Davis Siksnans

CEO/Co-Founder of Printful

Davis Siksnans is the co-founder and CEO of Printful, the print-on-demand drop shipping startup that makes it easy for anyone to sell custom print products online. Davis co-founded Printful in 2013 when he was 22, and in just six years he’s grown the company from five to five hundred employees across the USA, Mexico, and Europe, Latvia.

Where did the idea for Printful come from?

Before Printful, there was Startup Vitamins – an online store that offered posters with motivational quotes from successful entrepreneurs. For some time, we were only selling posters that we printed on demand – meaning, our products were printed as orders came in. That was great because we didn’t need any inventory.

Then, we wanted to start selling the biggest category on the internet – apparel – and we wanted to do it the same way we did posters. However, back in 2012, there were no services that would do apparel print-on-demand with fast fulfillment and good quality, but most importantly – none of the services in the market had a good API.

We tried the existing services that didn’t have an API but it took way too many steps to fulfill each order. That’s when we realized that there was a need for a product like Printful. And our team had the tech background necessary to build such service, so that’s what we did.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

At Printful, we have flexible work hours, which in our company means that people can start their workday any time until 11 am. So, I use mornings to do some light physical exercises – that really helps to jump-start my day.

When I come to the office, I try to block out time in my calendar to focus on my most important tasks. I make sure that people don’t schedule meetings with me in the mornings, as those are my most productive hours.

At around 12 pm, we have company lunch after which I usually get a coffee to get over the ”food coma”. Then, in the second half of the day, I usually have meetings.

Generally, I try to minimize the number of meetings I have in the day. My approach is this: I always ask whether a meeting can be an e-mail, and if it can, I don’t schedule one. When I’m at a meeting and feel that I’m not of any use, I say that to my team and I leave. Also, I leave as soon as the purpose of the meeting is fulfilled – there’s no need to make a meeting an hour long when everything is said in ten minutes.

After work – in case I didn’t have the chance to do my physical activities in the morning – I try to squeeze in an hour or so in the evening.

Evenings are sort of a mix of private time and work, as sometimes I have meetings and calls with the US office. I am based in Riga, Latvia and we have a several hour time difference between our other locations.

How do you bring ideas to life?

A few years ago, if I had an idea, I was the one who worked directly with software developers and designers to bring that idea to life.

Now when the company is growing, it’s the team. What I do, I try to inspire the team, we discuss different ideas and then they’re the ones who actually bring them to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think that FinTech is really interesting. The future of banks and how these institutions might work a couple of years from now is what I find exciting.

As an avid user of Revolut – the finance app and debit card that allows users to pay without fees in different currencies – I am excited how they are changing the conventional banking system.

When it comes to our industry – e-commerce – I think it’s interesting that the current US administration is talking about potentially leaving the Universal Postal Union (UPU) – the low shipping costs that are available to sellers from developed countries leave local sellers in an unfavorable situation.

Another interesting thing is that the USA is stepping up the fight against intellectual property abuse in e-commerce. That way, they’re putting serious pressure on Amazon and other marketplaces for selling infringing products. That’s definitely something that will affect the e-commerce industry, as well as our business.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Not stressing the small stuff and caring only for things that matter. When you have a large company, you also have a large list of responsibilities, many of which are not worth stressing about.

So, in short: You should pay attention to the big things that are going to move the needle, and forget about the rest.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Again – don’t stress the small stuff.

I used to waste a lot of my energy on the small stuff, but as I’m getting older, I become better at setting priorities. Now I take better care of my health because that’s what really matters and that’s what is going to make you more productive.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

At least in Europe, a lot of companies believe that they can make a great product and that the product is going to sell itself. I, however, disagree and believe that marketing should be one of the priorities from day one because even the best product needs to be brought to the people. Many companies build great products but fall short because they don’t have sufficient marketing teams to get them out to customers.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I would recommend following public companies and their leaders – read about them, follow them on social media, etc. Public companies have to be transparent about how they do things, which allow you to follow their lead and learn a lot from them. These guys have built multi-billion dollar companies, which make them a great resource.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

For us, it was the power of partnerships.

In the first year we launched Printful, we integrated with Shopify. First of all, because we knew the platform, as Startup Vitamins used to be hosted on Shopify. And secondly, because Shopify had a strong App Store and we were able to be there early, which helped us to rank well in their search algorithms.

We recommended Shopify to our users, and Shopify recommended Printful to their sellers. This win-win partnership helped us grow.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had many failures. Before Printful and Startup Vitamins we had launched several other businesses that we sooner or later had to close down. But instead of crying over spilled milk, we took a lesson or two, moved on and did something differently in the next businesses.

So, the way I overcome my failures is – I learn from my mistakes and accept that failures are inevitable. Success very rarely comes with the first idea.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

An app that combines multiple banking applications via API integrations. Now is good timing for starting such a business, as the European Union is pushing forward open banking regulations.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My best investment was productivity software Things. I paid maybe $50 for it, and to this day, I think those were the best $50 spent because productivity is such an essential part of both personal and professional life.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I must repeat myself, but it’s Things. I use it many times a day, and I try to use it more often than applications like e-mail or Slack that are often just for doing busywork.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The best book I’ve read recently is Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman.

Once your business has taken off, the next question is – how can you scale faster and out-scale your competitors? This book contains chunks of lessons about scaling really fast.

What is your favorite quote?

It’s from one of my favorite movies of all time, Fight Club:

“This is your life, and it is ending one minute at a time.”

Key Learnings:

  • Save your time by minimizing meetings. Always ask – can this meeting be an e-mail? And if the answer is yes, don’t schedule one.
  • Don’t stress the small stuff and save your energy for things that matter, including your health and wellbeing.
  • No matter how great or flawless your product is, invest in marketing from day one. Products don’t sell themselves, marketing people do.
  • Never stop learning. Learn from the leaders of public multi-billion companies, and learn from your own failures and mistakes.
  • Invest in tools and software, like Things, that help you improve your productivity.