Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And joining me is a Mixergy fan, which I’m proud that you’re listening Davis, but I didn’t realize that your current company Printful. Um, which allows people to create t-shirts and other products on demand, and then you’ll even send it out for them.
I didn’t realize that this was born out of startup vitamins. I remember started vitamins. You guys created these posters and other things that were, you basically tell me if I’m wrong. I think you took some of Mark Zuckerberg statements and some of the posters that he would have in, in, uh, Facebook in the early days to motivate his people.
And you said, let’s make this type of thing available for everyone and then startups would buy it and keep it around on their desk for themselves on their walls for their team. I right.
Davis: Yeah, Facebook is ready, well known to have, you know, these simple, inspirational posters around their offices. I actually visited their HQ once and they had. Little small spaces of, uh, sales screens to be studios where their employees could actually grade these posters and feign them themselves, and then post across the office.
But the idea didn’t gain directly from Beza. We used some Facebook, uh, ideas, uh, uh, uh, some Facebook quotes, uh, that we saw. But, uh, the idea came that, you know, we had recently moved offices. Uh I’m from Regal athlete. So we moved the offices and Riga. And the office space we moved in was a, used to be a gallery.
So you had a lot of wall space at the Marta net, and we wanted to turn it into proper deck company, office. And, you know, we wanted to put. Thanks on walls that would resonate with our culture. So we were Googling around for BEC sayings for inspiration startup quotes, and a lot of these are looking really all school like those now eight, these type of motivational posters, and you want it to give an updated version.
So we’d pick 10 quotes. That resonated was us. And we had a designer design. Then we put up a Shopify store and bought a poster printer. Um, I’m
Andrew: you were thinking, look, if we need this other people need it too.
Davis: Yeah. principal was not my first startup idea that I worked on many
Andrew: one where you needed, where you had that blank wall that you needed? pollsters for.
before we do that, let me, let me give you an introduction. Before we go into long explanation, Davis six nouns whose voice you heard, he is the founder of Printful, like I said, they’re an on demand, print and warehousing company they’re doing phenomenally. Well, I invited him here to talk about that, but I’m fascinated by his backstory.
So we’re going to get into that in this interview too. And I should say this interview is sponsored by two phenomenal, uh, companies. Uh, the first, you already know HostGator, great place to host your website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. The second you don’t know in Davis, you don’t know this. People say, Andrew, you do such a great job, getting people to open up.
How do you do it? And Unbound said, Andrew, we will pay you if you just write some kind of a guide and we’ll give it out. I said, okay, great. So they bought ads just so I could write a guide to how I get people to have open conversations. And they put it up on unbounced.com/mixergy. Anyone who goes there right now can get this guide.
You don’t even have to give an email address. It’s just unbalancing show people how you do it. And they’re now a sponsor also. So David let’s go back. Take me just to, what was that business that you had, where the wall was empty and we’ll do a little bit more backstory later, but what was that business?
Davis: So we actually ran an incubator of sorts. It was several businesses in the same building. So, so from a Natalie age, I was interested in technology. So when I was about 13 or 49, learn some coding and build websites for friends and being on God. Amen. Somebody paid me to do that. But when I was 18, I joined, um, um, have the thyme, the most prominent the Hi-C company.
And last it was the social network called building. It means for friends and Lafayette there wasn’t, they started in 2005. They still look an idea for a friend, certain just adapted and localized for the country of Latham. And I’ve joined them in 2009, but you know, those guys who are also the golf owners in Printful modus and artists, um, and they didn’t stop, but you know, co-founding a social network and laughing that did very well.
You know, two years after that, they went to spiraled other businesses. Um, one is called for instance, map long, which is a car fleet management software for trucking companies. And they’re normally out there.
Andrew: Was it all? So you mentioned that this company, the social network was a take on Friendster, which was an early version of a Facebook, that type of social network, where there other ideas also localized versions of what was working in Silicon Valley or was it more original ideas?
Davis: Regional, some are localized where there was a localized version of Groupon. So at the time and group run went around and, you know, they had Groupon where shins all over the world. So we actually built one, uh, in Latvia. I didn’t participate in. So initially I joined them on a social network in 2009, but right now, like we still list on the principal’s website on the bottom that are part of their all group.
And drug and group has launched over a hundred business ideas over the course of, uh, you know, which is now 16 year history. All right. So I joined them, uh, as when I was 18, I was an it administrator. Uh, the company grew we’re about size of about 30 people. They needed somebody who can, you know, instill printers and help non-tech folks in the office, how to operate, you know, their competitors.
And, you know, I was quickly noticed that I was able to jump into ID, project men, uh, ID, project manager role. And I initially worked in some ideas for the social network, like, you know, the messaging system, the gallery system, all the things that you would expect and. And the social network, but, um, we always had many other ideas beyond the social.
Well, never, we never really focused on, on that. One was the car fleet management software. There are several other businesses like mending machine telemetrics. I never worked on those. Um, but the first other business today, besides social network that I worked on was friendly bracelets.com, which is customized friendship bracelets.
The business still exists is it’s not, you know, it’s not part of their all gang group anymore. But, you know, it was sort of our, you know, an e-commerce business, but it, we tried selling a product to American audience. Um, you know, we learn a bunch of stuff that, you know, at the time, which was, uh, 2011, you needed the U S company to be registered in a lot, a lot of, uh, payments didn’t go through.
If you know, you’re the NATO be an entity. Um, so we, you know, we learned that veterans to us company, we sign up as Braintree. Um, but the, that didn’t came out of our idea, but there was one that did came when there was a time tracking. Application is still around. And actually in doing these COVID years have become more popular, was called best time.
It’s a time tracking application
Andrew: let me take a moment here. I just to come back to your story, you were saying you were working with these, uh, with these entrepreneurs. They just kept firing off ideas. Before I move on from there. Was this an effective way to, to run a business? Could they operate everything from friendship, bracelets to, uh, car fleet management software, to a social network and do it all well.
Or was this just a learning process where they discovered that they needed to focus?
Davis: Well, you know, when, when we look back on it, so, you know, it’s also, the network did well and it was important to us to recognize that, you know, while we have are doing well, it is important to invest in new ideas and try this thing. So actually the, a lot of the team members for work social network worked on several businesses at once.
