entrepreneur interview

What does it take to sell more than 10 million custom stickers?

Andrew Witkin President and CEO of StickerYou, the company he founded in 2008.

Andrew got the inspiration for StickerYou walking down the street through Manhattan Beach, CA.

It was there that Andrew noticed how stickers were such a big part of the local scene.

Today, Andrew is focused on building StickerYou into being the best custom sticker platform in the world.

 

 

Read Raw Transcript Now:

Success Harbor: Hi everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success and I have Andrew Witkin with me. Andrew is the founder of Stickeryou. Sickeryou provides the best platform in the world to create custom products that make you stick. Welcome Andrew.

Andrew Witkin: Hello George. Great to be here with you.

Success Harbor: Thank you for being here I really appreciate it. Let’s talk about starting Stickeryou , I believe you started it in 2008. What were you doing prior to starting Sticker U what is your business background?

Andrew Witkin: My Background was a mix probable about 15years of Licensing Consumer Products, Marketing and Brand Management. So I work for two different companies one in Canada it’s called Course Entertainment where I heading up the licensing for North America for consumer products our entertainment characters and then shortly thereafter that I went to a company called Mega Brands a big competitor to Leago and there I did Brand Management of a lot of their Toy lines where I headed up the Marketing and also the Licensing internally at Mega Brands and I think those experiences probable shaped you know maybe some of the vision eventually that I came to pulled at Sickeryou.

Success Harbor: So how long were you thinking about starting some kind of a business before starting Stickeryou, Did it just come to you or the spur of a moment or were you thinking about it for years what that was like?

Andrew Witkin: Well I think, I probably would divide it into two aspects, I think though out my business career prior to Stickeryou. I was more the entrepreneur type of you know business marketer, brand manage perpetual within other big businesses. So I think I always had a desire to grow businesses and you get a lot of learning when you’re at a lot of businesses along those lines and at a certain point you kind of collect enough experience that I think there were certain trends that i saw on the market that got me really excited and that started.

Success Harbor: For example what were some of those trends?

Andrew Witkin: Well for us, you know as a lot of my career was also watching you know kids actually customize their toys and when I started to take a look beyond kids I notice that really the entire consumer market today or even five you know six years ago was starting to evolved where by people weren’t just buying readymade products as much anymore, people were starting to buy customize products that they could influence themselves a by you know as a way of example. Many people don’t do traditional photo albums anymore where you develop your pictures and then put them in an album you know you might go to shutter fly upload your photos, add text, backgrounds and designed an entire photo book and so I think by looking at the way kids play and then all of a sudden the way adults were starting to buy products. I could see that the youth movement was going to push that trend further and faster and so between that and just the accessibility of images because of technology and the internet weather be Google Images or Photo from phones it’s just all of a sudden people just had so much more access to imagery that was important to them. I think those two trends along with finally then going out and researching more about what was happening in the production technology world in terms of being able to make out how people were making these customise products. When i sell all those three trends around me I got kind of really excited that, that is really the future biggest growth area consumer products and obviously you know seeing the worldwide web I realize that you know having something that was back ended and either creatable and then orderable through the web was probable a big big trend I wanted to capitalize on.

Success Harbor: So did you quit your job before starting Stickeryou or How did you transition from employee to entrepreneur?

Andrew Witkin: It’s a great question, you know I was in a situation where I actually when I was in Montreal, I had started a family and my kids were two and four and I just sorted hit a wall where at a certain point I think my wife and I were in Europe and it just dawned on me one day that something was not right in our lives and the main thing that sorted stuck up on me was that I wanted to moved back to Toronto from Montreal, I wanted to be closer to My Parents, My Sister, Her kids, My Friends. I’ve been away for six years and it just seem like my kids were getting older they weren’t connecting as much with the people we were most connected to and so I made a value based decision that said regardless of what happens in my career where I’m working, I’m moving back to Toronto unfortunately my employer was at the time ok with it that I could moved back to Toronto and still work with them. Once I was in Toronto I think it became apparent that they actually needed me in Montreal and I was further confident that, that was not what I wanted to do again and so it was fortunate because we actually were able to cut a deal that allowed me to still get paid for a little bit of time and then that I would then stop working for them and actually pursue my own ideas and what I wanted to do and so is there that i started to really do a deep dive into formulating the business for Stickeryou.

