The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Connecting personalized photo production with Maddy Alcala, Gooten

February 18, 2022 Gary Pageau/Maddy Alcala Season 3 Episode 66
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Connecting personalized photo production with Maddy Alcala, Gooten
Show Notes Transcript

Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Maddy Alcala, the president of Gooten, the on-demand personalized products solution provider, about the company's role in the marketplace, its growth opportunities, managing a challenging ecosystem and even the origin of the company's unusual name.

Gooten works with eCommerce businesses, retailers, and global merchandising companies to reduce or eliminate their inventory positions while giving them the ability to rely on on-demand, high-quality, scaled production wherever they need it. Gooten’s network of strategic manufacturing partners, all best-in-class specialists in the products they produce, ensures that brands are confident in the quality products their customers receive, every time. Founded in 2015, Gooten is headquartered in New York City with a globally distributed team across North America, Europe, and South America.

In the second part of this episode,  Pageau talks with Hans Hartman of Suite 48a, about the metaverse, what it is and what the opportunities are for the imaging industry.  Hartman also shares the agenda for the upcoming Visual1st Spotlight Event, "The Metaverse, what’s in it for me; what’s in it from me?" coming March 15, 8:00-9:30 AM PDT.

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Erin Manning  
Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau.

Gary Pageau  
The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Photo Finale, and Advertek printing. Hello again, and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by the President of Gooten. Maddy Alcala, who's coming to us from Denver, Colorado, although the company is based in New York City. Hi, Maddie, how are you today?

Maddy Alcala  
I'm doing great, Gary, thank you. How are you?

Gary Pageau  
Good. So first, tell us a little bit about Gooten. It's a relatively new company in the space founded in 2015.

Maddy Alcala  
Yes, so Gooten is a technology company. And we specialize in partnering with E commerce businesses primarily, who are looking for a fulfillment partner and the on-demand space. So at the very simple essence of the company, we connect supply and demand. So the demand side is orders that ecommerce businesses and the supply side is the manufacturing network of photo printers, textile, printers, apparel decorators across the world that we partner with to get those orders, printed, shipped and fulfilled after customers.

Gary Pageau  
When did you start with the company? Were you there from the beginning,

Maddy Alcala  
I wasn't there from the beginning. Gooten actually has an interesting history. Company was actually originally started in terms of the technology and the first piece of code written back in 2012. And the origin story came from our original founder who worked in a T shirt shop during the summers outside of Philadelphia, as a college fit. That was his summer job was pulling T shirts off presses scraper thing, everything there. And he's an engineer, and he realized just how difficult it was that that local printer to get orders into their system. And it was a pretty labor intensive process. So he had this idea to start a technology company, really to facilitate order routing, in order fulfillment primarily in the on demand world, which was still pretty nascent at the time. So keep up with the original co founder of the business. And they actually started a company called print.io. So people who've been around for a while on the photo space might remember.io, you recall bakeable, a little bit. And unfortunately, for the founders, they ran into a bunch of trademark issues with names. And it was it was kind of a rocky start business. So we talked about the founding of gluten in 2015. We rebranded and really it was a whole new leadership team, starting with our CEO, Brian that came in at the time. So as it is today really is about seven years old. But some of our code and the original partnerships we have in this space go back even longer, which is kind of

Gary Pageau  
fun. So where's the numbers the name Gooten come from? So

Maddy Alcala  
I will tell you the I will tell you the public story, and I'll tell you the real story. The public story, and and I think it's a nice one is that, you know, really, we were inspired by Johannes Gutenberg, who, of course, it's credited with the printing press, and really democratizing access to printing. And so, Gutenberg is a play on that name, in terms of democratizing access, high quality, on demand fulfillment for E commerce businesses. The real name as our CEO will tell you came from the fact that it was a made up word that we could get with the trademark and the domain was relatively cheap.

Gary Pageau  
Exactly. No one else had a club so

Maddy Alcala  
both sides work right. When it first came across name, I

Gary Pageau  
kind of thought that sounds vaguely European Are they like from the Netherlands are?

Maddy Alcala  
We do get Gooten Tag jokes. They're fun. Right? There's,

Gary Pageau  
you recently has become the president of the company. When did you join the company? And in what role was that? And what's your background? Why did they say Maddie is the person we need to have on our team,

Maddy Alcala  
I joined the company in 2017. So about two years after the the current CEO stepped in. And my original role in the company was on our partner success team. So at the time, we had a sales team of one smiling and dialing looking for big logos, frankly, and customers to bring in. But we had a very healthy flow of E commerce, businesses and merchants signing up for us. And no one was really doing anything with those customers. So my original role was to figure out what those customers wanted from us. They were what they liked about us what they didn't like us about us and then also support the CEO on special projects. So my background is actually in corporate strategy development more on the finance side. Prior to getting I was at BlackRock, big asset manager in New York City. And I supported the global executive team on strategic projects development really looking at your three to five year business planning across the company to grow so a bit of a weird transition to a you know, 20% ecommerce startup in the middle of Manhattan but I think that the background in numbers and finance and really strategic Business Planning, it's helped me quite a bit.

