Julia Gifford is head of marketing at Printful, Startup Vitamins and BeHappy. Three businesses part of the Draugiem Group, based in Latvia with a presence in the United States.
Startup Vitamins and BeHappy both offer inspiring quotes to start-up businesses who want some inspiration as they grow, whilst Printful is an “on-demand” drop shipping service with API for custom print products. Printful prints custom t-shirts, posters, canvas and other print products and send them to end customers.
Over 7,000 merchants use Printful for their print on demand needs.
Just 18 months after launch, Printful made a revenue of almost $3 Million starting with zero marketing budget by focusing on shareable, visual content and relying on word-of-mouth marketing.
04.05 Draugiem Group business structure and brands
10.04 Driving initial awareness with social content
10.24 Facebook traffic and advertising and campaigns
19.05 The choice of dropshipping
23.48 Experimenting with dropshipping and adding value
26.47 Ideal products for ecommerce dropshipping
29.54 Design and user experience
36.30 Revenue figures
37.17 Technical integration with ecommerce partners/retailers
39.25 Challenges of being dropshippers
42.52 Exit pop-ups / coupon strategy
47.08 The challenge of return on investment
48.34 Printful demographics
Main customer acquisition channels:
- Acquiring emails by offering downloadable content and via exit pop-ups
- Maintaining brand awareness through emails
- Use of coupons/vouchers to encourage a second purchase
- Integrations with ecommerce software users/partners
- Retargeting users via Facebook ads
- Use of coupons/vouchers to encourage first purchase
- Use blogging as a source of traffic
- Social media sharing to create awareness
Even if they don’t open your emails, they still see your brand name crashing up in front of their eyes, so we find email marketing to be one of the most important strategies.
We decided to go with the dropshipping because it’s quite expensive if you’re just getting started and you don’t have that money to put down and you’re not even sure if your product will be popular.
We decided to create an experiment with very small stock at first, see if there’s demand for it, and within a week, they were all sold out.
Dropshipping could be used for experimenting initially and then scaling out to a full-fledged operation if the commercials actually work.
We’re a head above the rest because we are a tech company creating plug-ins and integrations possibly at a higher level than your average print fulfilment dropshipper.
You need to deal with a lot of content marketing to have the pull marketing rather than the push marketing, to have people trust you and for SEO.
Kunle: Hi guys, welcome to the 2X ecommerce podcast show. This is episode number 11 where I’ll be speaking about dropshipping, Facebook marketing, user experience and design. Before I get into the intro, I have a quick announcement to make. I’ll be speaking at the Commerce Exchange Conference, it’s an ecommerce conference in York, North England, next Wednesday the 8th April. My talk is going to be about rapid ecommerce growth, key drivers to achieve a triple digit growth. I’ll be delving into the business DNA and business models adopted by fast growth ecommerce start-ups with examples and case studies. If you can make this show, I’ve got a special promotion code you could use. It’s 2XMEDIA. Use it at checkout, and you get £20 off the £60 ticket, so it would be essentially £40. Head over to TheCommerceExchange.co.uk to buy your tickets. It would be fantastic if I could meet any of my listeners in the conference. So, please, if you can make it, give me a shout, and say you heard this on the podcast show.
Welcome to the 2x ecommerce podcast show where we interview founders of fast growing seven and eight figure ecommerce businesses and ecommerce experts. They’ll tell their stories, share how they 2x their businesses and inspire you to take action in your own online retail business today. And now here he is, the man in the mix, Kunle Campbell.
Hi 2Xers, welcome to the 2X ecommerce podcast show. I’m your host, Kunle Campbell and this is the podcast where I interview ecommerce entrepreneurs and online marketing experts who help uncover ecommerce marketing tactics and strategies to help you, my fellow 2xers, double specific ecommerce metrics in your online stores. If you’re looking to double specific metrics such as conversions, average order value, repeat customers, traffic, and ultimately sales, you are in the right place.
Today, I have the head of marketing at Printful, Startup Vitamins and BeHappy, all housed under the Draugiem Group and her name is Julia Gifford. Julia, could you tale a minute to introduce yourself?
Julia: Indeed. Hi everyone, my name’s Julia, thanks for the introduction. I’m head of marketing for three different ecommerce related sites. One of them is Printful, which is an on-demand dropshipping site that online stores can connect with and automatically assign their print products to be fulfilled. Then, the traditional ecommerce stores Startup Vitamins and BeHappy.me, both of which offer inspiring quotes, one for start-up entrepreneurs and the other just for people who want some inspiration in their daily life.
Kunle: In our pre-interview, I mentioned that I had come across Startup Vitamins a number of years ago and what stood out for me was the “get shit done” campaign poster. It was cleverly executed. It’s still on my Pinterest page. We’re going to talk more about the “get shit done” campaign, this is going to have to be edited out, but let’s talk about your group. You guys are based in what country?
