Interview: The founders of Printess in a discussion


Bernd Zipper met digitally with Christoph Clermont and Christoph Schacht of Printess to find out what product this new startup has launched and what it’s all about.

Read the interview here or listen to the conversation in the podcast on ZIPPERS INSIGHTS or Spotify.

Bernd Zipper: Welcome to Zippers Insights, today we have a noble visitor, so to speak. We have Printess here and two of its three founders are on the microphone, namely Christoph Clermont and Christoph Schacht. Hello, hello to you.

Christoph Clermont: Hello Bernd, greetings from the wonderful Brandenburg.

Christoph Schacht: Hello, hello.

Bernd Zipper: We made the decision, that because of Corona we will do the whole interview here via Riverside. There is a software that helps us to record video as well as audio and that’s why we sometimes will have a little latency during it. For those of you out there, please bear with us. But this news is so important that we said we’re going to do a podcast and then unfortunately we can’t meet in person at the moment. You are located in beautiful Teupitz, right? So you’ve practically settled outside of Berlin in a real startup developer community.

Christoph Clermont: Yes, we commute a bit, to be fair. We’re still Berliners, but in the last few years, of course, country life has become more and more appealing, I have to be honest. You also get out and about. Especially when you develop software, you tend not to get out at all. When you’re closer to the outdoors, it helps a bit, and you can enjoy it. Brandenburg has beautiful areas.

Bernd Zipper: I had the great fortune a few days ago, a few weeks ago to be precise, to see what Printess is all about. It’ s actually a new idea of a web-to-print editor, right?

Christoph Clermont: That’s absolutely right. Because, as I said, we’ve been in this whole business for a very, very long time. I think it’s the fourth editor overall that we’ve been involved with, and yet we weren’t happy. What we simply lacked was a web-to-print editor for this industry, especially online stores, that was up to date. In other words, if you want to embed Google Maps today, you go to the Google site, embed that and off you go. In 20 minutes, you have that in your store. And that’s exactly the solution we were missing. On the one hand, we needed easy accessibility, easy integration, and on the other hand, we needed to finally integrate the graphics that you require if you are in the end customer business and perhaps also want to create branded documents, which are of course, very demanding graphically. That is, the whole package. We tried to pick out the best of InDesign and Illustrator, what you need for the market and processed all of that into a completely modernized browser editor, which truly uses the very latest technologies, and with that we have now gone live.

Bernd Zipper: So, let me get this straight: That means you’ve basically moved the entire editor to the browser?

Christoph Clermont: That’s absolutely right.

Bernd Zipper: That means I have a cloud service that I can access directly via the browser, so I don’t really have to install anything on my servers myself?

Christoph Clermont: Exactly. We mustn’t forget that today we all have supercomputers in our pockets. So, the graphics processors in cell phones are capable of processing incredibly complex games, but they can also, it’s hard to believe, process incredibly complex graphics software. The Printess Editor takes advantage of this computing power, which is available everywhere, and on the one hand, of course, I have the part that runs for the designer – when I’ m creating templates – and on the other hand, for the end customer, when he configures templates. And then, of course, the whole thing is completely cloud-based. That means later on, to have the print data generated, I go to the Printess Cloud, which scales completely, on which I don’t have to worry at all about how much server load is possible at the moment, whether I want to retrieve 15 PDFs today or a million, that will all be possible. That means it’s completely worry free. I don’t have to worry anymore about how big my server farms are or how big my load is at Christmas, which is probably completely different than then it is in January, where it drops off to an incredible degree. We really want to put all of that into a solid technical solution for once that takes those problems away from the store owners.

Bernd Zipper: That’s cool. But do have I understood correctly that it’s more in the direction of being for online store operators? So that means for products, like one-page products or business cards, or can I also design entire books with it?

Christoph Schacht: I’d like to say at this point that we haven’t made any technological commitments. All the features, the things that are needed to design the products, are of course fixed. In the market, we clearly want to tackle the most difficult at the beginning, namely B2C. Where beautiful effects are needed the most, where end customers want to design something that will look beautiful afterwards, without them being designers. That’s why we made sure that everything was relatively easy to use and concentrated on the market. Of course, you can also use it to make a business card and stationery or even a book. But in any case, you can create especially nice B2C products with it.

