Are you looking for a viable business to pursue as a side hustle? Would you like your side hustle to have the potential to replace your job? Would you like to avoid putting any significant money at risk to get started?

If you answered yes to these questions, then this interview is for you.

The idea of starting a business venture is daunting for everyone. Critical questions start popping in your head like how to start? What to sell? How much money should I invest? What if it doesn’t work?  

In this episode, we have Printful CEO and Co-Founder Davis Siksnans walk us through his entrepreneurial journey in the world of the print on demand industry. Printful is one of the industry’s largest print on demand dropshipping businesses with more than 800 employees and five fulfillment centers in North Carolina, California, Mexico, and Latvia. The company has fulfilled almost 16 million items since it launched in 2013.

When you’re starting a business, you usually look for gaps in need and supply and fill that void. The idea for Printful came into light one day while Davis was searching for a print on demand job sharing company that could fulfill T-Shirts quickly and with top quality. He then decided to fill that void and Printful was born!

Davis shares success stories of his clients who used timely and millenial-related marketing channels such as influencers to grow a business. It is also equally important to be on top of the market competition by being well informed about the trends and what’s new in your niche. 

People absolutely love custom apparel and with print-on-demand combined with the ease of getting custom graphics created for you on sites like Fiverr, getting into the print on demand business could be just the thing for aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020.

Look for unexplored niches to dominate. Thinking big and not being limited geographically by targeting big markets such as the US would really help expand your business in no time! To help minimize unnecessary expenses, you can always look for penny-worth-it ecommerce platforms such as Shopify. 

If you want to try print on demand, Davis provides an idea of how to price your print on demand products based on the type of product you choose to market. He also sheds light to what happens in the back end when a customer orders an item from an eCommerce store such as Shopify, from order completion to fulfillment. 

Curious to know more? Watch or listen to the episode below.

Full Transcript

Trent:                  Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Bright Ideas Podcast. As always, I am your host Trent Dyrsmid, and I’m here to share with you the stories of the today’s most successful entrepreneurs and more importantly to extract all the best golden nuggets that I can during each and every interview so you can take these away and implement them in your business. Not tomorrow, but ideally today. So my guest on the show today is a fellow by the name of Davis, Siksnans, and I think I’ve pronounced that correctly. And Davis is the CEO of a company called Printful, one of the industry’s largest print on demand dropshipping businesses with more than 800 employees and five fulfillment centers in North Carolina, California, Mexico and Latvia. The company has fulfilled almost 16 million items since it was launched in 2013 so Davis thank you very much for making some time. Welcome to the show.

Davis:                  Well, thanks for having me. It’s great to be on a show.

Trent:                  So 16 million items. I assume that you personally handled every single one of those.

Davis:                  Yeah, I try. I mean my face is in our apps that our employees use when fulfilling the orders. So I mean, I annually. Yeah. 60 million items. It’s exciting.

Trent:                  That’s a big number. So let’s start with a tiny bit about you. who are you? How did you get into this business and and let’s begin there.

Davis:                  So I’m the CEO and co founder, so actually I’ve been since the very beginning and the businesses co-founded was me and two other Latvians. We came from Latvia, a small country in the north east of Europe and we’ve been involved as other businesses into internet space. One of the co founders actually is most well known for stabbing the social network in Latvia by taking an idea of, for instance, the first ever social network that existed. So they started that back when Facebook was started, but that business looks successful and we used money to invest in other businesses. And you know, my co founders have started together maybe hundred business ideas over the course of 15 years and just Printful happens to be the most successful out of all of them. And I got enrolled as them initially working on social network about 10 plus years now.

Davis:                  And you know, a lot of those business ideas were mostly focused on the Latvia. And then the last financial crisis happened. We really want to go for the best and biggest market there is in U.S. And so we started working on various ideas for eCommerce in the United States markets while the co-founders moved to Los Angeles. That’s where our first fulfillment center for Printful is. And we started building eCommerce stores and one was built on Shopify, which is a well known platform for anybody in e-commerce who wants to start an online store and it’s still around. That gave the inspiration to start Printful later and the business all started. So we were selling motivational posters which quotes for other businesses. You know, we kind of tackle though our own need because we were a startup company and wanted to have inspirational quotes like you seem to have in your office.

Davis:                  And our co-founder, just printed them in his home, brought the printer within his home in LA. And every day he just go down to local USPS center and drop them off and to send it off to the customers. And the business was actually going, well we kinda tapped into a niche. Actually we’re unlocking some good things, marketing advertising was way cheaper. Six, seven, that was about eight, nine years ago, you know, basically advertising was way cheaper back then. And we wanted to move beyond posters and we were looking for a print on demand job sharing company who can fulfill T-Shirts on demand, just like we do posters. You really need paper and new print on them. And we just couldn’t find the company that would do it fast and a quality way. And we’re integrated with our backend at the time, which was Shopify. And that is how we got an idea to start Printful and I’ve been involved ever since the company as a CEO.