Success Harbor: So how did you get the idea for Stickers, What inspired you?

Andrew Witkin: Well so I like the trends out there and I think what happens is you know naturally you look at what is being done today in the customers edition world of products that is maybe not as good as it could be because there were some great you know Photo albums, Mugs and T-shirts were starting to be done quite rapidly across different websites and when I looked at the Sticker category one I was always enamoured by it, I remember actually at the time I was doing some business in L.A and I was in a speech and I noticed how sort of lubricous customs die cuts sticker culture was to everything around me from stickers being slapped on a mail boxes, to skate boards, to shops and I just fell in love with it and it was there that I kind of realize that in the customization world online everything was actually what you would called today begin like template based products so you could do a 2inch by 2inch round sticker you could do a bumper sticker but you know these were all set template that you had to work you images in if you had by way of examples a Harley Davison logo with the wing tips the sticker wouldn’t be that based on what you would make online you had to go to a traditional printer for that intentionally invest in a dire and have a much larger expense to do custom stickers so there I saw a void because I kind of felt that the sticker market was so lubricous everyone love stickers it’s actually a very happy product and yet it’s very functional when you actually break down all the front areas of it from you packaging labels to give away stickers to you know anything so from there I just kind of got enamoured by the idea of what if you could then create a platform online and make die cut stickers which would considered to be more the best type of quality sticker in the world and then build an interface that allows people to actually order that in extraordinary low quantities as little as one.

Success Harbor: So was there no other company that offered this online or how did you wanted to improve that whole process of getting custom die cut stickers?

Andrew Witkin: Yeah, the short answer to that is in the way in which we in vision it no, no one has been doing it, you know there were some more antiquated printers that would have a website and would say yes we can so die cut stickers you know here is our pricing send us your file we’ll take the file, we’ll make a die cut of it ,we’ll send it back to you by email you can reach and you know it would be a very long process a very touch oriented and of course serve with more a 9-5 hours of the day availability to we really wanted to create an interface that took a lot of that touch away and really became something that empowering to 24/7 so an interface that a few literally would wanted to designed a sticker using our interface and typed text and add images it would create your own die cuts sticker on the fly and then also if you wanted to upload an image you could see that image die cut right away and that has never been done before and even to this day it actually has not been done in that format there is still a template based models out there so I am.

Success Harbor: Is it very difficult to do why do you think because usually there is a site something that is successful and there is a hundred knock off within a few months right so why do you think they aren’t more of these types of companies?

Andrew Witkin: Well yeah, through my own experience I could definitively say it is difficult technology to build a lot of advance math and geometry goes into creating a file that is both image base and die cut base that can get sent to printers and when we embarked upon it, I think that was one of the key differentiator that we knew was going to be make a better product for the end customer but also be something that we ourselves had risk in doing because it had not been done before and so one of the initial challenges of course once you sort of come up with the business plan I had to raised some funds to hirer a technology team to try and build this and proved that it can actually worked.

Success Harbor: So you got some angels or did you got some venture money how did you, what kind of money did you raised?

Andrew Witkin: So we raised about Half of a million dollars and it was basically an angel round no Bcs but by the various people, some people I knew, some people I’ve been introduce from people i knew and I guess ideally people like the business plan but knew that this money was really kind of funding the prototype if you will.

Success Harbor: The technology pretty much did most of that money go into the technology that you describe earlier?

Andrew Witkin: Yeah, I mean in the sense of you know software talent that you have to hirer to build. Yeah absolutely the majority of it was completely for that and yeah that was the investments and luckily eight months later we were able to not burn out all our cash but actually come back with a real product that could work and so that precipitated our investor base to doing a second round and we collected we were able to raised about a Million dollars in the next round to be able to actually build out an entire website to support this.

Success Harbor: Was it difficult to find investors?

Andrew Witkin: You know, I think it’s always a process and it’s a long, It’s a Hard process weather inheritably you do or don’t have those investors I think everyone goes through that process were its a bit difficult but I think if you got a sound business plan and you are confident in it you know an investor can see the visions for it and what you have built to prove you know part of that evolution. I think it can be done and so I was fortunate enough to have good angels that you know were able to you know come back in on a second round we expanded the angel network to about twice the number of investors on the second round but yeah I would say that no matter who you are and your ideas it’s always a hard process.