At the time when we launched. Printful, I was maybe running four to five different business ideas at the same time, you can argue whether it’s effective or not, but you know, you know, we decide on which idea to focus based on which whoever is growing faster, you know, whichever is, you know, having better revenue results just we’ll have a little more my attention.
So. That’s the way we basically did it. Then you have to launch many business ideas to find the one that works and, you know, Printful was maybe six or six.
Andrew: but it seems so distracted to create so many companies. When I said that you just kind of rolled your eyes and moved away that you don’t agree with that. Right. Why was it that you were able to, as a team create so many companies that did well or that stood up where it’s hard enough for most people to do one or two?
Tell me what the superpower
Davis: a lot. I mean, that’s what I still struggle with when talking, you know, some team members of principals, when he talk to me about focus and focus all the time. And I mean, you know, there was probably the peak was that I was running six or seven. One business idea that was too much, but, uh, I was able to juggle four and five, the most important thing that out of those ideas, I learned valuable lessons that later con rebid to the parental success.
And again, principal’s idea came directly from our need on starter wide admins. If he didn’t do that, we would never arrive that, you know, that idea that ultimately was built into a hundred million dollar business,
Andrew: How much, how much revenue do you guys produce last year?
Davis: Uh, we will run, you know, the audit numbers. We we’d only release a revenue in may, so I can tell you a 19, uh, 2019 Remy, which was 116 million something. We
Andrew: million in 2019. It’s fair to say that you’re closer to 200 million that you’re close to 200 million for 2020.
Davis: Yeah. I mean, we about 70 to 90% gross, we’re still running the in 2020, we’re running the final numbers, but that’s where you’re roughly we
Andrew: let me, let me just pause it. So I see you’re you’re in this place where you’re a startup, you called it an incubator. I’m gonna call it a machine. You’re just cranking them out, right? You look at the wall and you say, I need something that motivates people. And I remember the old motivational posters.
It would be the same old stock photography of like, uh, six lead dogs in a saying underneath it looked, uh, like right out of your dad’s office. It said if you’re not the lead dog, the view is always the same. They thought they were being cute. Right. But it lacked some, it lacked something, it felt old. Great.
You say we need something like that. And part of your belief that you, you told our producer was if we need it, let’s make it for other people because they probably needed to. Right. If here’s a quote, if we can’t find it, let’s build it, which is quite a way to think. And so in order to do that, you needed, did you need a special printer or were you finding on-demand print companies that could do it for you and then resell that service for others?
Davis: So posters, probably the easiest, uh, print on demand product that you can, you know, sort of start in your own home. So, Copeland. Our law is the same guy who co-founded, the social network lived in LA at the time I studied in. You ask them all back by then and he just bought a printer. Um, I think it came a little under 10,000 us dollars.
So keep it in the spare room. Me and the home team was renting. So propose to us, it’s an ideal on demand product. You just need paper and each poster couldn’t be a unique item. It’s easy. It’s not the same thing for a peril, but for
Andrew: I get it. So we’re going to, we’re going to step into your story this way. So he gets a pro uh, poster printer. You guys go, was it to Shopify to set up your first store.
Davis: Yeah. Um, because we, you know, at the time we learned from friendly bracelets that we build a custom e-commerce platform, it was cumbersome, uh, and to maintain, and it’s like, okay, We have this another idea we are, you know, we’re cognizant of the fact that we were running like four or five different business ideas at the same time Shopify was coming up at the time and you know, it just a faster way to launch that.
Andrew: What’s one of the posters that you created back then as part of this original set.
Davis: Well, the regional set consisted the most popular poster and saying at the time and still is, it’s get shit done. Um, and there were like nine now there’s.
Andrew: Okay. So you got all nine, you put them up on a Shopify store. How did you get customers to come to your original poster store to buy posters from you?
Davis: So, yeah, I’m back then in 2011, I like, for instance, already Facebook advertising was, um, much cheaper. So, you know, for all the businesses we launched a later print fuller before we always launch had some advertising budget. So, uh, I was running probably a couple thousand dollars in ads. That was one way.
By another aspect, you know, was, you know, commenting for us posts about the motivational posters, making sure the SEO is right and, you know, to rank really high on the simple Google search, like motivational posters. No, we didn’t, we did all those, but you know, one of the, you know, finds that really help us, you know, being wide on hacker news.
I mean, we tried to get, go wider on hacker news, the white Combinator, uh, new stuff, but only started vitamins that, that, and, uh, and there was a couple of Twitter posts that went by at all. Some people just really were really inspired by those quotes and that brought a lot of sales.
Andrew: because you were well, what you did, you have quotes by famous Silicon Valley people. You did. And so that helps them kind of their, their brand was big within a small community. And you were able to kind of piggyback off their brand without having to pay them to put their, their quote and their likeness on your poster.
Right. It was that it was, it was a virtuous cycle where you were helping them build their brand. They were helping you sell your posters. Right?
Davis: Yeah. Yeah. And then we add some, uh, people endorse, you know, are they using, they’re saying song on posters. We hadn’t been promoted them for free, which was great.
Andrew: Who do you remember working with
Davis: Uh, you know, uh, um, Levie from box.com. He, you know, Aaron, you know, they, we had some of this boats, uh, he posted those, um, based Kim guys. Uh,
Andrew: How did Jason freed? I see you’ve got rework, Jason fried David Heinemeier Hansson on one of the first, uh, homepages. They were okay with you using their likeness. They didn’t have a problem with it.
Davis: Well, you know, they actually did, the, an interview was, uh, co-founders and, uh, not only started whining, but just in the, on the fact that the way we run business, uh, for instance, you know, they are,
Andrew: You mean they interviewed you.
Davis: Yeah. Uh, one of on not Ben specifically, but one of the employees who worked, you know, they run a, they run at a blog topic around booster businesses and Princeville is bootstrap and all other drug anchor businesses, except one has been growth sharp.
So they really like that. And that broccoli.
Andrew: bootstrap profitable and proud was a series they did on it. And then they also hired great podcasters over at base camp to, uh, to do an interview series based on their philosophy. Okay. So this thing was growing really well at your height. How much money were you making with startup vitamins?