Christoph Clermont: Books in particular are a great topic, especially the children’s book market, where I have extremely high graphic requirements, because I want the book to be highly personalized on the one hand, but on the other hand it has the look of a finished and purchased book. And we have a great example on the website where you can see how far this goes. The example book on the website, it must be said apologetically, has only 4 pages. But yes, it could also have 50 pages. We don’t shy away from that.

Bernd Zipper: I hope it’s only 48, otherwise you always have to include a sheet.

Christoph Schacht: Yes, as background.

Bernd Zipper: Apologies, it had to be said. I just can’t leave something like that lying around. But to get to the point, so we have an editor, but then it also reproduces the shapes. So for example, if I’m in the textile sector and I know that, we all are familiar with the flat view of a T-shirt with a logo on it. But theoretically, the T-shirt could also be worn practically by someone who is a bit sturdier, like me. And you can see how the logo stretches on the chest or wrinkles or whatever. So you also have the option of adapting it to the shape accordingly?

Christoph Schacht: Yes, we put a lot of effort into that. There is even a very nice example on our website, where you can directly try out a T-shirt designer. There is even a great video of Christoph, where he simply assembles the template in 10 minutes to prove it and we were actually most pleased that the creation of the templates goes so quickly from scratch. This was always a big problem, which was reported to us by customers, that everything works, but that a designer spends days together with a programmer to bring products into the store. That was a big demand of ours, to reduce the time, because of course ultimately when you have a B2C business and thousands of products, that costs the most money. They also have to be maintained, i.e., the usability of the editor for a designer who has the power to route their product directly through to the store within 10 minutes. That was very close to our hearts.

Christoph Clermont: And to go back to the matter of the folds in the T-shirt, we came up with something, simply because in Printess it’s very easy to go beyond the classic, essentially two-dimensional mesh transformations. So, I fiddle around with the grid a bit thereby creating this three-dimensional impression. That means I can literally use photos to personalize photos. We also see a big advantage there, because many of the products in the B2C sector simply don’t have a back. Of course, I need a 3D view if I’m selling packaging and want to make it clear what that package looks like turned around. But many products in the B2C area are simple, with only a front side. A baseball cap from behind is not interesting if I do personalization. I can rotate a T-shirt in an artificial-looking 3D model, but I still don’t have a feeling for how it looks on the person. That’s why we’re taking the approach that we can personalize the designs on a photo and display them in a photo-realistic way. And that all happens directly in the browser and has another big advantage, because any designer can do that without having to be a 3D expert.

Bernd Zipper: Well, I think it’s pretty cool, because it solves a problem that many people have right now. They have to try to reproduce the best possible virtual haptics so that you can better imagine the product. And of course, that helps immensely. Up to now, it’s always been a combination of the 3D model with the vectors and the image model, which you then have to bring together again. And so, you’ve practically united them in the browser, so to speak. What I also like is that it’s obvious that you have a little bit of experience in the field of print. You’ve taken up the whole subject of spot colors, process colors, etc. So basically, we don’t work in the RGB range, but the output is in the right colors, and you’ve also thought about how to handle the fonts. What is so special about that?

Christoph Schacht: Yes, the bottom line is that you can use all fonts. That is certainly the biggest problem, the licenses in the font area. But there are now great libraries from Google, where the fonts are at least freely available for the web. But the bottom line is, you can use all fonts. You can start, design, upload and modify your font as you like. There are no limits.

Christoph Clermont: I think you’re completely right. Well, how many problems we’ve had with fonts in our life history, I can hardly count it. It’s gigantic. It’s an incredibly complex subject and yes, I think that’s what we’ve benefited from the most now. Sometimes we didn’t even realize how much we knew. It’s quite stupid. You always think, yes, and then you realize while you’re doing it: Oh God, there were problems, there were difficulties, you have to be terribly careful. I’ll put it this way, for example, a very, very simple problem that I don’t think we ever really took seriously in the past, the so-called default font. What is ultimately a problem on the web is that the browser, if a character is not there, automatically finds a font and displays it that way. This logic is then again dependent on each device, on each browser. That is, it is actually an absolute disaster. And that brings us from the topic of fonts to the topic of text and the huge problem that we had, namely that what I see when I configure a product is also what will ultimately arrive printed in the mail. To solve this problem, we went a very, very long way. We render all font output and all text output completely independently in the browser. In other words, we don’t use the browser’s own text functions at any point. That sounds a bit insane, and it was, but it’s the only real way to guarantee this 100% output consistency there. And I think that also explains very well the inspiration of Printess. We were thinking: There is the market. There are incredibly many vendors with incredibly great solutions and there are in some way editors. And with so many providers, these editors are simply an unbelievably huge problem. Because they actually have a different business, but they always cause huge problems. There should actually be a company in this industry that says we only make editors. We are also not a competitor, you don’t have to be afraid if you offer web-to-print, if you do workflows, if you do anything else. We’re not going to do any of that. We’re just going to limit ourselves to that core competency and create an integration product and focus completely on that and take those burdens off of others to build an editor that just doesn’t produce exactly the support cases that I usually have every day. That a customer calls and says, this looks different. That’s actually a goal we had in mind, to solve that for example. It’s a simple phrase: I want it to look exactly like it does on the screen and I want to reduce support or complaints. That little sentence has been on our minds most of the time.