Trent:                  Love it. All right, so today we are going to talk about for the folks who maybe don’t yet have a business, why you think someone looking for, we’ll call it a side hustle, should consider a print on demand business. So let’s, let’s deal with that one first. For the entrepreneurs, you don’t have a business. They’re thinking of like, what should I do? I’d love to start something on the side. I’d love to have it be able to become something that maybe could replace my job at some point in time. There’s lots of options for them to choose from. Why do you think print on demand is worthy of their consideration?

Davis:                  Print on demand is great because there’s not a big upfront investment required from you as an entrepreneur who’s starting out to start an experiment and start selling something. These days, Shopify and platforms like that have made it easy to have and Ecommerce platform. So you can pay Shopify $29 or you can just get Bold Commerce and pay just for hosting and that’s going to be maybe $10 a month. And then Printful and services like that and print on demand is entirely free to use. You only pay when you get an order. So we give folks who sign up to us tools like our mock-up generator, we assess these designs, the educate them how to find their niche, make some sample graphics. They can choose from 220 products, but essentially they don’t have to invest in their own warehouse, hire their own staff or buy expensive printers.

Davis:                  Some of these printers that we are actually using and some of the been buying more recently costs half a million dollars, something out of the reach for anybody who is just starting out. But by using print on demand, you get access to that state of the art printing equipment and can compete on an even playing field. There’s other companies who for instance, do it in house or have been invested. So print on demand is easiest way to start. and you can get a listing up on your store given that you can design something that really within hours.

Trent:                  Okay. So let’s break this down into some pretty simple steps. Suppose that I am somewhat intrigued about doing print on demand, but I don’t have any ideas for products. How do I start getting ideas?

Davis:                  Well, you can think [inaudible] yourself. I mean, that’s how we started Startup Vitamins. We moved into new office and actually it was, the office was previously a gallery, an art gallery and it had beautiful wall space and we want to put cool stuff on it. Something that would resonate as us as a startup culture. And they were just Googling around startup posters and keywords like that and we just couldn’t find the quotes that they liked the designs they liked. So we ended up designing our own poster designs and putting up them on the sale. Tweak. This is a, you know, our SEO to make sure we were ranked number one on keywords startup posters, invested, the advertising, did other stuff. So a lot of great ideas usually come from your own needs. That’s one way we’d start, but others’ way.

Davis:                  So you can do your research in social media such as Pinterest, seeing what’s popular, what people are pinning or what people are sharing on social media such as Instagram. But, but really to develop later, you need to have some relation to that niche understand that niche. And in the case of Startup Vitamins, we understood the potential customer really well because we were that potential customer. And what we see in most successful customers, So Printful that time they, you know, they too are from that community. For instance, we have a lot of people who sell a lot of the dog related designs and they just really loved dogs and consume a lot of that content so they can create the best designs who is gonna resonate is people like them.

Trent:                  And as all of this stuff going on T-shirts, are you printing on 3D objects or what? What does that look like?

Davis:                  We have more than 220 different products, but most of them are different kinds of apparel. So apparel is actually the dominant category in eCommerce. So when we started the Startup Vitamins, we started with posters and that worked well, was that niche. But when we looked at just people buying stuff on the internet and we knew that we would have to move into apparel. So customers really can choose a lot of the products beyond apparel products that sell really well and have continuously sold really well arep things like mugs, phone cases and others. So we have products like that too.

Trent:                  Okay. So pretty much anybody who’s interested in just about anything could for example, decide they’re going to come up with funny t-shirts related to whatever the heck they’re interested in. And your company can print good quality stuff on these t-shirts. Okay, well that’s all fine and dandy. So let’s say I’ve got a few ideas that, that I’m wanting to put on some t-shirts. There’s two, two roadblocks that come to mind. First of all, I’m not a designer, so I don’t know how to make the design number one. And then number two, once I’ve got a design made, how do I test it to make sure that, you know, this is actually worth any time and effort. And how long does that take and what does that cost?

Davis:                  Right. So, yeah, there’s ways to get around it. First of all, most print on demand sides including Printful, they have a designer tool built in. So simple designs like the base design, simple geometric shapes will be right in the generator. You do not need to hire an external designer to get you up and running. You can choose between the fonts we supply. So we have an actual, one of the customers was, we had it from another country nearby Latvia. Estonia has a design inspired by local pride. So their designs are really simple. It has just a name of a city on a t-shirt in a font. No other illustration beyond that. So literally, the designs couldn’t be more simple and you didn’t need to hire a designer for that. Then you only needed to work with marketing like influencers, social media marketing, stuff like that. So one: don’t you, you don’t overestimate your need to hire an external designer. However if you need to, we have design services team in place where you can email them and they’ll be all, I’m, I would like to design this tune and they’re going to design you a cartoon for a fee. And beyond that you can use external services. Where you can hire designers of varying prices such as Fiverr.

