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Your Name: Matthew Schmitt
Number of founders: 3
Number of employees (excluding founders): 14
Location: St. Louis, MO
Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
My name is Matt Schmitt. I have been doing eCommerce and digital marketing for upwards of ten years. I originally got into this because I was working in the corporate world. I had a really great job! It was 9 am-5 pm. It was a very complex and demanding role, though. It was much more than your typical 9 am-5 pm job.
I got into doing this as a way to see if I could do things on my own. I wanted to do a little more than what my job was offering and make a little bit more money to marry the girl that I wanted and build a life that I could be proud of. I eventually got to a point where I was making more money on a side business than I was at my day job. I eventually made the choice to go out on my own and do something for myself.
I do this because it gives me a sense of satisfaction in creating and owning things and creating my own destiny. I have the ability to create and own things that people are passionate about and love. I like creating eCommerce items that they can wear with pride and create apps that help people grow their businesses via Skup.
I think the biggest struggle (as it is with a lot of people) is that you feel like there isn’t a set manual on how to get started and flourish. Especially when you are in an emerging field as print-on-demand was when I got started.
Like, there wasn’t a lot of information out there about taking some kind of hobby and turning it into a business. Really, the only way to overcome that is to find a process and stick to it. A lot of us in the print-on-demand field had to early on was start something new and watch it grow and change with the times at a rapid rate.
The rate that POD (print-on-demand) has changed just within the last ten years seems like a lifetime when you look back on it and see how far it has come. We started with t-shirts and it has expanded into creating hundreds of products on demand.
It has definitely been a process of learning from other businesses (including my previous job), studying, applying, and developing my own structure. It has been really what’s gotten me to today. Also, syncing up with like-minded people who are doing the same thing.
When I was getting started, I had a decent job. I had been putting everything back into my side hobby at the time. I found out over time that that wasn’t working, and I was just digging myself into a hole that was really hard to get out of.
When I first got started, we couldn’t even advertise on Facebook’s newsfeed. We had to do strictly right-hand side ads. That being said, there was no type of mobile app at the time. People that I tell that to today are like, “What are you talking about?”. It has become so second nature to us to be on apps on our phones and get a weekly ad in our emails, but there was none of that at the time.
So, it's been a huge evolution of that. Early on it was very difficult to get started because there wasn’t a lot of how-to information out there to go on. I just had to keep believing in what I wanted to be doing and believe that I would one day reach the place I am now.
It also really helped that I had my fiancé (now wife) standing strong by my side. We eventually made it out of that hole and have accomplished what we have now. It has stuck in my mind, though. The struggles we had early on helped teach us and paved the way to where we are.
What's your backstory and how did you get into Print on Demand/Dropshipping?
So, the funny thing is? I specifically remember I was in New York City in my buddy’s apartment. I got an email from a man named, Don Wilson. He had sold a basic-of-the-basic pdf doc on the how-to's. I was talking about how there wasn’t a lot of information out there on how to create a business from this stuff, but there was a shirt on this site and that was it.
I remember being slightly hungover reading this email and thinking, “This is the craziest thing I have ever heard of!”. But I went home and tried it and followed a super straightforward program of getting a labradoodle shirt up (I had a labradoodle at the time who is sitting ten feet away from me at the moment).
I posted a shirt that said, “I Love My Doodle”. I later found out that that phrase can be taken a very different way than I intended on it being perceived. I created the shirt in Microsoft Paint and that worked, and it worked pretty well. I tried it again and came up with syncing up with a charity.
It ended up working pretty well! This was eight years ago. I had been trying some things in my early life and trying and failing and watching things evolve. So I had this shirt thing and it was great, but I didn’t really know where to go from there or how to get it in the hands of consumers. Because remember we didn’t have any ads.
So, I synched up with a charity and gave them a portion of the profits in exchange that they would push my shirts on their very popular Facebook group. We were able to make a partnership. So early on, that was my way in and I ended up collaborating with some other different charities and finding new ways to give back. I am a huge dog person and so that really helped.
I synced up with charities and that gave me an opportunity to share my products with the community before sharing them with worldwide consumers.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I came out of college at the height of the great recession and I had a five-year IT degree. Everyone around me was getting jobs and so it took me a little bit longer.
My girlfriend at the time was placed into a job almost immediately. Everyone had a job, except me. Here I was with a five-year degree and moving back into my parent’s basement. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but I just kept reminding myself that I had an IT degree. I knew there had to be a way I could make a website and make some money.