Printing up posters and related products.
Davis: Yeah, it was a seasonal. So most of the sales went into Q4. I think the best months we did about $98,000 and top line revenue on that was the
Andrew: How much what are we talking about? Anything meaningful for your life? 20,000, 10,000 or by then?
Davis: We, you know, we, we reinvested all back into the business. So, you know, when we were launching these businesses, uh, we basically formed one company, one LLC, LLC. We called it idea of bids and all, we put like five different business in it. Like there was best time. There was friendly bracelets. There are
There was another poster site called be happy.me. And there was Printful. It was very difficult to run financials at the time. Hey, we just know that, you know, either way we had money left over the months or not so much your profit there was, we know that, you know, if he sold the mug for Le for instance, like for $16, it cost us to, you know, five or $6 to make.
We should be okay.
Andrew: Okay. How do you then go from posters to what became Printful
Davis: So we were focusing in a working car and I started wide miss because out of those businesses, it was doing the best and
Andrew: vitamins was doing the best out of all the businesses.
Davis: Well, besides the social network and car fleet that, but, you know, cause there were other guys running those. So the drug in group works in a way that, you know, each of these projects had its own management.
We shared employees, we shelled finance. So we saved money by that, that, you know, finance was shared. Accounting was shared. We shared some legal resources. It just helped the Sergeant businesses because a lot of resources were shared. I could borrow developers and designers from other companies and you can, you know, sense why it was difficult to make out, you know, whether we were profitable and not.
Andrew: though? Davis? Do you own, how much of startup vitamins do you get to own? If you’re running it, how much of Printful do you get to own? If you’re running it.
Davis: Well, initially we were running all into one company later. We did separate it in our, out of the, you know, Colby called it idea it’s LLC. And that company later became Printful Inc. Um, so. We didn’t bother too much as ownership at the time later, we formalize that. And I’m not at Liberty to disclose that, but, you know, later we figured it out initially.
Andrew: have more than 25% of Printful.
Davis: I mean, I cannot
Andrew: even say that, are you an employee with, with, uh, with stock and options as part of your compensation or you
Davis: I mean, as a CEO, obviously I have an invested interest, but I kind of say how much.
Andrew: okay. Um, I’m with you then, um, talk to me then about the first thing that you needed, that you couldn’t print at home, uh, in the garage or wherever you were printing with that
Davis: So posters are beautiful, um, easy to do, but the biggest category in terms of, you know, physical products open internet is about, and we want it to offer these quotes on apparel items. And we were looking how to do a panel and the same way we did post song demand and, uh, You know, we fathered, you know, you have to buy equipment, buy stock in bulk, and it’s going to cost a lot of money.
We just didn’t want to do that, which has been, have also space for that. And a co-founder of skull does, he was renting out in LA. So we found that there’s companies are, who can do that print on demand that’s so that we didn’t meant print on demand for our paddle. So that concept did exist out there. Uh, we tried one company.
Uh, that, uh, looked like it was doing what we needed, but they had a clunky website built on top of WordPress. Uh, they went behind the scenes, whereas the mom and pops printing store. So they were kind of, you know, graduating from this local printing company to starting to offer these services on the internet.
There were no integration or Shopify, you know, each order we received and shop. If I had to be manually entered into their system, uh, they were using some of the older generation, their active garment print on demand printers. Um, they took a long time to fulfill orders. Their customer service was subpar.
So all of that, you know, just kind of prove that we can sell some shirts was them, uh, it works our vitamins customers like buying a paddle, but the, you know, the whole. Offering that they did was flat, uh, flawed, you know, and we felt that we can do it much better. And that inspired us to start Printful because we knew that we need to make a print on demand service that would integrate was back it’s like Shopify, which we were running on a time.
And we can also know that we can buy better printers the, the new generation, we will have great customer service, you know, we’re going to fulfill products faster, et cetera. So we can just going to do everything, uh, you know, see some of these other companies that like 10 times better. So we, you know, just made it the service way better.
Andrew: and it goes back to your idea that if we can’t find it, then why don’t we build it? Other people will need it. And one of the key ideas that you wanted was we could sum it all up by modernizing print on demand, but it seems like one of the key ideas. Was API and speed, right? API you’re nodding is so that people can get their of print requests in an automated way and speed, so that it would feel almost like, um, well be as instantaneous as possible, almost like they had inventory, but not having to carry inventory.
Now, a printer for posters is pretty easy. A printer for t-shirts is harder. How much would it cost you to get that printer?
Davis: So the initial, uh, printer was $75,000. Um, We at that moment, we moved out of co-founders home. We rented a garage in Burbank, uh, to have the merch would that printer, we had to have, you know, blank stock and some other stuff. Um, so yeah, $35,000. And you know, it’s, uh, now in retrospect it looks cheap to me cause the latest printers we’re buying is, you know, way ahead of those.
We were buying them at 500,000 a piece, right. These days.
Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment. Talk about, quickly about Unbounce, um, and what they’re doing with me. They noticed that, like I said before, that I have had over 2000 conversations online, obviously many more beyond it. And they said, you’re taking notes about how you get people to open up how you have interest in conversations.
Can you just put it in a guide? I did. If you’re listening to me and you say I’d like to use some of Andrew’s techniques, here’s what you do. Not requesting price, not requesting email address, nothing. You just go to unbounce.com/mixergy. You’ll get this whole guide. You’ll see. Um, Davis, if you read it, you’ll immediately see that on page six is the thing that I said to you before we started any of this conversation to set the conversation.
Right. I don’t want to give it away because I want people to understand how I’m using these techniques within context. All you have to do is go to unbounced.com/mixergy Unbounce. Of course. Yeah. Is the site that you create quick landing pages with that’s what they did to, when I wrote this up in, um, Apple pages, because I like their design, they just took it and they put it up on one of their quick landing pages.
Go get it. unbounced.com/mixergy. I wonder why they’re doing that. David’s I think what they want is just their name mentioned. They don’t really even want a direct lead, but I would have loved for them to have captured email addresses and then follow up. Every sponsor is different. Okay. The printer, how big are we talking about?
How many different, uh t-shirts can it create the first one?
