Teespring is considered a perfect platform for quick income with no need for specific qualifications. The secret to success is an idea and a fertile ground: a particular factory is created, which can place the print the user wants to see on any item of clothing (from a T-shirt to a sweatshirt), a textile product, or a phone case. At the time of creation in 2012, the niche was free enough for the future industry giant to fit. Let’s leave development matters on the conscience of the experienced programmers and focus on what steps were made by the company on the road to success and which of them were unadvisable or even contraindicated. Strange as it may seem, Teespring obtained fame of a quite scandalous portal in 2017. People called for a boycott and even liquidation of it. The components of a business idea, as well as the background and ways to avoid conflict situations, will be examined below. Even with all its controversy, sales figures of the platform reach amazing heights – millions of sold T-shirts annually and high rates of popularity among similar platforms, which gives a basis to take an example from it if not in everything then at least in the key aspects.
It’s what distinguishes Teespring from its fellow tradesmen: designer items production is based on the principle of crowdfunding. All clients are divided into two kinds: those, who create and sell product design, and those, who purchase the products with this design for themselves or their companies. Teespring takes over all production processes starting with printing and delivery and ending with customer service in case of problems with the order. Designers and sellers have to select the duration of the campaign of their products from 3 to 21 days after placing their design on the site and choosing the product, which the design will be adapted to ( there are more than 50 such products on the site). This means that each new batch will be printed within this period. In addition, the website requires setting the goal of sales (for example, a hundred cases). But it’s more like a nominal goal, which helps you to control yourself and your income and expenses because the printing continues until the earnings from the product stop covering the expenses for the printing. If ten cases cover the expenses for the production, the project continues cooperating with the platform if there are sales of a dozen similar cases regardless of whether the seller has performed his own task. The artist’s income depends on what mark-up he has imposed: for instance, leggings cost $27.5 on the website and leggings with a print – almost $40, which means that $12.5 of every item sold ends up in the pocket of a recognized genius.
Among other things, Teespring offers an expanded network that mainly implies the integration between the platform and some of the most important e-commerce markets. When the product is added to this network, its chances for higher sales predictably rise. This affiliation is totally free and the website takes over the organization of the majority of processes again: from the organization of listings to fulfillment of an order and customer service.
The portal makes a delivery to 180 countries in the world, herewith there are both standard delivery (10-13 business days to the USA and 10-16 business days to Canada and any point of Europe) and a rush one (on average – two-three times faster than the standard delivery).
In terms of legislation, the platform management acts more than wisely, when it leaves the copyright to the design author and doesn't claim it anyhow.
Therefore, many things are worth adopting. The first one is crowdfunding. It allows removing initial investments and makes the project placement totally free, which makes it possible not only to attract a sufficient number of authors but also to eliminate those of them, whose presence on the platform is unprofitable and sometimes harmful. They just become unwanted, the products aren’t being sold, and new batches aren’t being manufactured.
Then – the fact that the platform has taken all responsibilities of the distant production of designer products. This neutralizes inconsistency in trade relations, advertising, and other components of this process because they rest on the specialists’ shoulders.
You shouldn’t forget about the delivery to many countries in the world, the benefit of which is obvious: the audience, and, with it, the influx of funds is increasing. It should be noted that despite the big number of countries of delivery, the site supports only seven languages: English (British and American), German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch. Technically, this set is not devoid of logic, but it is significantly losing popularity in non-European countries (Asian market, Slavic market, and other markets). There are indeed qualified specialists, who speak at least English, but this situation is still related to many inconveniences, the main of which is a human factor. A conclusion – the platform should be optimized at least for a main ten: English, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, French, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, and Indonesian.
The next thing is copyright. A decision not to get involved in legislative vicissitudes or claim authorship of specific products can be called appropriate if not genius. It not only attracts far more authors but also gets them in the mood for pleasant cooperation in advance removing the main stumbling block among people of art – copyright of work. As a result, even if a person decides to leave the project, his art will remain solely his personal asset, which he may continue to use.
And the last thing is an extended network of partners of the platform. Such integration increases the number of authors and clients as well as the level of trust in the platform because the cooperation with large companies that are respected helps the user to trust the developers’ project more.
