When Lukasz Gadowski was 23 years old, the new millennium had just begun and t-shirts were just a practical piece of clothing. That didn’t keep the business student from spending a lot of his time advising a small textile printing company in the German city of Kassel. While working on strategic solutions for the company, the owner told him that printing individual items wasn’t worth the effort and was just too expensive. So Lukasz set out to optimize the process and told the company, “You have to do something on the Internet!”
The market gap was found, and the idea of creating an online service for merchandising providers and customers was born. Lukasz would make it possible for anyone to print custom clothing and accessories with designs. It took a great leap of faith, and once the young entrepreneur learned everything he could about printing, Lukasz ‘only’ had to get funding. At first, he couldn’t even convince a bank to let him open a business account, let alone find an investor. Times were tough for investment after the dotcom crash and post 9/11 financial crisis.
Still enrolled at Leipzig’s Graduate School of Management, Lukasz created the first ever Spreadshirt website in the university basement. He then teamed up with engineer Matthias Spieß in 2002, and they founded Spreadshirt. Since neither of them had any capital to get things off the ground, they had to rely on self-financing generated by t-shirt sales for the first two years. When they applied for funding at a start-up bid, the jury’s verdict regarded the project as “arbitrary” and the market development as “unrealistic”. But Lukasz and Matthias carried on, determined to prove their doubters wrong. Spreadshirt kept growing at a rate of about 15% from one month to the next. The company set up offices and factories in the USA, hired lots of staff and was about to become one of the big players in the print-on-demand industry.
This “big bang in micro-merchandising” caused a stir as the new social commerce trend turned consumers into creators. Customers could now open their own shops at Spreadshirt to sell custom products with their designs. Well-known public figures and organizations such as “Doctors without Borders” opened Spreadshirt shops and paved the way to making Spreadshirt’s merch a viral hit.
Others also started taking notice. Spreadshirt was awarded with one start-up prize after another and investors were lining up at the door. This influx of financing helped Spreadshirt successfully enter new markets, even though some had warned Lukasz and Matthias about international expansion. Their bravery paid off, and 15 years after starting as a basement experiment, Spreadshirt is now the market-leader in Europe and a major player in North America. It may sound like a fairy-tale, but Lukasz’ recipe for success is actually quite simple, “Don’t talk, just do it.“