Davis: So we’re using a brother, um, brand Rangers. Uh,
Andrew: My brother had a t-shirt printer.
Davis: yeah. Well, the company brother has both office printers and t-shirt printers, uh, uh, but you know, it’s right now, there’s other companies who focus on this as well, but yeah, brother is the one that we take. Um, it’s relatively small, you know, you can put it in a garage, but eh, you will struggle is, um, you know, massive scale, uh, production.
You know, we, so brother it’s worked for us for two years, but, um, when you bring a lot of D shirts, uh, even though the printer itself is probably like, um, eight feet wide, uh, the new ones are like, you know, a car sized, um,
Andrew: That, that first one that you had though, I’m imagining it’s something where someone on your team would have to take the t-shirt that was ordered, put it on the printer, hit the button, have it come out and then put it in a box and ship. Is that how it worked?
Davis: Uh, roughly, however, it was the after of that all parental important thing is you need to apply a special liquid on a patent on a paddle before you print it. And the afterwards you needed to dry it. So that was the problem. Also his brother printers that they didn’t have the school integrated set up. So the next ones we bought in this corner, which started at $200,000.
Now we we’re up to $500,000 a piece. They have the liquid application integrated. They still need to be dried, but you know, you can run a much massively scale, but yes, you know, behind each or on demand, the federal t-shirt brand, there’s some of the physically taking a shirt and then loaning it on the pallet.
Andrew: Okay. And then the API, what was one of the integrations that you had that made it interesting?
Davis: So they relaunch, we had API. So yes, that was one of the main insights that they found that they don’t, we can modernize the print on demand was. Um, the first integration with Shopify, I still remembered that, uh, when we integrate with Shopify, they have a private company. I, it hadn’t yet gone public. I remember them in public, like I think a year later at $2.5 billion thing now over a hundred billion dollars.
But when we integrated, so, uh, Shopify had hundred thousand active stores on their platform. And we were, one of those stores started wait a minute. So we felt, Oh, this is a great way to, you know, offer this service to similar, um, online stores and Shopify had them do the app store probably still is one of the best app stores for e-commerce platforms.
And, you know, that was one of the key marketing channels, how to get. The principal service, uh, in front of the, you know, store owners. Um, you know, we were one of the first print on demand service. If not the first I checked the today, um, for the last seven years, we’re still one of the most installed apps on the Shopify app store.
If you go on the Shopify app store, there’s no five. Thousand apps and I we’re the second most install the app that is not built by Shopify themselves. Stop then, um, most
Andrew: I’m imagining is I’m trying to understand then what, what were you taking? It was somebody would have an account on Printful and then as soon as money came in to their store from Shopify, would you automatically get paid and then automatically have the, uh, the t-shirt size, the t-shirt color and the t-shirt art get sent to you.
That’s what it was.
Davis: So, you know, the shop is about boundaries that are soft drains are to, um, then their API is very solid. Uh, so it was easy to integrate that. So we get all the information about the product order. What is also important, the way currently it works, you know, you, you know, connect the two systems. Um, but you know, we basically log into Shopify login in Printful.
You can create new listings from the Printful system that will crave in your listing and shop device front-end. But each time you sell a thing on Shopify, we are see, you know, all the orders, uh, information about order of what was ordered, you know, what particular shirt size, et cetera is. But there’s a different transaction that happens in the Printful system.
So the one transaction that our customer, the sellers disconnected from the one on, first of all, those are two separate transactions. So if somebody sells something at $25, I pay Francel for instance, 12, and the, you know, the Delta is their profit.
Andrew: Okay, this was that you did it for yourselves. You had the t-shirts up and running. You went to the Shopify store. You said anyone can integrate now. Have their own t-shirts up and running. Right? T-shirts was the first thing. The first month you told our producer $800 in sales. It was like, it took off right from the beginning.
Davis: Yeah, but besides Shopify, the first, uh, channel that we promoted was started randomness customers. Again, one of the benefits of having these multiple ideas at the same time, we email all the. A mailing list of the Charlotte star vitamins user saying, Hey, there’s now a new service called Princeton. It allows you to launch a Nisha online store, just like star wine, but who’s your unique flavor?
Unique idea. Just pick something else. Um, we run on, we S started writing, surround and prayerful, go check it out and, you know, go you’d rent on the about us page and privilege to solve the same guys that are running that
Andrew: and anyone who’s in the startup vitamins mailing list is on track is an entrepreneur or entrepreneurial. And they then see the possibility of creating a product for sale without having to buy it ahead of time. So you get a lot of the, um, you get a lot of the wantrepreneurs converting. You’ll get a lot of the people who just want to add t-shirts to their existing stores converted and got it.
And that’s why that’s, that’s where you got your customers from there. And also the Shopify app marketplace is really good because it’s got store owners who are looking for no new features and new ways to generate revenue. Right.
Davis: Yeah, correct. Now we a good audience for the startup vitamins. I was also the good audience was a Shopify and some other integrations that we alleged LA launched later on. Our second one was moved commerce.
Andrew: All right. Speaking of WooCommerce, let me take a moment. Talk about my second sponsor sponsor. And I want to throw this idea for where are you HostGator hosting? What costs less than five bucks a month will commerce free on top of, uh, on top of the HostGator package. Right? Tell me if this is a great idea, Davis, rip Davis off.
This is my whole idea. Somebody in our audience can go and do this. They go to HostGator, they set up a hosting site. Maybe they call it, uh, they need a different word, like startup hustle and grind, whatever.com. Then they go and they find the top tweets that Navarro has, you know, Nevada, Robin haunt the co-founder of angel list because he always writes short pithy things.
Right. Then they go to founder on Instagram, you know, founder without the ER at the end. And, and they see what their top quotes are because all they do on Instagram is, is, uh, get quotes from founders. Then they see what latest, batshit, crazy thing. Elon Musk tweeted out and they take all those ideas. They go to a designer that they get somewhere online and they say, turn this into t-shirts.
Give me a poster, give me something people can put on their desk like a mug, and then they’ve got this thing and now they, they go and they tweet this out and then maybe the next thing that goes. So first of all, that helps them get customers, right. They create an Instagram account with nothing, but, uh, photos of what they’ve created are these crazy quotes.