Success Harbor: You know the connection is really starting to go bad do you have anything running in the background maybe on your computer that could chew up bandwidth like Google drive or drop box or something like or maybe just email do you have your email open that constantly like pops and eats up the bandwidth.

Andrew Witkin: I just closed my email, If that help, Is that any better George?

Success Harbor: I mean it comes it goes, It comes and goes you know but the last answer you gave was like you know we could hear like 90% of it but the 10% we didn’t. Let’s see how this goes.

Andrew Witkin: OK

Success Harbor: So let’s talk about what kind of market research you have done prior to starting Stickeryou, Did you do anything formal or you just had a really good feeling about this business so talk about that a little bit.

Andrew Wikin: So, sure you know in terms of market research it was a combination of trying to analyze the sticker market but you know the interesting thing with the sticker market is that its fragmenting into many different types of market so a label that goes onto packaging is a label even though it’s still a sticker, Stickers that are for your kids that you buy at retail with rainbows and unicorns that’s a different market then you know a business that’s you know ordering vinyl die cuts stickers for their swag and you don’t really have a lot of great statistic out there each for these sectors all be if the label market was probably much more buoyant in terms of rich information to pull from so we had to do some non traditional research: Interviews with people and leaders of certain industries to kind of gather what thought was decent Intel on the market and I ultimately I was kind of trying to literally combine to go five kind of markets that this could ultimately compete in to shape sort of where the opportunity lay so it was a bit of gut, it was a bit of you know you had to l kind of extend the numbers and then you also had some real data to pull from but it was a mixture.

Success Harbor: So let’s talk about some of the adjustment that you had to make based on your gut feelings and your initial research and then starting the business and then running it in the early years. Did you have any assumptions that were wrong that you had kind of pivot?

Andrew Witkin: Yeah, we definitely made a few, I mean there was a few assumptions we made that were, I think interacts in the sense that because of my history I really had a good sense for the youth market and the kid market and I certainly felt that there was no reason why our platform wouldn’t be very creative and Inciting for uses to make their own customs stickers so we built it to be extraordinary creative in terms of the power of what it could do for you, It was some you know Photoshop like features that you could utilize to make some really cool and colourful stickers but what happen was once we have launched it the small business market was actually one of our biggest customer bases and we quickly also realize lesson number one the web is that 13year old skate boarder actually doesn’t have a visa or a lot of disposable income so we quickly found that was going to be a smaller part of our business and that ultimately we had to look at the small business market and start to say well why are they excited about this and is this platform proper for them and the underline technology was pretty good but the user interface was certainly a lot more dared to someone younger and you know was there to have make some fun personalize stickers not necessarily you know to fill a immediately business need that you wanted to get in and check out quickly and so we had to refine the interface we also found that we built it on flash which had been timed in 2008 when we were, well 2008-2009 it seem appropriate but you know quickly with the advent of HTML5 a few years later we realize that, that was already antiquated the flash based built and so we needed to already pivot there so you know taking customer insights in terms of their user experience and what they wanted in the tool and the underline technology we obviously pivot a few times, It didn’t take anything away from the original business plan that said there was a massive market opportunity for what we were building cause we looked at what we were building as being universally appealing depending on how you wanted to stand out weather was personal or even if it was for your brand but we did have a bias initially that it was to be more youthful and inevitably there is a real pragmatic side to what it serve and now we’ve I think adjust that a lot better.

Success Harbor: So how do you make a decision as the leader of your company when to pivot you know what to ignore and what to pay attention to in terms of feedback from your market?

Andrew Witkin: It’s a good question, I mean I think you combine a little bit of gut probably about a third gut 40% gut and about 60-70% real data and because what happens is you start to get you know a number of customers and then those customer experiences are really the truth that tells you what is right and what’s not right and also what people want and what they value and so we found that you know we got one piece of feedback one something we would note it, if we started to get multiple feedbacks of something similar we would take it very seriously and then start to look at that compared to other things we’re seeing and prioritize accordingly, I would just try to do a gut check to actually sometimes reach out to certain customers and really try to del deeper into what they were asking for to make sure we built something or pivoted or added a new feature to the site that was in fact what they wanted maybe, I was more a validator but I try to look the data and even some of our sales marketing team with feedback with customers really try to guide where we were going to evolved Stickeryou to.

