Five minutes with… Philip Rooke, Spreadshirt

Each week we catch up with a different entrepreneur to discover what makes them tick, their top tips and more. This week we spend five minutes with Philip Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt.


Hi Philip! First things first – what is Spreadshirt?

Put simply, Spreadshirt is an ecommerce company, which provides individuals, businesses and organisations with a platform for buying, selling and creating merchandising ideas all over the world.

What was the inspiration for this business? How has it developed?

Founder, Lukasz Gadowski, developed the basic concept for Spreadshirt in 2001 when he was still a student at HHL Leipzig. And despite being described as an “unrealistic business model” at the Cologne Business Plan Competition in 2002, it’s since developed into an international company, 19 markets and 12 languages ​​and operates five production sites; Germany, Poland, the USA and Brazil.

How is the business changing?

The rise of mobile has had a huge impact on all online retail companies. Mobile is over 40% of our traffic now and we are putting a lot of effort into the mobile optimisation of all our services. For example, we have introduced a touch-optimised T-shirt design tool, a single-page check-out, made our marketplace mobile, launched a new fully responsive shop system some months ago and will soon be releasing our new partner area – the backend in which our community of 70,000 sellers is working on sharing their ideas with the world.

What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?

My favourite part is seeing all the brilliant ideas and designs put in by our sellers that come through our production centres. These are often the new social media stars creating brand new businesses and then monetising them globally with merchandise; without us they would never be able to sell these ideas.

My least favourite part is hanging about in airports. That and getting my head around the complex world of international taxation. Even relatively small sellers sell in many countries and incur many types of tax. We take this pain from them but it causes me a few headaches.

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What has been the biggest challenge for your business?

Making complexity look simple for customers. Allowing anyone to create ideas on 150 products, put them for sale in our 19 marketplaces, white label shops or put them in Amazon or eBay, then have the sales printed on demand, delivered to 190 countries, handle all the transactions and make sure everyone gets paid is not simple.

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?

Using the huge market that’s on your doorstep. The size of the European Union gives companies within it the opportunity to get to scale. This means they can begin to compete with other huge markets; USA and China. I think withdrawing from the EU would be a huge disadvantage for SMEs in the UK.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to take their business to the next stage?

Make sure you get the best people around you can and then try to concentrate 90% of effort on just the top three to six priorities that drive growth. There will always be 100s of things to do but doing too many will just mean you achieve small steps.

Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?

Yes! At various stages I had to concentrate too much on growth and investing in only those things that caused growth, but I did not put enough effort into system maintenance and built up a big system maintenance debt. Two years ago we had to stop growing and rebuild a lot of our platform – much of this could have been avoided with more maintenance time.

What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?

I have a small allotment garden in Leipzig, where Spreadshirt has its HQ. After work I love to work there and rebuild the summer house. It is very low tech and physical. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t running the business?
Honestly, running a business is fun and doesn’t feel like work. If I had more time I would start another business because I simply love what I do!

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