Nick Roccanti is the co-founder and CEO of Threadbird, which is one of the Inc. 5000’s fastest-growing companies in America. Threadbird is a custom printed t-shirt & apparel company specializing in high-quality discharge, water base and plastisol printing for brands, clothing companies, businesses, and more. Threadbird’s offices are located in Orlando, FL and Nashville, TN. Nick lives in Orlando, FL with his wife Debora and two kids, Parker and Evie.
How did the concept for Threadbird come about?
Since I was about 16 years old, I’ve been working in the music industry. I started out doing concert promotion and managing bands to working at record labels. Merchandising is a major part of bands and a huge part of their revenue. The problem is every merch company I’ve ever worked with was horrible – bad quality, bad customer service, bad process, etc. I told myself that someone out there has to be doing it right, but I never found them. This was the motivation to start my own company.
Threadbird originally started out as a company called Storenvy. Storenvy was a free, marketplace-style, eCommerce platform that launched in 2008 in which we funded the platform with apparel printing. A few years in, the owners of Storenvy were on very different pages, so we split the company into eCommerce platform and printing, and went our separate ways. Nick, along with his current partner, Scott, re-branded the printing division known as Threadbird.
How was the first year in business?
I was 24 years old when I started Storenvy/Threadbird and I really had no idea what I was doing. It was just us three owners and we were all working crazy hours to get this off the ground and to just make enough money to pay our bills. We didn’t have any startup money. We didn’t have any employees (minus our wives helping), so everything fell on us. I mostly focused on the printing and fulfillment side as I wasn’t a programmer or designer. I was more of the planner and how it should work on the eCommerce side. Somehow, we did it and got this company off the ground with barely enough money to pay the bills. You hear about companies that start in their garage. Well, I rented a four-bedroom house with a three-car garage. The garage was 100% full with the product, including one of the bedrooms. I worked out of the loft which also had product in it and we decided to rent the other two rooms to help pay for the house.
What was your marketing strategy?
We didn’t have a lot of money, so everything we did was guerrilla marketing and focusing on word of mouth. Knowing how bad this industry was, we believed that if we could have a great product and great customer service, then our customers would tell others and we would grow. This was what we focused on for the first six years. During our second year in business, we did our best marketing campaign and what I believed helped kick-start us. We knew our quality of printing was top of the line but how could we get that in the hands of other people? We were involved with a t-shirt forum called Emptees, which is no longer around. We hired an amazing designer who everyone loved on the site and had him design a shirt that would really show off our printing. We then posted on this forum that we were going to give away a shirt designed by this artist. All you had to do to get a shirt is sign-up and be a designer yourself, own a clothing company, be in a band, or a company in general that sells t-shirts. We had over 500 people sign-up for a shirt, and once everyone received them, they freaked out over the quality. We generated so much buzz from everyone talking about the free shirts, and then once people got the shirt and saw how good the printing was, many of them wanted to switch their printing to us. Moving forward, anytime someone on the forum asked who they recommend for printing, 90% of the replies would always be for us.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew fast enough that we could handle it. If we would have grown any faster, I’m worried we would have done a bad job and build a bad name for the company. We had some very tough times but it was nothing we were not able to overcome.
How do you define success?
Doing something you love, while also being able to pay your bills.
What is the key to success?
Hiring a great team. It took us a long time and it wasn’t until the last few years when we have really figured out the hiring process. We hire and fire based on our culture and our core values. When we hire for culture, we found that we have better employees, less turnover, less issues, and just a better company.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
No matter how hard things seem to be or how bad things seem to be going, they will get better if you keep pushing forward and working hard. Focus on doing your thing and what’s right and ethical. Every time something bad seems to have happened in my life, it was because there needed to be a change so something bigger and better could happen.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Mark 12:30-31.
This is what I live my life by. There is so much hate in this world. God taught us to love your neighbor as yourself. To me, this means treating all people as equal and with respect. It doesn’t matter what your income, race, beliefs, sexual preference, gender, etc. is. Love them. If they are in need, help them. The world would be a better place.
“I think you have a moral responsibility, when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.” – J. K. Rowling
This goes with the first quote, but when you have the gift to make money, you should use that for good and help others.
What are some of your favorite books?
I pretty much only listen to audiobooks or podcasts while driving in the car. On a nerdy side, I’m currently reading the Kingkiller Chronicle books (The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear) and they are just incredible. The Harry Potter series are the best books ever. I’ve read each of those 3-4 times. Ready Player One. I also read a ton of Star Wars books.
On a more serious or business side, I recently read Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards, which was amazing, Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer, Leaders Eat Last and Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Work Rules! by Laszio Bock, The Carpenter by Jon Gordon, and The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think for me, it was probably the decision to walk away from Storenvy. Storenvy was my brainchild. I quit and walked away from my job in the music industry to start this and was working 80 hours a week for the last three years. When the conflict started, and I realized it would be best for me to walk away from Storenvy and put all of my focus on the printing side, I was devastated. Did I really want to give up three years of work? Fast-forward seven years later and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Being older and wiser now, I don’t believe staying with Storenvy would have been good for me. I don’t think I would have been happy and think it would have been damaging to my relationship with my family. I love what I do now and love my life.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family. I have an amazing wife of twelve years, a 6-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. They are my life and I want to work hard to give them the best life possible. There is nothing better than to walk in the door after a long hard day of work and have two little voices scream “Daddy!” and run to give you a hug. When things go wrong, I realize there are more important things in the world than the business.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
We have been approached multiple times about VC for Threadbird. One of the major disagreements we had during Storenvy was actually over VC. I am not interested in VC and I don’t think its worth it for most companies. Some companies do need it and I understand it can be a good thing or a necessity, but if you can launch your business or grow without it, do it! Once you get VC, you lose control of your business. You have to answer to others and make them happy. You no longer get to decide how you want to run your business. Sometimes, it’s better for your company to not grow or to slowdown growth. If you don’t make the board of directors happy, they may replace you.
The other thing is having a business partner can be extremely hard. Both people have to be on the same page and not be greedy. It’s probably easier if you didn’t have partners, but there is nothing better than having an incredible business partner. I am blessed enough to have Scott. Both of us bring something different to the table and have different strengths and weaknesses. Threadbird would not be where it is now without him. I 100% trust him and am thankful for not only having him as a business partner, but also as a friend.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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