Just today, on wiwillia.com, “walker” posted a blog post about his business, TeeSpring, titled Our Path to $1M in Sales. I want to analyze the business decisions made by the company to make it to $1M in sales from the viewpoint of this class.
If you’ve decided that walker’s post is TL;DR, here’s a few quick excerpts that explain TeeSpring’s business and path to $1M:
Just over nine months ago, armed with a few beta users and a short wait list, we launched Teespring to the world. The concept was simple: Kickstarter for custom t-shirts. Instead of dropping thousands of dollars to get your tees screen printed and trying to figure out how to get them to your buyers, all you had to do was come to Teespring, design your tee, set a goal (the higher the goal, the cheaper the price per tee), and launch the campaign. Buyers could come to your campaign and pre-order your tee, and once you reached your goal we’d handle the production and fulfillment and send you a check for the profit.
From the day we launched we always said we wanted Apple quality with Amazon’s customer experience. It’s something that’s core to us.
Campaigns started popping up organically and selling hundreds of t-shirts, TWiT launched their first campaign and sold almost 3,000 tees, we finally got that article in Techcrunch, we flew past $1M in sales with over $250k in December and, above all, we’re finally profitable.
So how did TeeSpring become profitable? By following the path of modern startup culture.
TeeSpring and Google’s 10 things
Google’s first rule is to “Focus on the User”, and that’s just what TeeSpring did. Check out their story of acquiring their first few sales:
Right away we could see that it wasn’t as easy to sign up new customers as we’d hoped, especially without a design tool. While people seemed sold on the concept, nobody wanted to take the time to create their own design or launch their campaign. We ended up providing hours and hours of design consultations to groups that would only sell ~50 t-shirts, it was hugely unprofitable and there wasn’t a chance it would scale – but it created happy customers and that was what we needed.
TeeSpring knew that a focus on the user was the lifeblood to starting a user-oriented service. The small-order custom t-shirt niche is no longer empty, and TeeSpring went into this business with a lot of very strong competitors. The only way they could be successful is by offering a better small-order custom t-shirt service. Custom design consultation, personalized service, etc. All focused on making their users happy, so that they will generate word-of-mouth advertising and happy return sales.
Moving on down the list, we see that TeeSpring abides by Google’s 10 rules on almost every line. Their business plan is democratic – if not enough people “vote” on a t-shirt, the design is scrapped and the money returned. They don’t try to rip off the customer, and they allow anyone to make a design – crossing borders.
They even know that dress codes are a thing of the past. Here’s their dev team:
T-shirts and jeans all around. The look of the modern developer.
TeeSpring and the individual
When we started planning the Gaming House trivia team for this year, a good friend of mine suggested getting T-shirts for the team. We didn’t use TeeSpring (we went with customink.com, who were super awesome!), but the idea was to have our community defined in part by our clothing, through matching T-shirts. Custom clothing can help define a community by clearly delineating the people who are part of that community. At the risk of being exclusionary, custom clothing helps people feel like they are really part of the group.
(If I had known about TeeSpring, I would have gone with them, since I ended up not ordering enough T-shirts for everyone).
Kickstarter, the wildly popular croudfunding website, is all about bringing together communities to support an idealistic individual. TeeSpring, a more specialized version of Kickstarter, does the same. From twit.tv shirts, suicide prevention awareness, and even the SigEp fraternity at Stanford, people with an idea for a t-shirt for a community can use TeeSpring to get their swag. The idea of allowing the people who are going to wear the shirts to buy the shirts before having to put up the capital for the initial order.
TeeSpring and the $1M
TeeSpring’s path to success (for now) is defined by their attention to the individual and ability to cater to communities and groups other than themselves. With this comes the monetary gain marked by our current era of tech-savvy startups. People are beginning to ask, are we in another tech bubble? But nobody seems to know the answer. Perhaps we’re in a new era, cautioned by the late ’90s, guided by the current giants, Apple, Google, Facebook, that will see a less volatile bubble of tech.
Either way, this new round of startups and entrepreneurship will be guided by companies’ attention to their customers, and not their brand name or cheap tactics as the past may have allowed. There is no more foregiveness in the market for anyone who is rude to their customers. Unless they apologize, but that’s a different story.