Bernd Zipper: Yes, I think so. At Zipcon, we know a bit about editors. There are really good ones out there now, no question. But of course there are also some that require an enormous amount of technical effort, but on the other hand are of course high-performance. Now you are a new product. How did you do all the testing? To make sure that you can easily edit 10,000 images or handle 10,000 web-to-print templates? How do you deal with that?

Christoph Clermont: You always have to imagine that if an architecture is built in a certain way, there are problems that won’t arise in the first place. So of course, that’s our big advantage now, that we’ve started completely from scratch and built an infrastructure for such a system on a modern cloud infrastructure. This means that problems that we don’t even work on ourselves don’t occur. As a programmer, I would say the code you don’t write is the best code you can write. Because A) it has no bugs, because it is not there. B) it doesn’t need maintenance; you don’t have to maintain it later because it’s not there and it’s shorter and it’s faster. So there are only advantages. It’s always best, and my advice to anyone in this world is, don’t write the code at all. If there’s any way to avoid it. That’s a little bit of how we went about it when it comes to infrastructure and cloud based. By planning our system from the beginning to work with standard mechanisms, like I find today with Microsoft Azure, with Amazon ABS, with Google Cloud. They all have the same principles to scale systems reliably, to keep them reliably redundant, to distribute load. And that’s exactly what we use. We actually have very, very simple components. If I upload an image to Printess, for example, I can also integrate my own mechanisms there, because it is an integration product – then all these resources are backed up directly in the cloud. This means that there is no server request at all. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that it’s incredible how much technology we’ve simply left out. Because there are now large technological platforms that can solve this task much, much better. And that’s what we think in practice will make this printess experience incomparably much better, because I can’t have a server down. Well okay, then if Amazon is down and I’m on ABS, then I have the problem. But then I know I’m not alone. Half the Internet has that then. So it’s kind of a different story, but otherwise I just won’t have those problems.

Bernd Zipper: I mean, of course you make certain problems or you simply negate certain problems that exist with other technologies because they have also grown differently historically. That doesn’t mean that other editors are bad. But what I like about your work is that you’ve actually set it up in such a way that there’s no difference between the browser on the computer or on the mobile device. So that actually means that everything works on the cell phone as well, right?

Christoph Clermont: Yes, that’s the big goal.

Christoph Schacht: Of course, that was super important to us. Everyone who is in the e-commerce business knows that mobile commerce is the order of the day. Especially in the B2C sector, we’re talking about 50, 60 percent of sales, sometimes more, going directly via mobile, where these people don’t even have a computer anymore, they simply do everything on an iPad or on an iPhone or on their Android device. That’s great. Of course, we have a huge advantage by being so late, ultimately. We’re not the first online editor, and so many new technologies have emerged in the last ten years that are now really solid, that aren’t weird test technologies, but are built into our little high-performance devices everywhere. 20 years ago, we would not have been able to develop the solutions that we have developed today. Today, we had the whole portfolio of technologies available to us, so to speak, and because we were able to start from scratch without any legacy code, without any old things, we were able to use all of that.

Christoph Clermont: That’s a good point. It’s always a question of when do you start. And really, what we’ve done now, we probably couldn’t have done four years ago, three years ago. Because simply these technologies were not widespread.