Gary Pageau  
Tell me a little bit about the company side of it. I mean, do you do your own production? Is that sourced other people? How is it as you said, it's 20 people, that's the you can't run a printing operation with 20 people. So you must have some partnerships there.

Maddy Alcala  
Yeah. So it was about 20 people, when I joined in 2017, we're at about 130 people now. So we've grown quite a bit. And as I originally said, we're a technology company. So we actually don't do any of our own production, our model is to partner with decorators or printers in the space. And then we handle all of the order routing and product creation, integrations with Shopify, all the kind of merchant enablement. And really where we're investing in where we're looking to grow is very much on that order routing order processing technology piece. Everything we do today is on demand, it's on the order, personalized a lot of it. But as we grow as to provide solutions to other parts of the market, you know, I think we'll start getting into other types of production. So apparel is the one that most people are familiar with, where you have DTG printing, where goods are decorated on demand, that more traditional way, or the analog way of decorating them is with screen printing. So we're starting to dip our toe into that market in terms of processing more bulk style orders as well, in terms of just

Gary Pageau  
I think the one of the things that traditional photo space, the the the the direct to garment printing has become sort of a an interesting play, because it's just another substrate really, if you think about it. And I think those worlds are going to be coming together pretty quickly. You know, there's really no reason why if you can put a photo on a mug, you can't put a photo on a shirt or something else for whatever reason. So sounds to me, like you're running out. There's a lot of players in that market. It's super competitive, from what I can see. And you've recently announced you've raised $15 million in capital, what what is the objective of that capital raise?

Maddy Alcala  
Yeah, so we're super excited about the capital raise, because it came from a combination of existing investors and new investors. And so it's always great to get new interest in your business, of course, but also affirm that people who've already given you money, want to give you some more. And really, that capital is growing to building out our engineering team. So we've got a big roadmap of items with our Merchant partners and manufacturers that we want to build, and also grow in some of our support and sales functions as well. So we grew tremendously in 2020. Because most people in this space did. And last year, I think was a really good year for us in terms of understanding where we still had gaps and what we needed to do next. And so the capital raise was a great tool for us to bring in sufficient money to say, alright, we're going to go invest it fill those gaps. We have our small e commerce businesses, think about sellers who are on Shopify or Etsy. And we love those partners. That's, that's really where our roots are from and how we've grown up in the space. But we've had quite a bit of traction with, you know, bigger retailers, enterprise sized clients. And obviously, they have a lot more rigorous demands. And so a lot of the capital is going to projects that will support those larger enterprise deals that we've brought in.

Gary Pageau  
So he kind of took advantage of the anybody can have a Shopify store, Etsy ecosystem, and now you're going to be kind of going after the the larger volume type business where you probably need a little more infrastructure, more sales, support, all that kind of stuff. So now that makes a lot of sense. What is the breakdown of just offhand on terms of your product mix, how much of it is just like, you know, just the garment stuff versus the other stuff? I'm just curious, you know, where that's breaking out in terms of where your growth potential can be, because people will get where so many shirts,

Maddy Alcala  
yeah, it's really about a third, a third, a third right now split across apparel, second category being home decor, and textiles, and the third category being Walden photo. So on the apparel side, that's obviously T shirts, hoodies, garments, textiles, things, like it's all the way to curtains and duvet covers, right. And then wall art, of course, Canvas framed prints, prints, a lot of those classic products. And then you know, the remaining 10 to 15% is a lot of hard goods. streetwear mugs are tech accessories, token accessories.

Gary Pageau  
Tell me a little bit about that. Because I used to be a hot topic about four or five years ago. Oh, everyone needs a phone cover and everyone wants their picture on it. Then they kind of died. Yeah, what do you see is the opportunity there because I frankly don't see

Maddy Alcala  
what we we see it well, to be blunt, really in two areas. One of it is a lead gen mechanism for us, right? Having those products in our catalog helps us to attract new businesses, people still look for that stuff. But you know, we joke about a lot internally is we have about 150 products in our catalog that we offer, you know, the top 10 of those make up 80% of our volumes. But the other 140 you know people come to us and say I saw you had Ottomans. Isn't that amazing? And then they they sell T shirts, right? They sell one ottoman. So a lot of it is lead generation and then the other piece is you know upsell items that You have to take that that phone case example that their primary businesses posters, they'll have phone cases on their site, and that might help them drive some, you know, increase cart value for purchases there. So having some of those smaller accessory items, particularly around gifting periods, you'll see some spikes in sales. But by no means is it a massive volume mover for us,

