Starting & Scaling A Business With Printful CEO Dāvis Siksnāns

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It’s no secret that we’re big fans of print-on-demand here at A Better Lemonade Stand. In fact, it was one of our first blog posts about how to start a t-shirt business in 24 hours with $24 that went viral and inspired many other entrepreneurs to start their own t-shirt businesses as well. What made our t-shirt business possible back then was Printful — and Printful is making even more businesses possible, today.

Printful is a print-on-demand dropshipping company that was launched in 2013 by Latvian business incubator, Draugiem Group. The Draugiem Group has launched hundreds of businesses since its inception in 2004, with Printful being one of its most successful. At the helm of Printful, leading their global team to unicorn-level status, is CEO Dāvis Siksnāns.

Siksnāns joined the Draugiem Group as an IT administrator when he was just 18 years old, and over time, his skills grew and so did his role within the Group. After four years of proving himself and his abilities, he was brought on to lead the launch of Printful, which was created by the Group when they were trying to solve one of their own pain points (more on what that pain point was later in this interview).

Now, Siksnāns runs Printful exclusively and has been a major player in the company’s growth over the last several years. Since he’s an integral part of the print-on-demand industry, we got in touch with him to see what he has to say about print-on-demand, dropshipping, Printful’s successes and failures, and where he sees the future of ecommerce heading.

Enjoy this interview with Dāvis Siksnāns, co-founder and CEO of Printful.

Key Takeaways

  • Print-on-demand gives businesses the freedom to easily add and change products without committing to expensive warehousing & cost-up-front inventory
  • Consumers care about sustainability — not just in regards to the products, but within the supply chain itself
  • T-shirts, hoodies, and mugs are some of the top-selling products from Printful merchants right now, with interest in eco-friendly products continuing to grow
  • Printful is continuing to add more warehouse facilities around the world so customers can get their orders even faster
  • The main challenge when it comes to the future of ecommerce? Keeping a balance between speed and sustainability

Interview with Dāvis Siksnāns, CEO of Printful

Why is print-on-demand an important business model? Why should merchants choose print-on-demand over any other business model?

Print-on-demand is ideal for those who are just getting started, want to test new products, or want to add a merch component to their business. We work primarily with small- to medium-sized customers but also with enterprise-level companies that handle large volumes.

A key benefit of print-on-demand is that you can react in real-time to whatever is going on and have instantly viral products — we see designs go viral that respond to pop culture moments, politics, and memes. For example, the Bernie Sanders mitten meme from the presidential inauguration generated a lot of new merch.

Consumers are also paying increasingly more attention to sustainability, so we hope that more industries open their eyes to the environmental benefits of on-demand manufacturing. For example, when everything is printed on-demand, less leftover inventory has to end up in landfills. If you print on demand, you don’t have to buy inventory in bulk, and you’re not stuck with products that don’t sell.

When everything is printed on-demand, less leftover inventory has to end up in landfills. If you print on demand, you don’t have to buy inventory in bulk, and you’re not stuck with products that don’t sell.

Why should a merchant source from Printful rather than another drop-shipper? What advantages does Printful offer over other choices?

What makes us stand out is that Printful aims to be a one-stop-shop and not a middle man.

We own the entire production process — from product quality control and printing tech to fulfillment and shipping carrier partnerships. Printful also has in-house fulfillment centers in the USA, Mexico, Europe, and Canada, and we cover a broad geographical area with partners in Japan, Brazil, and Australia, which means faster fulfillment and shipping times to customers worldwide.

Printful supports a wide range of currencies, languages, and integrations in order to be as accessible as possible. On top of printing, we also offer many additional services like warehousing, custom branding, design, product photography and video services, just to name a few.

Dropshipping as a business model, in general, is known for having slim profit margins. Any advice for how merchants can keep their profit margins as healthy as possible so they can be as profitable as possible?

I would suggest focusing a lot on creating content that resonates with your customer base.

With Printful, one of the most important keywords that we want to rank for on Google is “print-on-demand” and its variations, and our Marketing team has always been focused on writing content with this goal in mind. And to this day, most growth coming to Printful is organic because we invested a lot over the years by producing blog posts, videos, and other content about topics that matter to our customers.

You want to think about who your customers are, what content they’re searching for, and invest in SEO very early on. This means that you will save a lot of time and money on largely ineffective advertising, which will boost your margins.

If you’ve established your brand as trustworthy and built a relationship with your customers, you can look into charging an above-average price for your garments, emphasizing their quality and exclusivity. A loyal customer base will be much more likely to pay a premium price for your hard work.

A loyal customer base will be much more likely to pay a premium price for your hard work.

Dropshipping can sometimes also be seen as an unfriendly business model in terms of scalability. How can merchants scale their print-on-demand business? What do they need to keep in mind as they’re growing?

If you’re starting or expanding your business through Printful, you don’t have to worry about outgrowing us or not being able to meet the demands of an expanding consumer base. We definitely have the capacity to accommodate the growth of our customers and aid in their global expansion efforts.