Bernd Zipper: I think it’s pretty cool. I calculated the computing capacity of my cell phone the other day. I admit, it’s such a massive battleship now. So you almost need a trailer for that. But it’s about ten times the capacity of a Macintosh Quadra, which I used to design print templates. That means it also has the memory capacity of this cell phone. We would have liked to have had that back then, but we filled half a room with disks and SyQuest drives so that we could manage it all. That’s an incredible amount of data and I have to come back to that. How did you check that? Because the volume of image data and the like and also product data, did you already do appropriate tests in advance, that you simply chased volume data through the world and saw how your editor reacted?

Christoph Clermont: Well, as I said, it’s a different technology. We also really have to differentiate because it’s an integration product. That means that we certainly have people and companies who work with it, who know very well how they themselves handle the photo data of their customers, if they are active in this area. That is, they would like to do this management themselves, so to speak, which we also allow. But the principle will always be the same. When I upload an image, for example: We scale the image directly on the client, that is in the browser, and then we upload that. And we upload that to AWS S3 for example, in other words a high-performance storage format. And now you can imagine, I bet every second that we’re talking here, a hundred million images are uploaded to this platform. That means we just firmly assume and are 100 percent sure that they can handle these load demands and Printess actually has nothing to do with it. That’s really a very important point that you mention there, because the moment I touch things, I have this single point of failure, as they say. Then my server has to pass on something again and that’s exactly where the load problems always are. And whoever knows us, we’re the ones who founded Direct Smile. At the beginning of the digital printing era, we suddenly found ourselves in a situation, that was around 2003, where our first customers said, “Oh, great technology, you can personalize images with it. Now I’ve got a big customer, it’s a supermarket chain in England, and I’ve got to print times 500,000 every month.” Nobody’s done that before. No one was doing that, printing images in those masses. And that was a big problem at the time. But it also made us very sensitive to masses. Because we sort of grew up to handle masses of data in digital printing that almost nobody else, so to speak, definitely didn’t handle at that time. And we are very, very vigilant about that. And that’s why we haven’t actually built all these parts ourselves anymore. The additional effort is then to make everything compatible so that it converges in these large cloud systems. But once that’s done, then that image is available and it’s on the Amazon platform, for example, or the Microsoft platform. And they can deliver data. These companies do nothing else but build gigantic data centers with thousands of people that have nothing else as a goal, to reliably deliver data. And that’s exactly why the performance is so reliable with Printess.

Bernd Zipper: You just said it, you were the founders of Direct Smile. Which also explains why you already have gray hair, because you’ve been in the industry for a few hundred years. The three of you, including Bastian Kröger, who is still a kind of IT mastermind, founded Printess, right? Direct Smile was bought by EFI. Why didn’t you just continue there? You would have had a much bigger platform with EFI, wouldn’t you?

Christoph Clermont: Oh, that was not a question. We were with EFI for quite a long time. And I have to say personally, that was a very nice time for me, because you could also learn how a large company works. I mean, we were both founders from the very beginning and then you never saw anything else. And from that point of view, it was actually really great. At some point, there comes a time when you realize that the company is getting bigger and bigger, it’s getting better and better organized and more and more strictly organized, and then you simply have ideas about how you would do things. And if at some point these ideas are no longer those of the management, if you have different visions of the products, then perhaps it’s time to say, let’s take the plunge, even at an advanced age with gray hair, and go our own way again, so that we can simply do what we think we should do for the customers.

Bernd Zipper: Well, I don’t mean the gray hair in a disrespectful way. Anyone who knows me knows that I also have a gray hair in my beard. I always say that 50 is the new 30, so in that respect it all fits. But this is a real start-up. You’re not on the road with 20 men, but the three of you got together and said: We’re doing our thing here, we’re going through with this Printess theme. It’s also very lean, and I’d say it’s organized like a startup, and I’m very impressed by that. So to go there and say that’s the idea, that’s what we’re going for. One big thing that I personally really like about you is that you are a kind of mass customization enabler. So you can really make a lot of small things editable with your editor, and big things, and then also provide results accordingly, which in turn can be integrated into stores. But I have to clarify now: You do not offer a store, but rather a web-to-print editor that can be integrated into existing storefronts. Right?

Christoph Clermont: Exactly.

Christoph Schacht: And maybe supplementing that, we are small, but we are a start-up. That means we kind of have the obligation to grow quickly. So, by now we’re already five.