Gary Pageau  
sort of the classic long tail sort of exactly. Approach, would you I mean, it's a you're right, I mean, if you're gonna go to if you're a consumer, and you go to a site, it does help to see a full array of offerings. And because they're being printed on demand, right, doesn't kill you. I have coffee mugs, and travel mugs, and Ottomans and all that stuff there. Because it's not like it's taking actual physical inventory space, so you may as well have them on there. And if you do sell one, it's kind of a bonus. Where do you see your customers coming from? Are they mostly North America? Or do you have a global or you're a global company? Correct.

Maddy Alcala  
We're a global company. So we have teammates in US, Canada, Colombia, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, and I think I'm probably missing one. So all over North America, a little in South America, Europe, the majority of our merchants that we work with are US based in terms of it or not, and in a sense that the majority of our customers, our US base, so that's still the primary know of our order volumes get shipped and delivered to, but we've done quite a bit of work in the past year, and it's a big initiative for this year, to expand a lot more in Western Europe, Canada, Australia, English speaking countries, but we're not ready to translate our website into Chinese yet. But you know, the answer your question, mostly us, but I mean, at the Commerce level, and it's

Gary Pageau  
age. Yeah, that's mostly my audience is English speaking, folks, although I do have a few over, you know, down in the place, they have hit the Translate key. So, yeah. So holiday season 2021. I'm getting mixed messages from people about how it went. I mean, it seems to be great from a standpoint of interest and orders, but a challenge in terms of delivery, and availability of product because of you know, supply chain issues and things like that, as someone who doesn't control their production, per se, you don't have your own production. So how do you manage those kinds of things, when you may have a partner who's like, you know, we don't have any structure buyers, we can't make Canvas right now.

Maddy Alcala  
Yeah, so we we both have a ton of benefit from our business model. And also more risk, right, because we don't have that control. So holiday season for us, actually 2021, I will cautiously say, because we're still getting data on it, we think was our smoothest holiday season ever, in terms of minimal disruptions, we track, obviously percentage of orders that were submitted that actually ended up getting produced and shipped. And that was quite high. And a lot of the reason for that is that part of our model is to have redundancy in our manufacturing network. And so for Canvas example, we work with the major players in this space that probably most people listening have heard of, but we don't just work with one of them. And so if there's a problem at one facility, or with one particular company, we can reroute order volume fairly easily across our network, and the majority of merchants work with us, that's a big selling point for them. Because why companies work with Gooten, instead of going direct to manufacturers, a lot of times, it's not just because the technology in the service, but it's because they don't want to be single first and the case of a stock out or a disruption because of a snowstorm, we have a lot of flexibility there. So we definitely felt the impact of labor shortages, supply chain issues that it's, you know, impossible not to feel the impact of those in this industry at this point. But I think it was it was muted compared to you know what, for example, if we had our own printing equipment in facility, I'm sure we would have had our own issues. But the fact that we can spread volumes around in the network and be dynamic in terms of our work, sharing our work definitely helps.

Gary Pageau  
So what does it take to become a partner? Because a lot of our some of our listeners, you know, our production facilities and maybe interested in partnering with good and what is that process? Like? What are your requirements to become a partner? I mean, clearly, you have to be able to meet some sort of requirements of volume or, or service production, or deliverability, or things like that. Yeah, so

Maddy Alcala  
that's a good question. It's probably a more detailed one that we'll be able to get into today. But I'll try that all day. We've got all day. We have a team dedicated to it's actually run by a man named Craig. So he's the eyes, the brains around that operation. But really, it comes down to a couple things for us. So we set a menu a roadmap annually in terms of where we, you know, who we want to add and why. And that's not necessarily picking a logo out and saying, These are the problems business that we're trying to solve. Either we want to get into this new category of products, or we want to expand into a new geography or sometimes, you know, we have this partner that we're working with now and we need to back up or we want to replace them, right because, right. So yeah, from that list, right, we typically start going out to the market and meeting with the partners A lot of our focus as a separate now is on international, Canada, UK, mainland Europe is seeing an integration effort going. But within the domestic market, it comes down to quality. That's the first thing we look for of quality. And obviously, within the on demand world, there's a great degree of variability. But we want to work with like minded partners who also prioritize quality, we'd rather work with a facility that takes the time to get the orders done correctly, unnecessarily as the one that says I'm going to be the best in terms of speed or the best price, we'd rather be the best quality. So we typically send people out, they walked manufacturing floors, they get to know, the owners, and the people who run the facility, talk a lot about the quality pieces. Beyond that it's actually geography within the US as well, can we supplement a gap in our network in terms of coverage? We, you know, what, what kind of value does this new manufacturer bring us in that we don't have in our network today? Is it they can do special products that we can't get elsewhere? Or they can do things differently from a packaging and finishing standpoint, right? Especially as we're working with a lot of bigger brands, they've got more robust fulfillment requirements of any stuff in the bag, and I need to packaging or VAs services, as people call them. So looking at kind of supplementing the network there. But we work right now with about three manufacturing partners globally. 3030, and you know, among them about 70 Production locations, so the US is the biggest there, we're pretty well saturated. And if we haven't worked with a manufacturer, we typically know them for most parts, but a lot of that as well. But yeah, that's a long winded answer, and probably a non answer in some ways to your question, but

