“Pattern recognition is the name of the game. Double down on the things that are producing results and we quickly make adjustments to the things that are not. If you are investing valuable time and capital into too many things which are not working, you may eventually find yourself out of business.”
I had the pleasure to interview Michael Nemeroff, internet geek turned CEO of Printfly. Printfly is the premier platform for custom printed apparel and products. The company’s industry-leading technology, logistics, production facility, and employees combine to make a remarkable experience through the RushOrderTees.com and College.Ink brands. They see themselves as more than just a t-shirt company, they are really a technology company that prints t-shirts.
What is your “backstory”?
Printfly started as a family business when my siblings and I were very young. We watched our parent’s business fail and knew we needed to come up with a solution. I used my skills in website building to create a platform to which we could market RushOrderTees.com online. There were some tough times, times when we all wanted to throw in the towel, but we truly believed in what Printfly stood for and what made it stand out: quality, speed, and making it easy. The result was a multi-million dollar company, but it was over the course of time and many lessons to achieve it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As Printfly started to expand and demand increased, we realized that we needed another graphic artist. We posted an ad on Craigslist and hired an artist within a few days. That artist never shows up for work so we checked in to figure out what the issue was and he told us that the commute was too far and he didn’t have a car. At the time, We were massively overbooked, printing 16+ hours per day to meet our commitments. We posted the job again and this time, we were desperate. I asked two pretty simple questions to qualify the next candidate who called. His name was Dan. “Dan, do you know how to use photoshop?” Dan responds, “Yes”. I respond, “Okay, great. Do you have a motor vehicle to get here?” Dan responds, “Uhhh, yes, I do.” I respond, “You’re hired, can you start tomorrow?” That’s the way we met the person who was ambitious enough to teach himself software. I can’t imagine where either of us would be today if we hadn’t met each other, but a failed hire and a guy with a car is how we became a tech leader in the space today.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are the best in the business when it comes to printing any size order on any deadline. When we started the business, more than 50% of our customers needed their order in a rush either because another company had let them down or something or someone caused them to order at the very last minute. At the time, the industry standard turnaround was 2–3 weeks, yet our customers required turnarounds of 2–3 days. That pushed us to rethink every aspect of our business to support quick turnarounds while maintaining the highest quality production possible. Today, if you call us on a Monday and need custom apparel on a Tuesday, we’ll have them there regardless of the design complexity or quantity (within reason). Nobody else in our industry can turn orders around like that consistently.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We are having many conversations around machine learning, computer vision, voice UI and mixed reality that will allow us to make the custom apparel process even faster and easier. We continue to invest in our infrastructure enabling us to increase our business efficiencies in the flawless manner that our customers expect.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I would say to hire the critical talent needed to accelerate the company’s organic growth earlier on. Not only will these people help support your company initiatives, they’ll help you strengthen the culture of your company better than you can on your own. Letting go control as a co founder of the business can be very difficult, but once you’ve surrounded yourself with smart, hard working, experienced professionals that care about the company’s success as much as you do, you’ll never look back.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
We wouldn’t be in business today and I don’t know if I would have been an entrepreneur if it wasn’t for one of the teachers, Anthony Tamaccio. I was 12 or 13 when he started teaching at Lower Moreland High School around 1997 or 1998 and in his first year he introduced a website design course. My older brother, Jordan, took his course that year. Jordan came home one day with homework which was to retype html code that was printed on paper. After retyping the code, it was pretty simple to understand and I became obsessed with making websites from that day forward. I enrolled for his website design course immediately to learn as much as possible from him. Within a year, I learned how to drive traffic to dozens of websites and converted those visitors into sales for various affiliate programs. I was able to make enough to pay for the mortgage and save up for the family. Three or four years later, my family and I started RushOrderTees.com. If it wasn’t for him, I’m sure we wouldn’t exist today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Last year, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, we were contacted by a well known insurance company to make uniforms for tens of thousands claims adjusters who were descending on the Houston area. They were in a pinch, and needed a very large order in a matter of days. We ran shifts through the night and throughout the weekend, knowing that important work needed to be done for those impacted. Our team also launched a campaign to raise money for the cause and proceeds went right to Hurricane Harvey relief. It was the least of what we could do from Philadelphia.
This year, our largest brand, RushOrderTees.com, awarded the local Covenant House for homeless youth three shirts for every yard rushed during Super Bowl LII. We donated 500 shirts to homeless youth in Philadelphia as part of our #rush4tees campaign.
Our employees have mobilized to create opportunities for our team to give back to the local community. Food drives, toy drives, volunteer days are being planned on a consistent basis across a calendar year. Doing good is important for our staff, and it is something we want to give them a platform to do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Pattern recognition is the name of the game. Double down on the things that are producing results and we quickly make adjustments to the things that are not. If you are investing valuable time and capital into too many things which are not working, you may eventually find yourself out of business.
- Open and honest communication is easier said than done. You must be certain that your team is empowered to openly discuss and resolve issues quickly and without your presence. Everybody has to be clear that nobody will be penalized for surfacing issues and trying to fix them collectively. We’re all on the same team, we must act accordingly.
- A slow yes is worse than a quick no. My COO taught me this one recently and he couldn’t be more right. If you are sure that you do not want to pursue something, communicate that immediately or else they will waste time and energy working on it. Your team is there to help you guide and grow the business. They’re there to push back on you if they feel adamant about something or need more answers on one of your decisions, but it doesn’t mean they won’t support your direction. Gather all of the information and be decisive, don’t drag things out.
- Don’t forget what got you where you are. At our size, there are new business opportunities presenting themselves weekly. It’s exciting, but can also be extremely distracting. It’s important that you keep your team focused on key initiatives of the business that got you here rather than chasing every opportunity that comes across your desk.
- Be comfortable being uncomfortable. We have a lot going on in our businesses and our lives. Thousands of pieces of information flow through us on any given day, some good, some bad, some really ugly. It’s not easy to maintain a clear head at all times, but it’s vitally important for good decision making. Our greatest moments of growth have been during the toughest of times. Instead of giving up on the business and each other, we worked harder and came out much stronger. If it was easy… you know how the rest of the quote goes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Gary Vaynerchuk. I know I’d get a lot out of that sitting. He’s an incredible marketer and doesn’t pull any punches. I would love to lay out the industry landscape and break down what’s working, what’s not working, and then listen to what he would do to blow past our competition.
Originally published at medium.com