Bernd Zipper: Oh, okay. Before you know it, right? Zack, there are five. Now, of course, the big topic is always: new editor, great functions and this and that. But then I hear from one or two people who might be listening to us now or reading the interview: “Yes, gentlemen, it’s probably going to be another investment of a few thousand euros before you can even get started.” The way I understood it is that you guys go and basically don’t bill that until it’s actually used, or how should I understand it?

Christoph Schacht: Yes, exactly like that. We have set ourselves the goal of introducing a few new things in the software area, which is normally more of a capital goods sales area. We said we wanted to start the whole thing a bit more Silicon Valley-like. With a lot of transparency, i.e. you can see everything on our website. You can see the prices directly there, so you don’t have to call a salesperson first. Above all, because of the technology, we can do that, because we have the advantage that people create it themselves on their devices and we don’t have to provide huge server farms, we can also do a cost-per-order pricing model. In other words, the customer can edit as much as he likes, you can create as many templates as you like. Only when the first product in the shopping cart has been successfully purchased, do you start paying with us.

Bernd Zipper: But how do you check that? Well, you are not a store, but you basically deliver a print template.

Christoph Clermont: However, we do have a frontend, so to speak, which is the editor. That was extremely important to us. As I said, if I want to use Google Maps now, I go to the page and integrate that. Then I can use that. That doesn’t cost anything either. If I then want to add more functionality later, it may cost something. It’s the same with us. I can just go to the site. I will find all of the instructions. I can go on there today, starting last night – that is we have gone live now, I can go on there. We’re in a limited beta now, which means we have a beta where people can sign up. I’ll get my account then. I’m finding the ways that I can embed that into my own site. I can start making my templates. There are just no hurdles at all. That’s just it. And we don’t have any setup fees, we don’t have any upfront costs and all that, it just doesn’t exist. And that’s only possible because, as Christoph just said, transparency is the extreme keyword here. I can find out everything on the website. We also really want to motivate people to look: Does this fit? We know this world, it has to be said. We’re all gray-haired and we’ve been around in this print software world for a long time, and it’s happened in the past that solutions were sold where many customers said afterwards, “That’s not really what solves my problem. But it’s just damn hard to see in the process beforehand and it’s also always hard to know what the customer’s problems really are now. We now counteract this by simply saying: You can do everything. You can build your complete store, you can finish everything and that’s the frontend. But then at some point I need a PDF that I can print. And of course, this is not calculated by the client, i.e. not on the cell phone, but then the call is made to the server: I would like to have a calculated PDF for printing. And that’s what we count, and that’s what we charge for.

Christoph Schacht: And it’s really not just one server, of course, but many of them. You asked again earlier, have you actually tested this in advance? Yes, we did. We then rather quickly pressed the stop button. Let’s put it this way. At around 1.8 million, because we thought it might cost us a bit too much money. But no problem. Volumes don’t scare us.

Christoph Clermont: Yes, we did load tests, of course.

Bernd Zipper: But there are still a lot of people who have some resentment about Amazon, Amazon Workspace in particular, that we are becoming too dependent on a big giant. How do you see that?

Christoph Clermont: Well, we have that too. Yes, definitely. I think the fear is totally justified to say. Why? When I’m attached to a platform, it’s always dangerous. What we’ve done is, we’ve actually abstracted the whole story. That is, we need certain types of services. Now, of course, the nerd comes through in me and maybe that’s always a bit dangerous. You have to stop me there, Bernd, no? So don’t worry, my therapist said: Don’t talk so much about it. But it’s always, always difficult to control me. So you have to imagine it like this, there is for example a mechanism to distribute the load. That is, hundreds or thousands of jobs come in and they have to be distributed. All clouds offer such mechanisms. As I said, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, to name just a few of the big ones, offer them. And we assume these mechanisms. It doesn’t really matter which platform it is. In other words, we have abstracted these mechanisms, so to speak, from the concrete implementation against these platforms. We just need a large memory, we need load balancing stories, we need a database. But that can be one or the other. On the other hand, I also have to say, these big companies are competing against each other. The future is this cloud computing. Sometimes one is three cents cheaper, sometimes the other is three cents more expensive. The danger there is probably not that great. There are many companies that have committed themselves to one provider and, to be honest, they will never leave. They know that at Amazon and Microsoft, too. Nevertheless, it’s probably just the way it is. As I said, Printess can act flexibly between the different platforms. It still makes so much sense. And now I want to say something about that, because that’s often something that’s misunderstood. I can take my old application that’s built on old assumptions and I always say old intentionally. That is not worse. Now Christoph Schacht is absolutely right with his statement. As I said, if we had built the same, the same Printess Editor five years ago or ten years ago, it’s a different one than it is today. Because the world is simply progressing at an extreme rate. What a lot of people are doing today is, they’re saying, I want to go to the cloud. That means I take the services from Amazon or from Microsoft and put my old software on there. That’s incredibly expensive. Actually, conditionally useful, I would say. In any case, it’s much, much more expensive. Because, of course, such a fixed server costs much less money than these very, very highly available hosted instances that these cloud providers offer. That means that this cloud only really makes sense when you completely rewrite software so that it fits this cloud. And that’s actually what we’ve managed to do now, and what we’ve been able to do now, and where we’re incredibly happy and which gives us the chance to say: Sign up, get started! We don’t care. Because otherwise we wouldn’t have them. I can’t just give everyone access to a platform like this when there’s an armada of IT engineers in the background who have to set up these accounts. I would have to pay extra every time. And that’s just not possible. But once you’ve set it up properly, you have these options.

