Scaling global teams sustainably – an interview with Printify CEO and Founder James Berdigans

 “We believe that the Baltics are just getting started, there is a lot more room for new success stories and the unicorn effect is compounding.”

Printify is a Baltic startup that is transforming the e-commerce industry. The Printify platform was created with the aim to break down the needlessly complex print and merch industry so that creative minds, time-strapped entrepreneurs and everyone in between can do what they do best: create great products, drive sales, and run their own business.

Headquartered in Riga, with a growing team of over 600 employees, Printify is taking on the world after expanding to the USA in 2020. The platform now connects entrepreneurs with over 90 print providers across the world.

We had the chance to sit down with CEO and Founder, James Berdigans to find out more. We chatted about his entrepreneurial journey, why the Baltics is a great place to scale a global company from, the importance of sustainability, and how to grow a connected team.

Printify was founded in Latvia in 2015 and has now raised over $50 million. The company has employees all across the world. Can you tell us about the journey of founding Printify? What were the original aims and ambitions?

I always knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur – like my parents. I had several ideas in mind that I had already thought about during my studies, and over the years I took many attempts at starting a business. I learned a lot during that time. Especially the high cost and risk of producing large batches of products, but not knowing how much you’ll be able to sell. The key is to make only what customers want, when they want it. Making this possible meant partnering with engineers to build, connect and automate these steps. Ultimately by solving my own business challenges, we came up with a solution that turned out to be useful for many others. And that’s how Printify was born.

What were the main challenges you found along the way?

The first two years were definitely the hardest. Especially when we didn’t know if we’ll have money in the bank account at the end of the month to pay our team. The stress of experiencing that is huge. That’s also why we are happy and proud to see many of the people from those years still working at Printify. They believed in the idea enough to stick with us through all of the challenges and tough times in between the wins.

Printify was born in Latvia but now has employees all over the world, and a strong presence in the US. Can you tell us more about how you are approaching growing globally? 

Our main audiences are creators and online entrepreneurs all around the world. Most of our merchants are people who want to build a side-business and earn money in addition to their main income, but lately we also see a high growth of creators and entrepreneurs who use Printify as a service that helps building their core business. We aim to empower thousands of creators globally with the largest selection, best prices and top quality for on-demand products.

One of our focus areas for 2022 is more presence in the European market. While the US has seen the majority of entrepreneurs on our platform, our partner base continues to expand also geographically and we aim to cover more new regions, thus providing our customers with even more high-quality products to choose from. We currently have 67 print providers in over 100 locations across the world and additionally, we are adding whole new product categories to our catalogue. 

We are a customer-obsessed company and we like to say that the customer is our compass. Customer needs have always been our top priority and focused user experience is a clear guide for us to constantly develop our platform. Of course, we will also continue to grow our international team and add 200+ new job positions by the end of the year to be a step closer to becoming the leading print-on-demand marketplace in the world with the most to offer to our merchants. 

How do you maintain a strong and connected team that’s so dispersed? 

From the moment we started growing and hiring people at a larger scale, remote work has been a part of our DNA and for us, it’s not a temporary thing, but something we strongly believe in and want to continue. Allowing people to work remotely gives us three new flexibilities: flexibility for employees to permanently settle down wherever they want, temporary flexibility for employees to work from wherever they want and flexibility for Printify to hire talents in untouched talent pools, away from traditional big markets. It means massive access to diversity that gives us the ability to mix cultures and experience differences. And ultimately it allows us to be closer to our customers. Our recruitment philosophy is “Hire the best wherever they are. Find the person with the best mindset, best fit for the role and company, location is just a detail.” And this approach is what helps us maintain and grow our strong team constantly and have the best talent from over 20 countries across the globe that share the same values as we do and always stay driven and connected regardless of the possible cultural differences or different time zones.

What is the long term vision for Printify, what’s next for the company?

Our long-term vision is to change the world to on-demand production. We want to enable manufacturers around the world to start doing on-demand business – provide them with the best solution to meet their e-commerce customer needs. Mass manufacturing has been around for hundreds of years, but it is becoming ineffective, as you never know how much you will sell. You either end up with unsold inventory that damages your profitability and creates environmental waste or you produce less than customers want to buy not utilizing the full potential. 

