2021-01-14 in Company, by Niall McSheffrey
So Adam how did it all start for you in the print business?
I co-founded a trade print business called GR Print in the mid-2000s. At the time I knew very little about printing but I was an experienced software developer. There was nothing(software) off the shelf to power a company, so I ended up building our own software system to run the print business operations. Every day I was working with the print operations, doing sales, shipping, customer support, whatever was needed and then at night, I wrote code to solve different print business problems.
I started with our print business storefront, because we needed a website, and there was nothing out there appropriate to power a print website. You couldn’t just use an e-commerce software at the time (like Shopify or Magento), as it had to be specifically geared towards our trade printer business. There’s a lot of attributes and interesting quirks to “print,” especially for trade printers, and gang run printers. In addition, it’s not just skew-based and it’s not just about inventory. For example, you have dependencies, like, if you’re selling a 15 point lamination, you might only offer the quantities in 200, 500, 1000. But if you’re doing 14 point, the quantities might be completely different. And there’s nothing out there that does that, then you have add ons, which could be priced, per 1000; there might also be a setup fee, just then you have artwork management. In the beginning it was really just a storefront with the ability to create products and sell them.
After the storefronts we needed an internal dashboard so we’d be able to see the orders. So I built new components as we grew. I learned the print business in the trenches, like every single day, figuring out how to solve these problems and building software to solve them. And that’s what makes Ink Cloud as powerful as it was today.
You were able to sell your company as it was acquired by a Taiwanese customer; so you had a successful exit at 29 years old. So what did you do next?
I helped to run the trade print company for a year after it got acquired and then took some time off to think about what was next. That’s when the vision for Ink Cloud started - this was about 5 years ago. The idea was to build an end-to-end platform for every kind of print business, from a broker to a manufacturer to a mail house, which would solve all the common issues that these companies were faced with across the board. No one else seemed to have software on the market that could solve these kinds of problems. Printers usually needed to piece together multiple systems that didn’t work very well together. So it’s very expensive and cumbersome and many printers would complain about this horrible experience for their businesses. Oftentimes, you look at systems and you realize that they were built from the outside looking in rather than someone who was on the inside. So I became an arms dealer for print companies. I wanted to arm everybody with the weapons to compete in the marketplace and have this software live in the cloud.
So let’s talk about Ink Cloud then. How would you describe the platform - who is it for and what does it solve?
You can look at it as an end-to-end print management platform - a mini ERP or more of an MIS for every kind of print business.
Let’s start with Ink Cloud’s storefronts which are like Shopify but specifically geared to print businesses. Storefronts are fully operational eCommerce business stores tailored specifically to print brokers. They can be customized and branded through our themes. A broker has, obviously their own brand and with Ink Cloud, they can customize the look and feel of their web presence, and they can customize the product layouts for different interaction preferences.
All of the storefronts plug into our core system which and can be viewed through an internal dashboard so all of our brokers can run their businesses. And that dashboard has everything from CRM, order management, product management, accounting, reports, shipping, inventory, and workflow management. There’s also a ton of configurations and options.
To dig deeper into the core system here are some more examples of how Ink Cloud works:
For brokers, their main objective is to have not just a great storefront but also to have the most jobs intake. So they want to be able to take orders efficiently and model their products accurately. Once those orders come in, brokers have to turn around and send them somewhere else. So what’s really important to a broker is when jobs come in, they want to be able to push those into their upstream vendors to be produced. How is all this kept in sync? The platform allows you to dispatch jobs upstream to vendors, and vendors update the status for example that a job goes to press that status propagates back to the broker or when the vendor ships out on behalf of a broker, this propagates a ship notification. On top of that, broker’s want to manage routing, because they never work with just one vendor. Let’s say that based on certain criteria a job needs to go to vendor A, and another type of job goes to vendor B. Ink Cloud can make this happen on an automated basis. You can also have these jobs get dropped shipped right from the vendors that they’re sending the jobs to.
The Ink Cloud platform allows a broker to create and manage 1000s of different products. Since there are many types of papers, coatings, sizes, and within each of those things, you have fixed quantities that are available. So for a broker who buys from certain trade printers, that’s impossible to manage. With Ink Cloud, when you launch your store, you can actually populate it with products from your upstream vendors directly, that includes not just the products but the pricing, and you can mark them up; you don’t have to go one by one, you can just load them instantly. And you can do multiple markups for multiple products through our mass price updater. This allows you to query, for example, all business cards that are 15 points and silk laminated and mark those up 70%, or for 14 points, mark those up 20%. So it gives you a lot of flexibility in managing products.
We have payment integration through stripe, and it’s very easy to onboard with stripe. In addition, we offer MailChimp and Klavivo integrations as some brokers tend to be a little bit savvier with their marketing.
Let’s talk about trade printers. What does Ink Cloud offer a trade printer to make them successful?
Trade printers are print manufacturers and they have a lot more needs than brokers. So after job intake, you get into pre-flighting. Trade printers can run pre-press pipelines and workflows and feed that into various services for checking files. And then from there, they’ll need to go into imposition. Again, they don’t want to be doing this stuff by hand or integrating all these different systems because with Ink Cloud they can automate imposition workflow. Ink Cloud provides live status updating as jobs progress through the floor, all the way up until ship time. And they use our tool to ship out a barcode scan. A worker at an Ink Cloud station can print labels and ship with all the major carriers through our shipping module.
Trade printers also provide fulfillment for their customers and that’s becoming very popular. In Ink Cloud, we call use microsites for fulfillment to allow print customers to do fulfillment directly. They can easily set up these portals or microsites for brands who then order from that inventory. Their collateral can either be printed or stored in inventory for the future. It’s a simple process to launch a custom URL domain from the dashboard - it takes less than a minute. You can also brand the microsites so for particular brands these can be customized accordingly. A printer can launch anywhere from 1 to literally 100s of microsites if they want. And on top of that, they can set up policies for these microsites. Some companies have regulations per state where they require particular products in certain states. So Ink Cloud allows for this with group permissions, customer groups, cost centers, accounting, and more.
So what about the big boys, the larger commercial printers. What additional pieces of the platform do they need that maybe these other guys wouldn’t be using?
Commercial printers need a more flexible version of Ink Cloud that has access to everything that the platform has to offer plus we allow them to have more storage and support. One of the biggest beneifts is we can do custom workflow integrations. There’s all the printer’s machinery behind the scenes, moving jobs, changing statuses, routing, things like that. And so commercial printers typically need a lot more flexibility in running the machinery, unlike a gang run or trade printer. Jobs are fairly custom so the flexibility in terms of routing in terms of sending to prepress is a huge benefit. In addition to more cloud storage we offer more fulfillment microsites so they’re getting the full breadth of what a cloud platform has to offer. On top of that, Ink Cloud has the ability to do other custom integrations for these commercial clients. For example, they might need to intake jobs coming through an FTP or scraping email and convert that to an order. Those are the types of added services we can provide, along with custom API integrations. And they can choose a service level guarantee where we’re always available for support, any issues, anything occurs, we’re on it, we will respond immediately.