Walker Williams

CEO of Teespring

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 26, 2015


Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
I'm Walker Williams, CEO and co-founder of Teespring, a commerce platform that has shipped more than 15M products and paid out more than $150M in the last two years. I love all things UX, ecommerce, entrepreneurship, and startup. Ask me anything!
Jack Altman@jack_altman
What are your top three business book recommendations? And, besides me, who in business do you look up to most?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@jaltma Pulling out the hard ball questions I see.... I love the Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (to remind me that every startup is a chaotic rollercoaster), High Output Management by Andy Grove (effective managment is a difficult skill to master and it's something I try to learn as much about as I possibly can), and then more on the fun side I absolutely love reading biographies of entrepreneurs... Delivery Happiness, Hatching Twitter, The Everything Store, The Perfect Store: Inside eBay.
Jack Altman@jack_altman
@walkerteespring @jaltma I'm not afraid to ask the tough question. Didn't know the eBay one exists, ordering now.
JJ Tang@jjrichardtang
@walkerteespring Hi Walker - If you could time travel back to day one of Teespring and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you've acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what would you tell yourself? More importantly what is your favourite emoji and when will you visit Toronto? :)
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@jjrichardtang Hmm... that's a good one. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is the cost of hiring the wrong people. In the early days, I tended to avoid conflict and sometimes that meant saying yes to candidates that I didn't have the best feeling about. My basic line of logic was that it wasn't worth worrying about and that they'd probably be just fine. Other times, I've seen someone doing poorly but loved them as a person and ended up waiting to take any action. What I learned is that it's far better for everyone to make a change quickly then to let it drag out and end up picking up the pieces later.
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Hi @walkerwilliams thanks for joining us! We are huge fans of Teespring. I'd be curious to know, what was the moment you knew you were on to something - not just that you had an idea, but that you had something people were excited about? PS - you have a great team. Matt Duffy has done an amazing job helping us out!
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@corleyh Thanks for having me! The first time I knew we were on to something that people would love was right after we launched freefishco.com, which was the prototype Evan and I created at Brown that eventually became Teespring. It was this extremely simple one page sales site, and yet not only was the design selling like crazy but we were getting emails from all sorts of different people asking "I have an idea for a product I want to make, can you build me a site like this?". We knew right away something was special here, people were taking a leap of logic from our basic site to imagining what they could do if they had something similar.
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
@walkerteespring Hey Walker! Thanks for doing the AMA! Always love seeing Teespring active in the hackathon community. Can you talk about how you approached growing the community? It's not every day that somebody says "Oh, I want to make a T-Shirt!" What was the strategy in the early days to get people to actually make T-shirts?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@sydney_liu_sl Happy to do it and proud to be part of the hackathon community! In the early days it wasn't easy by any means. I've talked about it before, but that entire first year was pretty rough for us. The only way Teespring grew was because we spent countless hours writing emails and on the phone trying to convince people to give us a chance. We did everything and anything to grow, created designs, spent hours in meetings and hand delivered samples for non-profits that would only end up selling 50-60 products, etc. Eventually we reached an inflection point where there were so many success stories that entrepreneurial people started to see the opportunity and began to come to us. In terms of growing the community, I believe the most important thing you can do is actually listen to and respect your users. Because Evan and I started as customers (we build Teespring to solve a personal pain point we'd felt when trying to create physical products), we do our best to stay as connected as possible. I still spend 1-2 hours a night reading through our community forums and responding to questions/issues.
Sam Parr@thesamparr · Roommates
Yo dog. No question. Just sup.
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
BIG fan of Teespring (we've run several t-shirt campaigns at Product Hunt). I saw you speak once at an a16z event and you discussed your vision to empower everyday people to make, sell, and distribute goods. Of course, this isn't limited to t-shirts but can you hint at what's next? 😊
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@rrhoover Thanks for inviting me, Ryan! We're not revealing specifics, but our goal through 2016 and 2017 is to allow someone to run their full stores/brand through Teespring. So any products that you traditionally associate with lifestyle brands, expect to see on Teespring in the near future :). Sorry I can't get into more specifics!
