Print on Demand: Pull Manufacturing, Scale Effects, Monetizing Trust

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โ€œThe most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.โ€ โ€” Steve Jobs

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โ“ What You’ll Learn

  • What is pull manufacturing?
  • How do storytellers build value?
  • What is brand dilution?
  • What is inventory risk?
  • How to reduce market risk?
  • How to deal with copycats?

๐Ÿ’Ž Why It Matters

Trust is hard to build. But easy to monetize. 
Print-on-Demand is one of many ways that creators monetize trust

๐Ÿ” Problem

Storing goods leads to inventory risk. To free up space, you can wait to sell items, discount or discard them. Leading to capital inefficiencies. 

๐Ÿ’ก Solution

Print-on-Demand follows a โ€œpull manufacturingโ€ model. Goods are bought before they are made. Minimizing market risk and inventory risk while increasing capital efficiency. 

๐Ÿ Players


Print-on-Demand Companies


  • Xometry โ€ข Network of on-demand manufacturers
  • Hubs โ€ข Upload CAD files, have parts sourced and shipped to you 
  • Etsy โ€ข Marketplace for unique and creative goods
  • Shapeways โ€ข Product development and manufacturing platform

๐Ÿ”ฎ Predictions

  • Local manufacturing will become more common. On-demand manufacturing is paired with automation advances. Lower labor costs leads to more locally produced goods.
  • Long-tail items will become more accessible. Small production runs have high unit costs. Price and production size are no longer tradeoffs. Only one person needs to be incentivized to make a CAD file that can be produced from anywhere by anyone. 
  • Tailored clothing will become more accessible. See unspun

โ˜๏ธ Opportunities

  • Build trust. Brand is a powerful moat. Operations and fulfilment can be commoditized. Trust canโ€™t. Printful users have varying levels of success due to varying levels of trust. 
  • Embed yourself in a marketplace to validate ideas. See Etsy and Amazon. This leads to platform risk but mitigates market risk. Which matters more at first?  You can move to Shopify later. Which carries another form of platform risk. 
  • Use swag to capture mindshare. MicroAcquire gave Founder Summit attendees free hats. We became walking billboards for the marketplace. 
  • Presell to reduce market risk. This extends to SaaS and conferences. Validate demand before building to save time and money. See our report on presales

๐Ÿ”๏ธ Risks

  • Platform Risk โ€ข Etsy and Amazon own your top of funnel if you work with them. Manufacturing or shipping delays from Printful may harm your brand. 
  • Brand Dilution โ€ข Expanding into too many categories for quick money can lead to short-term gains and long-term losses. Audiences sense authenticity and cash grabs. 

๐Ÿ”‘ Key Lessons

  • Value accrues to storytellers. Stories imbue commodities with emotion and boost perceived value. 
  • Competing on scale effects is a race to the bottom. Stories are non-fungible. Feature parity exists. Not brand parity. 

๐Ÿ˜  Haters

โ€œMass production is cheaper than on-demand manufacturing.โ€

In some cases. But… You may make one million widgets that no one wants. Print-on-Demand helps you mitigate market risk. And makes it affordable to produce long-tail items. 

โ€œPrint-on-Demand is not new.โ€ doesnโ€™t focus on whatโ€™s new. We focus on what matters. As a creator, you have more options than ever to monetize. Print-on-Demand is one of many options.

โ€œAnyone can copy my design.โ€

The best brands have copycats. Yet they still succeed.

โ€‹โ€‹๐Ÿ”— Links

โ€‹โ€‹โ€‹โ€‹๐Ÿ“ Related Reports

  • Audience-First Products โ€ข Trust is one of the most valuable parts of value chains. 
  • The Creator Economy โ€ข Merch is one of many ways creators monetize. 
  • Personal Brands โ€ข Personal branding is core to lots of print-on-demand businesses. 
  • Presales โ€ข Print-on-Demand is inherently a presales model. 
  • Drop Culture โ€ข Scarcity leads to urgency and increased demand. 

โ€‹โ€‹โ€‹โ€‹๐Ÿ™ Thanks

Thanks to Stewart Townsend (Podcast Hawk), Prachi Sikaria (Nutero), David Horne (Calm Capital), Michell Clark (The Creative Summer Company), Neeraj Hirani, Logan Johnson, Yarty Kim (A4E), Natwar Maheshwari (Engineering Brew), Mahek Mody (React Labs) and Andrew Swiler (Sponsor Fund). We had a great time jamming on this report.

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    ๐Ÿ“ˆ What else?

    Trends PRO #0074 โ€” Print-on-Demand has more insights.

    What youโ€™ll get:

    • 11 Brands (175% More)
    • 16 Print-on-Demand Companies (220% More)
    • 11 Marketplaces (175% More)
    • 7 Predictions (133% More)
    • 9 Opportunities (125% More)
    • 4 Key Lessons (100% More)
    • 10 Links (233% More)
    • 16-minute audio episode with exclusive Print-on-Demand stories, insights and opportunities.

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