Julia: We have headquarters in two countries. One in Latvia and another in the States, in California.
Kunle: And you come from Canada?
Julia: That’s right.
Kunle: Ok. Who are your founders? What’s the business structure of Draugiem Group?
Julia: Our founders are Lauris Liberts and Agris Tamanis. They’re both Latvian entrepreneurs who, 11 years ago, founded the social network of Latvia, called the Draugiem. Today, it is still the last standing social network of Europe that still hasn’t fallen to Facebook. So it’s rare that it exists. What they did is, rather than sitting on their laurels, they took the profit from the social network and reinvested it into different start-ups that they saw a niche for. These start-ups have been developing and growing, and some of them into their own companies of their own right and our founders are all about experiments, so if something works, it develops, if it doesn’t work then it’s quickly “X’ed”.
Kunle: Absolutely. It’s like The Lean Start-up approach. I’m on your website now and there are about 17 start-ups, and we’re talking about three of them today. Which is the oldest from Startup Vitamins, Printful and BeHappy?
Julia: Of the three, the oldest is BeHappy. BeHappy is a site that offers generally inspiring happy quotes based on the observation that people really like to share happy quotes, why don’t we make the available in a general marketplace? BeHappy really took off very quickly, there was a lot of social media action and our social media quickly grew into the thousands just because we had this constant flow of shareable, visual content. But, our founder Lauris, who’s kind of heading towards expansion in the States, I guess you could say, has slightly higher goals, he’s a very ambitious guy and he wanted to make something that was globally recognised. He came up with the idea to create a similar idea as BeHappy, but create these inspiring quotes specifically for entrepreneurs. This idea came from when we, in Latvia, moved into a bigger office, which used to be an art gallery. It has these huge white walls and they just couldn’t find any relevant “startupy” artwork to put up around the office. So, again, there was a need, and they were quick to offer a solution and that’s how the first batch of Startup Vitamins came. “Gets shit done” was the first.
Kunle: Right, so you’re a start-up that moved into fantastic offices, tried to put some posters up on the wall, you got them up eventually and your founders were like “this could be a business”, and then you started to get the momentum to put it together. How far apart was BeHappy from Startup Vitamins?
Julia: BeHappy was founded/launched in early 2012, and Startup Vitamins, I think the first designs for the posters were launched around October or November of the same year, so late 2012.
Kunle: What’s the key difference between BeHappy and Startup Vitamins? Because I could still buy posters on here, t-shirts, canvases, cards, mugs and the like on BeHappy and I think I could do the same on Startup Vitamins?
Julia: The difference between the two is that on BeHappy, you can create your own quotes, there’s a quote generator and you can choose your fonts, your background, whereas for Startup Vitamins, each poster, every design is individually designed by our in-house designers.
Kunle: The key thing that I picked up from this conversation is your DNA. Break down your DNA model, you’re very social at the core, and you’re able to expand with these social oriented products or platforms, Startup Vitamins, BeHappy and now, Printful. How did you get that initial traction, the traction to get out there and create the awareness for BeHappy and Startup Vitamins, who were not too far apart when they launched? Because I noticed you guys back in 2013, that’s when I picked up on Startup Vitamins and it was everywhere. I think I’m subscribed to you. How did you guys start to build a momentum to create the awareness for Startup Vitamins?
Julia: At the very beginning, we had zero budget for marketing, so it was very important that we had visual products that we could share. It also didn’t help that our “get shit done” products were eye-catching and there was a little bit of a shock factor, and people generally like to share these things, so for the very first few months, I’d say sharing with word-of-mouth marketing was paramount to getting those first loyal followers who were willing to share stuff. But, as we began to grow, we were able to reinvest some of the profit into other marketing forms and that’s when we realised that, in fact, Facebook advertising brought back a huge return on investments, specifically for Startup Vitamins. So we have continued with specifically retargeting ever since.
Kunle: Ok, let’s take a step back. From the three brands, which is the most successful?
Julia: In terms of revenue, Printful, hands down.
Kunle: And in terms of awareness and social traction?
Julia: That would be more Startup Vitamins, definitely that entrepreneur “startupy” culture. A lot of people will recognise the “get shit done” posters wherever they go. They may not know that it’s Startup Vitamins.
Kunle: Let’s go into Startup Vitamins. How many Facebook likes or fans do you have?
Julia: We’re just approaching 30,000.
Kunle: How did you get your first 1000?