Gary Pageau  
no, no, I tell you, it's interesting, because I think it's, you know, we've seen a lot of consolidation over the last couple years in the industry. And it's primarily around regional concerns, right, I need, I need somebody in the East Coast, and I'm on the West Coast side by somebody in the East Coast kind of thing. But it sounds to me, like you're more concerned about product mix, and quality moreso than delivery cycles. I mean, clearly, they got to be able to deliver, I'm saying it, but that's not your primary concern is we got to have it there next day, necessarily.

Maddy Alcala  
It's a factor for sure. But you know, if we take the three legged stool of manufacturing of quality, price and speed, we tend to index around quality first, and then it's a trade off on price and speed for us. And so we would almost always rather work with a facility that is really the best in terms of what they can deliver in their industry, even if we have to sacrifice a bit on the delivery speed component and on the production speed component. Because our view and what we've heard from our virgin manufacturing partners on the small business side, even in the large enterprise space is that this is very personal for them, right, because it's a representation of their brand. And it's a it's a finished product that you know what the way that on demand, I think is growing as a supply chain solution. And not to all denigrate the kind of photo gift component of that, because getting a picture of your family and your blanket and your family is messed up. Nobody wants that for Christmas. But right we're fulfilling for major tours in the music space, we're fulfilling major retailers are fulfilling for online streamers, and gamers and even high end retail brands that frankly, don't want to say that they're producing on demand, because there's still a bit of a stigma around it. And so that that brand representation and the quality side for us is super, super important. And even the brands that we worked with, we say look, they're willing to sacrifice, typically, you know, a day or two of delivery speed, if it means that the the quality of that finished product is going to be that much higher, and we're consistent, right? Because it's not just being able to do one of them, it's being able to do 1000s of them at a consistent level.

Gary Pageau  
Yeah. You know, it's interesting, you said, because you have sort of the, what's that called the Corporate Incentive market, right, where it's like, branded items that companies give out for their things, but, and then sort of always kind of been there. Yeah, in the sense that, you know, pens and knickknacks and things, but now you can customize those things even further. And I think there's a lot of opportunity there where, you know, maybe you have an employee award, for example, they're getting their Crystal Award for five years with the company or 10 years of the company before that would just be a flat piece of Lucite with some laser etching and annoying have put their actual image on it.

Maddy Alcala  
Yeah, it's it's pretty amazing. There's actually there's a couple of technology companies again, in this space, I imagine you're familiar with a couple of them, but a couple like Alice and postal and snappy and some of those corporate gifting or the platform's tied to sales engagement, you know, they'll integrate with your CRM and they support sale, set up custom gifts. We're actually working with a good number of them or have spoken to a good number of them about how we can bring even more personalization into that for gifting or promotional products market, if you will. So it's definitely a segment that we focus on too, because I'm with you, I think there's a ton of opportunity there to, to shake things up. And frankly, probably bring some of those products forward in terms of what the customer or the employees happy to be receiving.

Gary Pageau  
Yeah, I mean, hurray, I've got a great pen who are some

Maddy Alcala  
Yes, exactly. Going forward.

Gary Pageau  
You mentioned before that there may be a stigma to print on demand in some, some people, they may not want to admit they're doing it. But you know, the reality is the bar in terms of quality and appearance of product. And the type of product has really been raised over the last few years where it's almost indistinguishable, absolutely, you know, I'm thinking maybe the future of gap or other retailers, they print their stuff in the store. So they have it so they can manage their inventory right there. But who knows? But do you see that disappearing over time that that stigma is kind of gonna disappear? Because I do think from a technology standpoint, you're not sacrificing quality by doing print on demand?