Bernd Zipper: But that also means that you actually want to encourage potential users to simply try it out for themselves and integrate it themselves, doesn’t it?

Christoph Schacht: That’s actually the idea. Of course, we are happy to help, that is also true. To be honest, we would like to have a completely different sales tone than we have ever experienced in the industry. We want to say, try it out. I don’t want to sit across from you anymore and say, gosh Bernd, you know what? Printess, this is the best solution you can take. You should do that, otherwise you’re making a huge mistake. Now when we have a sales call with you today, we just say, here are the accesses, try it out. If there are questions, we’re happy to help. We see ourselves more as consultants. We see ourselves as a helping hand to overcome problems, but we don’t see ourselves as a salesperson. Printess has to sell itself. And that’s the idea behind it.

Bernd Zipper: Sure, I mean, it’s already off to a cool start. You’ve already done some good beta tests. We’re not going to mention any names of what went on there. But the experience we’ve gained from them has helped us to round off the last little corner of your application. Now the beta is public. I’m curious to see how many people will try it out in the next few weeks, and I’m also curious to see which templates they’ll use. Now, of course, there are a few things that are very tricky. For example, you have already mentioned packaging. And in packaging, that also lives from the fact that you bring in an action, for example. An animation, for example, where a box folds up or something similar. What does that look like for you? Is it already possible or is it on the roadmap?

Christoph Schacht: Yes, it’s certainly on the roadmap. Packaging is an important area. We actually have many things on the roadmap. We also have data automation on the roadmap, because that’s actually our specialty, that’s where we come from, and that’s also where we find that there’s no simple, readily available WtP solution. We can talk about that again in a moment, because it’s a very interesting story from the past that has accompanied us there. We also made mistakes. I think one of the mistakes was to always put too many features in. And this time we want to do it differently. We really thought about what we wanted to do and of course there were a lot of things on the list. A lot of things. And of course, we wanted to get started and add this and that. And then we said, watch out, we’re going to slow down now. We are stopping ourselves and these are also a bit conflicting conversation sometimes and then we really said, we are focusing on B2C e-commerce essentially in the first step. So, we want to do one thing right. And honestly, we couldn’t imagine at all how big this field actually is. The more potential customers or just operators we talked to, the more we learned. So, it’s a gigantic field. And currently the very clear statement is that we want to do what we do really well and really solidly and one hundred percent bug-free. That’s the important thing, and then comes the next thing. So that’ s the goal and I must say quite honestly, this topic of buyer experience, as you might call it, how does the software feel to the customer when they come to this site, that’s such a complex topic. And in my eyes, there are very good solutions. For example, there are vendors for phone cases, there are vendors for everything. They are all self-built. In my eyes, there’s no solution that can help you do that, a standard solution, get those things done cleanly. And that’s why that’s almost our biggest focus at the moment, to improve there, to create more mechanisms there, so that this problem can be put on a standard solution. Because the problem is that there are great UI frontends that people have built that you can see on the web, but they’re based on engines that can’t do much. This means that the usability is great, but what the customer can produce is limited. It’s always the same, a box and a text something like that. You can see that in many cases, even though the rest of it is orchestrated in a great way. And that’s where we see ourselves in the middle, for example. If we now talk about Printess being an integration product, you also have to say again, there are two big “levels of integration”. There is “take this thing, display it in your store view and then it does everything for you”, but there is also a second level, which is: Printess is more or less only the container, which actually displays the preview, where you click on it, where you move a frame. All the rest can be built around it by the customer. That’s the right integration product, but it’s super important if, for example, I’m in some niche and run my store and look every day where my customers have clicked incorrectly, where I can optimize something and then be as optimal as possible there, it’s just difficult if that is subsequently specified by an integration product. That’s why we’ll continue to work on usability and user experience until we’re not one hundred percent happy for everyone and we only get feedback that the use cases that arise every day in this industry can be solved cleanly with Printess, so that’s our priority for now and we won’t go any further to the next step.

