Beyond the Pitch

Print Syndicate (and Columbus!) Are “Trending” Up

What if everyone could find the perfect product to express themselves?

That’s the passion and the vision fueling Print Syndicate, a Rev1 portfolio company that is one of the most exciting entrepreneurial success stories on the Columbus scene.

Print Syndicate takes trends from social media and turns them into digital content that is then sold on printed objects, like apparel, phone cases, and home goods.

Outside the box design, yes. Out-of-the-box inventory, definitely not.

Print Syndicate’s “secret sauce” isn’t so secret. This company creates things that they are very sure people want to buy.

Just how often do you see a tee-shirt, pillow, or coffee mug that really makes a statement that fits you from the tips of your fingers to the corners of your brain?

That’s the mission of Print Syndicate’s trend-identifiers. They engage in a perpetual culture watch, observing what consumers are buying and talking about and what’s hot and hip out there right now.

Then the company’s designers take that social G-2 and create hundreds of interpretations every week. The process for training the content design team is intense.

“When we are designing tee-shirts, we think about what it means for someone to put this object on their body and move through the world,” Robinson said.

The company’s amazing in-house design talent turns all that interest and buzz into products that are socially cool and unique. The evidence? Print Syndicate earned a place on the 2015 Forbes List of America’s Most Promising Companies.

“I talk a lot about self-expression, the overt forms of self-expression that we see in social media. When our customers wear our tee-shirts and get a reaction, they feel great. That’s a powerful and special thing that we do,” Robinson said.

These products are so much more than quirky tees.

“We think a lot about social identity,” Robinson said, “and how people fit into tribes and convene on the Internet—and how tribes of people are looking for ways to express themselves.”

Another key differentiator is that all Print Syndicate production is on demand—after the products are ordered and paid for. The company is vertically integrated, and there is considerable technology, software, and systems underpinning every order that goes out the door.

“It’s difficult and complicated and takes a lot of integration to scale and keep the quality,” Robinson said

Print Syndicate sells merchandise entirely online through its websites ActivateApparel.com, LookHuman.com, and MericaMade.com, as well as through other Internet retailers such as Amazon.com.

“We are always looking for marketplaces that reach different demographics than the audiences that we serve with our own sites,” Robinson said.

Changing the narrative of what is possible for Columbus entrepreneurs

About this time last year, Print Syndicate received $4.2 million in investment capital from investors including CEOs of Groupon and Zappos. Rev1 participated in the round.

“As we were raising our Series A, we were thrilled when Rev1 stepped up to join our Series A as a Columbus investor,” Robinson said.

Print Syndicate is using that investment to continue exponential growth. The company has about 150 employees, including many from Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), and is on a path to add more jobs in multiple functional areas.

“The challenges of a $4 million company or a $10 million company, or one that is four times bigger are totally different,” Robinson said. “It takes a different infrastructure and expertise from finance, metrics, and technology to run a $30 to $50 million company than to run a $4 million company. We turn three in November and we are going to almost double the $12 million we did last year.”

A Great Example of Columbus’ Backyard Effect

“Surviving our first year was a huge milestone. Our first million dollar month is something that we were really proud of,” Robinson said. “It’s been a roller coaster. We’ve had a lot of great moments and lot of great mentors.”

“It’s really important to me and to Rev1 and to Columbus that our business exists here,” she said. “We believe in servicing our community—we will have more than 2,000 hours of community service this year. We do a lot of in-kind donations, and we are trying to set an example and precedent that it is possible to have a high growth company that pays a fair wage, does right by people and the community, and can still be really successful.

There will be a great opportunity next week (Oct. 22) to meet Tanisha Robinson and talk with her as she emcees two Rev1 events—Demo Day and VentureNEXT.

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