I recently talked with Maheesh Jain, cofounder and VP Sales & Marketing of CafePress. Some of you may know them as a provider of mugs and sweatshirts that you can sell to your customers with your logo on them without you having to bother with any of the inventory, transaction processing, printing, fulfilment, etc. That’s still basically what they do, allowing smaller companies to promote what Jain calls “microbrands” without really lifting a finger to do so. They boast 150,000 (!) current “stores,” and project a big increase in the next two years, to about 400,000.
CafePress provides the same service on a larger scale to big sellers of logo material such as Dilbert (Scott Adams), Phil Collins, and EA. (Phil Collins is selling something? What a shocker!)
It isn’t just t-shirts and coffee mugs, though, and it won’t be the same cheap crap that most providers of corporate logowear offer. “We don’t sell $4 coffee mugs,” emphasizes Jain. “We sell $20 coffee mugs.” They don’t stop there, either. They offer apparel, handbags, clocks, and license plate frames. I’m not sure what company is going to want to hand out logo thongs to its best customers, but for those that do, it’s available. Talk about an end-to-end solution.
Wonder who made possible the “Can’t Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me!” lunchbox?
The idea for CafePress was simple – provide an easy way for companies to allow customers to order logo t-shirts and the like online – but it went beyond the standard thinking of the time (in 1999). The founders of CafePress recognized that most online storefront software only addressed “one-tenth of the problem.” It was the back end – from printing, inventory, and order processing right down to order fulfilment – that was the real challenge. For a change, the business owner who rubs the lamp and announces “let’s just outsource the whole damn thing” gets his wish.
When I think about CafePress, it’s not the mugs or the thongs (though this is difficult) that I think of, it’s the business model – or more to the point, how it helps thousands of small companies round out their own business models. An exciting development in this regard is an on-demand publishing service slated for rollout in 2003. For companies who sell published material – perhaps especially those (like me) who sell only digital-format documents because the headaches of printing and shipping physical goods aren’t worth the trouble – CafePress will custom print (i.e. publish) your material, and handle the transaction processing and fulfilment, just as it does with the logo stuff.
Hasta la vista, boring coffee mug. Sayonara, scratchy XXL men’s one-size-fits-none t-shirts. Hello, “Don’t Ask Me, Lady, I Live in Beer” talking goldfish wall clocks!
To those who would say “No Logo!,” I say, “CafePress is the real revolution!”