Mate Pencz (left) and Florian Hagenbuch (right) of Printi went from working as finance analysts in London to becoming risk-taking entrepreneurs in Brazil. Here they discuss how the risk and the challenges eventually paid off.
At Cimpress, we talk a lot about “staying small as we get big”. This means that even as we continue to grow past 11,000 team members, we embrace an entrepreneurial mindset that makes us fast-moving, high energy, and innovative, much like a startup.
We are fortunate to be led by example as many Cimpress leaders are entrepreneurs and founders in their own right. And while you don’t need to have created a startup to have an entrepreneurial mindset, it is inspiring to hear the hard work, initiative, and risk taking that got them to where they are today.
Florian Hagenbuch and Mate Pencz are co-founders of Printi, a Brazilian upload & print business that we began investing in in 2014. Below they share some of the early Printi story, as well as how they hold onto that startup mentality in their businesses today.
Why risk-taking is part of the deal
As any entrepreneur or business owner knows, taking risks is all part of the process – and when you choose to operate in a high-risk environment like Brazil, that situation is only exacerbated. Hearing from the co-founders about how they first started conceiving and initiating Printi, the story is pretty remarkable: both were working in London for financial firms, and sharing a flat with another friend.
“The fact is, we were in a really comfortable place in our lives, a great financial situation, and probably making way too much money for our age when you think about it – but deep down, we were unhappy. Day after day, night after night, the three of us would sit around in the evening and say to each other, ’hey, let’s do something entrepreneurial! Let’s start our own business.’”
Mate and Florian started crafting the original idea for Printi. Then in 2012, there was no turning back as they quit their jobs, moved from London to Brazil, and launched the company in August 2012. Looking back, they admit those six months were really hard. They had to get the website ready, get the products right, make sure they had a working supply chain and ensure everything was in place. Only then were they finally ready to launch. They hosted a PR event and launched a marketing campaign, thinking they were well on their way to success.
“On the first day, we sold just two orders for US$ 100.00. And in that situation, you sit there and say: “Hey, this is not quite how we expected it to go!” Our natural thought was: “Everyone will come to us because we have this great value proposition and this amazing offering, right?” These are all things we know that, over the long term, drive business success, ensuring a place in the market. But that’s not how it went; not at all.”
“In that scenario, though, you have no choice: you just put your head down again; you continue working; you figure out your distribution channels; you figure out acquisition channels; you figure out as many different ways as possible to make the company start moving. Then, gradually, every day starts getting a little better; every week and month gets a little better; eventually, fingers crossed, you start to grow.”
The importance of building empathy and customer focus
“What we like to do is create empathy, which isn’t just between the company and our employees, but also between employees and customers. So, taking things from the abstract to the real, if you like. That means creating an environment where our employees are really ‘in the trenches’ with our customers.”
Printi does this by rotating people around the company. When new team members are hired, they are taken through all the areas of the business, including production, customer service, and other functions, with the goal being to emphasize the fact that if we abstract ourselves too much from our operating reality and therefore our customers’ needs, then that is going to be a massive failing – the ultimate death of the company.
“What we’ve learned as business owners and entrepreneurs is that you have to start by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and that kind of thinking is something we try to instill in all our employees.
Why flexibility and transparency will help you succeed
“Running an entrepreneurial business is a balancing act: there is no exact science. If there was, then there would be no risk and everyone would do it.”
Mate points out that sure, one can always distil the business down to financial metrics – but, at the end of the day, it’s not only about that. A business is a derivative of the market opportunities, and it is all about learning where the company sits in terms of those opportunities. Like any other business, Printi has been through different stages; different milestones in its life cycle. It is a process and there are, at times, trade-offs to be made between growth and cash flow – things constantly shift. What is important is to break down the cycles, decisions, priorities and milestones for employees.
“It is culturally difficult for companies to go through these shifts, so communication is key: it’s really important. We, as business owners, might understand what the financial metrics are, including what they mean and how we apply them, but it is our job to make these metrics relevant to the entire organization. It’s important to translate these things for employees, bringing concrete examples to the table. By investing the time to do this, you will gain the most out of your workforce, building a sense of true ownership along the way.”
Finding the next opportunity
“Focus is important, and you never want to spread your resources across too many things. But you always need to remain opportunistic. Just because your business is going really well today doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be constantly evaluating the current opportunity and seeking out what the next big opportunity is.”
These are fitting words from Mate and Florian, as they continue to improve and expand on their offering in Brazil, they are pursuing their next big opportunity, moving into the United States. “We are excited to be partnering with Pixartprinting to help bring Printi’s capabilities to the North American market.”