Maddy Alcala  
I completely agree. And I think it is going to continue to disappear over time. And to your point around major retail, I don't know if you saw the announcement, but last year, Delta apparel and Hot Topic actually partnered to put a coordinate machine in the back of a hot topic store to do that, that makes so much sense, though, which makes so much sense, right? There's obviously machine upkeep and labor and you know, stock considerations like everything that comes in actually storing up $500,000 piece of equipment and getting T shirts into it. But, you know, it was really interesting to see, because I think that we'll start to see a lot more of that hyper localization of production. And that at the same time, but they're kind of interesting themes, though, because it's like we were talking about with this trade off between delivery speed and quality of, you know, I've walked the floors of some of the biggest on demand decorators and operations in the US, that's for sure, you have to write super impressive of what these manufacturers can accomplish and decorators accomplish. But they, you know, it requires a lot of space and skill and trained labor and raw materials. And so on one hand, you could totally see the argument for consolidation, right? Like, I'd rather work with two to three really, really good facilities across the US, they've got west coast, Central American east coast, then 20 smaller facilities, because how we're going to control quality, right, it just becomes so much harder, the more dispersed that you have the production equipment. But at the same time, when you think about it, you're like, Well, put a machine in the back of a coals, right and stuff on demand. And so I'm curious to see kind of where we shake out between that balance of that hyper localization, but also, well, I think the industry, personally, is converging a lot more around that quality product, and that, particularly in the photo and Walmart space, I think that that space is the furthest ahead. And that, you know, the type of, you know, finished framed print that you can get truly is that, you know, those, especially with some of the professional photo Labs is incredible, right, hundreds of dollars of retail value, if not more in terms of what they can deliver to customers, I think the apparel space is really starting to catch up, but there's more work to be done. And then you take hard goods and textiles, and it's probably somewhere in between. But we've done our own research, we've piggybacked on some other research in the space. And we think that within the next really, two to three, maybe four years that we're going to start to see the adoption of digital production skyrocket. And that you know, maybe 5% of goods today are made printed on demand, we think the industry, we can make wave a magic run should really be at 30 to 35%. And that we're going to start accelerating rapidly toward that, particularly with everything else that's going on in supply chain,

Gary Pageau  
I do think it that's a great point, because, you know, in the traditional photo industry, it went from, you know, analog, where you ship, you ship your film to a central wholesale lab, and then they ship the consumers back pictures, and then that that equipment started to miniaturize and became a local retailer who did that. And then when that went digital became online, wholesale, and then local retail and they're doing I think, in some ways, that process is just being repeated again, because businesses go in cycles.

Maddy Alcala  
Exactly, I think so too. And it's, you know, we use the photo example all the time. And we think that other parts of the on demand space are in that transition process in terms of where they're moving and and really it's a lot of not to get pie in the sky right but it's it you said it I think at the beginning it's a crazy industry to work in it definitely is but it's a pretty cool one I think and we think so a gluten because it's really defining the future of how good they're made. Right and I think that again to go back to the print on demand, is there a stigma around it? Probably because I think some people say well the old way is better depending on the product right? I'm always gonna screen print might disagree right? We can show you the the alternative to that but people are starting to get more educated I think it see that the quality and product, the speed and the price is really getting to a point where it's very commercial for a lot of businesses, but beyond that, you know, there's so much possibility in this market that we get really excited about from the standpoint of environmental sustainability and producing something when you need it. And the real time nature of content, we've got tick tock and Instagram and YouTube. And that's where people are a lot of times getting their news and finding out what's trendy, and there's no longer four seasons of fashion, there's 365 days of who knows what's going to be viral and trending on that day. And so I think that variety of content, the personalization, improving quality, and frankly, the shorter supply chains are things that we get excited when we look at the space and say, there's so much room to grow here. And there's so many room for a lot of companies to be winners, to your comment is all about this is a competitive market. It absolutely is. But we think it's a huge market. And that there's you know, to get a small slice of it is still a lot of money to be made and a lot of businesses to be made successful.

Gary Pageau  
If you're in the world of looking at the traditional market, you may kind of be in that, oh my gosh, it's competitive, and where's the growth and everything. But then when you look around, it's like, every single podcaster every single YouTuber, every single Twitch person has Instagram influencer, they've got a merch store. Where who's printing that stuff? Guess what?

Maddy Alcala  
Right? Exactly. They've got a merch store. And if they don't, they should. And in the same way, right that it's on this, you know, the entrepreneur side, it's so easy now to start a website and Shopify and the platform, big commerce and platforms like that. It's 15 minutes. When to put up

Gary Pageau  
a merch store we to say, What am I doing?