What do you think so far? I’m watching you smile. You kind of like this idea almost too much, right?
Davis: I mean, we have many customers who are tapping into Wydell. Um, you know, I’d be a slight, I mean, uh, you know, couple of days ago as the Bernie Sanders, uh, appearance and aberration. Yeah. So that was, that was our longer designs as well. Uh, today it’s game stop, I think games dunks or something, you know what Elon Musk tweeted today.
It’s, it’s a design on a t-shirt already and we are printing
Andrew: Because Elon Musk said, go and take a look at how a game go. Like he referred people back to, um, what was it? The Reddit, the subreddit for stock traders who are just, uh, in it for the lulls. Got it. So you’re saying they’re already people who do this, who pick up on means, is there room for somebody to do this for nothing but the startup ecosystem?
Here’s what I’m thinking about. Memes are great. You definitely want to capture those. I’m thinking about. The ego of the entrepreneur who gets to see that people are making t-shirts for them. And I, and I think about Sam Puri, the, the investor, who’s now part of, um, the hustles podcast. He’s been doing some really interesting things.
He likes when people pump up his personality. Um, I think, yeah. Uh, Jason Calacanis from the all-in podcast. He has a few of his, uh, angel investor friends on and they just chat and they allow their fans to go and create t-shirts. They might tweet it out. If you take something that they said last week and then make it into a t-shirt and they say, Jason, you did this to us.
Now everyone’s got this t-shirt and meanwhile, they’re not upset. They’re actually promoting. Do you think this is a viable idea for somebody to create with nothing but a HostGator package and a printer full account
Davis: Now unless they try it, they will never know. But, uh, I mean, we, I think the, one of the good ideas was that particular ideas that, you know, deals was people who usually are active and engaged in social media, et cetera. You know, the people you mentioned they’re tweeting out regularly. So for instance, we add customers who are also very successful was.
Dot content. I mean, internet is full of, uh, Bages dedicated to funny dogs doing stuff, and we have several customers who are just, uh, successful in that nature because you know, people are crazy about docs. I know they would, you know, happily spend money on
Andrew: saying I’m overthinking it. Just dog sight might be enough.
Davis: Yeah. I mean, we
Andrew: me one. That’s this? Give me one, that’s a stealable idea. Obviously you never know something’s going to work until you do it right now. Somebody is listening. They say, give me something to do this weekend. I’m going to sit and get this done, and I’m not going to be done with my weekend until I, until I create the site.
What’s a Printful and HostGator idea that they could launch. Go ahead, Davis.
Davis: So, what do you have as natural DUP in the startups? Right. So somebody needs to think of an idea that audience they know and understand really well. So for us, when you launched started, wait a minute, we were in the start of game every day. So it was natural for us. So an idea like that, just think of. You know which audience, you know, and where, you know, where you hang out, where they hang out.
We had people, I had people who talked to me and, you know, they’re vegans and they, they, they passionate about it. And our weekends are passionate, it’s online and stuff. So they launched an online store and designs just dedicated to that audience. So finding
Andrew: there? What did they get their customers? Then go back to the audience. How.
Davis: some of the fall accelerating just ran.
Um, Instagram, I counts, they run red or, you know, communities, um, you know, initially posting free content then just, you know, once in a while they were posted that you can buy this on, on a t-shirt design. So to say, we have customers who run just Poplar, dog Instagrams, for instance, and then they just sell t-shirts on the side.
Andrew: all right. Whether it’s that idea or something else. If you want to get your website up and running fast, you go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And they will give you an even lower price than they already do. And David’s, here’s what I like about it. Every other hosting package, every time you come up with a new fricking idea, you have to pay again for more hosting.
Meanwhile, it’s just the fricking idea that came to you in the middle of the night. It’s not worth paying for all these different ideas. It’s a, it’s, it’s an obstacle. What I love about skaters you pay. Once they got a package where they’ll give you unlimited domains, just buy the domain or create the sub domain for free.
And suddenly any idea you come up with in the middle of the night is, is there maybe it’s like combination of everything you mentioned right now, right? Bernie dogs and startups, or how about it’s just startup dogs or I don’t know what it is. You put it up, you see how it goes. In fact, once you have a design, you just copied the design, put it up on the new site and you’re up and running.
That’s what I love about HostGator. Every other freaking hosting company that I see every other way of doing it. It means you have to pay for every new idea. And when you’re just paying, when you’re just coming up with ideas, it’s like, it’s, it’s a bigger obstacle than it seems. It’s like having to pay for a piece of paper every time you want to jot something down, it’s just not worth it.
Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. All right, David, you’re up and running your first customers. You told me where they came from. Talk to me about how you started getting into SEO. You were always good about that. What are some of the SEO things that you did in the beginning that worked.
Davis: W, yeah, I was also, you know, looking at some of our data more than 80% of our traffic goes organic, their traffic, we don’t pay for. Um, so I was the first SEO guy in the company. Luckily we hired new ones and they have a large deem as well. Uh, but you know, in our instance, it’s obviously the basics you need to focus on.
What’s our niche for us it’s print on demand. So one of our goals is to dominate that name on all search engines is, um, something that was very good for us from the beginning as well. And why it’s good to be, you know, available in e-commerce app store salad. There is that once you post an app on Shopify or having.
Plug-in on rural commerce or big commerce. Uh, you have a link on their sites and shop advise, uh, you know, a top ranked page. And if they link to your page, your page is gonna, um, then by association rank as well. So initially some of the, the initial years at Printful while I was still doing SEO myself, I was just trying to get our.
Um, a link to our homepage as many sites that are top ranked by Google as possible. So in Shopify, we got an app store, but for them, it’s also, they wrote a lot of content about how start print on demand store. So we’d ranked on their blog as well. We did content exchanges. Um, I was them, and since then we had 20 different e-commerce integrations, both marketplace and, um, platforms.
And, you know, we tried to repeat the models, each one of them. And you know, that really greatly contributed to our SEO ranking.
Andrew: because every marketplace is another link back to your site. And every marketplace is another set of customers that they’re bringing over. You were saying, of course not everyone. I I’m assuming you’re saying, of course not everyone is as big as Shopify.