Christoph Schacht: Now you can perhaps simply start working with people who already have great solutions in the packaging area. There are certainly some.

Bernd Zipper: The question is how compatible you are, but that’s another issue. Now, not all web-to-print is the same, so some call up an editor, for example, while others allow you to click directly into the image and then change names or something similar, and especially when you’re working with end customers, a complex editor tends to be a deterrent. How do I imagine that with you? Can I also, let’s say, set up a kind of frame web-to-print, where I display a T-shirt, for example, and then only the lettering has to be changed, for example, and then I can embed that in my store, that’s still a big question for me.

Christoph Schacht: Yes, definitely. A big issue for us has been all the time, as Christoph already said, people have to be able to use the product optimally, accordingly on the one hand we have a lot of features in the area of template creation, on the other hand of course we have to make sure that the end customer, who then configures the product, only has to use the maximum of the two seconds he wants to waste on it. In other words, Printess is very different in the designer’s area, where it looks more like an InDesign. In the area of the end customer, it is exactly as you said, click, click and done, plus also the configurability, exactly what complexity you want to expect from the user. In other words, you can also say exactly, here I want the customer to edit the text directly in the document or no, I don’t like it, I just want to have a small input field where he types in his name, which anyone can do. That is complete freedom and must also be, because that is exactly where optimization takes place in the stores.

Christoph Clermont: We have a wide variety of these examples, and what you’re saying now is what we’ve really noticed, bit by bit. At the beginning, you go in and say you’re going to make a great buyer site, we call it a buyer site. We always say that the buyer site is what the customer sees in the store afterwards, and we just do it well. And then you think about how you can find a mechanism that always fits and then you realize that it doesn’t fit at all and then you learn bit by bit, of course also through conversations, through things that you look at. They’re all online, that’s the great thing about our industry, I can go into any store and try it out, I don’t even have to do industrial espionage and you realize that every product is different. And every solution is different. And that’s where a lot of work has gone into designing templates that are completely different today. One lives with an input field, with a click here, the other one, I might want free editability, the user can add what we call snippets, any graphical elements that he can change again easily, but still look fancy and that’s a wide range. And the bad thing is, it’s not the software developer’s job, so it’s not Printess’ job to determine how the user experience should be in the end. We can only offer several possibilities and our customer decides in the end what fits best. The whole topic is far too complex for someone to say “this is how it works” and then the customer understands it. It depends very much on the product and the product is different. By the way, there are examples on our website, there are very different examples, you can try them all out and there you can also see how different the configurations can be.

Bernd Zipper: Just to point out again, if we’re podcasting this, so to speak, your website has probably been online for a few days. Nonetheless, what’s extremely important is, of course, for the one or the other who already has a store out there, if they already have 10,000 PDF templates now, what are they doing? All new, right?

