The heavily built up, densely populated Lagos suburb of Shomolu is home to hundreds of printing businesses. These firms, ranging from makeshift constructs apparently fixed into preexisting residential buildings to midscale printing houses, dot the district’s landscape. They are the defining feature of what is otherwise an unassuming patch of Africa’s biggest city. The assortment of designs brought to life in the workspaces within the area’s buildings are a sharp contrast to the dull (and sometimes decrepit) look of its landscape, In this sense, Shomolu is a paradox: creative variety is spewed into existence from tasteless environment, and sent forth to homes and businesses across the country on a daily basis.
Tucked away in a part of this odd contradiction is a startup that was created to lift Nigeria’s printing industry into the future. Printivo stands out from most of the other printing firms that surround it, in one crucial way: its customers don’t have to move an inch to request for, and get their printed materials. Printivo takes its orders online and has its finished products delivered to the demand source. It’s a modernizing revolutionary sticking out from the midst of a jungle of bland regularity.
Art meets technology
Oluyomi Ojo, co-founder and CEO of Printivo, doesn’t have a formal degree in arts or technology for that matter (though he’s racked up a number of relevant certificates since graduating from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, with a degree in Applied Mathematics). But he’s always had a thing for design. He began his entrepreneurial journey by hawking handmade cards at the University of Lagos and continued designing and printing for customers after becoming a student at LAUTECH. He sometimes had to embark on long distance business-related trips, travelling as far south as Lagos. It was art driven enterprise moved on foot and transported by buses.
Today, Printivo is rendering the distance factor a less prominent part of transactions in the printing business. Its location helps in making this possible.
“The supply chain is right next door”, Ojo explained in an interview with Techpoint, referring to the startup’s location in Shomolu. “While we control 100 percent of our production unit, supply services are important to the business.” He points out that the print business involves a lot of heavy production, and need the concentration of skilled engineers and material suppliers that Shomolu has.
Interestingly, Printivo is just a few minutes’ drive away from Yaba, Lagos’s technology hub. The fact that it sits almost in-between the print and tech “capitals” of Nigeria is a physical reminder of the concept that makes it work: the marriage of art and technology.
Small orders, big business
After completing his undergraduate studies, Ojo set up Urbanbaze, a communication agency. He produced prints for brands like Etisalat, Honda and Firstbank, and also did some work for startups. It was while taking orders from small businesses that he found the market which Printivo now caters for. These small businesses were requesting much smaller quantities of printed material than the big companies, but the stream of demand from them was comparatively more stable.
In 2014, Ojo teamed up with Ayodeji Adeogun and Ibukun Oloyede (he had worked with them on Urbanbaze projects) to create Printivo, an online print shop that would meet the needs of SMEs. They funded the new venture from their purses, choosing to grow it into a functioning business before seeking external funding for it. The relevance and convenience of Printivo struck a chord with investors, and they staked their money on it. The startup got ₦7 million from the Federal Government’s YouWin program and raised a six-figure funding round from venture capital firm EchoVC Partners. In 2016, it was one of 44 companies selected from across the world to participate in the 500 Startups program.
Choice, convenience and speed
Printivo’s online store allows its users to create designs that they would like to be printed and delivered to them. They can do this by choosing a template under their product category and customizing them as they want, with the site’s editing tools. They can also upload their own templates in various formats. Products ranging from banners and large formats to branded envelopes and business cards are printed and delivered between three and five days from the time of the original request.
What Printivo’s online service achieves is the elimination of long distances that customers usually travel in search of a designer and printer that’ll get the job done as they want it. All that is required is access to the internet.
Ojo says the Printivo team aims to expand beyond Nigeria to other English speaking African countries. While there are concerns that Nigerian companies may abandon tangible print for online digital campaigns, Oluyomi is convinced that there will always be a market for what his startup does.
“Print gives you a level of tangibility that online cannot give you,” he asserts. “People get to feel and touch your material, and that really drives growth here.”