Davis: Yeah. Not, not as big as shop if I’m, but you know, one is getting people to link to you. Now, the other aspect of selves, of course, hiring Conde, Mark. There’s the. We, those were some of the first hires as well. When we started, we had me, we had one, one designer, one developer, and one content marketer. You know, sometimes when people start in your business, they don’t have a marketer.
Uh, from the day one, each businesses that we started, you know, even before print, we always had a marketer from day one and then Mark that did initially everything and did emails, but also write blog posts. And I, you know, I spent a lot of time initially trying to. Um, teach that Mark there about how to write SEO, friendly content out, right about.
Right, right. Not always things that sound great, but things that you know, are gonna resonate with search engines and talking to language that people use while Googling. Um, I’m dragging, talking very simplistic terms, but against SEO and some of the content marketing things were easier, um, you know, seven years ago than it is today.
Um, but um, those things, uh, there worked and again, the same thing that we did for start a vitamin vitamins and then Quora, we went on other. Forums to post about our stuff, uh, that stuff worked.
Andrew: What about the article that you had in tech crunch? Did that send you eyeballs or customers?
Davis: Well, it wasn’t SCO thing. It was, uh, send us customers and traffic. We definitely saw the tech crunch bump in on Google analytics. Uh, again, we couldn’t have gotten that article. I freaked didn’t have starter vitamins before. Again, another instance why it’s important to have those, uh, um,
Andrew: What do you mean? How did it start a vitamins are? How did it start a vitamins business helped Printful get credibility with tech crunch or get a write-up in tech
Davis: like French fries and belts. Right? So same as you, you asked, said that you didn’t know that we were involved with starter wine when it started, whiteness is already popular. You know, those posters were in all the big tech companies by the time, you know, Apple, Google, Facebook, et cetera, had bought them.
So tech crunch was aware of the brand.
Andrew: bought the posters that you made to put in their Apple in the office.
Davis: Every every company you can think of. We had.
Andrew: place that you saw that you saw one of your posters?
Davis: Um, you know, obviously you’ve solved the tech company. So Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Apple, and Google many times. So we’re, but probably a, the coolest things that are, uh, posters and items ended up in Congress. We had, uh, some offices of a house of representatives to buy, uh, some mugs that was cool, uh, to follow that.
And one representative even used the starter vitamins poster to make a point on podium in a healthcare.gov, um, um, you know, sessions had
Andrew: What was the poster that he used?
Davis: It was the Steve jobs, uh, quote, I believe it’s not done. And village ships are. I believe that one was, but basically it’s, you know, I illustrated find that they, I guess shouldn’t have shipped the, the healthcare.gov or the quality was not on
Andrew: so he went and bought a poster from you just so he could make that point. I see. Uh, yeah.
Davis: Just keep just, I mean, I guess that that’s Congress people sometimes do they bring up of new illustration to make their point.
Andrew: I’m looking at some of the stuff that you have on your site. Uh, one is less talk, more hustle. The other is life is short, do stuff that matters. Then you’ve got a big poster that says experiment, fail, learn, repeat, right. This is the type of thing that we’re talking about. The, the hustler startup mentality put on.
Posters and mugs and everything else. All right. Uh, I see how the company’s growing. What am I, what do I make of the fact that when I go to similar web, it’s not Shopify. That seems to be the number one source of traffic. It’s Wix. Why is Wix so popular? Why are you guys so popular on, on Wix?
Davis: Oh, waste is one of the, our latest integrations. Uh, we integrated well a year, a little more than a year ago right now, but, uh, the main difference was Wix. Whereas the Shopify is that Wix is out of Israel and they’re more international than some of the other players industry they are available. There are more languages.
That’s something that principal is also been focusing more recently. Uh, I never thought that there’s so much traffic outside of English, uh, until we did translate the website ourselves. So I would assume that’s the case, you know, weeks is just available in more languages. So that’s why they have more traffic.
Andrew: All right. You then start building more warehouses everywhere. Right? You start going to, um, what was the first place beyond, um, California, where you opened up a warehouse? Yeah.
Davis: It was in Charlotte, North Carolina, uh, you know, an e-commerce business. It’s important to get stuff to your customers. And most of the people live on East coast, stern, you know, middle of us. So we had to go across the country and Charlotte.
Andrew: what was it like to go and open up, uh, a new warehouse there, new operations. It’s more than a warehouse because it’s printing and warehousing and shipping the whole thing. Right? What was your process?
Davis: well, we move the three facilities in LA. Before that we were tired of the moving each mode kind of disrupted our customers and, uh, we needed, we knew that we need to build something entirely new on chocolate. Well, we add some of the employees from LA to transfer over to Charlotte somewhere and ties by the fact that, you know, it was a new beginning.
We can build a new processes and a much bigger facility. It was three times larger, uh, cost of living was favorable and still is, uh, Charlotte compared to LA. Um, we just moved some of them twice over, started the new, um, and you know, built out there. And from there we have built six other locations.
Andrew: and then COVID hits and your whole plan of going out, taking your team to build the new location, just out the window. Right? What happened when COVID hit?
Davis: Well, when initially it was a shock and, uh, Economic businesses initially solve a decrease, including Grenville. Um, it was initial shock, I guess people bought, um, you know, the items of first need initially only then refocused buying.
Andrew: there was that period where I think around March, maybe April, we were all watching what we spent our money on because we thought financially we’re all doomed. And then when we realized we couldn’t go into stores to buy, but there’s still things we needed. And maybe we wanted to have some fun.
We went online and bought and so e-commerce took a dip and then it jumped up. Right. That’s what happened in your business.
Davis: Saying that we took a dip. Um, we didn’t know how we just saw skier being downward. So we didn’t know when it’s going to stop. We said, okay, let’s breathe. Let’s throw some of the things in retrospect we shouldn’t have done because the upward trajectory after that initial, that was. Tremendous, uh, unlike we ever seen before, for instance, support Q4 push, we, uh, we plan months in advance, uh, in shifts and equipment and et cetera that we going to do when call this kid, we didn’t have that advantage.
