Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is catching on to customization with a $20 million investment in Teespring, a Web site that turns customers with an itch to make products and money into designers of T-shirts, for now, and many more things in the months to come.
The investment is a large windfall for Providence, R.I.-based Teespring, which previously raised $1.9 million since its founding by Brown University classmates Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton in 2011, and demonstrates Andreessen Horowitz’s confidence in the firm’s vision of empowering people to produce their own goods. Teespring users create T-shirts, set goals for the number of Ts that will be sold, are only charged if those goals are reached and garner profits from the sales of their Ts.
With the investment, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Lars Dalgaard joins Teespring’s board. In a blog post, Dalgaard lauded Teespring’s ability to leverage entrepreneurial spirit. “Teespring allows anyone to launch their own brand in a couple minutes. You don’t need to understand unit economics, forecast volume, purchase inventory, or have any up-front costs to launch a campaign on Teespring,” he wrote, adding, “It’s been incredible to see the impact that they’ve had in facilitating new entrepreneurs and supporting causes all over the world.”
Williams outlined that Andreessen Horowitz’s investment will go mainly toward three areas: enhancing the quality of Teespring’s merchandise, expanding its merchandise repertoire and building its workforce, which currently has 70 people. Today, Teespring’s merchandise is isolated to apparel, but that will soon change as Williams foresees the Web site expanding into as many as 10 product categories by the end of the year.
“Almost anything that can be standardized, and there are things that can’t be — custom electronics, for example — can be sold through Teespring, and I see us being a large part of the e-commerce landscape where there are millions of brands run off Teespring, and there will be millions of brands launched off of Teespring,” said Williams. “There is going to be a shift in e-commerce. Teespring is genuinely a better way to sell.”
Currently, users create nearly 1,000 designs a day on Teespring, more than were created a month at this time last year on the platform. Williams estimated that hundreds of people make a living exclusively by selling merchandise through Teespring. About two-thirds of T-shirt sellers on Teespring meet the sales goals they set for themselves. Some 30 percent of buyers share their purchases on a social media network.
Williams would not discuss Teespring’s revenues, but the company is estimated to have generated roughly $30 million last year. That figure makes Teespring smaller than its direct competitors, including CustomInk, which has disclosed it is approaching $200 million in sales, and CafePress Inc., a public company traded on the Nasdaq that reached almost $218 million in revenues last fiscal year.
But Williams and Stites-Clayton have ambitions to make Teespring a much larger company. Williams views the site as at the epicenter of a movement that’s gaining momentum among consumers for individualized merchandise that isn’t made for the masses by massive corporations.
“We don’t think people should be lumped into generic buckets in the store. If you are surfer, I don’t think you should buy Billabong because that’s what [is] in the store to wear,” said Williams. “I think you should support the local club that you are in. There are millions of these communities and micro-brands with creative, passionate people delivering a product that their group is ecstatic about. This is a more personal vision of buying.”