Trent:                  Yeah, there’s a lot of designers on Fiverr that will make t-shirts for you.

Davis:                  Yeah. 99Designs. And there was a company that recently called Upwork, right? You can hire any kind of specialists and help on Upwork. So you can use those to hire somebody.

Trent:                  Okay. So coming up with a design is actually not as difficult as you would think if you are not a talented designer. So now how, in terms of testing my idea, cause obviously you have to be able, if you’re going to run ads to get traffic, you’ve got to think about, well what’s the clicks going to cost? What’s the conversion rate to how well is my t-shirt going to sell? Like there’s a whole economic equation to figure out whether or not this is going to be a profitable particular product. Can you shed some light on what you’ve seen some of your customers doing in terms of running those tests? And what rule of thumb numbers people might want to consider in terms of something determining whether the product’s going to be viable?

Davis:                  The first thing about print on demand that’s good that when you create a listing, there’s no, you only invest time and maybe a little bit of money in design, but beyond that it didn’t cost anything. So you can test a lot of different listings, a lot of different products and designs. Generally we suggest our customers to charge at least 30% or more market price on top of the principal’s wholesale price and depending on your product you choose. So if you chose to 30% on a sticker, you have very little, you know, dollar amounts in there in your margin to test sufficiently and actually get someone to buy. But we have products ranging from a price of sticker, which is a couple dollars to more premium products like a wall art, a frame wall art and you can sell those for $100 or more.

Davis:                  So if you choose products like that, you have much bigger dollar amount there to test, advertising on places like Google and Facebook and Instagram, et cetera. So if I were a Printful customer, I would test my design, sell them on those products that cost more because the advertising on Facebook has gotten more expensive. I could still charge like 30%, maybe 50% or more on top of that, but you know, instead of having a $5 margin, I’m getting like $20 margin, $30 margin. So you know, you choose products and you know, look at our product categories or some of these other companies’ product catalog. I would go for the highest priced products myself, you sell a higher priced product and then you add in a lot of lower cost products to use upselling. There’s many apps for that. You can upsell the stickers and mugs and phone cases that are relatively inexpensive in that one sale.

Trent:                  Okay. And to be clear, folks, are they using your platform for their online store or are they getting a Shopify store and then connecting it for fulfillment through to your service so that when they get an order in the Shopify store, your printers are actually printing and shipping the product?

Davis:                  Yeah, so we don’t have a billing platform. You will always need to rely on Shopify or Woo Commerce or Wix or Big commerce or on sale happening marketplaces that we work with such as Etsy, but a result, all of these partners, we have an API integration. That means once the, you sell something, an order comes in on the Shopify’s end or at Etsy’s end, it will ultimately go through our backend and as long as you paid for the order, it will go into fulfillment. We print back and ship the order. Once we ship it, we provide the tracking number back to the platform. So just Shopify and Etsy. And then that platform sends the tracking link directly to the buyer.

Trent:                  So let’s talk about some success stories. Now within your customer base, obviously with the size of your company, you’ve got lots of customers. So I’d imagine there are plenty of success stories, which one comes to mind?

Davis:                  We actually have a section on our blog called Printful success stories, so you can find a couple of ones. I briefly mentioned the Estonian, the local pride design store, I really liked them, cause again, designs were really simple and they just had small town names on it. You can look at United States, thousands of small towns and great thing about that, designs are simple and you can target geo-specifically using things like Instagram and Facebook. So designs like that’s still seemed to work well and that particular customer also use a lot of influencer marketing. So they look at people who are influential in those communities and provided them a discount card. And they said one of the key things, was tracking that return on investment of using an influencer or paying them to promote their apparel brand.

Davis:                  So they started in Estonia, which was a country less than 2 million, even smaller than Latvia, then expanded into Latvia and I think most recently, they expanded into Spain. I don’t think they are in the U S yet because there’s probably competitors like that. So that’s one example. Really, really simple design. And they, you know, I can’t tell like how much they sold, but they were successful and there’s more to her story about a video of a lady that owns that store. Beyond that, there was a customer who initially started out as I believe posting to social media account was memes about those dads who wear dad jeans and you know, New Balance is a sneakers and stuff like that. Then mowing the lawn and stuff like that.