I ended up creating a website called, “The College Weight-Loss Program” and lost 130 pounds. I knew there had to be a way I could earn some money. I found my way into google ads and came to find out that it was easy for me to sell other people's products using google ads and so I started doing that and doing affiliate programs. Then Facebook came.
The Facebook advertising platform came out and the POD world exploded. That’s what led me into doing that. I had a couple of businesses that I tried and failed, but I never gave up. I always had this weird feeling that I could do something on my own.
It morphed into a business where I was selling more apparel than some malls do and that was truly remarkable to me. It’s been a long journey from there, but I sold one of my businesses late last year and we are back doing some of the same things that we were when I got started.
It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of lessons learned and a lot of those lessons came with financial loss and initiatives that didn’t work. With entrepreneurial work, you can either see past the hurdles and move forward or that’s really it for your career. You just have to keep pushing and keep trying. It’s a constant struggle.
People would ask me if I had stress in my life and my answer every single time was, “Of course I have stress! I have run three businesses with 30 people that work for me in some capacity and that always weighs on me, but as an entrepreneur, you have to lean into that and have that be a motivator and something that can take you to the next level.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I am doing great! After selling my business, I made it a goal of mine to restructure how I was working in order to be done by 4:30 pm every day so I can pick up my daughter who is 16 months old. I do my absolute best to make that happen every day.
I still have a lot of people that work for me in some capacity, but the main difference is that I am making a conscious effort to not be on the computer at all hours of the day. That was part of my reasoning for selling my businesses. I knew the life I wanted to live and I went for it.
Even with selling my business, I have no plans of stopping anytime soon. I have learned that I have to organize things and make my business life work in my favor to have the life I want. I work with all my teams to try to come up with ways to work smarter, not harder.
We have made a couple of acquisitions late last year and this year for more reoccurring income and assets that can grow with me over time and retain their value. I also have a couple of different blogs that we can sell products on the backend. I am also partnering with some agencies that can help me with the marketing side of things so I can stay in a more creative and operational role that doesn’t have me at my desk all hours of the day.
What are you most proud of in your business?
With the business I just sold, I would see my products while I was out and about. During non-covid times, I would see my products pretty regularly in groups of people. That brings some type of joy because I always go up and ask them about it and they absolutely love it.
When done correctly, the goal of Print-on-Demand is to market a product to the consumer as a way for them to express themselves.
A t-shirt is basically a big banner for that niche or expression that that person can display to the world. You want to think of a way and produce products that people can use to express themselves. Site reviews are great, but there is nothing like meeting real-life people wearing or using your product. As the owner and the person that brought that to them has been really cool to experience.
We have done some pretty incredible charity work in the past. I am a huge advocate for dogs, veterans, and first responders. Here in St. Louis, we have been able to do some pretty amazing things and meet families. It was really moving to see their reactions to our support.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing that I have definitely learned is to hire people that are smarter than you in different areas. Don’t try to be the person that does everything. Because typically speaking you can’t do everything.
With Skup in particular, I have an IT degree, but we have a CTO that can run laps around me and is just better at doing things anything IT-related. Devin, my partner at Skup is a much better salesman and marketer than me when it comes to face-to-face and webinars and things like that.
Even though I sell upwards of 20 million dollars in products in a single year. I have learned to partner with people that are smarter than me in certain areas if it makes sense. But also, hire people that are smarter and better than you.
My product manager at the business that I sold was someone that could lead a team on a day-to-day basis way better than me and that’s completely fine. As an owner, you have control over everything, but as every business will learn, you have to learn to release some of that control and you’re going to have to trust people to take steps for you in the right direction.
Because there literally aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything yourself. I have done the whole waking up at 6 am, going to one job, coming home, have dinner, then go back to the side business and work until one or two o’clock in the morning and then waking up and doing it all over again.
I don’t recommend that to anyone. Just don’t do it. I know it’s tough, though. Because you have the trust thing and then you have the financial piece of it as well. But, having someone that you trust and that can handle things for you and release that burden of stress, can seriously move your business in the right direction.
What’s your best tip for running paid advertising?
With print-on-demand, the best thing I can advocate for is knowing your target consumer. Who are you trying to sell your product to? People like to know that they are buying from someone like them and that understands them. The best way to do that is to really target an emotional string.
Give them a shirt that they have never seen before.
