How to create t-shirts for your startup
Marketing | September 2nd, 2015
My goal has been for ConvertKit to be more than just software. Instead of just being the best tool to use to grow your audience, ConvertKit is also a movement of bloggers building a full-time income from their audience.
You can’t have a movement without t-shirts (everyone knows that).
So it was time to make some shirts for ConvertKit!
Actually, the biggest reason to make shirts was that I wanted a small way to say thank you to a handful of our best customers for al of their support. The process wasn’t as straightforward as I thought, so this is my guide for anyone else planning the same thing.
Originally I planned to do a simple startup tshirt with just the ConvertKit logo on the front. Keep it simple like dozens of other startup shirts:
Simple and easy. I could get these printed right away and have them ready for an upcoming conference that at least 15 of our customers would be attending.
We can do better
I was all set to send these to the printer when I started to get frustrated with the cost (more on that later). That’s when my mastermind group (Caleb, Barron, and Barrett) said, “If you’re going to spend that money you should make something people will actually want to wear.”
Ouch. Even though I didn’t like to be told that what I was working on kinda sucked, they were right. I could make something better.
I started to plan out slogans that best represented ConvertKit. I settled on a theme of “The secret to growing your audience” and came up with three ideas:
- Work in Public
- Teach everything you know
- Write everyday
Since I didn’t have the time or budget to do all three I settled on “Teach everything you know.” It’s really the best marketing advice of all time and the theme of my blog and audience growth.
But I couldn’t just layout the words in Photoshop and run with that—it needed real design.
I like the Heart & Hustle shirt from Fizzle. The hand lettering looks fantastic and it’s a shirt I wear all the time:
— Dana Shultz (@minimalistbaker) July 18, 2014
So after drooling over hand lettering by a few friends I started to sketch out a few concepts:
The design for the word “everything” was most inspired by Sean McCabe. I saw a one of his hand lettered blog posts and loved the style.
Luckily for me, Sean is a good friend so I just asked him for permission to use it. He was generous enough not only to give me permission, but also to digitize it for me!
It probably hurts Sean’s design sensibilities since half of the design is hand lettered and half is digital type—oh well. We had a deadline and I think only a select few would notice or care.
The final design
Here’s a mockup of the final design before we went off to the printer. “Teach everything you know” on the front with a small ConvertKit logo and “Grow your audience” on the back.
Before choosing a shirt I went through my collection of startup t-shirts and tried a bunch on to test fit and softness. I knew that the American Apparel 50/50 shirt was my favorite, but since it was so expensive I wanted to see if a less expensive shirt like the NextLevel 3600 was comparable for a better price.
Quite simply, the cheaper shirts are just not up to par. If you’re going to give out shirts you want them to be high quality. Something that people will actually wear. It’s not worth saving a couple bucks if you have to sacrifice quality.
I researched a ton of printing companies before starting this. Since I was doing volume orders (and giving plenty of shirts away) sites like TeeSpring didn’t really make sense.
At first I loved the idea of StartupThreads.com and went a ways through the process with them. They have a very cool service where they will stock the shirts for you and ship them out on demand (even with just an API call if you want). That sounded great, but after more research it was just too expensive for what I was doing.
For printing 75 shirts (front and back) it was going to come to $15.56 per shirt. These are top quality shirts, but that was just too much to spend.
After reading a recommendation from Buffer I tried out Jakprints. Their website was really confusing, so I just called them. They have amazing phone support! They answered right away, pointed me to the correct products on their site, and I started the order.
I ended up ordering 144 shirts since the price was cheaper and that dropped me down to a lower price. The total came to $1,290.72. Just $8.96 per shirt!
Since I was getting so many shirts I decided to go with three colors in order to mix it up a bit. We went with heather black, blue, and green.
Mistakes were made (but not by me)
The test of every company is how they handle things when it goes wrong (spoiler, they did great!).
I needed the shirts ready for The World Domination Summit in Portland. They assured me that was possible and that they’d be ready with plenty of time. Though they suggested I ship the shirts I needed for the conference directly to Portland to save time and hassle.
They didn’t do a great job communicating when the order status, so with about a week left I called to see where they were at—turns out they hadn’t started printing shirts yet!
But they rushed the order, got it sent out the next day and paid for expedited shipping so that it got there in time. And because of the mistake they even waived the normal shipping charges!
They were great to work with in every way. I especially love their great phone support (which makes up for their mediocre website and ordering process).
Though since I knew I’d be writing this post, I asked for them to take a few quick “making of” photos of the shirts. Just quick shots of the shirts on the press, or other behind-the-scenes photos.
The sales rep at Jakprints thought that was a great idea and promised some good photos.
I got a good laugh when I saw the photos. They were so far off from what I was thinking it was actually really funny:
Thanks for trying Jakprints!
I gave away about 70 shirts at the conference, but I wanted to send them to a handful of people as well. That meant figuring out how to best ship them. After a little research I found simple polybags sent the cheapest mail with the postal service is the best way to go.
Shipping around the US cost about $3 per package and packages to Europe were about $15 each.
Since I was just sending 8 I hand wrote each address and took them to the post office myself. Which turned out to be a huge waste of time (especially filling out international customs forms). In the future I’ll use one of the services where I can print labels and postage at home.
I wanted to personalize each note that I sent out with a shirt. I thought about printing custom branded thank you cards (and we may still do that), but I wanted the ability to quickly brand anything to ConvertKit.
Rubber stamps are perfect for that. I designed a quick stamp in Photoshop and sent it off to RubberStamps.net to be created.
I got two versions of the same stamp design (the inverse of each other) as well as black and blue ink for just $43.80. Not bad!
Here they are in action. Note, I tested this on a heavy linen cardstock, which is why the stamps didn’t come out great. I’ll be playing with it more on different paper to get better results.
The shirts in the wild
It was a ton of fun to see ConvertKit shirts all around the conference and then see them pop up in photos around the web. Here are a few of my favorites:
We still have plenty of shirts left. If you’d like one you can order it on Gumroad. We’ll be coming out with more shirts and posters soon to complete the “grow your audience” theme.
I hope this article helps you produce your own startup shirts.
Oh, and if you run a blog, don’t forget to check out ConvertKit for your email marketing. All the cool kids are using it.