Printful has invested $50.3 million in printing equipment across 10 countries, and we have shipped 35.4 million items totaling over $848 million sold by our customers. In fact, we already work with large enterprise-level businesses that operate with large volumes. Enterprise-level customers make up an increasing share of our revenue, so we are working on strategically choosing new locations for facilities to accommodate. We’re also constantly improving internal processes and technology solutions to reinforce our capacity to work with clients of any volume. The goal is to help the fashion and retail world take full advantage of the on-demand production model globally.

Using Printful has plenty of benefits for large-scale businesses, including avoiding waste from unsold inventory, near-immediate releases of new products, and an easily accessible network of worldwide fulfillment centers. Opening your own facilities is expensive and may not always pay off. It takes a lot of work and negotiation to find the right partners and settle on the terms that would make it a worthwhile investment. If your business uses Printful, we take care of the partnerships and logistics so you don’t have to, which makes growing and scaling up your business even easier.

Are there any success stories you can highlight from Printful’s merchants? What made their print-on-demand stores so successful?

We have tons of customer success stories from all over the world, many of which are featured on our blog, but I also have some favorite examples. One great story is that of Jesus and Sergio who started Gay Pride Apparel in 2019 as a side business. After a year and a half, they quit their day jobs and decided to focus on the store full time. Another remarkable example is Jolie Noire, which stands for “Pretty Black” in French. It’s a growing elevated athleisure brand started by Keyondra and Kim — two sisters who aim to empower women, specifically Black women, by reminding them that Black is beautiful.

How can businesses that already exist, or merchants who are already selling, use Printful to grow even bigger?

It’s easy for established businesses to get stuck in a rut with the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Testing out the demand for new products involves massive upfront costs for inventory production and storage, but being able to launch a new product easily and immediately could lead to discovering an untapped market and new growth opportunities. Print-on-demand allows you to experiment with new products with little-to-no upfront cost or waiting time.

Our catalog already includes 280+ carefully selected and quality-controlled products, and we add dozens of new products every year. New additions always come with meticulous research and we believe that every product we introduce holds a lot of potential to fit right into our customers’ stores.

What can businesses do to make their print-on-demand products stand out from other print-on-demand products on the market? What are some ways they can make their brand stand out from competitors?

You really have to be willing to focus a lot of your time and energy on good branding and marketing. Many companies believe that they can make a great product and that the product is going to sell itself. I, however, disagree and believe that marketing should be one of the main priorities from day one because even the best product needs to be brought to the right people. Many companies build great products but fall short because they don’t have effective marketing teams to successfully get their products out to customers.

I… believe that marketing should be one of the main priorities from day one because even the best product needs to be brought to the right people.

This also includes investing in good photos, even on social media. High-quality pictures signal trust and great products, while poorly-done pictures actively harm the perception of your brand. We do our best to make life easier for our sellers by doing the work for them — all our products come with a variety of high-quality mockups that can further be customized in our Custom Mockup Maker. In case mockups don’t cut it, customers can also request our photography services, and then our team of in-house photographers will take professional pictures for them.

Another aspect to think about is the niche you are going into. We see our customers succeed when they pick a very distinct niche based on their knowledge of it or ability to target it using social media.

If you were to start a business right now using one of Printful’s products, what would you start selling and why?

I care about sustainability, and it’s also becoming an increasingly important factor to consumers, so I would definitely pick something from our eco-friendly product line. Maybe a streetwear-inspired eco-friendly hoodie or sweatshirt with some minimalist embroidery on it would be a good place to start. It’s something that is both timeless and trendy, especially if you get it slightly oversized.

How do you decide which products to add to Printful’s inventory? Is it driven by your own trend forecasting and/or product gaps, or is it mostly led by what your customers want to sell?

It’s definitely both; we keep a finger on the pulse of how trends move, but we also receive constant feedback from our customers. It’s a delicate balance between the insights we get from our Customer Support team and the research we do to predict trends.

We perform extensive analysis (so that our customers don’t have to) and try to make sure that new products are likely to sell in high volumes and with good margins. Ultimately, we want our customers’ products to be able to sell, so we need to think about the end buyers and their wishes.

Have there ever been any products you’ve tried to add to your inventory but haven’t been able to? Why haven’t they worked?

Yes, of course, that’s a very normal thing during product development — you test things, and not everything works out. Multiple products have been created and put through beta testing in the past but haven’t passed that stage because they didn’t fulfill our quality expectations. A great example of this was black mugs — we tried multiple ways of improving the quality, but they weren’t compatible with the sublimation technique, and we just weren’t happy with the product, so we decided to cancel it.

What’s the most popular product (or products) on Printful right now? What sells like hotcakes?

Products like t-shirts, hoodies, and mugs continue to lead the way as staple products because those are the easiest to start with. However, we have been expanding our catalog with more unique products lately, which can help our customers stand out from the crowd. Tie-dye, distressed, and vintage patterns have been a few of the hottest trends lately, so we do our best to accommodate. Eco-friendly products have also been gaining in popularity lately, and we expect this to continue.

