Teespring looks to expand from custom T’s to e-commerce

At the monthly Providence Geeks dinner at AS220, Teespring co-founder and CEO Walker Williams provided some insight into how his crowdfunding platform for custom apparel has risen to become the latest juggernaut startup in Providence. More

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Teespring looks to expand from custom T’s to e-commerce

THE HOME PAGE of Teespring shows off the immediacy of T-shirt-based campaigns that the Providence-based startup facilitates, including one that celebrates the hero of the United States' ice hockey win over Russia in the Winter Olympics.
Posted 2/20/14

PROVIDENCE – Addressing a roomful of entrepreneurs, local officials and supporters gathered for the monthly Providence Geeks dinner at AS220, Teespring co-founder and CEO Walker Williams provided some insight into how his crowdfunding platform for custom apparel has risen to become the latest juggernaut startup in Providence.

Williams and his fellow Brown University student Evan Stites-Clayton first conceived Teespring in 2011 as a one-off campaign to save local college bar Fish Co., selling T-shirts printed with the words “Free Fish Co.” and the bar’s logo.

The first night after launching the website, hundreds of shirts had been sold, the site had thousands of visitors, and dozens of students and club organizers on campus had emailed Williams asking if he could design a similar fundraising platform for their own T-shirt campaigns.

“That was when we knew we had something,” said Williams.

Teespring grew up around the idea that, through crowdfunding, anyone could create a custom T-shirt of their own design with the same quality as brand-name apparel. Each Teespring client sets a price point and a target number of T-shirts that have to be sold before the shirts will be produced. If enough people pre-order the shirt, Teespring sends the design to a U.S.-based printer for production, ships out the shirts to each individual buyer, and handles customer service. If the target isn’t met, the client loses nothing except the time spent designing the T-shirt.

In the beginning, Teespring’s client base consisted mainly of university student clubs and nonprofit organizations, but as the company grew, Williams said they began to see new types of clients using the site. Facebook group owners looking to sell T-shirts to their members make up a significant percentage of Teespring’s clients, he said, along with e-commerce entrepreneurs who use analytics culled from Facebook to design shirts tailored to specific demographic groups.

One such pair of entrepreneurs has earned $1.5 million in profit over the last three months through targeted Teespring campaigns.

“We want to be a platform that powers e-commerce,” said Williams. “Logistics, production, inventory – all of that we can standardize and handle, if you bring your creativity to us.”

After the company’s official launch in 2012, Teespring struggled through startup hiccups and was losing money every month, but as the team learned to understand its clients, Williams said, they began to see steady, if gradual, revenue growth.

The company now employs about 70 people at offices in Providence and San Francisco, and thousands of campaigns are launched daily through Teespring’s Web-based platform, according to TechCrunch.

In his presentation at the Providence Geeks event, Williams showed off a chart of Teespring’s sales growth since early 2013, which is no longer steady and gradual but rather explosive and dramatic. The far right end of the chart, representing the last few months, spiked sharply upward.

“Sorry I can’t label the Y-axis,” said Williams with a sheepish smile. “My investors would kill me if I put numbers on here.”

Right now, Teespring is running quiet at the request of its investors, Williams said. Aside from the announcement last month that Teespring had closed on a $20 million funding round led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, the company hasn’t shared any details about its earnings or funding.

However, Williams did share his vision for Teespring. Currently, Teespring’s crowdfunding platform only allows customized T-shirts, hoodies and other simple apparel, but in the next year and a half, Teespring will make additional customizable products available to clients and entrepreneurs who use the website.

“T-shirts are for Teespring what books were for Amazon,” said Williams.

The first new products will be items that (like T-shirts) can be sourced through existing supply chains, such as coffee mugs, posters and other promotional merchandise. Ultimately, Williams said, he hopes Teespring can introduce new products based on what its clients want to create, whether or not the item has an existing supply chain.

“This is not us as a big company,” said Williams. “What you see in Teespring today I hope will be drastically different in a year.”

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