Oluwafayokunmi Olutomiwa is a 400-level Electrical Engineering student of the University of Lagos. She’s also carving her own path and setting the pace as an entrepreneur in the printing, branding, and packaging industry as the fore-runner and co-founder of PrintPlaceNg, a fast-growing contemporary print and branding hub. Leveraging social media marketing and advertising, the startup has been able to scale up to a rake in revenues of up to 15 million naira a year.
We had a chat with her and it was interesting to learn about her journey so far.
You are 22 years old at the moment, and PrintPlaceNg is 2 years old. Did you start this business at 20?
FK: Actually, no. Everything started when I was just about exiting my teenage years. I mean I was 19. Never would I have thought that at that age, a viable business idea could stem from my curious observation. My business inclination started when I realized the growing demand for oversized T-shirts amongst young people.
It was perceived to be a cool fashion style. So it occured to me that a business idea of bridging the gap between demand and supply will thrive in the shirt sales industry. This birthed my first business ‘Tees2Drip’.
Oh, so you didn’t start out printing, branding and packaging?
FK: No, I didn’t. I just wanted to sell oversized T-shirts and make ends meet. Thinking about how inhibited that mindset was now, I just laugh.
So, how did that lead to full-time printing and branding?
FK: Subsequently, I wanted to improve the branding and packaging of the shirts I sold. I mean I wanted to make imprints and designs on them that’d be peculiar to me, so that when anyone saw the design, they’d immediately know it’s from “Tees2Drip”. So I began reaching out to online vendors who offered printing services.
To my surprise, these vendors charged ridiculously high prices. I couldn’t combine the cost of printing on my shirts with the cost of shirt purchase and still provide affordability for my target audience which was mostly students.
So how did you find your way around it?
FK: I discussed this concern with my friend who’s now my business partner. I found out that he was directly involved in traditional printing production. So he enlightened me on the domination of the supply chain by the middlemen. From him I got to understand that these middlemen add prices as high as 3 or 4 times the actual printing costs.
For example, let’s say 100 pieces of business cards with middlemen is pegged at 6 naira. Directly from the actual printing shops it can be as low as 2 naira.
Wow, that’s over 200% price inflation and profit!
FK: Yes, but that’s also swindling customers, and that’s wrong. However, this discovery was enough to spark my interest in printing production and led me to do more research. I went round to printing shops in Shomolu which is the heart of printing production in Lagos.
There, you’ll find the biggest industrial printing machines you can imagine. I combed the jam-packed nooks and crannies of the market on foot, in a bid to understand the market and how the internet and technology can be leveraged to better my business and optimize my operations.
So what did you discover?
FK: I got responses from a sizable audience and discovered that only 1 in 15 shops have digital information. And the very few that know about social media do not utilize it for their businesses. This is because the well-informed middlemen have taken over the supply chain and cast a dense fog of doubt on the efficiency of social media for these people. There, I realised an opportunity for a potentially viable business in the printing industry. I wasn’t going to be a middleman. I’d be a printer with digital branding and packaging edge and more. A posh one.
So the hit was leveraging social media and providing topnotch printing, creative branding, and exclusive packaging at affordable prices. I knew if I got a good hang of it all, the idea could blossom and go on to stand the test of time. The synergy of these possibilities led to the birth of PrintPlaceNg in February 2021.
FK: Thank you!
You mentioned students being your primary audience when you started out with shirts. Is that the same with PrintPlaceNg?
FK: Oh, definitely. I still sell specially branded shirts under the Tees2Drip merchandise, but now produced and packaged by PrintPlaceNg. And students are part of my primary audience.
As you know I’m still a student, and it’s just ideal that I continue catering for them because they are the foundation of my business growth. Even when I’m no longer a student, I’ll definitely still give them preference.
Meanwhile, I’ve experienced an expansion in my primary target market since the advent of PrintPlaceNg which largely revolves around printing, branding, and packaging of different items. So my primary target audience now includes SMEs and big companies.
Since the inception of PrintPlaceNg, I have worked with over 400 small businesses and some other notable companies like Spleet Africa, Lemonade finance, Babalakin and co, Audacia prime, AM Realty, Wave beach, Mwangwa and much more. I’ve worked with celebrities such as Victony and Dorathy of Big Brother Naija season 5 to brand and package merchandise for concerts and brands respectively. A friend of Celebrity musician Praiz once bought him a T-shirt from Tees2Drip. He wore it and loved it! She sent me pictures and reviews!
