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Our Story: A Company with Heart
The CustomInk story began in 1999 when three former college classmates got the bug to start a business about a year after graduating. Co-founder and President Marc Katz was hard at work in a Wall Street job that he says "didn't have a lot of heart" and was itching to do something entrepreneurial and meaningful. Meanwhile, Marc's former roommate Mike Driscoll (acting on his mom's suggestion!) had spent the previous summer building the very first version of CustomInk.com, which let people upload graphics onto t-shirts and buy them... at least in theory. Mike was headed back to grad school, had a handful of customers, and talked with Marc about taking over the web site and making a real business of it. The idea of helping people create something online and then receive it as a physical product they could touch and wear fit the bill for Marc. He contacted another former classmate (this one a computer whiz) Dave Christensen and together they set about launching the company.
Marc spent long hours on his green couch (a hand-me-down from his big brother) talking to Dave by phone and planning the business. The more they worked at it, the more convinced they became that getting custom t-shirts the traditional way was a pain-in-the-neck and that they could make it fun, easy, and reliable with a "design online" website. They officially founded CustomInk in March of 2000 and had soon assembled the rest of the early team. As the Inker team took shape, the one common denominator was heart: CustomInk attracted the kind of people who really care – the ones who get a bad feeling in the pit of their stomach if they think they're going to let someone down – and repelled those who didn't.
When we launched our first fully-functional site and began taking orders in late 2000, we lacked the sophisticated behind-the-scenes systems we have today. Our team of 10 Inkers (including Marc and Dave) wrote order notes by hand on printed sheets of paper and manually calculated due dates and shipping times. When a customer called the 800#, the phone rang simultaneously on the desk of everyone in the company. Despite our early limitations, we managed to do a great job for our customers, and we've kept our focus on customer satisfaction as we've grown: our order volume has increased by a factor of about 50 since 2001, but our post-order feedback surveys show that customer satisfaction rates are even higher now than they were then!
And we share those surveys with you – in 2002, we decided to stream all customer feedback, completely uncensored and unedited, on our home page for everyone to see. This level of transparency and accountability was unheard of in the business world, and it still raises eyebrows. We love it though. Our customers always have the last word, and that's how it should be.
Our uncensored feedback is yet another way we allow our customers to express their creativity – the reviews are often fun, always honest, and overwhelmingly positive – 99% of our customers would order again! Read more of the 40,000+ uncensored reviews.
In 2003, Marc held a company-wide meeting to officially introduce our core values of The Golden Rule, Ownership, and Innovation. A key point: Marc and Dave didn't make up these values - they identified them by studying the way Inkers worked. Formally stating these values has caused us to think actively about them on a daily basis, and to act in accordance with them. We even hold an annual "Inkademy Awards" ceremony to honor the individuals whose actions best demonstrate each core value. Our commitment to these values is genuine - it's not just jargon or words on a wall, but a way of doing business that defines our company.
We could tell business was expanding by the way we kept outgrowing our office space year after year. As it turns out, others noticed as well: In November 2005, Inc. Magazine released its annual Inc. 500 ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the country, and we debuted at No. 55.
Years ago, we set a long-term goal to provide one custom t-shirt per year for every person in the country. This sort of order volume was almost unimaginable in the early days, but we're getting there... well, about 2% of the way there so far!
And we're continually expanding our services in response to your requests. In addition to screen printing and embroidery for bulk orders, we now offer a digital printing service that allows you to design and order as little as one custom t-shirt at a time - perfect for gifts or self-expression. We also offer free expert art assistance, design consultations, and a thorough proofing process to ensure that your custom design – whether printed on one t-shirt or thousands – turns out perfectly!
We love coming to work every day – we're among friends here, and we're challenged to innovate and take ownership over our work while being creative in our jobs and focusing our attention on making our customers happy. We get to enjoy free food, a casual dress code, fun events, and an overall positive energy. In short, we're inspired.
Washingtonian Magazine picked up on our positive energy and happy work environment and named CustomInk one of its "Great Places to Work" in the Washington, DC area in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
To keep everyone on the same page as we grow, Marc now gives a personal orientation to every new Inker, and he always stresses the point that our customers are relying on us to come through for them. They're putting themselves on the line, designing and ordering custom products for a group, event, or business that's important to them, and they need to know that we'll deliver awesome-looking custom products on time. If we make a mistake, it has an impact – maybe one or two kids at the birthday party won't get to wear a shirt, and that's a big deal to us, because it's a big deal to you. It's not about numbers, it's about people.
That's why we created our "Ink of the Week" contest. It allows our customers to share fun photos from their events and celebrate their group spirit. See for yourself – these photos are sure to make you smile!
You'd think that running a successful business would be strictly about the bottom line. But the amazing thing is, it's not at all – actually caring about others and taking pride in our work through the core values of The Golden Rule, Ownership, and Innovation makes all the difference. We're inspired to do our best every day, and the bottom line takes care of itself.