Tom Lynam@tomlynam · Venture for America Fellow // Teespring
What are three apps/platforms/products that you've used in the past year that had such a delightful UX that you HAD to show someone else at Teespring?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@tomlynam GoFundMe is the one that jumps out. Their sign-up/onboarding flow for new users is incredible (if you haven't seen it, go sign up for GoFundMe and see how they push you to make decisions that will help you be successful). I'll come back with a couple more!
Jack Altman@jack_altman
As you of course know, people talk a lot about the way you look. There's an almost constant chatter about what t-shirt you're wearing, how long your beard is, and what color murse you're accessorizing today's outfit with. How do you handle the pressure and not let it get in the way of your willingness to continue taking fashion risks?
Dre Durr💡@dredurr · Growth is the only thing that matters
What is on your smartphone home screen?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@dredurr Gmaps, Sunrise, Hype Machine, Messenger, Evernote, Twitter, Uber, Facebook, Sleep Cycle, Elevate, Slack, Gmail, Chrome!
@walkerteespring In addition to apparel, what other areas do you think a crowdfunding-style model could be successful? What was the most important thing you learned from participating in Y Combinator?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@larry_lawal It feels like we're only getting started with this movement, and to me it's more about removing barriers between smart people and what they are trying to get done vs. crowdfunding or any other specific model. I believe that any barrier that can be removed/abstracted/automated (for us, it was manufacturing/fulfillment) will be removed over time. In terms of YCombinator, the biggest thing I learned is that every startup journey is bumpy and chaotic. Every startup, even the biggest/most famous tech companies today, has a crazy rollercoaster ride on their way to success. I keep that lesson in my head whenever we face some big challenge, it helps me keep calm and solve the problem rationally!
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@walkerteespring What's the craziest thing you guys have printed/shipped?
Garrett Kaule@garrettkaule · Kaules Screen Works
@russfrushtick Great question. Walker, do you censor any campaigns due to political correctness or no? Freedom of t-shirts!
@garrettkaule @russfrushtick as a seller, Teespring doesn't censor. Now Facebook may not allow you to run ads if it doesn't follow their guidelines.
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@russfrushtick We've had some crazy ones, both good crazy and "crazy crazy", but I the one that sticks out for me the most was when Beyonce launched her first campaign (I'm a big Beyonce fan), that was just a little surreal. A kitten wearing google glass is up there though ;). On the "crazy crazy" front, we have designs come through that are way out there, or content that we don't agree with. Our policy is to not pass judgement unless the design is stolen, or represents hate speech. But it's funny swapping stories with our production team in Kentucky to hear about the crazy things they've printed. Sometimes you see a design that sells a couple thousands products and just scratch your head at how there's an audience for it.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
One of the most common startup traps is building/fixing things that won't scale the business most efficiently. How do you and your team go about prioritizing what to focus on?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@melissajoykong It's never easy. Startups always have 200 things that they should probably do, and the bandwidth to really do 2-3 things right. I kept expecting that to change over time, it always felt like maybe when we had a few more people or got a few of these big challenges out of the way it would get easier, but even today there's always too much to do and not enough hours in the day. Here's what I do: 1. Don't try to do too much. Better to focus on getting 2-3 things right then stretching to do 10, all of which end up mediocre (that was a lesson we learned the hard way). 2. This is something Keith Rabois taught me, but try to "focus on your biggest challenge". We all have a tendency to do what's easy/comfortable. When you wake up in the morning and look at your list of things to do, and #1 is hard but #2 is something you're comfortable/confident you can get done, your instinct will be to work on #2. If you don't actively fight that instinct #1 will just never get done. So I make an active effort to focus on our #1/"A" problem.
