Full Transcript of Jana Eggers Interview
Recorded via Conference Call
October 14, 2009
Jim Hopkinson, Wired’s Marketing Guy
Jana Eggers, CEO of Spreadshirt.com
Or listen to the podcast while you read:
Hi, this is Jim Hopkinson, Wired’s Marketing Guy, bringing you the marketing trends that matter.
Today I interview the CEO of spreadshirt.com. We talk about:
– T-shirts as a marketing tool
– Why bacon is the key to long life
– Three keys to the Iron Man Triathlon
– Two T-shirt slogans that will guarantee a conversation
Jim Hopkinson: Hi everyone, my guest today is Jana Eggers, who is the CEO of Spreadshirt, a creative apparel platform that inspires people to create, buy or sell individual fashion. Jana was named Global CEO in August of 2007, and splits her time between Boston, Germany, and other cities around the world.
Welcome, Jana. Where are you calling us from today?
Jana Eggers: I’m actually in Boston today.
JH: Excellent. So, tell us about your background – before you got to Spreadshirt; you seem like a perfect guest for geeks at Wired. I saw you have some background in math and computer science, and did some work at Lycos, which used to own Wired.com at one point. So, tell us about your career path.
JE: Yeah, I usually say I’m a big geek; I don’t have a small propeller, I have a big propeller [laughs]. So, yeah, my background is math and computer science, that was my schooling. I actually spent a few years out at Los Alamos at the National Laboratory doing computational chemistry work. I was looking for some theoretical maximum conductivity for polymers, doing work on supercomputers.
So, it was a lot of fun, I could talk about that for hours; it’s terrific work and wonderful people out there. But, what I really missed was business. I was raised by bankers and accountants, and I had a checkbook when I was about seven years old that they made me balance every week [laughs]. While I love the research science, I kind of miss that direct access to a bottom line that you had to have. So I ended up after wandering around grad school for a little while, saying, “Now I really needed to be in business.”
I’ve mainly been in high tech throughout my career; a lot of start-ups, so companies that you’ve never heard of, mostly in the Boston area, most of them got acquired by bigger companies. For example, one of them is Princeton Transportation Consulting Group, which got bought by American Airlines. So for a little while I worked in the big behemoth of American Airlines, which was actually a lot of fun and in fascinating learning, but we did optimization software for the trucking industry.
That’s another big fun piece of mine: I love taking really like high tech work and applying it to something very, very real and tangible. You don’t get much more tangible than the trucking industry. These guys are working on operating margins of about one cent for every dollar that they make, and they have to make that one cent work really hard.
JH: Wow, so you missed a U-turn on I-95, and you just blew your whole budget, basically.
JE: Exactly, exactly. That’s so easy to do. [Laughs] You get stuck in a traffic jam or something like that, and the software was totally cool. Like I said, I could talk for hours about that, as well. But we did really neat things like getting somebody home when their wife was having a baby earlier than expected. Our software could actually figure out who was the driver that could take that load, and still get that load there in time for the delivery, so that other driver could get to a different type of delivery, right, the delivery of his baby.
JE: So besides saving things like the hard cost of miles, we also got to do things like really bring some interesting aspects into people’s lives, just through computers, technology, and optimization. It was a lot of fun, and like I said, that was the start-up I joined it when it was 20 people, and then, like I said, it ended up being bought by American Airlines, so I ended up working for, gosh, I think at the time, there were about 30000, 50000 people. So, big changes there, as you can imagine [laughs].
JE: And then most directly before Spreadshirt, I was at Intuit. I got to Intuit, and they had actually purchased the company where I was on the management team. I didn’t join them at the time because I really am a start-up person; I love start-ups, I love growing companies. But I kept in touch with Intuit, I was so impressed; it was one of the best acquisitions that I’ve ever been around, into a really incorporated people and worked with the people, and looked at how the company and what we did could be incorporated, and what they did, and I was very impressed by it.
They came to me and asked me if I could start up their corporate innovation lab. What they were looking for was somebody that had start-up experience who knew really how to run businesses at an early stage, which is a different skill than running a huge business like QuickBooks – which 85 per cent of the small businesses in the U.S. use – and you need different skills between those things. Neither is better or worse, they’re just different skills, and so they wanted to bring some more of that entrepreneurial skills in.