Davis:                  So there was a community spreading around that content and then he realized that he can sell merchandise that people would gift their dads ’cause they already engaging with the content. So the Father’s Day came around and they would sell dad designs that t-shirts was quotes again, really simple. And we have hats and embroidery. And more recently in recent years, like dad hats have actually come back into fashion. So that, dad hats was, designs is that community works really well and they were able to sell a lot. I believe the store name is Classic Dan. Beyond that, they expanded into designs around mothers and moms. So really, really made sense and the third customer I have a highlight is customers who get again, passionate about something that happened and get other people resonate that.

Davis:                  There’s a customer called Stoma Stoma. And there was this graphic designer couple, I forgot it was. So I have a mother and father, but they had a premature baby and like going through the experience, they noticed other people coming into maternity ward was inspiring quotes on their t-shirts and designs and that inspired them to keep going. And they, I think, launched a t-shirt design called keep fighting to sort of help and inspire other people who might be going through the same experience and, and you have the then eventually they developed a whole line of designs just supporting and inspiring parents who had a premature baby and they posted content about how to deal with that and you know, other aspects, suggestions for parents like that. And they obviously they eventually developed a kids’ clothing line that designed. So you know, inspiring kids. I think their child had to have help with breathing device in his back. And there was a lot of cool designs around that idea and, getting parents who are dealing with the, you know, the, the same situation.

Trent:                  Yeah, that’d be tough. All right. So if you, before we wrap up, if you were interviewing yourself on this topic with the idea of just exposing would be entrepreneurs to this as a legitimate business opportunity because clearly 16 million items is a lot items. What is there anything that I haven’t asked you, anything we haven’t discussed before we wrap up that you think would make the interview just a little bit better?

Davis:                  I mean I would just I, I think you’ve covered the most things. I mean, I mean the most of the stuff that we.. This is really just easily Googleable and finding around and people who was wanting to start something they should really should just find a time or just to go on a weekend to explore content, Shopify, and Printful and try it out. Cause they’re literally, you can, you can make it 30 minutes to get a store up and running. You can test some designs really quickly and by the time weekend is over, hopefully get a sale and we have some of those stories, already on our customer base. So devote a weekend, see what happens out of it. If you don’t end up selling anything, you learn something new about setting up your store or building a print on demand store. And if you sell something, you might be willing to do it at least as a side hustle or maybe even make it to full time.

Trent:                  And the thing that I would add to that folks is, is more importantly, when you take your first steps towards pursuing an idea, oftentimes what happens in my, my career and most every entrepreneurs can, their career is a perfect example of this. You discover other ideas as you’re digging around trying to be successful with your first idea. And then ultimately you might end up, may end up becoming much more successful with one of those other ideas. But if you don’t begin the journey, you never give yourself the opportunity to discover the second or third layer idea, which ultimately, like you heard Davos say early on, they experimented with many, many, many, many ideas. And as a part of that journey, this Printful company, proved to be the biggest success by a wide, wide margin. So the point is, is at some point in time, listening to podcasts like this and watching YouTube videos are great, but they’ll never expose you to the layer two, layer three, layer four idea, which could be your million dollar idea. So take that time, take that weekend, make the investment, and see what comes of it. Oftentimes you will be very surprised. So the company is Printful, the CEO is Davis. Davis. Thank you so much for making some time to be on the show.

Davis:                  Thanks for having me.

Questions Asked During the Interview

[01:26] Who are you and what do you do?
[04:25] Why do you think someone looking for a side hustle should consider starting a print on demand business?
[06:42] What is the best way to come up with ideas for some products?
[11:42] How should sellers test/validate their products ideas?
[14:17] What software should sellers use to generate the sale?
[15:23] Can you tell me about a success story from your customer base?
[16:36] How did leveraging social help this customer to become successful?
[17:29] Can you tell me about another success story?
[18:41] What are some of your most successful customers doing to continue to grow?

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Today’s Guest

Davis Siksnans is the CEO of Printful, one of the industry’s largest print-on-demand drop shipping businesses with more than 800 employees and five fulfillment centers in North Carolina, California, Mexico, and Latvia. The company has fulfilled almost 16 million items since it launched in 2013.

Not yet in his thirties, Davis has a decade of experience working in one of Latvia’s pioneering IT companies, Draugiem Group. He joined in 2009 and soon became involved in a number of ongoing projects, eventually channeling his efforts to develop the group’s vision of a print-on-demand service known today as Printful.

In 2014, he graduated from the University of Latvia with a degree in economics and a focus on international relations. During his studies, he spent a year at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, successfully combining work at Draugiem Group and academics. Davis’ IT background, business ambition, and determination is what has helped transform Printful into a multi-location printing, warehousing, and tech company that’s been listed as one of the fastest-growing companies in the US.

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