IN HIS OWN WORDS: FOUNDER/CEO, WALKER WILLIAMS
Looking beyond the surface
We knew that people weren’t coming to Teespring because they just wanted to print t-shirts; they had ideas and they were looking for ways to bring those ideas to life. In the early days, we didn’t quite understand this, but eventually we realized the scope of people–online groups, influencers, entrepreneurs–who experienced the same pain we had around producing physical goods, the ridiculous amount of work, cost and complications involved.
What we do allows people to go from an idea to a product as quickly as possible with as few barriers as possible. The end result is that massive groups of people who have great ideas are able to bring them into the world without the complexity around actually creating a world-class product, fulfilling it or servicing it.
What we do allows people to go from an idea to a product as quickly as possible with as few barriers as possible.
We really struggled to communicate this. Without knowing the dynamics of what makes Teespring unique, you might think it’s just another custom t-shirt website. People would say, “Well, your growth is great. The dynamics of business are good, but I don’t understand it. I don’t want to be apart of it.” It would be really unproductive. Of the 30-40 people we met with, very few were able to go one step further than even we were able to understand at the time, to look beyond the surface and see the value underneath. Keith was literally one of four.
Adding value from day one
Originally, I met Keith as part of Y Combinator. Sam Altman explicitly told me this is someone who’s really smart who you’d get a lot of value from, and it was true from day one. Keith really helped with advice and process in terms of building an organization–the operating side of the business, my biggest unknown.
During one of our first meetings, I remember Keith said something along the lines of how there’ve only been a few times in his career, where he just immediately knew something was going to be great. The other companies he included were AirBnB, Palantir and YouTube, and I just remember how that gave me and Evan the confidence we needed while fundraising. Keith saw something in Teespring before almost anyone else did. He was one of a handful of people who immediately understood what we were building.
Keep in mind we were pretty small at the time. We’d raised a small seed round through Y Combinator. Everyone was so skeptical of Teespring. Nobody really believed that we were going to be able to build something great. At the time, we absolutely hadn’t proven it yet either.
Starting as a friendship
What I love about our relationship with Khosla and Keith is that it started as a friendship, where Keith was willing to provide value, even when he wasn’t getting a return from it. That has produced a much more natural relationship, and I learned so much from him. I’m able to be 100-percent honest, because I know he’s there for the right reason.
Keith is here first and foremost to help us build a great company.
Keith is here first and foremost to help us build a great company, not because of the financial return, because he believes in what we’re doing and has for years. That’s what I would say is the biggest differentiator.
A game changer
Building a company of any size is difficult. There are always challenges. Now that we’re part of the Khosla family, having an investor who is willing to come in every single week and sit with us and deal with the minutia, in addition to the big problems. Someone who just attacks everything without ever complaining–fully focused, fully there–it’s just been awesome and it’s really helped us feel more confident about the direction we’re headed in, the company we’re building and the people we’re recruiting.
It’s absolutely been a game changer. We’ve closed a big gap in having an incredible operator aboard with experience building great companies and taking big companies to the next level.
Removing barriers to manufacturing
T-shirts are to Teespring what books were to Amazon. They’re our first entry into the market.
If you launched a tech company in the 90s, you’d set up your own server farm, credit card processing, etc. The whole process would be so time and cost intensive that very few people got to participate. Because of that, great ideas were suppressed.
Paypal, Stripe, Heroku and AWS, etc. lowered the barriers to entry to an extreme degree for startups. I literally had $300 in my bank account when I created the prototype for Teespring. I never would have been able to convince anybody to give me millions of dollars to build it the old school way. Because barriers of entry were so low, I was able to get something out there, and it scaled.
We want to do the same thing for manufacturing. We started with t-shirts because it’s a very universal form of expression. The supply chain existed already so we could build off that. Now, we’re taking it one step further. We’re working with enormous manufacturers to mill our own product, our own fabric. Our production facility in Kentucky is now the largest short run printer in the world, and once it’s fully ramped up, it will be capable of producing hundreds of thousands of product every single day.
We’re doing things in manufacturing that other people in the industry consider impossible.
We’re doing things in manufacturing that other people in the industry consider impossible. We attack traditional constraints and barriers; we’re removing them for our entrepreneurs. We want every person that launches a brand on Teespring to have the same quality of product, print and service as Nike, Billabong, Lululemon or whatever brand they’re competing with, because at the end of the day, the only way an entrepreneur can really succeed is by having the same quality as their competition.
By making these investments in manufacturing and infrastructure, we expect to see the brands of the future be built on top of Teespring’s logistics and manufacturing engines. They’ll really be able to focus on what matters to them–great ideas, building brands that resonate with people, and creating products people love. We can be their infrastructure layer to help them build a business.