So that’s what I did for them. I ended up running a few of those businesses, and that was a ball, as well, to run smaller business within a big company was a really terrific learning for me. I don’t know, was that too much? [Laughs]
JH: No, that’s great, that’s great. And eventually it led you to Spreadshirt. We actually have more in common than I thought. I also worked at a Boston area start-up, and before Wired, I worked at ESPN, and for a while there, I was in charge of their prizes. For their fantasy games when you win your Fantasy Football team Championship, you would get a free T-shirt, and so I was probably ordering about 15000 T-shirts a year, for five years or so.
The business model was simply, we have 10 people buying Fantasy Teams at $30 a team, we were bringing in $300 in revenue and giving away a shirt that cost us less than $5 that happens to say, “Fantasy Football League Champion”, and people loved it. You should see the pride and the complaints, I treated everyone of those shirts like it was my own, like I tried different vendors, and the sizing, and the colors, and the designs, and T-shirts are really very serious business, right? So, what is it about T-shirts, what makes them so special?
JE: I have to tell you, either when I first got contacted about the job, I kind of said, “Mmm, T-shirts.” I was raised in the South, and I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans, much less T-shirts [laughs]. So, it was kind of a shock to me, admittedly, my mother still doesn’t say that I work in T-shirts. It was a very different culture for me. I totally fell in love with it.
It’s what you said: it’s how excited people get about them. We have people; we had this video sent to us from one of our customers, not solicited. We didn’t say, “Oh, please, send us videos.” He just sent it to us, and it’s his wife crying for a minute and a half over the T-shirts that he got her.
JE: Because it meant so much to her, right?
JE: It’s so touching when you see this. We play this regularly at our company meetings because I want to remind our team members of what we do for people, right? It could be something very simple; another story that we have is I go out and I look before every company meeting. I do a search on Twitter, and I do a search on Flickr, and I just see what’s been added recently and that mentions Spreadshirt.
It’s these stories that you get. One was a simple one; it was great shirt: a black shirt with this gold metallic print that says, “Wash Metallics Separately.” And I’m thinking, “What is this about?” Then you go read the story and this person is an artist; her point was, that you need to clean your brushes, but, if you have metallic paints on your brushes and you clean that in the same container as you clean your regular paint, you’re going to get metallic dust in your other paints, and it’s not good. So, she said, “I made this T-shirt as a handy reminder.” Then you see another person commenting, going, “Oh, that’s such a great idea, I never thought of that”, right? [Laughs]
JH: And was the T-shirt written in metallic, like a metallic font?
JE: It was. It was, that’s what so cool about it. Now we have this T-shirt where she’s really proud of herself because she thought of this thing that other people are commenting on. We gave her that, and I can tell you, anybody who saw that on the floor would be kind of like, “Yeah, I don’t get it”, right?
JE: The point is you don’t have to get it. The person that did it, gets it, and they love it.
JH: Well, another interesting thing that I saw is that you’ve done more than one Ironman Triathlon. You’re training for another one, which is a huge accomplishment. I once heard this comedian, and he goes like, “Wow, I was watching that Ironman thing, you gotta to swim two and a half miles, you have to bike 112, you have to run a full 26-mile marathon; either these people have no jobs, or they have jobs that are very, very difficult to get to.” [Laughter]
Tell me; a lot of time must be taken up in training – you have to go on these long runs – does it help you in your work, does it give you time to think, or does it make it more difficult, the time constraints around training?
JE: I get asked this question all the time. Everybody thinks I’m insane which I completely understand, and I am; I’m quire sure. I know that it helps me because it keeps me fit, which I think has a big impact. My husband read recently that there’s actually people with, he calls it a genetic defect, I would say it’s genetic alteration. There’s just some people who need less sleep than others, and I really am one of those people. I’m not lying to anyone, my husband will attest to this; I really only sleep about, maybe five hours a night.
So, I do go out and run at midnight, or one at night. I’m lucky, especially in Germany, that it’s very, very safe. I have all the technology, of course; I have the flashing strobe lights, I have special LED reflector bands, because I’m a ‘geek skeek’, right?
JH: Yeah, you’re so wired, I love it.