So we were overrun was orders and we. Well there’s backlogs and increasing our capacity for several months when we got back on track, uh, uh, only by July, August from April to July, August, we were. We had to do some of the things that we never done. We actually had to limit our customers. We were, our marketing team was doing onto marketing.
Uh, how are we going to, you know, manage our order wallets? So that’s one of the challenging things about our business model. It’s not just instilling or, you know, turning on your servers. So now Amazon versus services, these are actual people or warehouses that we have to run. And all in the middle of pandemic when they’re socially distancing and the mask and everything needs to take place.
Andrew: you actually had government representatives coming into your space to make sure that everyone was socially distanced while they were printing. Right.
Davis: Yeah, she had a SLOs or LA facility for good for a while. And then the first initial lockdown, um, then LA County announced that, uh, masks will be mandatory and we, uh, and that’s an essential product. That should be, it should be available. So we’ve just started producing masks
Andrew: Oh, that’s why that if you, if you had just stuck with t-shirts and the other products that you had, they wouldn’t have let you open up because you were creating masks. They let you open.
Davis: We had the LAPD come in awhile ago, they checked out that we are mostly making masks. They allowed us to run t-shirt production when the side as well. But yeah, those initial day. So we were focusing masks and we were not the only ones, several apparel production companies did the same thing. It was essential product.
Andrew: Right right now, you’ve got to figure it out, how you can survive and all these different areas. Um, you also opened up didn’t you open up a facility somewhere where you couldn’t even show up for the first time and you had to somehow remotely tell them how to set it up or were you allowed to go.
Davis: Uh, so we were, you know, before quality, we had plans to open up in Canada and, um, you know, the borders would be in Canada. The U S is still, you know, closed, uh, unless you go through a 14 day isolation. So. Uh, we basically did all the hiring remotely. We had visited the facility once, but we just basically trusted the people we hired there.
Mostly, they were given the keys to the facility and, you know, we had to phage them how to run and set up all these printers. So wrongly, um, I think since starting in Canada, we only once brought. I was an employee over to Canada who went through the 14 day isolation, but somehow we managed to open up and start then our
Andrew: what worked for you for doing that? How were you able to do that? What worked.
Davis: Well, I mean, it just had to call us and we had to do it while we could. I mean, a lot of videos we send hour or the team videos, how we produce t-shirts and in some of these other facilities, um, and we had suppliers to go over who had to install some of the printing equipment. So they, you know, gave them, um, you know, a little, uh, you know, how to run these printers, et cetera, onsite when we couldn’t.
Um, but yeah, I mean, uh, we, of course we need to still need to bring somebody over to Canada ASAP, but, uh, we don’t know when it’s gonna, when that’s going to be. And, you know, we had just have to deal with the situation we had. We had a similar thing in Spain as well, where we, you know, we’re. Right then the moment we want it to open.
And then that first logged down in Spain, the government said nobody can works no matter where you produced all the business had to be close. So, you know, stay stayed in stalemate for a month until the, you know, the cases subsided and manufacturing was allowed.
Andrew: So it feels like except for that little, not little, but it was difficult part in, uh, early 2020, because of COVID. This was a fairly easy, straightforward business for you. I’m not seeing any major setbacks, any major challenges over the years.
Davis: Well, scaling operations is definitely the most challenging thing, but you know, there’s not anything major that, uh, you know, we kept really, you know, nicely growing. Um, each year we, you know, launched new facilities, new products, uh, each year we got better at preparing for, you know, Q4 holiday, um, push foot.
Yeah, I guess, you know, you can call it the straight forward and it’s very more renaming. It took seven years to get to the level of era.
Andrew: And the big insight that I’ve taken away from you is first of all, do a lot of projects to see what works. Right? You had everything from friendship, bracelets to print operations, right. Then when you find something that works go all in on it, you’re not spending time on, you’re not even spending time on a startup vitamins because Printful is soaking up every bit of your energy.
Am I right?
Andrew: The next thing that I’m taking away from you is
Davis: But, but here, I want to highlight that, you know, last month we started Printful bits though. Uh, and we’re starting, you know, I beautiful came out with the idea. Bits were the last months we started Printful bits. So we’re launching a couple of new business ideas. Again, times are good at Printful. We now have the money and resource to invest in something new.
I heard somebody. Uh, in an ID project manager role, which is basically me, you know, 10 years ago. And I’m giving me, came a couple of new projects and he’s going to try some of these things, basically new project ideas, just like the way peripheral came out. We have a couple of software ideas that, uh, uh, it’s probably going to come out of the tools that we purposely built for brambles gross, you know, Well, we, you know, we built a tool to manage know lunches for our employee success control to our facilities.
Um, you know, our tool that how Printful will be translated in the several languages. Um, so it feels like that, you know, each tool that we kind of explore, whether that can be its own independent product. The same sort of an Amazon, you know, build something for themselves. They believe that if you extra not externalize the product and make it available for everywhere, it’s gonna, you know, we it’s in commendation is going to go and get better.
So, you know, the same as Amazon web services, initially it was built for amazon.com. Then I just made it available for everybody else. So similar ideas with some of the new projects they haven’t
Andrew: Got it. And then that’s the other thing that I’m seeing that. If there’s something that you can’t find and you need it for yourself, don’t just build it for yourself. Find a way to create it for others and sell to them. For example, you wanted posters that were motivational, but also were in keeping with the startup, like ethos and the vibe.
And so you can find it. You said we’re going to create it. You wanted an easy way to print t-shirts on demand. You couldn’t find it through API. You said we’re going to create it. And the same thing. Uh, is still true today. And so those are the big takeaways that I’ve got from the Printful story. Right? Am I missing anything big?
Davis: That’s probably so several other lessons. I mean, there’s a, you know, I’m laughing, I’m an international, so probably for your audience, doesn’t come naturally. But for those people who are listening to internationally, what was key for us is also hiring native speakers. You know, having spent, uh, an exchange year in U S a university, I get to know like native speakers, American Latvians that were some of the key.
Um, initial team members and our marketing team. And so what I see sometimes some of these comedies out of Europe and elsewhere where they’re failing, they build great products, but they’re copies, not convincing. And you know, for Printful we never, you know, we always didn’t shine away with the fact that, you know, half of the company was in LA and other one in Europe, in Riga Latvia.
