Starting a Printing Company
Interview with LTLprints.com Founders
Thinking about starting a printing company? LTLprints.com (Larger than Life) prints oversized customized wall graphics. We talked to their founders to learn more about how they got started.
LTLprints.com was founded by Carsten Petzold and Kendall Schoenrock in 2008.
Carsten and Kendall recently took part in one of our entrepreneur interviews and shared some insights on their entrepreneurial experiences.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Schoenrock: LTLprints.com provides full-service digital printing and customization for oversized wall graphics, printed on a self-adhesive material that will stick to any flat surface. Customers are able to upload personal images and graphics to the website for complete customization. The website (launching in October 2008) will also contain a gallery of artwork and images from talented artists and designers for purchase. Once the customer has given final approval of their image online, LTLprints.com uses a 6-color printer to create high quality, oversized prints. The material used for all printing is extremely durable and reusable, without leaving marks on the wall.
When did you start the business?
Schoenrock: Carsten and I have been longtime friends and serial entrepreneurs. We came up with the concept of LTLprints.com in December of 2007 we each had individual success with separate start-ups. Neither Carsten or I have lived in the same apartment more than 18 months in the last decade, and we constantly searched for a better solution to carry images and designs with us from place to place. I was tired of tearing posters, filling holes in the wall, and not having the option of personalization with my wall décor, so we began to follow the market of oversized wall graphics.
Petzold: We researched for months, and Kendall and I concluded that the industry had halted and there was a wealth of untapped opportunity for the taking. With my customization experience with a former start-up, spreadshirt.com, and Kendall's industry experience with WallHogs.com, we saw the opportunity to work together and solve the dilemmas that other companies were facing. In a Center City, Philadelphia apartment, the brainstorming sessions on homemade whiteboards began and LTLprints.com was born. The alpha release of LTLprints.net was launched in September 2008, and we've had successful sales progress. Since the release, the firm has doubled in size and is diligently working to release the new LTLprints.com, expected by November 1, 2008.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Petzold: We both have previous experience as entrepreneurs in several different companies. I'm the CEO and co-founder of LTLprints. I bring an extensive background in business and start-up firms to LTLprints. My experience began with international opportunities with Nestle, SAP and Roland Berger Strategy consultants, and has recently involved a number of start-up companies in both Germany and the United States. My professional career has been driven by a strong interest in entrepreneurship and start-up ventures. My first experience with a start-up firm began as the Chief Operating Officer of Spreadshirt.com, an interactive website providing a customizable printed t-shirt service. Spreadshirt.com grew quickly from a handful of opportunity driven professionals to nearly triple the amount of employees and over 5 million dollars in revenue. After Spreadshirt, I founded CP Venture Consultants, a centric consultancy firm focused on assistance to start-up companies. During my time at CP Venture Consultants, I continued to network myself in the business world, and I became an Angel Investor and participated in the growth and beginnings for numerous other start-up companies. I received my degree from Leipzig Graduate School of Management, located in Leipzig, Germany and also spent part of his education at the KDI School of Management in Seoul, South Korea.
Schoenrock: I'm the President and co-founder of LTLprints, and I've been a successful entrepreneur for over 13 years, starting my first technology consulting company in 1995 when I was in high school. In 2003, I joined forces as both a sales associate and angel investor with TurnTide, an anti-spam company located in Conshohocken, PA. While at TurnTide, I created a sales program for Anti-Spam Router service which focused primarily on large Internet service providers and Universities. I worked to be the top performing sales associate for TurnTide, and helped to sign multi-year deals in excess of 100,000 and closed more than 70% of my customer base. Symantec acquired TurnTide in July of 2004 for 28 million. I'm a Villanova University graduate and MBA, and I also spent time studying at Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy and German at the Sprachinstitut Tübingen.
Where did you get the startup money?
Schoenrock: We both had prior start-up success and were able to self-fund LTLprints. We are currently raising funds from angel investors, friends, and family. The first round of funding should close by Q1 09.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Petzold: Though large prints for commercial customers have been around for many years, providing custom large prints to consumers is a newer trend. Advances in low tack adhesive and printing technology make it possible to bring an old and established offline industry to the online and on demand world.
Helping to define this new industry sector is the sports focused oversized print manufacturer "Fathead." Fathead is currently ignoring customization and has focused on high profile licenses. Fathead has licensed almost every national sports team as well as many college and university mascots. Fathead expects the U.S. oversized consumer print market to exceed 500 million before 2010.
Schoenrock: Carsten and I are both investors at wallhogs.com, the first player in the custom oversized print market focused on sports photography. Due to poor management structure, lack of execution, and a strategy lacking web2.0, Wallhogs failed to establish itself as a leading player. More advanced "mom and pop" print shops have adopted the printing technology to copy the Fathead and Wallhogs image and maintain a focus on sports and sports photography. These smaller companies lack profound e-commerce, web technology, user-generated content, and the web2.0 marketing experience.
The key to success in the custom Larger Than Life prints market is a combination of great content, distribution and advanced customization technologies based on solid, cost efficient and scalable operations.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Schoenrock: I think we both had an idea of what to expect when starting LTLprints.com. As with many start-ups, parts of the company take longer and cost more than originally expected and planned. We used our prior experience to minimize mistakes and to generate a timeline that would be as accurate as possible.
Petzold: I was pleasantly surprised with the start-up and entrepreneur attitude of Philadelphia. The community has shown great spirit, talent, and has been an inspirational city to work and network in.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Schoenrock: In any business idea, there are always mistakes. Both Carsten and I admit that too much time was initially spent building wire frames, and not enough time on the specific product. I can admit that despite my history in start-ups, the concept of releasing often and iterate is much easier to write than to execute.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Petzold: Our first step was to build a very detailed plan of attack. The technology that we currently are building was part of an original, well thought out plan. This plan has been very effective in growing the business.
Schoenrock: Another key factor for the team is injecting ourselves into the start-up community through social networking and blogging. This has proven to be a great networking tool and strategy. Our blog can be found at www.LTLprints.com/blog - check it out!
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Schoenrock: No matter how hard you try, I think we can both admit that everything will take longer and cost more than originally planned. I always remind entrepreneurs that it will always always always be more difficult then originally planned, but do not be discouraged. Each plan is never right on the first draft!
Petzold: I recommend injecting yourself early into the community to thrive off inspiration, ideas, and to establish a network of people with skills complementary to yours. Release your core functionality early and be open about the insufficient parts of our product. Get the feedback and improve it fast. You shouldn't try to build the perfect product in one try, because your preferences and priority will change along the way.
Thank you Carsten and Kendall. It sounds like you have a great product and the perfect background to make LTLprints a success.
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