Julia: The first 1000 would have been a constant flow of designs. As I mentioned, the difference between Startup Vitamins and BeHappy is that Startup Vitamins has specifically designed poster designs. So, of course, we couldn’t post a specifically designed poster every day because there aren’t that many resources. So what we did is we started a blog section on the Startup Vitamins website, and those are general awesome entrepreneurial quotes which, possibly, are too long for the designs or don’t quite make the cut. That served as the meat of our social content. And since these quotes are helpful, they’re inspiring, then people don’t have any problems sharing them and they’re not trying to share anything.
Kunle: I recall back in 2012/2013 and parts of 2014, quotes were a big thing. Visuals were and are still a big thing on Facebook, and some quote hacks on Facebook were sharing quotes. How did it work in your favour, the Facebook algorithm? Were you getting more than average reach on Facebook off the back of the fact that you’re sharing inspirational, visual quotes?
Julia: Yes, definitely. It’s difficult to say, if you compare BeHappy with Startup Vitamins, because the reach is so dependent on the engagement itself. What really helps is the fact that “startupy” entrepreneurial type people who are very tech-savvy, they are on these social platforms, they are willing to share and interact with the posts, so knowing your audience and knowing how to talk to them and in which language is also one of the key success factors to the retargeting campaign which you have mentioned previously.
Kunle: Was social traction = cash/revenue or direct sales? Was it like a top-of-the-funnel activity where you were driving awareness and trickles were after interacting with your brand 2, 3, 4, 5 times eventually got to sell? My question is basically: was Facebook traffic converting?
Julia: Facebook is still our top referrer in general, and if you look at how that translates into sales, then it is our number three source of sales after Google direct and Facebook is in third place with 17% of sales.
Kunle: Now that you mention Google, what’s your take on Facebook vs Google in marketing? How should ecommerce marketers approach both channels?
Julia: We had tried it out, and I would suggest any ecommerce retailer to give it a try, because you don’t necessarily know how your audience will react. We found that Google Ads had a much smaller return on investment than Facebook Ads did. I’m talking about 5 or 6 times smaller for the same invested amount. That was a deciding factor to stick with what brings the most money in.
Kunle: Going back to Facebook, does Facebook generate a burst traffic or does it generate traffic over a sustained period of time when you create content in general or when you publish a new poster?
Julia: Facebook traffic is quite constant for the most part of the year until we begin targeted campaigns. For the entire year, we have retargeting ads going on and then we create targeted campaigns from October to December for the holiday season. That brings the burst, but in general, it’s quite consistent. Facebook isn’t what brings the jolt in traffic, but more so it’s email marketing that brings that burst.
Kunle: So Facebook probably converts to email. Do you have an email collection strategy? Given the fact that I am signed up. What’s the key objective of you Facebook campaign? Is it to get a sale or to get an email?
Julia: Of course, the conversion. You can have several campaigns going on and you can choose if you want the goal to be an email address or to make a purchase. Obviously we want them to make a purchase, but the most important is getting their traffic in the first place because once they come to our page, then we’re able to retarget them. Once they come to our page, we can also work on converting them, and as you mentioned, getting their email address, because since email is still one of the biggest drivers of marketing success in general online, it’s still important to get people’s emails, even if they don’t open your emails, they still see your brand name crashing up in front of their eyes, so we find email marketing to be one of the most important strategies as well. The way we do that is using pop ups, if they’re thinking about leaving the page, they’re going to get a pop up asking them to leave their email for a certain coupon percentage for their next purchase.
Kunle: Let’s structure out your Facebook campaign. What does it look like? Do you have multiple campaigns running? Could you break down the set-up, how you’d recommend an etailer or an ecommerce marketer to structure out their Facebook campaign?
Julia: At first you’d have to decide whether you’re doing a targeted campaign or a retargeting campaign. For targeted campaigns, in general, you decide your audience and those are the people who are going to be shown this ad. Whereas retargeting is the people who had once visited your site, they will be shown this ad. The kind of ad you will show them will be different in content. For direct targeted campaigns, we use the built-in tool on Facebook and for retargeting, we use Perfect Audience which is also a platform to manage that. So if you’re going your targeted campaign, then you can simply go in and, under your conversion tracking, you have to select what the goal will be. Is that a registration, a checkout or leaving their email address? For our ecommerce stores, our goal is checkout whereas for Printful, our goal is registration. Then there are other campaigns that you can specifically target. For example, you can use the lookalike campaign option which is also a really great powerful tool and should not be forgotten, and playing with the different kind of set-ups, different images, a different copy for the text itself and what you’re going to say to them. For example, we’ve noticed that a smiling face is a much better conversion element than a random picture of the product. We have a picture of a smiling face and the picture of the product which is even better.