Maddy Alcala  
There should be a dead pixels search store. What are you doing here? You got to

Gary Pageau  
give your guy Craig, call me we're gonna set this.

Maddy Alcala  
Yes, absolutely. We'll help you with it. We've got a really easy Shopify integration. Yes, there's a tremendous amount of opportunity. So it's not how big is the market today? It's how big will it be? And what why do

Gary Pageau  
you think it cap and it kind of builds on this trend that we're just seeing culturally that people are expecting more things to be customized for them, whether it's, you know, health care, or personal things they buy, or everything else, there's just such an overwhelming desire for that? If I had to try to between a sweatshirt that has a generic design on it, or something I designed? Which one would I buy? Probably as an everyday user, probably the one I do, especially since it's probably not a big price differential. That's the other thing. Yeah,

Maddy Alcala  
I definitely agree. And I think that there's this this spectrum of personalization, too, right? That there is obviously that the non personalized content of I'm a t shirt shop owner and I bought this cool graphic and sell it right, maybe I did a really good job. And I drew a cool graphic and a bunch of people want it. And then there's the complete opposite end of that spectrum, which is, here's a blank t shirt, put whatever you want on it. Right? Right. But what we're seeing a lot of is that middle space of you know, kind of that curated personalization, where the the customer doesn't have full freedom to put whatever they want on the t shirt or on the coffee mug, but they can add their name, or they can make it about them and their family. And it's, I think that that those types of products and the types of designs, I mean, we look at our data and analytics, a lot of what we do, and I always go a tree, you've seen these, Do you have pets? Of course. Okay, yep. So I have a cat, I'll look at stuff on Instagram, and get targeted by the, you know, put your dog's portrait, you know, make them look like in a medieval King on a canvas, right? Because well for almost all of those businesses. And it's insane because it connects to someone, it's their animal, but they didn't design the right King outfit, right? So it's that kind of curated personalization in the middle there that I think really resonates. You know,

Gary Pageau  
you've hit on a great point, because that's something that I think a lot of people, a lot of consumers feel they're not creative, right? And so to start from ground zero and create a design where maybe they have to, they have to think, Oh, well, wouldn't my cat look great as the King of England. And then they have to go find the image. And then they have to find the image of the cat that works and they got to put it together. That's far too difficult. But if someone could take them 80% of the way there and get them the starting line is zero, the starting line is we give you a template and you just pop in the picture, then they feel they've invested into it. And they're getting a personalized product and everyone wins.

Maddy Alcala  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think about myself, I work in this industry, but I am by no means a designer. And when I'm shopping online, I'm a little lazy, I'm on my couch. And so I want it to be easy. But I also want it to be personalized to me. And so I think you're totally right that that that middle spectrum there of you know, avoiding the paradox of choice because it's overwhelming to look at a product and design it and figure out what to put everywhere. But if the business who's selling that product can take away some of that those choice elements but still make it feel personal to the end customer and get something that they can win. I think that's where we're seeing a lot of people win.

Gary Pageau  
Yep, Because like, for example, one of the holy grails in the photo side of the business was about, you know, 1015 years ago is the photo book, the idea that people really want to take their digital pictures and put them in a book and go to town, and they'll just, that'll be the future. And it kind of petered out. I mean, it's growing, but it didn't, yeah, back then that was like, Oh my gosh, that's the Holy Grail. Well, the reality was, is most people don't know how to design books, they needed help, they needed templates, and they needed AI to guide them, and auto fill and auto enhancement, and all these things, these tools that are needed to help the customer along to get what they really want. And so I think that's something that as people are designing products, and systems have to remember, part of the product that you're offering is to do 80% of the work for the consumer,

Maddy Alcala  
right. And that's where your brand comes in, as well. And you can make it I think, from a business standpoint, you can carve out a niche, and, and really infuse something special there. And you know, I talk to ecommerce businesses a lot as my team. And that's what the majority of them want to be focused on. They want to be focused on meeting their niche and developing that special connection with their customer and marketing and thinking about those problems. And they don't want to be focused on how do I get this thing printed and fulfilled. And I think that that's where, you know, we're able to come in and really take that piece off their plate, manage manufacturing network on their behalf. We do so much work in terms of demand planning and forecasting, and dealing with the day to day issues that come up as part of that, you know, I'm in fulfillment business that, you know, mugs are out of stock, yellow X and mugs are out of stock in Iowa or wherever, right? Well, we're gonna pick up all these orders and reroute them and upgrade shipping and deal with all this. And you know, gluten, a lot of times we'll even purchase inventory on behalf of our merchants to round it all back around. Right? It's it's an interesting world to be in because there is there's so many little components of it. There's that front end personalization technology piece, there's manufacturing, there's Porter routing, there's integration of E commerce businesses, there's marketplaces like, I think that we're big partnership people, and we like to approach a space of we're gonna be really good at this one thing, and then try to work with others who are specialists in their areas as

Gary Pageau  
well. And it sounds like you got the resources to build your team. So that's great.

