Re-inventing a business that is largely considered traditional and offline by introducing technology has put Printivo on the map where startups in Nigeria are mentioned.
In 2014, when we started Printivo, there was insufficient local data to test whether the venture we were starting would be successful or that the business model would be accepted by the target audience, or that product-market fit was a certainty. As a matter of fact, the idea of people ordering tangible and customised products like prints online sounded stupid. It was stupid but somehow we pulled it off. I usually say founding and building Printivo over the last couple of years has taught me way more than everything else I had learnt about business before Printivo. Here are five key lessons I have learnt:
- Starting small is one of the best things that can happen to you.
For an entrepreneur, the elevator is not the best way up; the staircase is way better. The lessons, the mistakes, the people, the losses and those moments you feel like quitting are the most important moments of your entrepreneurial journey. Missing your steps, falling over and start again prepares you for the tough times ahead. We started Printivo with my savings and launched with an empty account on the month of our launch. It was clear that we had to figure out ways to acquire customers and grow the business from the ground up. Your early mistakes are very crucial, take the lessons with you and embrace everything they teach you. Always remember, there’s absolutely nothing wrong if you suck as a starter; entrepreneurship is a journey, one you should try and enjoy as you grow and learn new things. Look at Google today and compare it to Google of 2001. Suck your way to greatness. Most of the world’s best businesses sucked when they first started.
- Be prepared for surprises.
There is a saying by a nineteenth-century Prussian military commander, Helmuth von Moltke, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”. Think about it as an entrepreneur – no matter how much you prepare, no matter what you have in your business plan, no matter the level of research you carried out before launching your product, the market has its way of surprising you. This is why you should be ready and willing to learn quickly and adapt as you start. Your strategy room is one thing, but the market is another thing entirely. It is very likely that four years after launch, your business would have morphed into something entirely different from what you initially set out to do. Be willing to embrace the lessons the market is throwing at you. Most of the products and services we offer on Printivo are from data gathered in real time about what customers want, what customers are asking for and are willing to pay for. We have had instances where we developed and launched products that never saw the light of day. They died not because we did not work hard, but because there was no market for them. Things you did not prepare for will hit you in the face; be willing to learn how to navigate the waters. No one prepared us for the recession in 2016/2017. We saw in real time the value of almost everything we had built halved. We had to figure out a way to stay in business without putting all the burden on our customers by increasing prices. Always know that there are things beyond your control that the market will throw at you as an entrepreneur.
- If you don’t understand people, you can’t understand business
In 2002, my first attempt at building a business was creating and selling hand-made cards at the University of Lagos. Little did I know I would found a startup in 2014 with one of my best customers back then. As entrepreneurs, we will meet people as we build our businesses and some of them will matter to us in the future. Learning to build good relationships with everyone we meet will go along way in helping us achieve our goals. Everything about business is about people, except if you are selling to aliens in Mars. You will be tasked with managing employees, winning and managing customers, managing vendors as well as managing and winning new investors. Every single day of your business, you will be dealing with people. The best entrepreneurs are those who can combine people skills with their business skills.
- Your business is worthless without paying customers
Businesses grow because someone somewhere is willing to pay for the products and services they provide. The day those customers walk out is the day the business starts to die. This is why as a business owner you must learn how to win, keep and grow the customer base. Offer services that people want to pay for, offer it in a way that they will continue to pay for that value and reward your customers. Build a customer-oriented organisation to treat every customer issue as being important. We learnt quickly that offering returns and refunds are a great way to build trust. Your customers would buy from you, not just because you are the best business offering that service, but because they can trust you. Go all out to make your customers happy. As my friend used to say. KILL THE CUSTOMER WITH LOVE. Marketing is not something you may do as a business owner, it is something you must do every single day. The sole purpose of a business is to grow, and if it’s not growing, it’s dying.
- Measure everything
Your business is churning out data every single day, your job as a business owner is to collect and measure everything. Measure every little detail of events in your business. You can not improve what you do not measure. Document everything about your business, your finances, your marketing activities, your customer acquisition rate, your growth rate, repeat purchases made by your customers. Your business not being a technology business is not an excuse for not measuring all that you should measure. You will be in need of that data to make decisions, and to raise money. Remember, the day you need documentation is not the day you should start documenting things.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.
The Spark is a social enterprise bridging the gap between entrepreneurs that need access to growth resources and the industry leaders, philanthropists, socially-minded individuals and organizations with the requisite resources to give such access.