and rate we offer is another challenge as we only sell authentic books (not pirated or book legged versions). The current state of the Nigeria economy is another thing. Buying and shipping foreign titles at the volatile exchange rate is an ordeal in itself. Frankly speaking, It is excruciatingly painful to get by with basic necessities of life these days, hence making it difficult for many to spare a few hundreds or thousands to buy physical books. But then, those who value such investments in their minds that reading is still come to us and we are doing our best to give then value for their money

Nigerians’ attitude to reading.

You will be shocked to know that a lot of Nigerians actually read. It’s not as bad as people paint it. Judging from my interactions with customers, preference may differ from genre to genre but then, if you have what typically interest them, they will buy and read. Religious tracts and motivational do well in the market especially those of the self-help “How to be rich” genre. I will not forget to mention the role book clubs and readers clubs have been playing in recent times to improve the reading culture in Nigeria. Roving Heights, has been supporting and partnering with book clubs to encourage the growing interest in reading Some of the clubs that we currently support include Poize Book Club for Female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Medina Book Club, The Scoop Book Club.

Nigerians are enthusiastic about reading.

It is a general, perhaps misconceived, belief that Nigerians aren’t enthusiastic about reading. As a business that operates within the space, I disagree with this notion. There is a whole of reading that goes on both online and offline. The quality of what is being consumed is another thing. That we cannot sell a million copies of a title in a nation of 180 million people speak more of the little investment made in marketing books; imagine if we market books the way music is marketed by record labels and make sure that so much buzz is created around it.

What hinders growth of startups in Nigeria.

I have been able to identify two major issues aside from the cliché lack of funding excuse. One, managerial capacity is quite limited. There is a difference in being an entrepreneur and being a manager; I believe most entrepreneurs suck at being good manager and most people are not making investment in becoming better managers. Running a successful SME involves making good hard nose decisions that comes with experience and learning. You cannot buy experience but you can pay to build managerial capacity. I think the other factor is external- there are so many odds that are stacked against startups naturally anywhere in the world. The odds of failure are doubled when you look at how unfriendly the business environment is in Nigeria; the infrastructure to support growth is non-existent or anemic at best. Yet, some startups are still thriving, it goes to show the potential that exist for small business when this society becomes ore sane.

Why small businesses fail.

A lot of the blame has been placed on the government, and rightly so. But I think internal issues like managerial style and business structure play a significant role in hindering progress. If you are not a good manager in this space, failure is assured; no amount of prayers and fasting can provide insurance against failure. Business owners need to learn, unlearn and relearn like Alvin Toffler said to make thrive in this inclement business environment that is Nigeria.

How Roving Heights managed to mitigate these challenges.

It is a constant battle, I must confess. We are making an investment in building capacity and we also have good mentors that shepherd us. I think we will be at a better place to tell that story of managing challenges three years from now; when we have become the household name that we aspire to be. We hope not only to thrive but make serious impact in the space that we play. Just be on the look out.

Quick Fire Questions

Favorite business brand?

Coca cola

Favourite business leader?

Richard Branson

Most Inspiring Quote?

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; its who is going to stop me” Ayn Rand

Most admired Nigerian Entrepreneur?

Ibukun Awosika

Top Travel Destination?