Kunle: Just to break it down, you have two sorts of campaigns, broadly speaking, you have the very targeted campaigns and then the retargeted campaigns to retarget ads to prior visitors to your site. You can also work on lookalike campaigns and you’re talking about testing and split testing and reverse ad types in Facebook to understand what ads actually work. That’s very interesting. You just mentioned something about Perfect Audience. Why do you use Perfect Audience rather than Facebook? Is there any particular reason? Is it more convenient or do you get more bang for your buck when you use a platform such as Perfect Audience?
Julia: I suppose it is more bang for your buck. It’s simply a comfortable platform to use to get the goal that you want. Though I wouldn’t be able to give you any other specific examples.
Kunle: What do you think about the new format, dynamic product ads that Facebook just recently released? Have you guys played around with it?
Julia: Do you mean with the video ads?
Kunle: No. The dynamic product ads for ecommerce. It was an announcement back in February and, basically, it allows you, similar to what Google does, when people browse your catalogue or a category in your store, Facebook would then serve a list of products in the newsfeed of your target audience. So rather than just a single advert, you would then have a 3-in-1 advert based on products. Very ecommerce centric I gather.
Julia: I think that sounds like a really great option and it will definitely have to be tested.
Kunle: It’s a very new format. I was just interested to see if people are starting to adopt it. Let’s talk about dropshipping. You’ve talked about the fact that you’ve used the dropshipping model both for Startup Vitamins and BeHappy. Could you break down why the choice? Because, personally, I see a lot of volatility, and compromise from a customer service stand point. If there’s a way, can you execute dropshipping well? And what’s your experience with your brands that use dropshipping as an option?
Julia: At first, when Startup Vitamins and BeHappy were launched, both were dropshipped from a third party. We ran into all of these problems in terms of customer service, or the third party company not being able to serve the product or fulfil the product as quickly as we had told our customers that they could expect them, so there would be less expectations and inconsistencies that we couldn’t control, and for us, it was so important to deliver a very qualitative experience because Startup Vitamins has a big focus on quality rather than anything else, that was kind of ruining the whole experience. But the reason we had decided to go with the dropshipping, is because buying t-shirt machines and mug printers etc, it quite expensive if you’re just getting started out and you don’t have that money to put down for it and you’re not even sure if your product will be popular, if you will just end up with 100 t-shirts in stock and nobody’s buying them, that’s just money wasted. So it was important for us to start with the dropshipping. As we came across these problems, that’s actually why we started Printful. We first brought our own poster printer and, because that was the only product available on Startup Vitamins at the time, we started printing our own posters. The comments we were getting from our customers were saying “the quality is amazing, can you print my posters for my ecommerce store?”, at first we were saying “no, absolutely not, we’re not a printing company”, and again, where there’s a demand, there’s an opportunity, so we started offering this to other people. Because of our terrible experience with dropshippers, we were kind of able to foresee where the problems would be and make sure that we don’t make those same mistakes.
For example, one of the issues was that our third party dropshipper would inform us that they don’t have a certain t-shirt in stock, or they wouldn’t inform us and they just didn’t have it in stock and we would be waiting for a month, and our customers were unhappy because they hadn’t received their t-shirt yet, and we had no idea why. So, with Printful, what we tend to do is inform people upfront of what t-shirts are available, which aren’t, or which products disable until they do become available again and so on. So little things like that as well as putting a focus on customer service, as you mentioned, if we make sure that the return address is our address, we can immediately solve the issue rather than having the ecommerce retailer in the middle of everything. If we do receive a complaint, we are the first to get in touch with the retailer and discuss what needs to be done to make this customer happy.
Kunle: Very good answers. Is it based off your LA office?
Julia: Yes, that’s right. One of the reasons for having a physical presence in the states was so that we would be able to ship from within the states, because that’s where 90% of our sales go, as I believe would be similar for other online retailers, so then that would be cheaper shipping costs and also faster shipping times.
Kunle: Ok. You did mention something about Printful. The fact that you reveal availability to customers upfront, you’re very open with it. But with dropshipping, how are you ale to get that visibility in stock levels? Am I missing something?
Julia: We were in touch with our retailers. As soon as we get an email for a product that isn’t in stock, then we will have an automatic emailing system that we will send out to the retailer saying “FYI, this product isn’t in stock, you can either change up the order or you can wait a month until it comes back”. It’s a technical kind of solution, and that’s where we have the hands up because we are first and foremost a tech company. Then we have the skills, the knowledge, the people who can implement possibly more technologically advanced solutions than your everyday print fulfilment dropshipper.
Kunle: Absolutely. So, with all three brands, what percentage of sales are fulfilled directly from your offices in LA in comparison to dropship partners you have?
