Brexit hasn't dampened Spreadshirt CEO Philip Rooke's plans to build an $1 billion clothing empire that sells to the world.
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Philip Rooke, CEO of print-on-demand clothing business Spreadshirt, talks sales, mobile commerce and his plans to create a $1 billion business in spite of the UK's decision to leave the EU.
Describe your business
Spreadshirt provides businesses, organisations, and individuals with an ecommerce platform for buying, selling and creating ideas on clothing and merchandise, using print-on-demand. The international community of more than 70,000 partners ranges from artists to social media stars and from political campaigns to major entertainment companies.
The Spreadshirt platform provides three ways to sell, which include merchandising shops, the Spreadshirt marketplace and external marketplaces (e.g. Amazon and eBay), and personalisation services with our create-your-own tool.
In the 18 countries that we operate in, we handle the entire process from the ecommerce platform to transaction and from printing through to customer services, and then pass on the profits back to the idea maker.
Using print-on-demand technology also means there are no minimum orders or upfront costs, so you can buy or sell just one item if you choose.
What's the market like for businesses like yours?
Since we are the only international print-on-demand company to offer three different models on one platform: selling via marketplaces, via white-label ecommerce shops, and via our create-your-own technology, where consumers create and buy their own ideas directly, we really have no direct competitors.
The print-on-demand market is also growing in exciting new areas, driven by consumer demand for designs they want to wear specifically around trends, memes or social comments they wish to make.
Marketplaces for crowd-sourced designs, like ours, are thriving as the wide variety of creative designs available are much more appealing to buyers than creating their own or buying the standard licensed items found in other shops.
Colourful: Spreadshirt's production facility
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Three years ago we made a conscious effort to focus more heavily on mobile, and the investment has paid off. This summer we compared data from January-June 2016 to the same period last year and found that nearly half of all our visitors now come via a mobile device.
That’s around 5.4 million visits per month from smartphone or tablet devices, a 28 percent increase compared to the same period last year. There was also a 20 percent increase in monthly visits across all devices, over the same period.
Continued international expansion has also been a key part of our success. In the last few years we added Switzerland and Australia to our core countries. But also improved our cross border delivery service and are able to ship to nearly 200 countries now.
We are currently hyper-focused on simplifying the user experience of the Spreadshirt platform with mobile optimisation and everything else that makes international selling and sharing of ideas as easy as possible.
What problems have you encountered?
Making complexity look simple. For retail and ecommerce platform companies your primary purpose should be to make things easy for customers.
We trade internationally, if you add the complexity of providing different models such as marketplaces and shop systems, you multiply the possibility of hitting complications, for example, border, tax and legal constraints, global supply chain issues, technical problems and 10,000 other concerns.
There are constant ongoing improvements to make our services easier, more lucrative for our sellers and of course more exciting to use. Spreadshirt is a complex business, but through our improvements we are achieving simplicity, which means I can go to bed and sleep easily knowing that we have made it look easy to the 70k sellers and 4 million customers who use our platform.
What's your approach to recruiting and inspiring people?
We currently have approximately 500 employees from more than 20 nationalities working predominantly across Europe and USA. I believe is important to encourage an agile and innovative company culture, as well as nurture new ideas and ways of doing things.
As a company we introduced a ’feel good’ management system five years ago that was one of the firsts of its kind worldwide. It encourages employees to mix and enjoy work more. This has proven valuable in driving internal relationships, employee happiness and building a motivated corporate culture in a company that is continually adding new people and skills.
The Spreadshirt team on International T-shirt Day
What is the hardest thing about running a business and what makes it fulfilling/fun?
I love the end-to-end complexity of retail; from the sales and marketing strategies, the trading process and onto the operations and supply chain issues. There are hundreds of challenges at every level.
However, running the business means that I sadly do not get to spend as much time as I would like dealing with the day-to-day issues. Instead my focus now is making sure that my team is aligned with the corporate goals, ensuring everyone is organised to deliver them, and is motivated to achieve them.
What is your biggest mistake?
A few years ago we chose to concentrate on rapid growth and profit over upgrading our platform technology. This left us with an IT legacy issue that has taken a couple years to gain control of; but we needed to hit a wall first before everybody was convinced that this issue needed to be solved.
However, we are fortunate to have had sufficient revenues and a healthy learning organisation to sort out the problem.
What are your top tips for people starting in business today?
Don´t add too much complexity to your business, even if your business is complexity, concentrate on making it less complex. Make a few strong bets and concentrate all your efforts on them.
And never forget that it´s all about your team:
Without a good motivated team you cannot succeed; it is your job to create and empower your team.
Learn to let go: The collective knowledge of your team will be greater than yours; the 500 people in Spreadshirt have more than 4,000 years experience between them!
Your vision and leadership brings out the best in your team.
The Brexit vote has made life harder for many UK businesses
What one thing would you change about doing business in the UK?
The result of the Brexit vote! Populist politics can cause significant issues for retailers trading internationally, from increasing red-tape to more taxes.
We know from shipping to countries like Norway and Switzerland, that it’s harder work selling to countries outside of the EU. Goods get held up for time-consuming consideration at the border, which is shipping as it used to be; slow, difficult and annoying for consumers. This does not lead to the frictionless growth businesses are looking for.
What does the future look like for Spreadshirt?
Soon we will launch a completely different way of putting items up for sale. This simplification will massively reduce the work that our sellers have to do. This will be the result of three years of investment into our technology and products.
It marks a significant step towards our goal of enabling our community to publish any idea on every product globally, in 60 seconds or less. It will also allow us to rapidly scale-up in the near future as we aim to become a $1B game-changer in the merchandising industry.