The road to success
It all started typically – with an idea of two students. Initially, Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton tried to create a Jobzle company to link students with internships into a community. This project hasn’t become well-known; nevertheless, it has gifted these students invaluable experience in the creation of a platform focused on users’ needs.
The popular, student-oriented dive bar «Fish Co.» appeared to be going out of business in 2011. It had shocked Williams and Stites-Clayton in a way and they designed their first T-shirts that said «FREE FISHCO». This was the first step towards their own platform that helps people to create printed apparel. The second step defined the future format of a factory of unique apparel production – lack of funds. They solved this problem very easily: unable to pay to print a batch of T-shirts, they created a one-page website where the shirts could be pre-ordered. They needed 200 orders to cover their costs and support their favorite bar. That what they were counting on. The design turned to be so great that bar admirers bought over 400 T-shirts, compensating for expenses and making $2,000 for Williams and Stites-Clayton.
So the idea was a bomb. After receiving numerous requests from other organizations asking for a custom campaign, Walker and Evan decided to pursue the concept of crowdfunded custom and brand apparel full-time. It’s unknown if two Brown grads would have succeeded, had it not been for two Rhode Island angel investors Bill Cesare and Mark Weiner, who got interested in the project and invested the first $600,000 in seed funding. The company officially launched in October 2012 in Providence, Rhode Island.
From this story, it can be concluded that firstly, the idea may be developed even if the pockets are empty, but there is fertile ground. The one-page website could have been considered the complete tastelessness and trash even back in 2011, but the proper positioning and well-organized work aimed at admirers of a certain brand brought unexpected success, albeit not huge.
Secondly, in an extreme case (it’s what we call a lack of funds even for the production), it’s possible to cover the total expenses with the revenue from the pre-orders, but only if this covering can really be counted on. In this case, the future industry giants’ motivation is very disputable because if they originally had planned solely to support the favorite bar and hadn’t intended to make money, then this move would be well-justified. But when it comes to the profit, this way can be called a gamble, which is reasonable only at the start-up stage because a company with a high status risks losing everything making a similar step. For this reason, all that should be reduced to a crowdfunding scheme that eliminates these risks.
In October 2012, the company announced they had reached over $500,000 in monthly sales. In March 2013, the company reported $750,000 in monthly revenue and a 50% month-over-month growth rate.
At one point, the creators decided that they need professional assistance in the promotion. In December 2013, Teespring was accepted into the start-up accelerator Y-Combinator, which is based in Mountain View, California. The three-month accelerator has delivered benefits within two weeks of its finishing: Teespring raised another $1.3 million including $500,000 from Sam Altman, then president at Y-Combinator.
In January 2014, Teespring closed a Series A round of $20 million from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Andreessen partner Laars Dalgaard, formerly of SuccessFactors, led the investment, his first with the firm. In November 2014, partner Keith Rabois joined the company's board and the company announced the closure of its Series B funding round with $35 million from Khosla Ventures and also including Andreessen.
A new manufacturing facility in Kentucky was expected to create hundreds of jobs and by 2015, Teespring had expanded to around 300 employees in the United States. The company had employed 120 workers in Providence before reducing the number to 52 by June 2015. By 2016, the entire Rhode Island staff had been laid off and the company announced plans to close its office there.
In this context, it’s possible to see several aspects, which are worthy to repeat when developing your own platform. To start with, cooperation with large accelerators. Yes, you may take risks and rely solely on yourself, but it’s unlikely to bear the same fruits as the first option. The reason is very simple – an amateur has to be a true genius to compete with a professional. And when we speak about the accelerator with high status, it’s definitely a professional. So you should come to someone, who has succeeded in this field. Not only will the promotion services be provided – the client receives training as seminars online or offline (in the present circumstances, the first option is more likely, but it depends on the client since far from everyone can grasp the information that is shown on a display). Besides, as we see in the example of Teespring, it may not be excluded that the accelerator will get interested in the project and invest a certain amount of money in it, which wouldn’t go amiss anyway.
