Along with partner Josh Arbit, Jacob Goodman is the owner of Fresh Prints Shop, a company that creates custom apparel and promotional products for groups and companies, most of which are collegiate organizations such as fraternities, sororities and clubs.
Fresh Prints Shop employs a unique business model – only three members of its team of 60 are not college students. The company empowers its “campus managers” to handle all public-facing work for the business, including client relationship management, customer service, ordering, marketing and even pricing. Goodman believes the success of Fresh Prints Shop is due to the unique screening and training program it offers campus managers, which can last for up to three months. He says the company is able to provide high-quality, low-cost products because of his team’s hard work and smart partnering.
How did you get started with your business?
A couple of fraternity brothers started the business. By the time they were graduating, they hadn’t built the business up enough to support them after college. They called me and said, “We’re going to get other jobs. Do you just want to run this for us?” I said, “Sure.” I got my now friend and partner Josh involved as well. A couple months later, we bought out the original owners.
I was really curious in college and wanted to get involved in as much as I could, especially around entrepreneurship. We’re still learning a ton every day. We dove in headfirst, but we’ve learned a lot.
Who was your first customer?
The original owners landed the first customer. It was probably their fraternity. They used their personal connections to land customers at first.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
We haven’t taken out any loans since we’ve owned the business. We turned down very preliminary equity financing from a group of angels in St. Louis. We decided to bootstrap since we’ve owned the business.
When the business was originally started, I believe it was on a line of credit from one of the original owners’ fathers that they paid back before we bought the business.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I got involved in another business while in school before I jumped into Fresh Prints, so I had already learned a little with that. At Wash U (Washington University in St. Louis), there’s a program where students can own and operate businesses, and the school provides support. My first business, which was a storage and shipping company, was part of that program. I purchased shares from someone else, and there were older kids who were mentors to me. They had run the business for a while, and they helped me learn along the way.
Most of my learning has been from having the attitude that if I don’t know the answer to something, I’m going to do whatever it takes to figure it out. Also, by getting burned a little bit along the way, you learn some lessons.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
I could write a book about the mistakes we made. Though, I don’t really view them as mistakes, cause they’ve all been valuable. One that comes to mind is in the third month of owning the business, we got an email from a business about printing like 25,000 pens for them. We said, “Great! We’ll take the order!” It ended up being around $10,000.
We got the credit card, charged the card and shipped the order out. Then, three weeks later, we got an email from Bank of America saying that it was a stolen credit card and they were going to take the funds from our account. At first, we were kind of taken aback. We didn’t understand why the liability was with us for someone else stealing a credit card. We were literally told there was nothing we could do. They were taking the funds out of our account because the liability is on the merchant. And that was that.
What we could have done differently was find out a little bit more about the person before running the order. Secondly, when we processed the card, we didn’t take down the billing information. If we had done that, it probably wouldn’t have gone through and we probably wouldn’t have had the same liability that we did.
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What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
The first thing is that we were very deliberate with the printers we partnered with. We took the time to develop relationships with our printers, so we knew the quality was high. More importantly, we knew the turnaround was really fast, like a day or so. Most printers in the industry will give you a standard of five to seven days. Companies like Custom Ink are shipping orders ground in 14 days. We can do it in as fast as seven.
The second thing is that we focused on the team from Day 1. We knew our business was going to be driven by the campus managers we hired. We didn’t cut corners on that. We screened really hard. Screening for a month for a campus rep position when you have 100-200 of them is something people say I’m crazy to do. Then training them for two months, people say I’m even crazier. But that’s what we thought was needed to be done to get these kids to the point where they could drive the business forward.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
We’re just trying to make people happy. There’s nothing better than when customers send us ecstatic responses when they get the apparel and they love it.
There’s also nothing better than when a customer is upset with an order and we make them happy by rectifying the situation and blowing away their expectations by either reprinting the order for free or throwing in other unexpected apparel items. Like if they order shirts, we might also throw in sweatshirts with their order to try to exceed their expectations.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
Falling asleep! My partner and I have a hard time falling asleep because we can’t put the work down. I went to bed at 4 a.m. last night.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
Accounts receivable is really tough. It’s surprising how tough it is to get people to pay. It takes a lot of work, and if the follow-up wasn’t there, we just wouldn’t collect on a lot of our receivables. We have someone whose only job is to collect on receivables because it’s that important.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
First is Josh Arbit, my partner. He’s shown me a lot about what hard work and paying attention to detail really means. We’ve tried to spread that across the company.
And my father, for sure. My family has owned the same business for 90 years. I certainly wouldn’t be here without him. First, because of the financial requirements of buying the business, and second, because of all he helped me with when I dove into this headfirst.
Last is one of the original owners. He’s actually the third partner, but he’s not active in the company anymore. His name is JD Ross. He was one of the original employees at a startup called Addepar, and now he’s one of the co-founders of a company called Opendoor with Eric Wu and Keith Rabois.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Most people have no idea what they’re talking about, so discounting advice is important. Thinking about it critically yourself is huge. If I had listened to the advice that most people gave me, we probably wouldn’t be here, because a lot of advice is biased or based on someone else’s experiences, or the person is speaking too quickly, or they just don’t know what they’re talking about. Just because someone is credible, don’t take their advice at face value. Think about it critically and challenge it.
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What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I wish I had known how hard it is to build technology. Our order platform is proprietary. We started to build an ecommerce platform about two years ago. We contracted out the project and bit off way too much. We also didn’t do enough due diligence about the company we were working with. They really under-delivered. So now we’ve hired a lead developer who is making great strides on the project. But it has taken a lot of time. If I could have known how difficult it was going to be to build everything, I would have scaled the project back and touched on the most important features first.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.