Success Harbor: And how did you get your first customers?

Andrew Witkin: You know, you launched a website and then when I say that, that’s like a year of building something and it always gets delayed and we finally went live and you know I think like anything you send out a massive email to every person under the sun you know and it’s a rather passionate one because you know you’ve just put so much into this and it’s such a co venture and so you know I think that’s how ultimately how we started, I mean we all everyone I think we had about seven people or eight people maybe nine at the time when we launched and so I think everyone you know told everyone of their friends and that sort of started Sickeryou, and maybe the first day we had a few hundred visitors a best, but like anything I think if you start to create something that has some utility people on the web are often telling other people about it and obviously it takes also a few years to start to get a more significant traction even with Google when it comes down to like organic search and you know search optimization but that was the starting point was really friends and family we didn’t do any press release on day one or anything like that.

Success Harbor: My question is what the most effective marketing channels were when you started out and has that changed now over the years?

Andrew Witkin: Yeah that’s a great question, I think initially one of the things we did was we actually had built a widget for our platform where by the Stickeryou application that begin where you could actually go upload a logo and design a sticker was a widget that could actually go on third party content orientated website so for example we had a little mini batman sticker maker on a Batman website and the same went for a Scrap booking website and stuff like that and that was actually a decent driver of traffic, we even did a implementation with mini clip for Avatars but interestingly enough we found that it didn’t convert very well because a lot of people who were then you know making cool stickers in the end thought of it as like a game and so they didn’t really kind of expect in the end that they actually would have to being pay for stickers and with their credit cards and so we found that, that strategy action was not as good as just people who did a link to Stickeryou and we would built a Batman sticker maker at Sticker U and then people then could find about shipping and quality of product and all that other information and so we went more towards a more linking strategy than a widget strategy and in addition to that as we built a better and better tool we found that we got better at search, we had because the platform could actually do many different types of products from CD labels to (0:20:48.5 – 0:21:02.2 BLANK) .

Success Harbor: What were the most effective marketing channels when you started Stickeryou and has that changed over the years?

Andrew Witkin: With respect to marketing channels when we first started Stickeryou, we thought one of the innovated way to market the company was to allow third party website that had rich content to have a sticker maker on their website so we forged a deal with a Batman website and we got the licences for you know economics and people could make Batman stickers customs Batman stickers on their website and so we actually built a widget that was our sticker making tool itself but not the rest of the website that could go under a third party website and we did a lot of those, we did a scrap booking line, we did a ghost busters line and it was found that is kind of we thought it was a great idea but we actually found that the user paver was such that were made for stickers on these website they got to a point where they all of a sudden had that they buy them and check out and they didn’t have all that surround information that a normal website provides you such as how long it takes to do shipping, and more information on Stickeryou and so we found the conversion rate really low as compared to websites that actually would link into Stickeyou and creating a learning page for Stickeryou about their content and people could make stickers at Stickeryou and check out we found that converted much better so we had to change our strategy from kind of dell these widget deals results takes a long time implement to a more simplify learning page deal that the content rest on our website there is one thing that changed in our marketing strategy, the other thing is really that we started to realize that as the platform was so much more powerful for doing other products form CD labels to learn labels to customs die cuts stickers to packaging labels we found that actually the a lot of learning pages that are on our websites that under the products and the Google search is becoming a bigger and bigger channel in terms of driving customers to our website so we pursue that a lot harder we pursue affiliate marketing more considerably than in the first 6-12months and I think today it’s still bring some of the biggest drivers of traffic into our website, you know we got some deals just like dialler, talk user. People go from their websites to our website they could make their own customs details to elevate it, we then again makes these companies that are called bearden the norms make gender labels they come from their websites to our website and they have a interface that these things are what they buy from them but that has I guess evolved at some level for us and it still but social media has become a bigger part of what we do cause we can really inspire people with a lot of ideas behind how they can use our platform there and it still engaging and it also gets more word of mouth from them if they like our ideas and tell their friends about it and I think that social media evolves more in the couple of years.

Success Harbor: So do you have an idea of what percentage of the business is word of mouth?