Can you give us any hints or insider information about products or product categories that might be coming to Printful soon? Or any brand new services Printful might be adding to help merchants?

We’re constantly working on new products and services, but we’d prefer not to disclose any specific upcoming releases. You can definitely expect new additions in every product category, though. Having said that, I can at least tell you about our new locations in Texas, Poland, and the UK coming later this year. We’re also moving to a larger space in California and expanding our current capacity in Mexico by adding another facility.

Do you notice any trends in the types of products that merchants want to sell online? Do you have any idea of where ecommerce product trends might go in the future?

The big shifts over the past year and throughout 2021 have been heavily influenced by the pandemic. We’ve seen an enormous increase in demand for face masks, loungewear, and athleticwear, along with the mass shift towards working from home. We suspect that these changes are here to stay for the most part since companies are looking into making remote work the norm, and employees won’t be willing to let go of the freedom they experienced during this time. Another trend to be on the lookout for is unisex and oversized streetwear, driven largely by the growing Gen Z audience.

Overall, we’ve noticed that consumers are increasingly shifting towards sustainability in their everyday choices. After surveying our customers, 83% stated that sustainability is a must-have for the brands they choose, which leads to a shift away from seasonal fashion and more towards high-quality products that can be worn for longer. We expect this trend to further pick up in the upcoming years.

After surveying our customers, 83% stated that sustainability is a must-have for the brands they choose, which leads to a shift away from seasonal fashion and more towards high-quality products that can be worn for longer.

What’s been Printful’s biggest success to date?

We are the first Latvian unicorn, putting us on the map alongside Estonia’s Skype, Wise, and Lithuania’s Vinted. Getting a valuation of more than $1 billion confirms the strength of Printful’s position and also shows that we operate in an industry with significant growth potential.

What’s been Printful’s biggest failure to date?

In ecommerce, it’s essential to deliver goods to your customers as quickly as possible. We can see that with Amazon — they’ve seen immense success with their two-day fulfillment and by putting their fulfillment centers close to where their customers are. We are trying to follow that in our own way through strategic location choices and localization efforts, but I wish we had started these projects sooner.

What goal is Printful striving towards right now?

More than anything, we want to become a true one-stop-shop for anybody who wants to start an ecommerce business. We aim to be able to help any entrepreneur build their small and medium-sized online business without having to worry about printing, shipping, and warehousing, so they can focus on their passion and the fun parts of running their business.

We aim to be able to help any entrepreneur build their small and medium-sized online business without having to worry about printing, shipping, and warehousing, so they can focus on their passion and the fun parts of running their business.

Is it true that Printful has its own Printful store (Startup Vitamins)? What have you learned by continuing to be one of your own customers?

Yes, it’s true, and Printful was started to solve a problem that Startup Vitamins encountered.

Originally, we created Startup Vitamins to design posters with inspirational startup quotes and sell them on demand. Once we moved into designing apparel, we wanted to stick with the same on-demand model, but the only places doing that at the time were mom-and-pop print shops. They printed t-shirts, but couldn’t quite adapt to the new age of ecommerce and online stores quickly enough, which is what inspired Printful — we needed a print-on-demand service that would integrate with our Shopify backend. So the idea of Printful came from us meeting our own needs.

Finding this niche helped us understand our customers better and develop a better service. This is why all the products we sell on Startup Vitamins are still fulfilled by Printful. We use our own products and often test new features, which allows us to be our own customer with Printful.

In your opinion, where does the future of print-on-demand look like it’s going? What changes might we see, or what new things are on the horizon?

Ecommerce is only going to keep growing as more people shop online. However, the industry will have to keep up with increasing expectations for faster shipping, faster fulfillment, mobile commerce, and other factors that influence how shopping online can offer instant gratification.

Another challenge that ecommerce will have to face is maintaining the delicate balance between speed and sustainability since both of these things are becoming increasingly important to consumers.

What message would you give to merchants who are thinking about starting their first online store but aren’t sure where to start, or are overwhelmed by everything it takes to get started?

Just give it a try! You’re really not losing anything since there’s no stock to buy and store. Play around with the designs that you have in mind, watch some YouTube tutorials, subscribe to A Better Lemonade Stand for some regular marketing wisdom, and order a sample to see if it’s something you would wear yourself. If yes, share it with the world.

Conclusion

Big thanks to Dāvis Siksnāns for sharing these insights with us — we hope his wisdom taught you a little something about dropshipping, print-on-demand, and Printful.

Curious to start your own ecommerce store now? Start it with Printful! It seriously couldn’t be easier and like Siksnāns said, “just give it a try!” What do you have to lose?

To get more from Siksnāns, follow him on Twitter. To learn more about why we think Printful is worth the hype, check out our Printful Review. For more advice and inspiration on how to make the best products with Printful, check out Printful’s YouTube channel and Printful’s blog.



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