JE: [Laughs] So, it takes a lot of time, and it’s a commitment, but there’s a lot of people out there with great commitments, there’s a lot of CEOs, there’s a lot of great team members, they have their passion and their commitment; that’s the thing that I do. Some of the other people will go out, they play instruments or have their favorite Fantasy Football league, and mine just happens to be Ironman.
JH: It’s quite an accomplishment. I’ve done, a friend convinced me to do a sprint triathlon, so I’ve done two of those. He was telling me about it, like, “Oh, yeah, it’s right near my place in New Jersey, there’s a nice lake that I swim in, and the run actually goes right by my house.” So, I’m like, “Alright, I’ll train it.” Meanwhile, I’m living in Manhattan, so my experience is like, “OK, I get on the subway, and go to Times Square to the 12th floor of a hotel which has a gym, and it’s a swim, and then I run back through Hell’s Kitchen and get my bike and walk it down two flights of stairs, and go through Central Park, and then come back, and change, and run, and then go out on the Westside Highway, and I’m dodging cabs”, and once you go through all that, the actual race isn’t so bad. But definitely, the training is difficult.
JE: Well, I have to tell you, I just did my first sprint only four years ago, so be careful, because you can get into it, too. [Laughter] I was terrified with my first sprint, and that’s what I’ll tell people; I told people I would never, ever do an Ironman. I had a very good friend who does Ironman and triathlons and as soon as I did my first sprint he said, “Oh, you’re going to do an Ironman.” I said, “There is absolutely no way. I can’t even fathom what that would be.” Honestly, you get into the groove, you commit to yourself on it, and you can do it. It takes effort, but you can do it.
I think, mentally, it’s very much the same as what I do every day; I always tell people there’s three parts to a triathlon – there’s the physical part, and I assure you, if you’re reasonably fit, if you can do a sprint, you can do an Ironman. There’s the mental part, and that, honestly, for Ironman, that’s a really hard part that people I think underestimate.
You’re out there alone, and it’s really easy to just say, “Why am I doing this?”, and want to quit. I just don’t believe there aren’t people who do it that people doing it don’t regularly kind of say, “Why am I doing this”, and want to just say, “Pffff, I just want to sit down and go have a beer, or something.” The last part is nutrition; I’ve talked to people who have tried an Ironman and haven’t finished, and, I’m really convinced that a majority of those are because of the nutrition.
JE: Now, it won’t surprise you I’m a geek [laughs], I studied the whole nutrition aspect, and I really know what I need, and I know how to do it. I didn’t get it at first, when I first started working out, I didn’t really understand. I thought, “Oh, wow, this is great, I’ll lose weight and I can just keep up my eating the way I did” – you can’t, and you really have to understand your nutrition, both while you’re building up and working out, as well as, while you’re doing it.
JH: It’s definitely a great way to keep in shape, and kind of along those lines, when I was ordering these shirts for ESPN, granted, the demo was people were kind of at a computer playing football, but, what shocked me was the breakdown of sizes. If I remember what it used to be, I think a full half – so 50 per cent – we ordered were XL, and the next popular size – maybe 25 per cent were XXL, and then maybe 20 per cent Large, and barely five per cent Medium, and I think we even dropped Medium and Small completely, because it was such a small number. I don’t want to get too serious, but do you see that, like the sizes; is there any correlation between the obesity problem in the U.S.; are you seeing people ordering bigger and bigger shirts from your company?
JE: No, I would say, one thing about a lot of T-shirts, particularly T-shirts like that, people err on the side of being bigger, because you can wear a shirt that’s too big, but you can’t wear a shirt that’s too small. So, I do think there’s a little bit that, maybe a little too much that people read into that. I think people are cautious, and they’ll order rather than ordering down. We get a diversity, actually, with one of our design competition, which is one aspect of our business. We actually have just found out we need to order less Larges and more Mediums, and actually, we do need to order, although it was a small percentage, we need to order more XL. So, I think there’s a balance out there.
JH: Yeah, it probably varies.
JE: I also think it depends on who’s buying; I would say that from what we see, if the women are buying for men, they’re going to tend more to buy the smaller size. I think that if a man is buying for himself, he’s going to buy an XL; if a woman is buying for him she’ll buy him the L, and most likely the L fits him, but it’s not because the guy thinks he’s bigger than he is; he’s just more worried about it, and women are more attuned to sizes.