Christoph Schacht: That’s a good question. It depends very much on where the PDF templates come from. If, for example, there are InDesign templates behind them: We are certainly working on getting the InDesign import working. That is not yet part of the very first release, but we will definitely do that, because I think that is super important in the market. The way a lot of systems work is that I do my design in InDesign, then I upload it to the web-to-print system, and then I say this or that area is editable. In the beginning we had conversations where it was about, can I also edit from the InDesign template and so on, and we were like, “Well, we actually think you should edit that in Printess!” That was such a progression, bit by bit. And now things are coming together quite well. That’s when we learned how complex it is to actually make a good user interface. That means that when I create templates for e-commerce, I’m no longer in InDesign. Because InDesign is a solution to create graphic templates for print or even for the screen and not templates for an e-commerce store, which are interactive. Dear customer, you should not think that you can make good templates for an e-commerce store in InDesign. You should have a solution that does just that in your head and allows you to build that bridge. And that’s where Printess is. It would be a lie to say, yes you can move any template you have. I don’t believe that. I think the reality is more that you transfer templates, but that you can also, for example, have several editors in use, that you also build new templates. There are various ways in which we can help, and of course we’re going to work hard to automate the creation of these templates. We are a start-up; we have to earn money somehow. If the customer comes in tomorrow and says, “I have my 5,000 or 8,000 templates in this format and I’ll sign tomorrow so that I can get them all…”, that of course motivates us enormously to see how we can get them across somehow.

Bernd Zipper: Sure. Another big topic, to round things off, is mass customization, which also thrives on the fact that I simply connect a database, for example, and then upload, I don’t know, 400 names and then get back 400 print templates. How are your functionalities there? That is, in the current version?

Christoph Schacht: We currently have a great API that allows you to do exactly that. Funnily enough, we have a customer right now who wants to do exactly that. As Christoph already said, the data automation area was not our total focus at the beginning, B2C is hard enough for the beginning. We’re not the greatest VDP solution in the world, we don’t want to be, but of course you can just send data into a template and then get your artwork back with the data. That’s all possible. By the way, I wanted to come back briefly to the template thing, because I’ve had a lot of discussions on the subject in particular. I have to say, for me it was more in a different direction, where I now had relatively enthusiastic customers on the phone who said, “in the past we always had to create things together with a programmer and the designer, then we built configurators for ourselves, now we now have 100 different configurators for the 100 different products, because they all have a different configuration requirement, that’s slowly blowing up in our face.” Funnily enough, the configurators were actually the much greater pain, and not so much the document template, because in the B2C area in particular, the change in templates is quite massive, so 30, 40 percent of the templates from last year would have been rotated out. If you now, let’s say, transfer the hottest sales into a system, run the editor in parallel, then after three years everything is just printess anyway. In other words, you don’t really have such a big conversion problem.

Bernd Zipper: That means I can iteratively change over accordingly?

Christoph Schacht: Yes.

Bernd Zipper: Okay. I’m looking at the clock a little bit. I think 45 minutes of tech talk is the limit for some people, but there is help if you want to have a look at it, is your new website, I think, where you can have a look at it all again, where you can try it out live and believe it or not, this is not an advertising blog, but a few weeks ago we already thought about how to present this technology relatively well. On the one hand, of course, we have to explain it here in a blog, for example, but on the other hand, I think it’s great that you really do have an unconditional online demo where you can simply click in and try it out, and I think that’s very good, because then you also see that your policy is really about transparency and openness. Let’s talk about what we can do together to make that come across. And I really appreciate this start-up spirit. So good luck to both of you, and also in Bastian’s absence, I think we’ll see you at the Online Print Symposium.

Christoph Clermont: Yes, that would be nice if Corona would allow us all to do that.

Bernd Zipper: I think so, so I talked to the boss, he said yes, don’t worry, in September it will happen again, and I have good contacts there and insofar I think that we will see each other again, if not, we will find another way to address the issue together. Okay, thank you and see you in the days to come, bye.

Christoph Clermont: Thank you very much.

Christoph Schacht: Thank you very much. Bye Bernd.

Interview: The founders of Printess in a discussion
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Interview: The founders of Printess in a discussion
Bernd Zipper met digitally with Christoph Clermont and Christoph Schacht of Printess to find out what product this new startup has launched and what it's all about.
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Max Spies, a true professional, is a printing technician and business economist. As an ERP specialist at zipcon consulting GmbH, he researches throughout the entire value-added chain and delves into the depths of the company's divisions. People, processes, and tools are equally important to him in his observations. With curiosity, backbone, and a healthy dose of the Allgäu's fighting spirit, he is able to gather information. His comprehensible expertise is the basis for result-oriented concepts in customer projects. Max Spies has been in the printing industry for 35 years, worked as a journalist for "Deutscher Drucker" and writes guest articles for the trade magazines "Druckmarkt" and "Grafische Revue Österreich". Prior to joining zipcon, he worked for an ERP software provider in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and is an active networker in this economic region. (Profiles also at Xing, LinkedIn)

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