Julia: I would say something like 90% is fulfilled by us. The reason for the other 10% would be, for example on Startup Vitamins, our second most popular product is the “get shit done” book, which we don’t ourselves print, but our publisher, Penguin books, prints, so we receive the stock and we’re able to sell it. Of course, they also have their channels through book stores and whatnot. At the same time, we just started a dropshipping experiment for Startup Vitamins, for a new product which is wooden engraved posters. We decided to create an experiment with very small stock at first, see if there’s demand for it, and within a week, they were all sold out so that’s an experiment that we’re going to have to continue.
Kunle: I like the choice of the word “experiment”. Very start-up. If the experiment actually proves to be right or to go in line with the hypothesis, then would you repeat it or would you say “this makes sense, let’s bring this competency in-house”?
Julia: That would be the option. Of course, it all depends on how it goes further, but yes, in general, that’s how it’s been done whereas if we didn’t have the skills or the competency, that would have to be evaluated if it’s reasonable to invest into the equipment that needs to be made and the people who are able to operate the equipment. But yes, that is generally how it works.
Kunle: Commercials have to work. Dropshipping could be used for experimenting initially and then scaling out to a full-fledged operation if the commercials actually work.
Julia: That’s right and a lot of ecommerce stores take advantage of these similar kind of experiments for new products, they can dropship only one new product and see if it’s worth buying stock afterwards.
Kunle: I love that in terms of experiment. Dropshipping and experiments really go hand in hand and are very complimentary. Is the “get shit done” book a book of quotes, or is it a normal book?
Julia: It is. It’s a book filled with something like 190 different quotes. Just the most inspiring, interesting or impactful quotes from Startup Vitamins are put onto one page each of the book.
Kunle: Great daily dose of inspiration. Read a page a day and get inspired. Obviously every page probably has a poster, which you can order from Startup Vitamins?
Julia: Yeah, the design is slightly altered from the original so that it fits the general books colour combination.
Kunle: Brilliant marketing. The next set of questions has got to do with what you’d suggest in terms of what kinds of products, given your success with dropshipping, what products make the ideal candidate for ecommerce dropshipping?
Julia: I’d say that the ideal products are products that you can add the added value to. For example, not just for print products like we do at Printful, there are so many dropshippers out there who dropship things like paint and coconut oil and whatnot. They’re all coming from the same group of dropshippers so, essentially, your job is to create that added value for the product. If you have a way to create that added value, for example, we’re not just selling posters, we’re selling interesting posters for entrepreneurs, that’s where the added value is, that’s where we can ask a little bit more money than a regular poster or blank t-shirt or something like that.
Kunle: I guess it would be a race to the bottom if it’s just commoditised. You sell the same thing as the next man, so when shoppers are actually coming, they actually just go for the cheaper brand, but if you add that value, it would be interesting. In terms of value, in your case, it’s the content and the design, the aesthetics, but could you say that the value could be in customer service or that the value could be in packaging the way things come in? Some techies would argue that, for instance, a pair of Beat headphones are not value for money, but they all come really packaged. How can you add value? I know in your example, you talked about the design and the content, but what other ways do you think that brands can add value when it comes to dropshipping especially, it’s a challenge isn’t it?
Julia: Yeah, I guess that depends on your dropshipper and how much they let you customise, for example, one element could be your marketing, you would just have to do fantastic marketing for your product, or the label, or the bottle that your coconut oil comes in. But at the same time, you’d have to see how flexible your dropshipper is. For example, for Printful, the way we can add value for a customer is we have non-branded packaging, so that Printful doesn’t show anywhere, but we also offer our retailers to print a free sticker, which is then put on the packages that are sent in their names. For example, Startup Vitamins, when we send out our products, every once in a while, we’ll throw in a few stickers or something nice so that when people open their packages, they have a nice little surprise, little extras. The question is: can your dropshipper do this? Otherwise, it’s in your hands to create the value, whether it’s with your design, whether it’s with your marketing, whether it’s with your website experience.
Julia: Design is one of the corner stones of the Draugiem Group in general, even the office is reflected, the company culture reflects it and so we have very high standards for our designers. They’re incredibly talented people, and within our entire team, everyone is in a constant form of self-development in their own industry, in their own niche. So they’ll be constantly reading, learning, viewing good case practices about UX, going to conferences and it’s a joint effort. Not only our designers and UX designers, but even our programmers have a good understanding of user experience and therefore they can also, with their programming skills, suggest to us a better form to be done, a better flow for the user. It’s the entire team that come together with their bits and pieces of knowledge. We have five different designers for the Draugiem Group.
Kunle: Five people are behind what I’m seeing now?
Julia: Yes. Predominantly, you’ll have one designer that creates the first version of the entire page, but then depending on what needs to be done, another may take over.
Kunle: Ok, let’s dig in. Again, I’m on your page, Printful for instance, as I said, I have an eye for design, there’s the subtle things, the “get me started” button has an arrow. An arrow just seems to be moving, not in a spammy way, but just giving a nudge, like “click me”. That, you can’t communicate on a static mock-up. At the top of that there’s “we print your custom design on t-shirts”, and then it disappears, and there’s “seeatshirts” and “canvas”, that again is tied in with copy. How do you kind of layer these up. Because normally, the process is quite linear, you finish your mock-ups and you code it up and you add copy or you start off with copy and you design around copy and then you code that out. How does the concept actually come, this experience come? Does everybody sit together to build out this experience?
Julia: Printful is a huge page and a huge site now, it’s grown into something very large. At first it generally it, it’s the project manager who comes together with the designer, the programmer and the copywriter and we discuss the feeling and the message that needs to be portrayed. For different projects, sometimes it happens differently. Sometimes, the text comes first, and then it’s gven to the designer and then the designer has to figure out how to make that visually happen on the page. Sometimes it’s the design that comes first and then you have to figure out how to, in that allotted space, portray the message. Recently, what we’ve been trying out is sitting next to each other and going through everything, the designer and copywriter hand in hand to figure out how much space needs to be allotted to what and why. Again, it’s a constant form of experimentation. You mentioned the moving arrow, that’s a result of reading up and learning, and reading case studies and reading about conversion rate optimisation. The moving arrow used to not be there, but after reading an article about how this little moving arrow can convert possibly better, then ok. It’s something so tiny and insignificant, but you just kind of add it as time goes by and it comes together and you’re left with what the Printful page is now. But, it’s constantly developing, doing constant tests, for example, the Printful page is very long with lots of content. For a while, we were doing an A/B test to take out the majority of that content and just leave the bare minimum and the sign up button and see if that converts better, and if it did, then we would take out the majority of the content. It turned out that it did not convert better, so we left it as it is.
So, just these constant experiments, because if you thinks it goes well, one year, two years can go by and people have changed, people’s behaviours, tendencies, and online use is changed. So it’s just a constant process of making everything better.
Kunle: Ok. I have another question in regards to Printful again. I’m on the site and I’ve just clicked on the “sign up” button, and I seem to have been firewalled on the sign up page. Is there a reason why, before I can do anything, there’s this sign up page? Does it create fiction or is it intentional?
Julia: It is intentional because the goal in general is to become a registered user. Of course, there are different resources that are completely available to anyone who isn’t registered and you can see the products, the pricing, the about us, and so on. We also have a lot of tools that we created for our users which we have made publically available. For example, t-shirt mock-up generators. For example, if you don’t have time or the money to do product photography for the product that you’re selling, you can upload your design and we superpose it onto the product that you’re selling. Right now, it’s just a t-shirt, and they can use that on their store. This is a tool that’s available to anyone, not only to our users. Anyone who wants to put a design on a t-shirt.
Kunle: Ok, that makes sense. You mentioned the fact that Printful is the biggest of all brands from a revenue standpoint, do you mind sharing what the revenue figures for each brand was in 2014?
Julia: During the past year, Printful made something like just under 3 Million in revenue. Startup Vitamins was 700,000, and BeHappy was 200,000.
Kunle: When was Printful started?
Julia: Just about a year and a half ago.
Kunle: Ok, so 18 months to 3 Million. That’s not bad at all for an ecommerce venture.
Julia: We think so too. To be managed form Europe, we think it’s pretty awesome.
Kunle: That is amazing. Where are the majority of your customers coming from?
Julia: The majority are from the States.
Kunle: How have you been able to get the word of mouth out about Printful? What’s a major source of revenue for Printful?
Julia: One of the keys to expanding Printful is to integrate with these ready-made ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, WooCommerce etc. Once we’re integrated with them, there’s already this kind of audience that is just ready and hungry for a print fulfilments partner and all we have to do is target them for example in a Facebook ad, and then quickly expand to them or work together with that platform to get a shoutout in a newsletter or write a guest post in their blog. So accessing these little pockets of ready-made ecommerce users/retailers, that’s definitely the biggest driver in new user acquisition.
Kunle: So it’s largely businesses looking to get their printing done, start-up businesses? Am I correct?
Julia: Right now, the majority of Printful users are people who have a really great idea, for example, for a t-shirt company, but they don’t have time or the money with sourcing the products, with shipping the products, they don’t have the money to hold stock, because the Printful system in one-off, it’s on demand, there’s absolutely zero risk, so you only pay for a product once you have an order come into your store.
Kunle: I think we should do a second podcast for this. This is very interesting I’m on the “how it works” page. So a guy who starts out, he buys something at your store, and then you fulfil for them, you’re an engine. Would you provide the customisation engine in the Shopify store or the Magento store, for instance? Because you said you plug in to these platforms.
Julia: We do. We plug in in the sense that as soon as an order goes into Gary’s store, then it is automatically sent to us and they don’t have to do anything, it’s just automatically printed and fulfilled.
Kunle: How quickly do you fulfil for them?
Julia: Our average is 2.5 business days.
Kunle: So you guys are dropshippers yourselves? You dropship for them?
Julia: That’s right.
Kunle: What challenges are you finding with being dropshippers? Being on the other side, for these brands. I’m quite sure that, because of your plug-in, it’s really helping in terms of getting data in.
Julia: Like I said, that’s how we’re a head above the rest because we are a tech company and therefore we can create these plug-ins and integrations possibly at a higher level than your average print fulfilment dropshipper. For us, since we’ve only been doing this for 2 years, it’s still a learning process and we’re still growing, and it’s really cool to be growing together with our users. The challenge is keeping up with the demand. Like I said, when we first began, all that we offered was posters, and then they were framed posters, and then they were t-shirts, and then mugs and so on. So it’s keeping up with other users demands, not to mention the knowledge that comes with the printing industry. I guess one of the big challenges is, if for example a t-shirt comes out not quite right with a smudge on the design, because of our quality standards, we’re not going to send it out, so it’s trying to figure out how to minimise those garments.
Kunle: I have another question. What percentage of sales comes directly from Printful.com vs your integration with partners/retailers?
Julia: That’s a really good question, but I don’t have the statistics with me right now. I wouldn’t be able to say.
Kunle: Does the 80/20 rule apply to partners stores. These entrepreneurs that have ideas for print businesses. Are you getting 80% of your business from a handful of partners or sellers, or is it evenly spread from a revenue standpoint?
Julia: That definitely used to be true. It’s very possible that lately, thy have been eclipsed by the small online growing retailers because it’s becoming so popular lately and the tools are so available that anyone can set up their own garment store/t-shirt store/poster store.
Kunle: There are many interesting lessons here. A lot of technology companies “don’t like touching products” in the first place. So it must have been a big leap for you guys to set up a venture that kind of handles products initially, and then now, you’re back to technology, and with the expertise of product, which is quite interesting, it’s hybrid. There’s a lot of potential with Printful I can see here.
Julia: Absolutely. It’s definitely a learning curve and that’s why it’s also incremental that we start with one product we master then we can master another product once we’ve got it unpacked. For example, I think just two months ago, we launched sublimation t-shirts which are all-over printing t-shirts, which, lately, have become so in demand, so it’s adapting to market demand and it’s definitely a learning curve. It’s a leap of faith, also not to mention going from our northern European climate to California, where it turns out that your equipment can just stop working in the heat.
Kunle: True. Do you want us to touch on anything? Have I covered a lot of ground?
Julia: I think you’ve covered a lot of ground.
Kunle: I still have a few questions, because you mentioned something about your pop-up strategy, where you have these exit intent pop-ups that display coupon codes to grab those email addresses. Do you have a coupon strategy in place? For our UK listeners, coupons mean vouchers/voucher codes.
Julia: Yes, we have a set of already existing coupons. Like I mentioned, as soon as you want to leave the website, there’s a pop-up that shows up. We use two different tools for that. One is SumoMe and the other is called MaxTraffic. They both do similar things with the pop-ups, and as soon as you move your mouse to go back or exit out, then it pops up “Are you sure you want to leave? Enter your email address and get your 5% discount code”. So first of all, we get their email address which we can then use to market to them afterwards, and second of all is also a nudge for them to make their first purchase. Then, once they have made their first order, a month later they receive another email asking them how they enjoyed their product, “is everything ok, and by the way here’s another coupon for you” for their second order.
Kunle: What happens after the first two?
Julia: Then, they’re hooked for life…
Kunle: You mentioned SumoMe by Noah Kagan. Is there a reason why you’re switching between SumoMe and MaxTraffic?
Julia: We started out using MaxTraffic before SumoMe was available. They’re excellent, they’re also a Latvian start-up and they’re really great. So we started using them for BeHappy and it worked really well. And now SumoMe has this really great tool which we use in our blog, blogging is also an excellent source of traffic, and for Printful it’s one of our top referrals that leads to a registration. At the end of a blog post, we have this function where we offer, for example, 10 free images which is something we discussed previously in the blog post and all they had to do to download those images is to leave their email address and SumoMe collects those emails and integrates it to our MailChimp email list. With this tool around, which we’ve used for three different blog posts, we got something like 150 email addresses.
Kunle: So the pop-up comes and says “hey, would you like to download these free images”, these are like templates or posters?
