Back when Myspace was the place to be for American teens, regional social networks sprung up all over Europe. One of the last to still keep a foothold against the rise of Facebook is Latvia's Draugiem, which in 2012 still had a larger market share than Facebook. More current numbers were tough to find, but clearly Facebook is the place to be for Baltic teens these days. In response, Draugiem group has pivoted some of its efforts into supporting new in-house startups. One of theses startups that's gaining good traction in the States is Printiful, which launched July of last year.
The concept is API-based printing for T-shirts, tote bags, posters, or a number of consumer products. So if you've got some graphic design chops, you can throw up concept onto the web and fulfillment takes place on the order - there's no need to keep a warehouse of products.
The concept is similar to the Cafepress shops you've seen around the web, where you can throw up a web design and have a "I heart Tekes" thong printed on demand, for instance. Cafepress is good for that quick and dirty outsourced demand, but if you're a serious graphic designer that wants more ownership of your brand, with Printful you can get the same on-demand service through your own webshop.
Printful doesn't charge any setup or monthly fees, preferring to keep the friction as low as possible. A printed American Apparel cotton T clocks in at $16 (not including shipping), allowing you to sell it at a much higher price. A full list of products and pricing can be seen here.
Currently Printful is focused on integrations to e-commerce platforms. They're integrated into Shopify, Magento, and just added WooCommerce to their service. They're also constantly evaluating other platforms, and should be up on Stockholm-based Tictail eventually.
Design and development is in Riga, but fulfillment takes place in Burbank California, right next to Los Angeles, where they've got their printers. The U.S. is 80% of their market so far, and they've found Burbank to be a good location for them. The higher-end designers seem to prefer the trendier cuts of American Apparel, so by being located right next to American Apparel's factory in downtown Los Angeles, they have a good relationship with their supplier, and can just drive on down to the factory if they suddenly need V-necks, for instance.
With four thousand merchants registered, business has been growing 20% monthly and so far funding for the project has been entirely though the Draugiem group. "These machines are expensive, but we want to bootstrap as long as we can. We're not looking for investors but we think we can delay until we need it," says Davis Siksnans of Printful - who we previously interviewed for Later App.
The extent of my graphic design has been to make product pictures for our Arctic15 Holvi shop, but there's something really compelling about the low friction offered by Printful. If you think you've got an design and a market, there's really nothing stopping you from making some cash.