But when you went on a website, if it didn’t matter for you, it felt like, Oh, great. This English works perfectly. This is American English. So. We had people who knew how to write in American English and regretted a lot of content, which, because SEO is one of the growth engines.
Andrew: I’m surprised by how companies that are so strong, everywhere else. Minimize. The importance of good localized English. And I think the best example of that is you’ll go to Amazon, you’ll see products with thousands of reviews that are really good, but the English is a little bit off, you know, where it’s things that are usually not supposed to be.
Pluralized with an S we’ll have an S at the end, because the standard way to do it is to add an S to anything that you want to pluralize. And I feel like they, they miss some credibility. Obviously, anyone who’s got thousands of reviews is not hurting that much, but it hurts a little bit. The smaller companies that create great products that don’t invest a little bit in a, in a local writer, I think are suffering.
And I imagine now that Printful is going international. That’s something that you keep in mind too, that you want to make sure that the same thing holds true for other, other countries, other languages.
Davis: Yes for other languages to be, you know, we, you know, we have both sane house Connor and Mark their score, native speakers. Like we never launched a new language without having, you know, strong, um, you know, speakers of that particular language in house again, because we want to be, you know, sound very natural in that language.
Um, and it needs the deals with, you know, credibility and trustworthiness. When we launched, when nobody knew what Printful was, uh, I was focused on that. You know, I read blog posts. You know, what elements on your site, uh, are enforced and that it builds trust with whoever’s browsing your website. One instance of course, is not having mistakes in, in your Lang language.
But other aspects, you know, you know, other slinging to you like shop. If I gave us credibility, you know, having a job speci than in your, or is giving a credibility, the company, and this company has a job spacious they’re hiring, they must
Andrew: yeah. I never even thought of that. Right. Ah, that makes sense. What else? Give me another credibility marker that we wouldn’t have thought of.
Davis: Um, you know, not using stock imagery, crunches, she’s basic as well. The, you know, I had the discussion is the new principal beds guy as well. I said just don’t you, I mean, I’m not going to allow you to use stock imagery. I mean, it’s sometimes faster, but it’s just going to destroy your credibility. And I was
Andrew: gotta be a service that will go and take the photos that you need for you so that it’s not stocked, but it’s almost as fast.
Davis: Yes, but I mean, these days, you know, iPhone camera and the, are you shooting your pictures yourself as an iPhone camera, it’s probably going to be better than, you know, buying professional images from somebody else. So, you know, we, when we, when we did stuff, we, you know, we did everything ourselves and it felt natural.
We never shied away from where we are. We were where we, you know, always had contact pages. So there’s this, there’s our location. We, you know, put, you know, pictures of our fulfillment centers and offices. We were open and for inspiring them about it, to make sure that this is a real company behind the scenes surrounding it, or it’s a real people living.
And I think that crossed laws. One of the things that helped this girl.
Andrew: All right. One of the things you told our producer was you guys are going to go public. You’re aiming to go public with an IPO at some point, right. Or SPAC, I guess at this point is the altar.
Davis: These days. Yeah, possibly. Yeah.
Davis: Well, it has to basically deals is all the regulations we have to pass through. I mean, I was having that discussion today, as well as our head of finance and we have IPO books to study. Um, but the, one of the things that is blocking us to do it immediately, it was the SPAC. We actually looked at backs, uh, earlier this year.
Uh, we thought this is gonna, you know, it’s, it’s an easy way to go public, but you still need to fulfill all the obligations. So that exchange like NASDAQ in New York stock exchange puts in you all the, you know, sec rules, et cetera. We just don’t have the processes or all that in place. Some of those processes adding is going to slow us down.
I’m conscious about that, but it’s fine, you know, the benefits of public markets, but, you know, in essence, we’re still building out our accounting and financial systems to be. And, you know, on the level that public markets that acquire us, that we can report, you know, results on time, perfectly each time we’re not there yet.
Andrew: Yeah, you did say that you had your financials audited, which is a good indication that you’re getting ready to do it. Are you profitable now? Okay.
Davis: We’ve been profitable every year, since we’ve been.
Andrew: And, and do you think that you’ll ever say we’re going to create our own stores? Why should somebody who’s selling nothing, but our products go to Shopify and create their own experience. Why don’t we just start competing with them?
Davis: Well, you know, having the ability create their own, like, no, we had even had discussions. Was that again, we integrated 20 platforms. We benefit way more. I was having great relationship was the platform bill that our son, you know, we, were we not going to be able to create a better platform. The Shopify has an instance like on why was somebody, you know, you know, pay us to do that.
Andrew: to pay you. It’s just, all they’re doing
Davis: Global commerce is free. Like, you know, I taught that, you know, sometimes the limiting factor was that you have to pay for Shopify, but full commerce is free. You know, it was WordPress was hose Gator, as you said, it’s, uh, you know, entry level is there is very little, and it’s just a whole another set of features that we need to build that the, it doesn’t seem like the right way.
You know, we benefit way more with just having integrations towards them and having a win-win relationship. Then I was the. Platform owners than building something ourselves where we don’t focusing on things that are more core to our business, which is building a software that helps us design, beautiful graphics, you know, around designing.
So we’re designing more stuff. If anything, we would be competing more with, you know, companies like canva.com, then you know, e-commerce companies.
Andrew: All right. The website for anyone who wants to go check it out is printful.com. And I want to thank the two sponsors to me. This interview happened the first, if you’re kind of curious about trying this and like we just said, like, David’s just said. It’s free to do WooCommerce. You need somebody to host your site.
We’ll use HostGator for a couple of bucks a month. Actually, if it’s an ad, I should be clear. It’s not just a couple, it’s not just two, but it’s it’s I think about five bucks a month. You’ll get up and running with their site. Do what I did. Um, I hosted with. HostGator. I think you should too. And you can take the ideas that we kicked off here in this interview, or any other ideas to hostgator.com/mixergy and get their absolute lowest price and great service.
And I want to thank Unbounced for encouraging me to start writing. If you want to see what I’ve written about, how I get people to have open meaningful conversations, go to unbounced.com/mixergy Davis. Thanks so much.
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