JH: Got it! So, who is your typical user; I know in the intro I read that you’re a company that helps people create, buy and sell. So, who’s the typical user, and what types of businesses do you have for this?
JE: I’d say it’s three different sectors that we’ll talk about. We have our direct business, which is the one that most people readily think of, “Oh, I can go in and create a shirt for myself,” right? And that’s anybody who can come in; they can design their own, they can choose from our marketplace, whatever they want. That is typically, we’re a bit more ‘male’ than your typical internet shopper, but we’re pretty close to your typical internet shopper, which is more ‘female’ – more females are doing the shopping and buying online now, which is a change from those old days when we talked about Lycos, and stuff. But, a very typical internet buyer, I’d say they’re a bit more technology forward because they’re more used to using kind of applications on the web, and not just going through an E-commerce thing; they’re actually designing and having some fun with it.
Then, we have our Shop Partner side, so these are the people who are selling shirts, and on that we really have two different areas, one is our kind of the ‘long tail’ which is, I always say everybody that’s buying from us is probably a Shop Partner five times over because they have their hobby, like I have triathlons, or they may have a passion, like I love to cook, or they may have kids, so they have their PTA. All of those for some reason at some point, you either have a reason that you want to shop; maybe it’s to sell your cool ideas about triathlons, or about cooking, or you may need one for an event, so it’s your local PTA, and they want to sell shirts for their fall fair, right?
JE: So you have to make some money there and so you have a wide spectrum, and that’s really, that’s the really niche markets. Like one of my favorite examples of this is we have a knitting forum; they have a pirate theme to their knitting forum [laughter], right? And, where else do you buy pirate-themed knitting shirts, right? And, it’s like my favorite saying is, “Knit fast, die warm.”
JH: [Laughs] You guys are the global leader in pirate-theme knitting apparel.
JE: It’s so awesome, though. You’re never going to be able to support a store, an actual storefront, or even an online store that’s dedicated to that, unless you have a print-on-demand play like we do, right? What’s so cool about it is that you have all these people that are now able to express who they are, not just who the bulk of the mass customers are.
JH: Why wouldn’t they just knit their own T-shirts, though? [Laughter]
JE: [Laughs] They could, but they don’t get the cool metallic printing. [Laughs]
JH: Right, they knit sweaters to wear over their pirate T-shirts, or something.
JE: Exactly, so we have all of those. That’s the whole micro trend, the space where we can be us rather us being a bigger part, you don’t have to be mass consumer anymore, you really can be niche. Then the next stage is the big brands, and those brands are working to identify with their end users or customers, or viewers, as well.
So our most famous example is CNN: we power CNN headlines on T-shirts, and it so great, the partnership when we first started working with them, we thought it was a cool idea and it was fun, but it is even beyond all of our expectations in that it’s just a ball to see what people want to wear. These people are coming in and buying these T-shirts, CNN is not giving them away; and people are saying, “Wow, this headline is so me, that I’m going to buy it”, right? One of my favorite lines was, “World’s Oldest Person Credits Bacon.”
JH: [Laughs] Well, you also can carry that over to reddit.com, correct?
JE: Yes, yes. We work with Reddit, as well, and you can imagine how creative those lines are.
JH: Yeah, if it’s one thing that Reddit users like, it’s bacon, that’s for sure! There’s an entire bacon sub-Reddit, it’s like everyone uploads pictures of bacon band aids, and there’s a lot of bacon talk on Reddit. And, so, it kind of works the same way, right? Someone posts a funny headline, and in the day-to-day thing you read in the headline, you’re looking at the comments and you think that’s clever, there’s a button that says, “Buy a T-shirt with this headline on it”, it’s that simple, right?
JE: Exactly, exactly. And, that’s what’s fun is now, people see these things and they’re like, “Oh, that’s really funny”, and you know; there was one that was sold just a few days ago that sold really well which was, “Cheerleader Bags 180 Pound Gator”, right?
JE: You know how many cheerleaders are going out there and buying that, right? They’re like, “Yeah, we’re tough!” You think we’re little ‘fru frus’ with our skirts and our bows in our hair, but we’re not, we can bag 180 pound gators.
JH: Well, like I always try to do with people I talk to, I’ve actually used the service. Reddit, Alexis Ohanian referred me to you probably a year ago, and I did some for the podcast, so I have a Hopkinson Report T-shirt, and what I like about it is you can totally customize it, and then set different price points. So, I was able to do like a heavy weight T-shirt and sell it for $20, a standard eight T-shirt for $15 if someone just wanted a low-end one, and then American Apparel for $25. So, if you want just like a basic T-shirt that is good quality, that you might buy in a store versus if your American Apparel one fits you better, you have a choice of different T-shirts, different colors, different price points, different designs, and it all integrates right into your blog.
JE: And I just want to say for the record, that we didn’t set this up in advance [laughs].
JH: [Laughs] That’s right.
JE: You had gone off and done this yourself. That’s exactly right, that’s it. It’s easy to do, it’s fun, you can do everything from the logo of your podcast or your website or your company, quickly and easily, all the way up to something like what Alexis and team did with Reddit, which is allow that user-contributed content to go on T-shirts, too. So, we have a lot of flexibility there.
I’ll give you another example of one of the larger companies that are using it for promotions is a company called Anytime Fitness: they’re a fitness chain open 24 hours, and they’re across the U.S. as well as internationally. They did a campaign last year for their membership drive, that said, “Anytime Fitness – I Do It, Because ______.” Then people could fill in that blank, so if you signed up for your membership you got a coupon for a free T-shirt, and people were doing it and putting, they were some great things in there, like, “I Do It to Keep up With My Grandkids.” My favorite one though was, “I Do It Because There’s a Porkchop at the Bottom of Every Beer.” [Laughs]
JH: [Laughs] A porkchop at the bottom of every beer.
JE: Exactly, I’m guessing it’s the calories associated with the porkchop, but that’s the fun of it, right? And, you know this person when they’re wearing the T-shirt, people comment on it, they laugh about it, they ask the person about it; and what does that do but bring a smile to the person’s face.
JH: Definitely, I remember why I did it; I was going to ‘South by Southwest’, and it’s not a formal event where you’re always wearing a dress shirt or tie, I need to wear a T-shirt, hey, I’d love to wear a Hopkinson Report T-shirt, and so, I was able to create it, and I’m like, “I want a really nice one, I want an American Apparel one”, and yours was the site I ended up with, and it was really great.
JE: That’s terrific, that’s what we want to do.
JH: So, do you see a lot of bloggers and podcasters, so they can make money with their own stores? It sounds like this is a way to monetize their blog.
JE: Yeah, what I’d say is the people that really want to, so, obviously, we’re serving a niche where people just want something that their fans can buy, and have their logo. That’s great, and it’s a need and people like that. If people really put their effort into it and they really want to dedicate themselves to making some money with it, they can do that, as well. It takes effort, just like everything else. What you need to be there is be creative, so I don’t know if you know ZeFrank.
JH: Not off hand.
JE: So, he’s a podcaster, a very active one, and one of the things that he did with his shop was he really kind of branded his fans, rather than himself. He called his fans, “The League of Awesomeness” and “Sport Racers”, and he’d refer to them as that. So, when he made his shirt, the shirt said, “League of Awesomeness,” and “Sport Racers,” and it had his logo, which was a little ducky, and he did some very creative shirts, and they sold really well.
My reason for that is, after talking to some of his customers is, they said it was about them. You would see on his forms where people said, “Oh, yeah, I was riding a subway in Montreal the other day”, or is Toronto, which one has the subway, one of them doesn’t. Anyway, and I saw another Sport Racer, and I went over and started talking to them, right? So, it’s sort of like their high sign of being in the club, and it’s a way for people to communicate, so, one of the things that I’ve learned through all of this is it’s taking some of that social media, the blogging, the Twitter, and things like that and taking it off line.
JE: And, it’s the same kind of thing where you’re walking down the street and you see something, and, it’s like, “Oh, I’m like that person.” So, rather than finding their Twitter feed or finding their blog, you immediately, and in person, can identify and talk with them. I have a shirt, I still haven’t done 140.6, but when I had done a Half Iron for the first time, that’s 70.3 – the distance, it’s how many miles it is.
JE: And I have a 70.3 shirt that I wear. I’m telling you, every single time I wear it, I have someone walk up to me and ask me, “Have you done a Half Iron?”
JH: It’s like a secret club that you’re in.
JE: I know, but it’s fun, right?
JE: So, immediately, these people know that, “Hey, I’m part of that club.”
JH: Yeah, it takes that online community and aggregates it offline. As well, it gives them something to talk about, and a reason to meet each other.
JH: So, what is your favorite T-shirt that you have?
JE: What it says?
JH: What, can you not pick one? Is it like a kid, you can’t pick your favorite one; which one do you like to wear the most often?
JE: It is very, very hard for me, because I have a lot of them that I love. I think, it kind of depends on the day as to what the message is that I want to get across. So, I’ll tell you one that I don’t wear as much any more, is I have one that says, “I Know Something You Don’t Know.”
JE: Which is really fun to wear, except for the fact that you cannot go anywhere without having a conversation. So, you have to wear it.
JH: Now, was that when you were starting the company and use it as an excuse to talk about the company, was that why you first made it?
JE: No, I actually made it. I did, it was near when I first joined, and, it’s actually, I was thinking about some of my work with Intuit, and obviously, I have a passion for small businesses, and my thought was every small business in the U.S., the owner should have a shirt that says, “I Know Something You Don’t Know.”
JH: That’s a great point.
JE: The reason is because I knew it would start a conversation, right? [Laughs]
JE: Of course, I had to make one for myself, and then I realized how much conversation it started. [Laughter]
JH: [Laughs] Well, Miss Smarty Pants.
JE: Yeah, I know, you really have to be in a mood that day for the whole day for people to ask you about it, so, I don’t wear it quite as much anymore, because it’s one of those things like you can’t even walk to just get a break and have a coffee, because you’ll have five people stop you on the way.
Another one that’s really funny that I like to wear says, “I’m Recruiting”, and it’s sounds really simple, but I made it because I was meeting people, interviewing them in coffee shops, and I wanted them to know who I was, and I figured if I wore a shirt that said, ‘I’m Recruiting’, they would know. That one gets so many comments. It’s almost the same as, “I Know Something You Don’t Know”, is people just constantly say, “What are you recruiting for?” And, you get to talk about, “Well, I’m always recruiting for customers, and often times, partners, and also employees. Let me tell you about what we do.” And, it’s just a fun, simple shirt to wear. Today, my shirt says, “Well Done is Greater than Well Said.”
JH: I like that. Very good. I guess that’s kind of the bottom line we should all take away from the conversation and from the business is that it is customizable, and that whatever you want to say, whatever your mood is, you can have a custom made T-shirt, and so, if you’re in recruiting mode; you can wear that, if you’re in triathlon mode, you can do that; and, that’s kind of what you can do with Spreadshirt, right?
JE: Exactly. And, you don’t even have to rely on you doing it, you can rely on someone like CNN coming up with a headline of, “World’s Oldest Person Credits Bacon”, and that’s something what you associate with, or something like, at Reddit, one of the Reddit shirts I bought said something like, “If You Could See Any Line of Code Anywhere, What Would it Be?
JH: Spoken like a true geek! Excellent.
JH: Well, where can people go to find out more information, are there any special offers or promotions you want to talk about?
JE: Well, let’s put one together right now.
JE: How’s that?
JH: That would be great.
JE: So, spreadshirt.com, for the U.S., North America; if you have listeners over in Europe, they can go to spreadshirt.net. We’ll set something up on both; we’ll get something set up for ‘Wired9’, and, what do you say, 10 per cent off, how’s that?
JH: That sounds great. Well, Jana, thank you very much for joining me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you, and, I’ll urge all my listeners, and my readers to go to spreadshirt.com, and I hope to talk to you again soon.
JE: Great. It was terrific speaking with you, and thank you. I hope your listeners enjoyed it, too.
JH: This has been the Hopkinson Report podcast. I’d like to thank my special guest, Jana Eggers of spreadshirt.com.
Are you a true fan of the podcast? Go to the hopkinsonreport.com/store to see how I’ve integrated Spreadshirt technology to offer multiple styles of the Hopkinson Report T-shirt.
Come on! When’s the last time you bought yourself a cool new T-shirt?
Throw out that ratty one from the 1996 Olympics, check it out, or go to spreadshirt.com and remember to enter Jana’s offer code of ‘Wire 9’ to get 10 per cent off!
[End of transcript]