I see you have industrial printing machines. How did you get funding to acquire them?
FK: Yes, we’ve tried different funding initiatives. In fact, the latest funding I applied for is a sort of competition organized by Paga. It’s for females only and it’s tagged the #HerBusinness initiative. I’m currently in the final round of the contest which requires voting.”
When I began, before the business started funding itself, I used the funding I got from an engineering scholarship I won. I added that to my savings and got my first printing press machine. I didn’t have to pay for space, thankfully. My mum allowed me to use a small store in the house. I can remember how that place was filled with coolers.
Looking back I’m just so grateful. I’ve sourced for funding, I have tried TEF and several other grants and foundations but none have been forthcoming. I’ve been growing just on my consistency, strategy, business cash-flow, prudence and God’s help. While my working space has improved in aesthetics overtime, we’re moving to a much bigger space very soon! I can’t wait to unveil it! I’m still sourcing for funding o!
What are the most notable challenges you’ve faced in growing this business?
FK: Nigeria poses a number of challenges, from electricity, to price fluctuations and all, but we’ve thankfully been maneuvering those. But I think our most notable challenge is still visibility. It’s improved a lot over time, thanks to social media. Sometimes we run ads and they convert. Sometimes they don’t. But organic traffic especially on Instagram has been of help.
For example, there have been days where the Instagram algorithm just decides to favour our Instagram account and our reel videos blow up, raking in thousands of views. Apart from this increasing our audience growth, it also converts to patronage. We keep pushing regardless. The vision is to be the most talked about print hub in the digital space!
What social media platforms do you actively use and how?
FK: Instagram is the first I’ll mention. It’s proven to be the biggest driver of our visibility to old and new customers. We’ve gotten so many leads from Instagram that I’ve had to double up as a content creator and push PrintPlaceNg out there as much as I can and believe me when I say, people are watching! People are always watching. I am just grateful for the resilience I’ve been able to conjure for consistency in content creation and showing up even on days when there is little or no motivation.
Other channels include Whatsapp. From Instagram you can reach me on WhatsApp and also our official line. I have quite a large number of Whatsapp contacts built over time, so I use my WhatsApp status to promote the business too. Thankfully, we prioritize and deliver excellent work and this gets us referrals.
Facebook is the platform on which we’re looking to intensify advertising efforts this year.
You’ve been doing great! But how have you been able to combine such a demanding business with Unilag and Electrical Engineering?
FK: Honestly, I have been at crossroads many times. There’d been times when I had to pick and set a priority. While I can’t jeopardize my academic pursuit, I’ve built my business to a point where I can’t afford to go on a long break. So I’ve just had to console myself with the fact that studying Elect/Elect is just for the mean time. It won’t always stand in my way. Meanwhile, PrintPlaceNg for me is a long term dream, I am so passionate and optimistic about what I can pull off with this blossoming idea that started in my head.
I have had very bad days especially amid exams, because Elect/Elect is just as tough and depressing as it sounds. And I have to meet client deadlines too. You may ask if I don’t have helping hands. Yes l do, but I bring them on on contract basis to manage running costs. And I can’t totally hand them my equipment or facility. All in all, I’m grateful to God that I have been showing up strong on both fronts for over 2 years now. Crazy but worth it!
What other things are you passionate about asides business and tech?
FK: Woah, that has to be music! I love music. I love music so much that I can’t put it into words. It’s pretty spiritual for me. I love to sing and I have a unique and beautiful voice if I must say so myself. I’ve been tops in different music competitions. For example, in 2020 I made top 5 for the AccessTheStars virtual auditions that started out with hundreds of entrants. The competition was organized by Star Lager beer and Access Bank.
A couple of my close friends say I’m funny and that I would be a good actress but I’ve also left that as just a hobby, I hope to do music in the future though. Maybe when my business is at a point where I can take the backseat to a large extent and just oversee operations. But for now, we dig printing, branding, and packaging.
It’s been beautiful chatting with you Kunmi. Any last words for our readers?
FK: I’m still growing. But looking back at where I started from, I tell you, it gets better. Start that thing, and keep the bigger picture in mind. It gets better!