Maddy Alcala  
Yes, we do. We have the resources to grow, which is exciting, and maybe we'll bring in more notes.

Gary Pageau  
Well, thank you, Manny, for your time today. And best wishes for a great 2022. Hopefully, we'll see you at some of those industry events you mentioned and have a great 2022

Maddy Alcala  
Yeah, thanks, Gary. Really excited to be here. It was good chatting with you. Oh, and right now

Gary Pageau  
We're joined by Hans Hartman of Suite48a who runs with his partner, Alexis Gerard, the visual first conference. And Hans is here to talk to us right now about the metaverse, which has been in the news Hons, what is the metaverse and why should we care?

Hans Hartman  
It doesn't incredibly difficult question. The point is that there's a lot of different opinions about what the metaverse is, but to me, it is at least an immersive kind of experience a digital experience where you feel you're in a different area where you can connect, you can play, you can play games, you can even do business there, but it's a digital immersive space. Now some people go pretty far in that to say, hey, it requires even headsets and others say it's just in a browser. Instead of being in a completely 2d environment. You're in a 3d environment, you're in that environment. It's not that much different from a zoom call, which is like a 2d video kind of experience. But it's a step up to words feeling your are really connected with the people that you are connecting with. So it's a way of connecting, that is

Gary Pageau  
in some radically different than Second Life 15 years ago or whenever that was, so why now what other than the fact some pretty big names have endorsed the idea even renamed their companies to reflect the metaverse Is it the technology? What is it to be

Hans Hartman  
frank mean, Facebook was renamed as meta. They did an incredibly big push and brought together a lot of other vendors who have been doing certainly initiatives in the AR and in particular in the VR world also. And but they're definitely not the only ones you see Microsoft is Google. Snapchat has done a lot of things on the AR side of things. They don't call them metaphors, but a lot of initiatives that were already more towards people digitally connecting in different ways. And of course, we all now during the COVID era, you know, we all got more used to doing things digitally including you know, in our old case without conference instead of meeting in person, we enable people through a video stream to connect that way and even do some networking that way. So you see, people gotten a lot more used to digitally connecting. That's number one. And number two, Facebook, for whatever reason, they already had all kinds of 3d initiatives. They really made a big push because they wanted to show more what they are all about in going forward. Long term. So the

Gary Pageau  
business case for the metaverse do using that as a generic term, not specifically Facebook's or iteration of it hasn't really made a lot of headway, right? Because there's hardware involved because there's pretty steep hardware requirements on a PC or something like that. And I think that's going away. To some extent, people are becoming more comfortable with headwear of some sort. But I'm other than advertising and selling subscriptions. What is the business case?

Hans Hartman  
That's also a very difficult question. But it's almost, you know, a nonsensical and that I don't mean that in a in a negative sense, but it's, it's almost a nonsensical question. Because what's the business case of the internet? Right? The Internet also enables people to check out things, few things, connect things, subscribe to things, buy things, et cetera. And all of that stuff will happen in some version in the metaverse also, but you feel more, there are more benefits, it goes a step further towards really, you know, understanding what's going on there. You can collaborate better, you can check out artwork better, you can play games better that way than just a 2d kind of environment as we currently have at the Internet. So there are a lot of different use cases. And of course, you know, where you and I are coming from is what, how does that matter to folks who are ready, you know, developing solutions for photos and videos. It is an obvious, that's really why we said, hey, we need to put on an event. We can brainstorm about that. But I think the key thing, but whatever way you define the metaverse, and whatever way you look at what's happening there. The basic thing about the metaverse, it's all about visuals. It's all about photo and video. So if you are in a business that creates video of or enables users to create better photos and videos, that matters is going to matter in some fashion to be determined how but it definitely is going to be very important for your business. Even if you are in the business of selling printed versions of photos, also an effort. If you are a camera vendor, and you capture photos, and it's you know the metaverse is all about visuals, and in all the hype and all the noise and the 3d game headsets people tend to forget, it is all about photos and videos. And that is 2d or 3d. That's to be determined. And it's going to be both. But anyways, that's why it really matters for our industry in some fashion. And it will take a long time before we all realize how it will matter and how we can chime in, but we want to have an early discussion. Now that there is so much attention and so much money, investment money flowing into this whole metaphoric development. This is the time to really think through how to how does going to impact your business.

