Hi Tobi, what’s your background, and what are you currently working on?
My name is Tobi Ogunwande, and I like to describe myself as a lover of Film, Tech, and Good Food. That’s me in very simple terms.
In a broader sense, I’m first a filmmaker with a few short films under my belt and then along the line fell in love with tech. It’s incredible how technology has totally changed the world! Ironically, most of my tech endeavors have been geared towards solving film-related problems.
I have always been good with people or selling products and it is only wise to improve one’s strength so most of my tech endeavors have always been in the marketing side of the business..
My first tech product was Hubrif. It was an online video platform for streaming African short films. The idea for Hubrif came when I was about to make my first short film. I wanted to watch other related films based on my own story to have a feel of what is already out there. I was both frustrated and surprised when I kept stumbling on cat and dog videos on youtube. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to discover African-made short films. There and then, I decided to build a home for African short films where anyone would be able to easily access some of the best short films made by Africans anywhere in the world.
My first hurdle was the fact that I had no software engineering skillset, I was broke and jobless. I was only able to pen the idea on a sheet of paper but making sure I was consuming every information I could find on building a Video On Demand platform. I knew I couldn’t do this alone, I knew I needed a partner who could complement my skill set, someone that shares the same passion that I share in films, as well as have the technical skills required to build Hubrif.
Fortunately, I met my Co-founder, John Eke, on a tech community platform that used to be active in those days. A member asked a VOD related question and John gave an answer which instantly convinced me that he was the person I was looking for. I reached out to him about Hubrif and in 2 weeks, the first version of Hubrif was live!
Hubrif was both our first tech entrepreneurial journey and we made some outstanding mistakes. A lot of them could have been easily avoided but we were too blinded by pride, ambition, and indecision. Yet, none of these mistakes was as bad as having a toxic investor come on board. This and other factors ultimately led to the death of Hubrif.
After Hubrif, I launched Festivilia: A film festival submission and distribution platform. Festivilia has been really successful in its own right. Considering that It was built using free no-code tools with just an investment of less than $20 and a running cost of less than $10 monthly, Festivilia generated a revenue of over $15000 in its first year and currently making about $250 MRR.
Together with my partner, John Eke, we’ve collaborated and built some other projects. We’ve built a file transfer platform, Midrive Transfer. It was quite successful as we had about 5000-7000 monthly users, but it wasn’t justifiable to keep running it, so we shut it down recently. We built Filmwaiver; a Chrome extension for scouting and applying discount/waiver codes of film festival submission. You can call Filmwaiver the Honey App for Film Festival Submission and is recognized by the No 1 film festival submission platform in the world Filmfreeway
Building all these products has been fun and exciting. I have learned invaluable lessons over the years running these side hustles, and one of these lessons is the fact that it’s extremely hard to scale B2C products especially in a country like Nigeria. Monetizing products built for the general public even in a niche industry can be very tricky. We decided to enter into the B2B space with the launch of Preorder Alpha; A Shopify app that enables merchants to sell products that are not immediately available. For example pre-sales, pre-orders, coming soon, etc.
We launched about 2 months ago, and we have about 3,000 shop owners who have installed and are actively using the app. So that has been our major focus right now.
What are your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Preorder Alpha has been our most successful app in terms of marketing. We have grown organically and have not spent a single kobo on ads or content marketing. Thanks to Shopify too because Shopify marketplace has a very good algorithm that helps to encourage new apps to be able to climb up the ladder.
As long as your app SEO, keywords, and meta description is done properly together with outstanding customer service and stellar 5-star reviews constantly, your Shopify app should be able to grow relatively easily.
How have you grown your revenue?
Preorder Alpha is a free app now, but very soon, we’ll be introducing our paid plan. So, what we did was just to create basic preorder features and a lot of our users have been reaching out requesting some specific new features. We are aggregating all these features and they will become premium features when it’s finally ready.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
First of all, rising server cost has been a serious challenge. We have had to upgrade our servers three times in the last 1 month.
I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing Co-founder, John Eke who is also the money bag. LOL. Without John, we probably will be struggling more to scale some of our projects.
I handle customer support and make sure customers are responded to swiftly. This in itself is a big challenge due to time zones. For a Shopify SAAS app, It’s very important that when a customer reaches out to you and you are able to respond within 30 minutes to 1 hour. However, what do you do when a customer in Japan sends an email at 2 am Nigerian time? I have practically had to adjust my life just to make sure I am almost always available at any time.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for you?
I read a lot of blogs across different industries. Mostly about Tech, Film, Cryptocurrency, Business, and Investment. I subscribe to a number of newsletters too.
I’m a big fan of The Hustle; I love their model of journalism. I love Morning Brew and TechCabal Digest also. I’m also an IndieHackers fan. I’m quite active on Reddit, especially in the Film and Tech subreddits
I’m not really a fan of podcasts; I’ve listened to a few though. I read Quora a lot too.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out
The first thing I tell aspiring startup entrepreneurs is this:
“Don’t dwell too much on your idea, ideas are nothing, execution is everything”
You have an idea, that’s good, but if you really want to bring that idea to life, figure out a way at the cheapest possible way to bring that idea to life. It’s very important.”
There’s a reason why it’s called an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), simply because you want to be able to affordably bring the idea to life.
If bringing your idea to life is too expensive, it’s probably not a good idea to start that now.
If you have the capability to provide for everybody, it’s good, but it’s much more valuable when you are providing a painstaking solution to a certain set of people. My point is that there are a lot of problems to solve across various sectors but it’s always good to provide a service to a niche audience.
“Forget about startup funding, competitors, investors, etc. instead focus on building a scalable product, focus on getting that first customer, that’s what matters.”
Also, make sure that if you have an idea you want to bring to life, it’s always beneficial when you have knowledge of that industry. For example, I’m a filmmaker myself, most of my startups have always been film-related and it’s been amazing. Now I’m into e-commerce, I’ve worked for an e-commerce platform in the past so I have some working ideas I had to make sure that I understand the industry to at least a reasonable extent. By the time you delve into it, you can of course advance your knowledge. So make sure you have knowledge of the industry you want to go to.
Where can we go to learn more about you and the startup you are working on?
For the foreseeable future, I’m dedicated to building Preorder Alpha. I want to make sure that I’m able to scale it to a reasonable extent so that I can be able to put my mind to other ideas.