Print-on-demand is the future of more sustainable manufacturing, and our vision is to transform e-commerce eliminating excess stock and reducing environmental waste. This industry is still in a very early stage today, and it makes sense that in the future most products will be produced only after someone has paid for them. Every year technologies improve and on-demand printing becomes cheaper and provides better quality. And even though the e-commerce market is growing and getting more saturated each year, there is still a lot of potential for it. Our goal is to be the best and largest marketplace for the print-on-demand industry – so that every seller can find the product categories they are looking for. 

Ecommerce is a booming sector in Europe at the moment. What do you see as the key trends this coming year? And where does Printify come in?

With the e-commerce industry having expanded rapidly in the past few years, we see that this sector will definitely still be among the ones that show the highest growth. Along with that, the creator economy is also a segment that has made a huge splash with millions of independent business owners across the globe using various digital platforms to make money. And the print-on-demand concept is one of the ways that allows creators to set up an online store filled with customizable products, also known as merch. The creative industry is growing fast, and we are proud to be able to contribute to it and provide tools for even bigger success stories in 2022.

Sustainability is a hot topic, and something companies worldwide of every size are putting to the forefront of business approaches. What does sustainability look like to Printify? How can companies scale sustainably? 

Sustainable manufacturing is the core mission of our business model, as we stand for on-demand production. Protecting the environment is not just a trend, and becoming more sustainable and eco-friendly is very important to Printify. Most of our partners use 100% biodegradable water-based inks that are 100% non-hazardous, toxin-free, and meet the strictest industry standards, besides our international shipping is carbon neutral now. We also strive to reduce the footprint of our company, our partners, and our customers, and in the future we aim to take even more actions towards a more sustainable business model, including re-thinking packaging options, as well as decreasing the distance between print providers and end consumers. The environment benefits from a more sustainable use of resources, and the demand for environmentally-friendly products also continues to grow accordingly. We strongly believe that every action towards a more sustainable business model counts and it is possible to scale more sustainably these days, it’s just a matter of how mindful we are and what actions we are willing to take not just in public but also internally as part of our everyday processes and work culture. 

The Baltics are becoming a hub of activity in the European startup ecosystem. What makes the Baltics such a good incubator for startups?

The Baltics is a great place to start and expand a business. We have a rather high quality of life and our tax policy is very reasonable compared to other European countries. And besides, we have very favourable conditions when it comes to stock options policy, making it easier for startups to attract and retain the talent we need to succeed and for new companies to be founded (Printify being among the very first companies in Latvia to grant stock options to its employees). The strongest asset is probably the fact that our startups are born global and aim to expand to large markets from the very start. Successful companies such as Bolt have proved that we can be headquartered in the Baltics and expand to the whole world, plus many high profile investors (Veriff – Tiger global, Bolt – Sequoia, Printify – Index Ventures) have believed in us and supported our ideas, which, again, proves that we are on the right track and have the all the assets to be able to grow. 

Where do you see the Baltic startup system heading in the next 5-10 years?

We believe that the Baltics are just getting started, there is a lot more room for new success stories and the unicorn effect is compounding. Successful global companies from Wise and Vinted to many others invest into the ecosystem heavily and we’ll most probably see many more to come. And we are convinced that there are numerous strong startups in Latvia and the Baltics that can create a world-famous product. We too can be the ones who set an example for others. We have very ambitious and talented people here who are behind our success story and are actively involved in the whole startup ecosystem, not just standalone startups. And we always support and boost each other which is another reason why fellow Baltic companies such as Bolt, Pipedrive and others were among our seed round investors who saw that we have a strong business idea and vision of transformation. 

What’s your top-tip for budding founders?

My advice for future founders would be to start with defining a problem and trying to solve the challenges you have encountered yourself. Initially – with minimal investment to test out how it works. Later on, you need to think about how many other people might want to solve the same problem. And then all you have to do is register the name of your company, and everything else will follow in the process. You just need to have enough faith in your idea or someone else will.