The beauty of print-on-demand is that you can take risks and create something that you have no inventory on. What’s going to separate you from the Walmart t-shirt competitor, is creating new and unique products. You are making one-offs, you should be acting like it.
When you really understand who you are selling to and can speak to them, people will give you their trust and commitment to your brand. That’s the only way that my business (and you reading this) will survive the behemoth of not only Amazon but Walmart and Target as well.
Here in St. Louis, the boutiques are the ones killing it while everyone else is shutting down. My local grocery store has had to restructure the way they are doing this in order to cater to the Covid times. You can go and hear live music, you can eat there, you can buy wine and sit down and listen to that live music and have a nice time.
It’s so much more than your average grocery store. They give you a reason to come into the store instead of doing uber eats or adding things to your cart online and picking them up. They have given their consumers an outlet for more. Those kinds of steps in the right direction are what is going to separate you from the huge competitors.
If you do that, your Facebook ads with work exponentially better, and your RO ads with work better as well. Facebook for us, is simply a tool to accumulate lead generation. We are just trying to get people in.
Whereas, at one time Facebook was the source of all advertising. Now, it’s just one of the tools of getting people in and interested. Google, Amazon, SMS, YouTube, and some other channels are the ways we bring in all of our profit. We noticed that when we drove traffic to a specific product on Shopify via Facebook, that same product would be searched for on Amazon or Google in the same day.
They would leave our site and go searching for our products on their trusted sites. If we weren’t there, those companies would have gotten their business. So, now more than ever having lead generation, having a retargeting strategy, and having a strong offense will give you a better rate for success going forward.
What post-acquisition marketing do you do for customer nurturing/retention?
Our email strategy was adapted from other successful strategies in the business. We are marketing three times a week. A Monday, Wednesday, Friday via email with an SMS on Monday and Friday.
Mondays are typically the closing of a weekend promo, Wednesday will be our new products, and Friday will be the opening of a weekend promo and then repeat as much as possible. We switch it up from time to time. Like today, is International Women’s Day, so we will probably send out some promos for that and promoting products that women, in particular, might like.
So, trends and holidays will change up that weekly promo schedule, but we are at least doing that every single week.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Shopify for all of our stores and my app company is also a Shopify app company and theme company now too. My favorite tool is a themed company called Avatar which is a theme specifically designed for print-on-demand.
We definitely also want to include Klaviyo which is for email, SMS bump, Loox for our customer reviews, Attentive, which is slightly more expensive, but something you should definitely look into if you have the money and the scale.
We also use an app called Trackify from a buddy of mine. It’s a way that you can include tracking for your store that can give you a bigger snapshot of your shipping value.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a huge fan of Sean Whalen (Lions Not Sheep) and Andy Frisella (Real AF Podcast).
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
One thing that I think is exponentially different than what I would have told you when I got started to now that’s important now more than ever is that you get into something you are passionate about. Because if you’re going to do this very difficult journey, you have to be passionate about what you are doing.
Lots of people try and fail this journey, but let that motivate you instead of scaring you. You literally have the opportunity to change not only your life but also your family's life and your future family's life. 10 years ago, I wasn’t thinking about kids. I knew I wanted some in the future, but really that was the extent of it.
Now that I have my daughter, I am thinking about her going to college, her wedding day, and anything I can do to do my fatherly duty over the next years.
These are the things that motivate me on a day-to-day basis. That, ‘why?’ needs to be a thing for you that drives you to do better and keep getting up when you fail. If you don’t have that, think about it and really dive into yourself and find that motivating factor that will drive you to success.
Also, think about what you’re passionate about. What do you spend your time and your money on? The things that you come to learn when you start figuring out ways to monetize them, you will know more about what you are doing than you realize.
Just simply because, you embrace it and you are one of the people. That’s what I meant earlier when I said that people want to buy from people that they feel understand them. They want to buy from their tribe. If you can help develop that tribe because you are a part of it already.
Yes, there will be hurdles and setbacks, but failures are part of the journey. It’s the entrepreneurs that keep getting up and keep trying.
The way to understand and cope with those losses is to keep the bigger picture in mind.
One thing that helps me is keeping things like my daughter's Valentine’s Day gift to me in my line of vision above my computer screen. My ‘Why?’ is much more about the people and experiences that I can have. Whatever your, ‘Why’ \ let that be a motivator to get over those hurdles that you encounter along the way on this journey and onto the next thing.
Where can we go to learn more?
Skup.net or Matt Schmitt | Facebook