T-shirt company explains business

Keith Kaczmarek, Reporter

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If you see someone wearing a cool T-shirt on campus, there is a good chance it was made and designed by Threadless Tees. A community-based T-shirt design company started by Jake Nickell, it sells thousands of T-shirts to customers all over the world.

As a successful young entrepreneur under 30, Nickell gave a video conference on April 18 to students across the nation as part of the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour, an organization that brings entrepreneurs to college campuses in an effort to inspire the next generation of business leaders.

Brought to Bakersfield College by professor Gayle Richardson, in cooperation with Students in Free Enterprise, the Business Innovation League, the Business and Entrepreneurship Center and BC, the event let students send in texts with questions for Nickell about his thoughts on starting a business, building a community around your business and using word-of-mouth marketing.

The business model for Threadless is simple: artists present their designs online and vote on other people’s designs. Popular designs are bought by Threadless for $2,000 and a $500 gift certificate.

Nickell points to the Internet as the reason for his company’s success.

“The Internet is really great for connecting to people,” he said. “You are building customer retention by building a community.”

Since all of his T-shirt designs come from the community, Nickell has taken great care to make sure that the Threadless online community is a place that artists want to participate in. “I think you need a legitimate reason for people to be a part of your community.”

For young business leaders looking to build their own online communities, Nickell suggests that they build some place that they’d like to participate in.

“Rather than what value a community can bring to you, think about what you can bring to a community,” Nickell said. “A community doesn’t like feeling that you are taking advantage of them.”

Nickell thinks that a healthy community is important because it sells the brand of your business as well.

“People may be attracted to your brand because of that community.”

He points to Patagonia, the maker of clothing and gear for outdoors activities like hiking and camping, as a good example of a healthy community of fellow enthusiasts.

“The thing they are offering is a great product for mountain climbing. It’s not like these people are climbing for Patagonia.”

Brand identity and rewarding artists is so important that Threadless puts the name of every community designer on the tags for the shirt and then tells the story of how the design was created online.

“It humanizes the brand,” he said.

Nickell suggests that students looking to build an online community look at sites like Etsy, Pinterest, and Kickstarter.

“Look at these things that people are already doing in their personal time,” he said. “There are several communities built around [these] hobbies.”

For other young entrepreneurs looking to make the next Threadless, Nickel suggests that people look at what’s happening in their own communities and try to make it a little more meaningful.

For example, his own inspiration for Threadless came from his own dismay at seeing people wearing corporate logos on their shirts as their only option and his desire to do something more artistic.

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