Andrew Witkin: I think that i can put a real number other than a official number on that but I know that ultimately when we do have a effective customers i think about 20% found out about us from friends and colleague that all learn about us and 20-25% and by 70-75% who whether it be affiliate marketing, third party website, Google search that sort of stuff.

Success Harbor: How effective is affiliate marketing for your business?

Andrew Witkin: You know I think it has a role because you know it always depends on the affiliates then when we define affiliates two ways one are they are content affiliates like bower hawky like I said before in bernarden and then they are sort of more discount deal type affiliates and I would even put like a social group on you know a lot of those affiliate discount websites that provide promo codes to people as another channel and there I think they’re Important from a trial stand point I think you used that as a way in which people trial your service for a little bit less and you know as long as you don’t, you have to change up that though so that people don’t go back to that all the time and depend on getting a discount, you want to be able to provide that sporadically as a benefit to people and as a bonus to existing customers but it does play a role for sure in our marketing strategy.

Success Harbor: So what are you doing to drive traffic to your site, is organic search a big part of your marketing?

Andrew Witkin: Yeah, I think it defiantly is and I say that because I think ultimately what we realize in our platform is that it is you know if you’re running a small business there are a lot of things you’re doing on a day to day level to make that business successful, where you get your labels for some of your products or your custom stickers becomes a intermittent need when you need it and so when you think about that you’re not really that accretive to hearing a message about stickers from somebody all the time but when you need it you really need it and when you do you often search for it, because you don’t necessarily top of my know where the best place to go, so we balance the fact that there are a lot of users when you need you know the custom die cut stickers or custom labels or in invent we’ve also been in the personal world to invent a platform where you can make you own custom temporality tattoos again in quantities that are as little as one, so that type of experience is something that we really want to allow people to find via search but we also now using a more video via YouTube and content website that showcase video as well as a lot of social media to just randomly inspired people by what you can do so you may not have the need right away but we want to put something in front of you that is very engaging and entertaining and inspiring so that you know to stands when the need does come up or we might actually stimulate a idea more faster for you than later on it will come back to us, it’s a bit of a hybrid I guess you could say.

Success Harbor: So which social, I’m sorry were you saying something I didn’t mean to cut you off.

Andrew Witkin: No No No I finished.

Success Harbor: So which social channels are the most effective for you?

Andrew Witkin: I think for us we find, I think Facebook and Pintrest for probably the two biggest ones, you know YouTube if you considered it as also a social network at sorts its great for arbitrary videos but I think in terms of conversion and being able to target customers I think Pintrest is very inspiring where you get a lot of DIY, women sort websites who makes for examples for their weddings, party favours and wine labels that are customize and pintrest is a good environment because when we want to inspire people that’s a fantastic environment for that we certainly Facebook is the biggest social network and we do find that it has a significant role in obviously people being able to see through their news feed unique ideas that we can share with them and obviously they can share themselves so for us those two are probably the most prominent ones that we work with right now.

Success Harbor: How may orders do you process within a year?

Andrew Witkin: Thousands haha we process a lot of orders its definitely in the high thousands.

Success Harbor: OK, How many stickers is the millions I mean you mention that you know that its a big point that people can order just one of your die cut sticker, is that pretty average or because you also mention the small business part of your business

Andrew Witkin: Yeah, The real great point of differentiation is that as a business you might have a time when you need just ten stickers for some mini events that you’re doing or some signage for your store, or your actually an entrepreneur and your trying a new product and you just want 40 labels for this new flavour and you want to see if it works, so certainly people can order on a low end there and of course it scales up now because when you need 500 or 1000 or a few 1000 of the sticker then obviously we can provide that also, so averaging we can do around 10million sticker within year including labels in one have you and that can run you know sometimes some of my orders well under a thousand and then some people are ordering 10 or 20.

Success Harbor: Wow, can you share a mistake that turn into a really good learning experience that would really help my audience as well if you could share maybe something that was like you know it didn’t look great at the time but it was really sort of a good learning experience for you.

Andrew Witkin: I think if I look back there is one thing that always stands out if was the classic we had reinterpreted who our target market was that being kind of use and we built a platform to be appealing to them, in hindsight you know you learn more about the development as you go through these things and we in hindsight I think I would have started the build being more about a small little area on our website where you can upload a file a and we can allow you to make a sticker of that and you check out. You didn’t have text tool, you didn’t have coloured background, you didn’t have all these images you could add not that isn’t now a big part of our business it is but if I think all the time, money and energy that went into the first bill that was trying to do some many things for people creatively I would scale back all the way back to one simple little thing and then grow it out from there, I think that in hindsight was probably our biggest mistake but you know we did it with the right intent but I would did that differently if i did it again.

Success Harbor: Ok, I just have a couple of more questions do you have time for it, I know we probably over the 30 minute mark.

Andrew Witkin: No No its

Success Harbor: You know most businesses fail unfortunately and especially they fail during the first couple of years in business so this question has to do with that. What is the most important thing for an entrepreneur to focus on during the first one year of being in business what you think they should spend most of their time on?

Andrew Witkin: You know I think every business is a little different so I don’t know if its universal but I do think when you are doing a new business a start up of sorts I mean ultimately the business is going sink or swim there a lot of variables that can affect you how many capital you have the right people those are all big big variables but at the core of everything you do is the value proposition of the product or service it’s what your charging to what your producing against what it cost you to produce it, is that differential valuable to people enough to pay you know the price that you think it worth, and I think ultimately you got to constantly be focused on when where and how and in what form does your product or service best meet your customers need and how you continually mould the product and service to what that is and I think staying focused on that and not getting lost and a lot of other distractions is so important and I would say that would be for us or any entrepreneur I think very fundamental to, and I actually believe CEO and the founder its probably in a very passionate good position to be monitoring that because they would probably had the initial idea in the first place as to why it would be valuable and hopefully you can then inspire a team to you know come on board to want to build something that you think you know is going to be something very valuable to people and they all have a big role in that but somebody is got to ultimately be evaluating is this collectively , universally as a entire brand or a product service is it delivering to people the value that you need long term to make this thing a successful business cause if it’s not your going to be kind of going down the wrong path and so you really need to focus on that you know right from the start and especially in the first year where your getting a lot of raw data to help to kind of guide you as to whether or not you’ve made good decisions or bad or certainly can you provident time to rectify what you may have amorously thought.

Success Harbor: Ok, What is the best advice you have ever received either personal or business?

Andrew Witkin: The best advise I’ve ever received in personal business, I would say the one thing that somebody once said was one of the most important values that you bring to a business in terms of how you conduct yourself and what is the most important thing people need around you and I think vision and leadership is huge but I actually someone once said to me the most important thing you can do with everything you do is honesty, and I a 100% subscribe to it because you know I think everyone around you depends on a sense of transparency you know you always hear the big companies the problem is the politics and everyone cut their own agenda and its very disruptive when people don’t feel like they completely know in a grounded way where they stand and what they’re trying to do its hard enough when your competing out there and your trying to be great to do that but to not be candid and honest about where you are how people are performing and i mean you want to be positive and you also want to be pragmatic and honest and I find that more i gotten to older repeated that advise I realize that people really appreciate that and good or bad sometimes they really appreciate knowing that you’re going to give the honest story of what you think and it’s amazing how well they can build off of that as opposed to things that not always being so clear and transparent where it creates a lot of uncertainty and I think as a company it can make you very inefficient and it can be toxic.

Success Harbor: Well Andrew I want to thank you for coming on Success Harbour to share the story of Sticker you with our audience how can people find out more about either you or Stickeryou?

Andrew Witkin: Well first of all it was a pleasure speaking with you George, you asked great questions and I like your show.

Success Harbour: Thank you!

Andrew Witkin: Yeah you can go to its simple you can go to Sticker You, that’s you.com and you can see everything and experience for yourself what its live to create your own customs die cut products that make you stick theres really alot of inspiration there hopefully the tool is very easy for you and I find that when you do that its actually a fun experience when you start to see what you can create so I would encourage everyone to try it cause its quite addictive when you start to see the possibilities.

Success Harbor: So everybody out there check out Stickeryou.com that’s Stickeryou.com Andrew thank you and I wish you much luck and much success with Stickeryou going forward.

Andrew Witkin: Hey thank you very much George stay in touch.

Success Harbor: Thank you!

The following two tabs change content below.
George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.