The second key point is the expansion of an enterprise. This company had had a shot at the opening of a branch office in Kentucky and hiring new employees in Providence at the same time, which ultimately led to the closure of the first branch and firing of the entire staff in Rhode Island. By all means, this is a negative experience, which indicates that similar decisions should be made not only deliberately but also sequentially. The opening of a new branch is always connected with heavy expenses and it cannot be ignored. As a result, many employees lose their jobs because of the impulsive decisions of the management. At the same time, from an economic perspective, we can highlight an advantage, albeit disputable – decisive actions of the management. If there is a problem, which might threaten the company’s existence – we remove the damaged segment. This is not always the right move, but in this case, unfortunately, it was right because the company kept standing through great sacrifices.
Conflicts and problems
This chapter of the history of the most popular platform of production of designer apparel and pieces of décor just had to emerge. This is due to the specific features of the portal: it’s impossible to control any product in time, censor all the flow of designs that appear on the portal. This is why Teespring has been criticized for creating apparel that promotes violence and includes racist messaging. The first scandal like that happened in 2017 when a batch of T-shirts that featured the words «Black Women Are Trash» was sold. Then the Teespring's director of seller success, Brett Miller, responded, «Once we learned of the error we immediately took steps to remove all content in question and ban the offending seller from our platform. We have since fixed the issue».
In about three months the site was blamed for selling products claiming to «reclaim» the swastika, considered a symbol of hate. KA Design listed rainbow swastika designs on Teespring in an attempt to rebrand the contested symbol used by the Nazis. Jewish groups called for a boycott of the platform because it places taboo symbols on its products. This scandal was handled in the same way as the previous ones – bans, removals, and other similar measures.
can be called a bad year for the company at most because in October they were repeatedly blamed for too provocative products – T-shirts with the words «Eat Sleep Rape Repeat». This joke was reasonably interpreted by users as intolerable, aggressive, and one that promotes violence. In November, in light of physical attacks on journalists (according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there had been 35 of them so far in 2017) Walmart removed a shirt bearing the words «Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required», and «Hitler Did Nothing Wrong» and «drinks on me ladies» with an image of Bill Cosby from its website. As a rule, attempts to cover up these problems resulted in massive online protests aiming at the blocking of the platform. However, the management has always been able to take measures on time and resolve the conflict before its escalation into something global. Here are several of the most famous incidents:
: in April 2018, the company came under fire for providing items for sale that celebrated Dylann Roof, a neo-Nazi mass murderer; in June 2018, an article by Alex Dalbey in The Daily Dot detailed criticism on social media of Teespring for pulling a line of T-shirts featuring the term «TERFs» (short for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). The most notable design stated «Fuck TERFs». Teespring said the T-shirt «violates our Hate Speech section of our acceptable use policy»; in 2018, a Women's March spokesperson told CNN that «many of these fake pages are used to sell merchandise, with the proceeds benefiting individuals instead of our movement. The efforts to capitalize on movement work isn't new, but it is frustrating, particularly as we make an effort to only sell ethically sourced and produced merchandise — a rule these imposter pages don't abide by.»;
: following the death of Caroline Flack in February 2020, Teespring received criticism for selling counterfeit versions of the «Be Kind» T-shirts created by Leigh Francis to raise money for mental health charity The Samaritans; received criticism for allowing the sale of the counterfeit T-shirts to go ahead, preventing the charity from receiving funds; also in August 2020, Teespring reported that the word «antifa» was in violation of their acceptable use policy.
All of the above was predictable. Designs are added in a continuous flow so it’s somewhat difficult to control everything and delete provocative and malicious ones. Not to mention the influence of the human factor, one manifestation of which is laziness. It’s easier to allow several dozens of projects than consider each one of them separately. For this reason, it’s a lot easier to create a neural network, which will differentiate at least three categories of the projects according to specified criteria. For example, «acceptable», «questionable», and «unacceptable». Therefore, much less effort will be needed to control the designers’ compliance with all the service rules. You should also place a greater emphasis on careful public speaking because thoughtless statements might bring the glory of brave and unwavering businessmen as well as scare away a sizeable part of a regular audience. That is why spontaneous remarks at public events should actually be thought-out in advance and exist on one ground – benefit both the users and the company, no more, no less.