Vinicius Andrade@viandrade_ · co-founder
Hey @walkerteespring Congrats the launch of Teepring Europe. It's an amazing moviment. Do you have plans to move to another region in the next few months? Is your plan to turn Teespring a borderless platform? Example: the product is produced at the nearest fullfilment of the buyer regardless of the origin of the seller.
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@viandrade_ Thank you! Moving to a global platform was a big step for us, and the European market has been growing like crazy. It is absolutely out intention to make ecommerce borderless. We want to allow people to scale their brands internationally without having to think or worry. That means giving potential buyers a great buying experience no matter where they come from, including local currencies, local production/shipping costs, language, etc. etc. Europe was a big step for us in terms of having a platform that can scale globally, but it was just the first step. We won't be expanding in the next couple months, but we absolutely will be in 2016. It will be a slow and steady process, we try to make sure that anywhere where Teespring is offered we're able to maintain the quality and consistency we've built here, but the end goal is a truly global ecommerce platform and manufacturing infrastructure.
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
@walkerwilliams What is a best growth strategy in the initial days? Any hack that worked well for you?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@neeeharika The biggest two things you can do are: 1. Get out of your comfort zone and start selling. If you're anything like me, you'd prefer to be designing/building a product vs. on the phone cold calling. I see way too many early founders falling into the same trap that I did, where when you're running into trouble getting traction/growth your instinct is to go and do what's comfortable; which for me was coding the next big feature and getting the next redesign ready. It wasn't until I picked up the phone and started writing hundreds of emails a day that we started to gain real traction. 2. Listen and talk with the customers you do have. You should be manning the customer support line, you should be talking to everyone on your Facebook/Twitter page (or wherever customers are talking). Those early customers should become your champions, as well as providing you insight/perspective on who they are, what the problems are that they are facing, and how to find more people like them. Hope that helps and good luck!
@walkerteespring How sustainable do you feel this model of business is, to be honest? I feel too many people are in the t-shirt market now. People will soon get tired of buying t-shirts. What do you think about this?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@bellofirdous Hi there! While it's true that there are far far more people using Teespring to sell today than there were ~2 years ago, I would say that we've only just scratched the market. Teespring designers might be competition with one another in some cases, but they are participating in the overall apparel market in the USA. By providing more relevant and personal designs, our designers are competing with traditional lifestyle brands like Quiksilver, Vans, Life is Good, etc. As long as Teespring continues to give buyers great experiences and we become known for our quality and service, more and more of the overall apparel and lifestyle brand market will swing to individual designers and entrepreneurs on Teespring.
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
Thank you to everyone who participated/followed along today! I'm finishing up now, but if you have any follow up questions you can always reach me on Twitter @walkerteespring.
Yoshi@dnxx28 · Freerance Engineer
Hi Walker! I'm Japanese Yoshi. Can I show T-shirts on Ad , QR , AR to Teespring!?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@dreadnoughtxx Hey Yoshi! I'd love to see your designs, email me at walker@teespring.com
Why don't you make standard campaign page more selling, more conversional like Represent pages?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@omni_bio Hey J! I'm not 100% sure what you're asking, but I think you're asking about our campaign pages and how they convert. We believe in doing everything we can to help our sellers find success, and that means giving them a sales page that converts. We've run thousands of A/B split tests to optimize our campaign page, and we're always trying new things to figure out how to display the right information to buyers to help make their purchase decision easier. There have been 2-3 times where 3rd parties have tested our conversion rates vs. the competition, and in every instance Teespring has come out ahead.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Walker! What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
Walker Williams@walkerteespring · CEO, Teespring
@eriktorenberg I used to believe that UX was about extreme simplicity. That the ideal user experience was one where you removed as many steps as humanly possible between the person and delivering value. I'm still a minimalist, but one thing I've learned is how important it is to guide people to success. Let's say you know that customers have a better chance of success if they post their Teespring campaign to their Facebook page, but asking people to post makes a small percent of people give up on the process and leave the funnel. I'd still add that step because I'd prefer successful users over more users.