By marketers, for marketers: an interview with Viralstyle Co-Founder Tom Bell
Viralstyle, the most advanced print on demand platform available, is taking e-commerce by storm. With its mantra, “built by marketers for marketers”, ViralStyle pushes itself apart from competitors by focusing on providing its sellers with the tools to build their own brand, above and beyond the Viralstyle platform.
Tom Bell, co-founder of Viralstyle, sat down to share some insights around the founding of Viralstyle, and the future of the t-shirt industry:
How did the idea for Viralstyle come up?
I’ve been involved in the t-shirt industry for about four years now.
Before I launched Viralstyle, I first started my own t-shirt company. Unfortunately, I quickly ran into many of the issues that sellers are familiar with; while I was good at the creative side, I found that the business side of things – the inventory and logistical aspects – was very challenging. I had to know, in advance, the number of sizes and styles to order, which meant a large up-front investment in inventory. It also meant I had to limit the number of styles that I offered to consumers in order to keep costs down. To get the shirts made, I had to find reliable, local printers; not only is this a time consuming process, but due to relatively lower volumes, rates were very high. I quickly found that, as an individual seller, there were more challenges than benefits to running my own company.
I then switched and became a top seller on an existing t-shirt platform. I was relieved that the logistical challenges were lessened, but I found that the site did not provide the level of creative control that I was seeking. Marketing tools were extremely limited, and I had little insight into who my buyers were, so it was difficult to target them outside of the platform.
Through mutual friends I met Brandon, Viralstyle co-founder and CTO, and we started looking at the shortcomings of the t-shirt platform that I was working with, initially aiming to just build a solution that we could use. However, we soon discovered that the only way to get the level of detail that we were looking for was to build our own platform.
Our beta version came out by late 2014, which was a private, paid-access beta release. The public version was released in May 2015. Today, our platform is used by thousands of sellers from all over the world, and is completely free to use.
What makes Viralstyle different from other custom T-shirt design platforms?
When the t-shirt industry first picked up in popularity a couple of years ago, the market was wide open – it seemed that if you could find a niche audience and create a design that spoke to that audience, you would get sales. That’s how the marketplace model became so popular – companies quickly realized that it was beneficial to them to have the widest selection of designs, to tap into as many niches as possible.
Quickly, though, the market became saturated with t-shirt designers, and it was no longer enough to have the cleverest message or design – becoming a master at targeting and marketing was crucial to seeing long-term success.
We knew this was coming, so when we were developing Viralstyle, we wanted it to not only alleviate problems from a logistical perspective, but also to cater to those with a drive for sales and marketing. To scale, we felt that free access to the platform was important, as we wanted allow sellers to test out unlimited design and style variations without having to buy inventory that may go unsold. We also knew that to be effective, our sellers needed as much control and buyer data as possible, so they can make their own decisions on how to target and market to their audience.
Our goal was to leverage the conveniences of a third-party seller model, while offering the type of marketing tools and buyer data that we see as crucial for growth in today’s environment. We built Viralstyle with the vision of being the only platform that was built for marketers, by marketers.
What kinds of tools do you offer your sellers?
We want to be the go-to destination for building your own brand. To that end, we have a number of tools and capabilities that we offer to our sellers.
First, our interface is extremely user-friendly, and we even offer training to help guide sellers through the process of turning ideas into campaigns, and promoting their products. Access to our platform is always free, product prices are low, and we don’t have print minimums, making it painless to change designs on the fly – even with ongoing campaigns. We give our sellers 30+ core products, from cell phone cases and laptop sleeves to necklaces, dog tags, and even clocks. With new products added each month, our sellers can come out with an entire product line for each design, so they can offer a wide variety of items to meet their consumers’ needs and tastes. We want our sellers to be responsive to their clients, to be able to identify the designs that are the most successful, and quickly eliminate products that aren’t working.
Second, we believe the most important tool that we can give our sellers is data. Long-term success is absolutely dependent on understanding your buyer, and being able to properly market your brand to them. Our platform allows sellers to see fully detailed order information reports, and we offer a variety of tools to help them get value from that data. From enterprise-level analytics tools which allow you to set your own KPIs, to a proprietary CRM dashboard and an easy mail server integrator, our goal is to give sellers more control, and to make it easier to turn buyer data into actionable information.
So what do you see as the future of this industry?
This is a really exciting time for the industry because of how global it’s become. Today, over a third of our sellers come from South East Asia, while the majority of our buyers are in the US. So, there’s an unprecedented opening in the barriers between producers and consumers. Ease of consumer access is no longer the defining measure by which a company succeeds or fails.
Instead, what we’re seeing is that the winners in this industry are those who can adapt to the digital tools that are available to them. Today, Facebook advertising is one of the most productive marketing expenses, and sellers who have embraced this channel have seen tremendous success. Tomorrow, there might be a new way to reach consumers, or a new design trend that hits home with a particular audience.
Those who have the strongest command of buyer data will be best equipped to optimize their product and messaging strategy, and to succeed and grow their brand.