Julia: It’s a button at the bottom of the blog post saying “hey, now you’ve learnt the lesson, click this button to get your templates to implement these lessons”.
Kunle: Ok. Got you. SumoMe is free, there’s no cost involved? At least for the moment.
Julia: It definitely was free, I don’t know if it still is.
Kunle: Let’s go back to the blog, I’m on the blog. It’s a good thing you mentioned the blog because I was going to close up on the interview. What’s been the blogging strategy? You’ve been around for 18 months. Was it planned out, and how far was it planned out for initially? How did you learn? Did you learn from feedback, from content? How the audience actually responds to content and then reiterate it?
Julia: As I mentioned, we’re always in a constant process of self-educating and learning from the best that there are etc. Recently it’s been so overwhelming that it’s obvious that you need to deal with a lot of content marketing to have the pull marketing rather than the push marketing, to have people trust you also for search engine optimisation reasons, or even to explain something more in detail if you don’t have the space. From the very get-go it was clear to us that we need to be blogging. At first, I was more accurate towards sales, but then with time, seeing the need, I definitely switched more into a content marketing role to facilitate this.
Kunle: I think the challenge is management always love to know ROI, and if you say you’re investing X amount of money on an infographic and it requires research and you need to be able to design it as this, it doesn’t generate sales, however it generates loads of links which obviously help your domain authority, some companies will actually appreciate that, they want to see direct return, direct sales. How would you advise marketers to bring the case from a content marketing to owners who are just looking at black and white numbers?
Julia: I totally agree with you because with content marketing, you don’t have direct feedback. “You posted this, therefore you will have more traffic”. That’s not really how it works all the time and it’s like a snowball effect that the more you work on it, the more it grows, the more it takes care of itself and the more effect you have. So definitely, at the very beginning, it’s very hard to prove that there is some sort of return on investment, so possibly from the very beginning, you have to go with case studies and say “hey, check out these companies that have been able to grow this and this much”. For example, with Printful, we can say that 1/3 of our registrations come directly from the blog. Therefore you have a direct reason to say that we need to invest in creating content, in writers, in creating these long stories.
Kunle: That makes sense. Let’s round up, it’s almost coming to an hour, but it’s been fantastic. I didn’t see some things coming really, which is brilliant, interviewing, talking and digging through. My final question has got to do with the kind of businesses that use Printful. These Shopify start-ups, these guys that have ideas, are you seeing any trends? Are they quite young? I remember there was a time when I was interviewing some chaps and one guy really stood out for me, because we have an apprenticeship thing, I was trying to hire some under 20s for an old business of mine and he told me he had a t-shirt business and he was quite entrepreneurial, quite memorable for me. He had designs and everything, for all I know, he could’ve been using you guys or whoever. Are you finding the demographic of these stores to be quite young people trying to deliver an alternative to the established corporate fashion brands out there? Or is it just corporates trying to design t-shirts for their conference and stuff like that? What’s the trend you’re seeing from these new businesses?
Julia: I think it’s definitely a younger demographic for sure, because first of all, they’re comfortable in the internet world and second of all because they have the tech knowledge to create a design, create an online store and to integrate it with Printful. So they’re definitely tech savvy, young, people who aren’t finding what they want in the fashion world and so they create their own with their own added value. Then there’s also another demographic which is artists, musicians or we’ve seen for example, a golf club who have their own forum online and they’ve also got a tab that says “shop” and you can shop with their logo on top of it. It’s a quick way to give people the merchandise, the paraphernalia that they want without investing a whole lot of time and money like it can happen.
Kunle: What kind of margins do they typically put on their cost?
Julia: I can give you an example. Two of our most popular basic t-shirts are $15 and $16 each, that’s not including shipping. That’s what it costs the retailer to get this t-shirt with the printing on, so it’s really up to them how much they want to put on it. I think, easily, the majority will take on $10, $25 for a t-shirt is absolutely normal. Then it depends on the added value, it can go up from there. For example, one of our clients is a popular cartoonist and he’s able to sell his clothes at a much higher price than regular.
Kunle: It circles back to what you said before. Dropshipping and adding that value, building that equity initially from content and design, then you could afford to differentiate yourself and charge more. Fantastic. I’m just going to ask you three last questions. They’re all advice, advice, advice. One is advice for dropship ecommerce businesses?
Julia: Jump in and try it out.
Kunle: The second is advice for growing and scaling ecommerce marketing?
Kunle: And finally, advice for ecommerce success from Facebook traffic?
Julia: Knowing your audience and adapting the message to them.
Kunle: Good stuff. Thank you so much Julia for being part of the show today, it was fun having you on.
Julia: Thank you for having me.
Julia: Bye for now.