Gary Pageau  
So in terms of timing, you've got an event coming out in mid March that will probably serve as an entree for a lot of people among our listenership to learn more about the metaverse, can you share more about your your spotlight event on March 5?

Hans Hartman  
Yeah, well, first of all, it's, you know, I think most of most of your audience know we have visual first, which is an annual conference typically held in October. And that's a longer conference, it's two days or even three days last last year. Traditionally, that has been held in person. The last two years, we've done it virtually, but it's a longer event. So the spotlight the idea of spotlight events is to do you know, zoom in on a single topic, make it very short hour and a half and have it streamed. So everybody from anywhere in the world can attend are required. No.

Gary Pageau  
Okay, good. Good. Okay.

Hans Hartman  
Internet connectivity. Yes. Travel? No. But here's actually the interesting thing with the streaming service that we use last year and you have also used in your event there is a very interesting bomb because it's sort of like zoom buttons are elements that makes you feel hanging out, it's a little bit more immersive than a straightforward zoom event, for instance, you know, there's sort of a network and possibility. So if your video avatar has sort of like a live feed have you in in a circle, if that is close to somebody else, you guys, the two people can hear each other very well, if you will, father, he moved in the room, that sound level will go down. And ultimately, if somebody is on the other side of the room, you cannot hear them, they cannot hear you, which isn't great minutes, it's an initial baby step towards feeling that digital experience is more like real life. And it's more immersive than a straightforward zoom call. And the other thing, minutes, it's such a probably easy to create technical feature, but I think it is, so you feel so much more like it is in an impartial conference is the idea that you can, at the bottom there is a, you know, a button that you can click an emoji. And it could be a clapping hand or a thumbs up kind of thing. So what we've seen during our conferences, you know, somebody really made a very smart remark during a session or panel, you've got all these emoticons flying up in the air. And the more the smarter comment was made during the conference, the more of that it's like a fruit of applause. And it really felt you know, there is some interaction going on between the audience and yeah,

Gary Pageau  
we will Yeah, we'll continue to use that platform share me chat for the time being, but going forward on the program itself. Yeah. You have a very compressed education schedule. That's but when it's kind of action packed with some high power people, can you talk about that?

Hans Hartman  
Yeah, I'm very pleased with the speaker lineup. So we have a fireside chat present. And as Eric Chang is head of immersive at Mehta, former formerly made Facebook, he spoke I mean, everybody encouraged them to read his bio, it's absolutely fabulous. His background, he's a very talented photographer. He is sort of Mister underwater photographer in the US has a great following there, he had a website that sources very well known. So you know, underwater photographer, then he was very instrumental in putting DJI on the map with drone photography, with DJI spark also at first conference. And then now he has been very instrumental with with Facebook or meta for the last 234 or five years, maybe even in really helping Mata to get their heads around 3d sharing 3d information and content. So he is our Fireside Chat presenter, he will also participate in the panel because in the panel, there'll be I can go through the other speakers but but basically there we want to address a question. So what's in the metaphors for, for me, as you know, an industry player in the photo and video industry? And and what could you know, the metaphors, actually the metaphors, actually, how could it leverage what we have. So now we will make a discussion about the quote unquote, traditional photo and video industry and the metaphors. So quickly through it. We also have Alex Cooley from Adobe. So he is in the division that is really all about 3d tools, because the 3d is very, very important for the metaphor. So we will talk about their tool and their vision of how to connect the adobe 3d 3d applications to the more traditional 2d like Illustrator and Photoshop kind of roles. So your initiatives also within Adobe, another fabulous speaker is just a menino from Mona Mona gallery. So they actually develop metaphor spaces. And you know, he was with Magic Leap in the past and also with DreamWorks Animation. So he's really a movie creation kind of creative professional and so there's a solution of for how to create meta versus and and the fourth speaker in the panel is Kirby Winfield. He is a venture capitalists for really early study early stage companies. So we will look at it more from a business perspective. So what's real How can you eventually make money and why would earn in these kind of things. On top of that, I don't want to go through the entire program but we also have four Schoenfeld presenters come from very distinctly different areas and they will demo their solutions online as well

Gary Pageau  
talk a little bit about when it is what time it is. During during the day, and how do you get more information and possibly sign up to

Hans Hartman  
attend. So it's March 15 is between 8am and 930. Pacific time, so everybody can translate it into their own timezone there. And there's more information on visual food dot this last Metaverse, so that's fair. We have the program. And that's where you can buy tickets. Tickets are very inexpensive because we really want everybody to sort of try this out and participate.

Gary Pageau  
Well thank you Hans for your time and for sharing and look forward to seeing you virtually on March 15. Likewise,

Erin Manning  
thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www the dead pixels society.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai