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Update: As part of this AMA we have a special deal for the GrowthHackers community to get 50 stickers for $29. Check it here: https://www.stickermule.com/growthhackers. Valid till June 3.

Anthony Thomas is the CEO at Sticker Mule, an online sticker printing service that's powered by a 100% remote team and used by thousands of people, startups, artists and businesses including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Netflix, Nike, Dropbox & the New York Times. Recently, they started documenting how to manage, organize and grow a remote team including best practices for hiring and their approach to customer experience. 

Since their inception, their primary growth strategy has been to build a great experience for our customers and coworkers. It's enabled them to hire exceptional talent and grow their business without venture capital. Today, they're powered by an amazing team that works from 7 countries including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, Poland & the United States. 

Lately, their focus is growth through product line expansion, including a second brand Button Frog. They have added transfer stickers, roll labels, and just last week custom magnets

You can follow Anthony on Twitter: @ac132

He will be live on May 5 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which time he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • GF

    Gabriel F

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hello Anthony. Big fan of Sticker Mule and its high quality vinyl stickers. With things venturing out like Button Frog, could Sticker Mule evolve into custom t-shirts too?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hey Gabriel! Admittedly, shirts aren't on our roadmap right now. It's tempting to want to venture into more products but our plate is full with magnets, labels, transfer stickers, buttons and, of course, stickers. :)

      I want to make sure we continue focusing on the UX challenges facing us so it might be awhile before we consider additional products.

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Anthony! Do you see a certain point in Sticker Mule's future where your growth can no longer depend on product line expansion? If yes, where do you plan on looking to leverage other growth opportunities?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Excited to kick off this AMA! Before we get started, I should mention we threw together a special deal for the Growthhackers community to get 50 stickers for $29. Check it here: https://www.stickermule.com/growthhackers

      Admittedly, I’m not too concerned with endless growth. I worry more about our ability to continue enhancing the customer experience. Fortunately, our roadmap is still surprisingly long. I remember a few years ago thinking “oh shit, pretty soon we’ll be all out of cool UX improvements” but more good ideas continue to come our way.

      I subscribe to the notion that growth and profit is a consequence of solving a problem effectively. Our team is excited about growth but much more passionate about UX.

      9 Share
  • LH

    Lauren Holliday

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Anthony!

    I read your post, "Characteristics we look for in team members," (https://www.stickermule.com/blog/characteristics-we-look-for-in-team-members).

    Since culture is so important to Sticker Mule, does that mean when you find the right talent / person that you work with them in any way possible? For instance, are you flexible on job terms if you really like someone else and they're brilliant? Why or why not?

    Thanks =)

    Lauren

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question and thanks for reading the post! This is a really important topic. The short answer is yes and no. We have rigid pay grades for every position that dictate how much you can earn based on your seniority. If someone is especially desirable we might start them higher in a grade but they’ll top out at the same salary as everyone else who holds their position.

      We will not modify our pay structure to accommodate a specific person. People eventually talk about their pay and, consequently, inconsistent compensation is quite bad for your culture and morale. To ensure we have the tools to recruit effectively we focus on designing an effective compensation structure that’s exciting for the vast majority of people and then we stick to it.

      When deciding if a person merits starting higher in the pay grade for their position we look primarily at what a person is leaving to join us. We tend to recruit people that are already employed and, generally, people desire a pay increase to change employers. Changing jobs is inherently risky. Even if Sticker Mule seems like a better opportunity I can sympathize with someone needing a financial incentive to change so we’ll work within our existing pay grades to provide compensation that makes them happy.

      5 Share
  • AO

    Aaron Orendorff

    almost 4 years ago #

    What's up, Mr. Thomas?

    It's awesome you're doing this.

    StickerMule has written before about basically running the entire business within Asana.

    I'm fascinated, seriously!

    Simplifying tool sets for productivity is a topic I love hearing about ... anything that'll help me esp. as a remote team leader.

    I'd love to know about the other essential tools at StickerMule.

    And most of all how you not only onboard someone into your workflow ... but how you off-board them from other tools they might be accustomed to using. It's silly how touchy people's favorite tools can be. ;)

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Our big ones are: Asana (tasks), Slack (internal communication), Guru (knowledge), Desk (customer communication) & RJMetrics (Analytics / Reporting). I think the key to acclimating people to your toolset (i.e. off-boarding from their prior favorites) is to stay disciplined about only using a small list of tools.

      Having a small set of tools that everyone must uses makes it easier to get new people acclimated since they realize quickly 1) it’s only a few tools to learn 2) everyone else is using them and 3) standardizing on a few sets of tools is why we are so effective.

      I’m especially fond of Asana because it’s so versatile. Yes, it has it’s downsides for certain use cases, but the upside of having a tool that covers all of task management across the organization makes up for it and helps us win people over to using it.

  • JM

    Jamie McCue

    almost 4 years ago #

    What challenges did you face with manufacturing and distribution while growing Sticker Mule?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hey Jamie! The biggest challenge was scaling machines and labor as we grew sales. It took us awhile to get a handle on properly forecasting. Actually it's still something we get wrong but our forecasts are becoming more accurate with time.

  • BL

    Brian Lenney

    almost 4 years ago #

    This is an interesting AMA. My question is this - why stickers? How'd you get into this and how is StickerMule disrupting the industry?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      My cofounder (now 74 yrs old) had just purchased his 1st computer. He managed to get through his entire career without using a computer or the Internet. We were bullshitting in December 2009 and I said it’d be a cool idea to start an Internet printing company.

      His immediate question was “What do people do on the Internet?” and I showed him a few sites. The next day he came to see me and insisted we start an Internet company together. We got incorporated the next day and 4 months later we launched Sticker Mule.

      Our decision to do stickers mostly came down to my cofounder’s determination to move fast. Since we went from idea to launch in 4 months we didn’t have a lot of time to debate. We picked something, went with it and, fortunately, it worked.

      I haven’t thought about us being “disruptive” although I think our obsession with UX is unique in our industry. Both myself and my cofounder previously ran moderate to large manufacturing operations. The key to running a great manufacturing operation is to make your employee’s lives easy. We love the idea of making life easy for people — at Sticker Mule we get to do it both for our customers and our coworkers.

      7 Share
  • TS

    Terence Strong

    almost 4 years ago #

    Anthony:

    Thanks for doing this!

    What advice would you give for a new e-commerce startup selling products without a lot of online purchase intent?

    How does a new ecommerce startup build trust with its audience?

    What are good customer acquisition channels for ecommerce startups selling goods without a lot of purchase intent?

    -Terence

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      I think you build trust by doing everything possible to prove you’re committed to providing great service. To us that means polishing every aspect of your design, service and overall experience to make it fast, easy and fun to purchase. The best acquisition channel for an early startup is referrals. In the beginning your conversion rate is likely weak so it’s hard to get good ROI on other paid channels. The best thing to do early is figure out how to make people really happy and earn their referrals. Once you have that down you can explore more channels.

  • MS

    Mike Smith

    almost 4 years ago #

    @ac132 what inspired you to start StickerMule? Was there a burning passion for stickers? Or a terrible experience with another sticker provider?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      My primary inspiration was that I was frustrated by my inability to provide an ideal experience for the people who reported to me. Previously, I spent my career in manufacturing without much control over revenue. I was curious if my ideas on how to service customers would be well received and, in turn, I thought controlling revenue would allow me to develop a better culture within manufacturing too.

  • JD

    Johnathan Dane

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey there Anthony! :)

    I'm a constant lurker, but I wanted to ask you a quick question based off one of your posts that totally hit it home for me + really respect your brand and branding.

    https://www.stickermule.com/blog/hidden-costs-of-AB-testing

    In your post above, you mentioned about principles of improvement over quick A/B test wins. Do you think people have a hard time following your advice because the "talent" in execution of something like design is subjective, and what you're suggesting usually takes longer to learn and then actually do (vs a/b tests)?

    Anyone can run an a/b test, but not everyone can be as detailed as you explain (although I think many a/b tests and problem solving overlap each other).

    Curious to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks!

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hey Johnathan, you make a great point. I can see how some people find design perplexing. The good news is, even if you’re not a designer, you can learn UX design and it’s a great skill to posses.

      There’s a big difference between visual design (i.e. making something look great) and UX (i.e. making it work well). Visual design is a skill you either you have or you don’t. UX is something anyone can learn by actively thinking about how to solve problems and striving for optimal solutions.

      Personally, I think you get bigger conversion wins solving UX problems than you do a/b testing random ways to boost conversion. A/b testing wins might make you more money, but UX improvements make you a better company (and make you more money). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t a/b test your UX ideas to verify if they’re correct, but obsessing about a/b testing isn’t as important as obsessing about UX in my opinion.

      3 Share
  • PD

    pir8mack DaMac

    almost 4 years ago #

    What kind of printers do you use and how did you fumble with them in the early days?. Would be cool, to see some photos or a video of your op, kinda like stickergiant does.

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      This is an interesting topic. For whatever reason, lots of printing companies like to show off their factories. I’m guessing it’s mostly for egotistical reasons since there is little financial upside. Our view is that customers care about a great UX - not what machines you own.

  • RB

    Ry B

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Anthony,

    Thanks for being here!

    1)How do you use employee stock options and what's your rationale(ex. I believe it was the ceo of thrillist that said that they only give options to excs. Do you do something like that? Or employeesgive all employees options?Or do you just not use options at all) ?

    2) Can you name some resources that you use to learn and keep you skills upto date? Books, podcasts, sites, etc?

    Thanks,
    Ry

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Since we're privately owned we don't use stock options. I think annual bonuses are more suitable for private companies. Some people argue you need equity to get people to take a long term view, but people also naturally take a long term view if they intend to work at your organization for the long term.

      As far as books go, I mostly like reading biographies of interesting people. I've seen an interesting pattern among most successful people that they are obsessed with doing something great and less concerned with making money.

      I don't have any specific book or resource recommendations. My favorite business book is actually a textbook called The Strategy Process that synthesizes the most popular business strategy literature into one really long book. It takes forever to get through but it helped lay the foundation for how I think about work. See: http://www.amazon.com/Strategy-Process-Concepts-Contexts-Cases/dp/027371628X/

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    almost 4 years ago #

    Bonjour Anthony,

    And merci beaucoup for doing this AMA.

    I just submitted my snapcode on your platform to put it on my bumper. ;)

    1) When did you know you had reached product-market fit?
    2) Since you grew without external capital (bravo!), what are the biggest growth advantages of that and the potential drawbacks?
    3) It's great to see that you guys are a remote team pure play. How do you engage face-to-face other than through video collaboration on zoom or other great video products?

    Merci encore!

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Thanks for the order!

      Product-market fit: Fortunately, we knew right away. I remember we got a few orders our very first day which was amazing. Our aesthetic seemed to connect with the design community who were quick to share our site.

      Re: not receiving external capital, there are tremendous benefits to being privately owned. The biggest being that our employees know I’m the final word on any decision. They know if we agree on something that’s the plan and 3rd parties won’t cause us to change course. Stress often results from a lack of clarity of who is in charge.

      Being investor free means we can take a long term view and our team knows that if they help us build something great that Sticker Mule can be their home for the foreseeable future. Since we aren’t looking to flip the company, many people on our team plan to retire from Sticker Mule — which, I think, is quite rare in the startup world. There are huge benefits to having an stable team of people that take a long term view of the business.

      On culture: Since it’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking you have a great culture, we recently started using CultureIQ to measure how satisfied our team is with Sticker Mule. Our most recent eNPS was a 90 which is abnormally high and I think a lot of that is due to the lack of outside influence on our culture and strategy.

      To engage, we chat a lot in Slack, recently started using Zoom and do meetups plus occasional trips. Whenever we travel I’ll invite more people than necessary just to give us all a chance to hang out. That’s worked well but as we grew larger dedicated meetups have become effective too.

  • LR

    Lenny Roudik

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Anthony!

    Thanks for doing this AMA! I think this could AMA be very insightful and helpful to other entrepreneurs and business owners alike.

    I was really excited to see the launch of Magnets on the Sticker Mule platform, What do you see as the biggest challenge in terms of growing them out to be as huge as Stickers have become in the market?

    Also, When you were first starting out and thinking of creating a company, how did you come up with the awesome Sticker Mule name?

    Thank you so much!

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Our new custom magnets launched just 9 days ago (https://www.stickermule.com/products/custom-magnets) and we already had a great response. In some ways, it will be easier for us to grow magnets than stickers because 1) we already have a customer base; 2) many of the manufacturing and staffing challenges that existed on are solved.

      I’m most excited about magnets because we have the same seamless ordering UX and, similar to stickers, we innovated the process for making magnets. Our process is unique to Sticker Mule and allows for superior cut and print quality.

      Re, the name Sticker Mule: Thanks! We get a lot of compliments on the name but I wonder if executing well is what makes a brand name good. Admittedly, we didn’t spend a long time on the name. We move so quickly we kinda just chose it and went with it. I think our design team and commitment to a great customer experience is what ultimately makes people fond of our name. Everyone thinks great companies have great names, but it could just be that great companies make their names great. Not entirely sure haha.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        almost 4 years ago #

        How did you know that magnets was the next thing you wanted to expand into vs anything else? Was it user feedback, market research, something else?

  • DG

    D'Ana Guiloff

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Anthony,

    Just wanted to share my favorite line of your culture code for Sticker Mule.

    "At Sticker Mule, we hire for two things: skill and personality. It’s hard to pass on a skilled person because their personality doesn’t fit, but if you aim for longevity it’s critical that you do. We intend to be around for a long time. I suspect and hope most of our team will retire from Sticker Mule."

    I think the reason it resonates with me is because it shows that as a company you want to grow organically together, with the employees, and let's them know you are in it for the long haul together.

    Maybe you can share how you came about making the decision to base hiring on those factors. Also, what you do during/before/after an interview to see if someone's personality matches? - asking for a "friend" ;)

    Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your knowledge and expertise with us!

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hi D’Ana! Really appreciate your enthusiasm about our approach to culture.

      We had a lot of success with a rather small team. I found it especially interesting that even though we were remote and many of us came from different countries & cultural backgrounds we all got along extraordinarily well.

      The one unifying thing with our early team is we all possessed a set of shared characteristics that I listed in the article you mentioned. We don’t all perfectly fit that blueprint but most of us come fairly close. Consequently, we decided to focus on hiring more people that were similar to our early team members.

      It can be difficult to know if people fit this blueprint during an interview but just knowing you have a target is helpful. During an interview I like to make a person as comfortable as possible so that they can be themselves. I don’t like doing high pressure interviews because you don’t get a reasonabe sense for the person.

      You never know for sure when you hire someone if they represent themselves accurately during an interview so the biggest thing we do to mitigate this problem is be aggressive about removing people that don’t fit as fast as possible. I don’t mess around when it comes time to making hard decisions about personnel. It’s not fair to yourself as an employer to assume you can figure out everything during the interview phase. If you learn more afterwords act on it.

      Finally, I don’t like judging people indefinitely. It stresses out existing team members to see a long term employee leave. Once I hire someone I pressure myself and our managers to decide within 3 - 6 months if the person doesn’t fit. Getting hiring right is the most important thing you do to protect your culture and bottom line so it's important to take it seriously before and after bringing someone onboard.

  • AY

    Anthony Yeung

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Anthony! (Great name, by the way)

    Would love to hear about the unique challenges of growing a manufacturing/ecommerce company. What are some of the issues you face that SaaS companies, for example, don’t experience?

    Mailchimp wrote about your email marketing strategy earlier this year (https://blog.mailchimp.com/how-sticker-mule-combines-e-commerce-and-email/). How has email marketing influenced your growth since starting? What were some of the biggest wins?

    Thanks!
    Anthony

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Saas companies are better positioned to focus relentlessly on growing revenue. Manufacturers have to grow revenue within the constraints of what their operation can handle. As revenue grows, we have to buy more machines and hire more people. Machines and people don’t just show up on command so you need to balance growing revenue and capacity.

      Our biggest win with email was simply starting to do it and in 2015 began emailing consistently. We didn’t do any email for our first 4 years. Once we started we quickly found out that the returns were quite nice. However, we are big believers in the golden rule (i.e. do unto others) and I personally hate having my inbox abused by email marketers so we are careful to only send meaningful emails. Our emails are concise and focus on a particular product or feature we’ve improved for our customers.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Anthony - great to have you on!

    I have a bunch of related qs all to do with your twitter presence.

    I noticed that you'll have 4 twitter handles - the main one and 3 other for Canada, UK and Italy.
    Why did you feel the need for more than 1 account for your twitter presence for the Sticker Mule brand?
    Also, why did you feel that they have to be geography related - and also why those geographies?
    So I'm really interested in learning about what triggered the need for more than one handle and the thinking behind why those specific handles were chosen?

    Also related to all of this - why doesn't Button Frog have its own Twitter handle?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Admittedly, this was an ideal we played with but it didn't really go anywhere. Someone else currently owns the @buttonfrog handle so we are using @button_frog. :(

      Personally, social isn't an area of expertise or interest for me so I'm not a great person to address this topic haha.

  • SS

    SnackFever SnackFever

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Anthony! Just wanted to say we love you guys! We spend $500 a month on StickerMule and just got to say it's been so easy to use and the stickers get delivered faster than expected. Really looking forward to this AMA!

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Wow! Thank you so much! Would love to connect you some time to discuss how you're using your stickers.

  • JS

    Jen Sterling

    almost 4 years ago #

    What tips/experiences can you share about onboarding remote staff?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      We have an template of onboarding tasks that we paste into Asana to make sure everyone is onboarded in a fairly consistent manner. This typically involves a reviewing documents, different tools, and gets them used to using Asana — our main tool.

      Other tips include:
      1. Have a queue of work ready for them immediately. Although it may seem overwhelming, it shows that they are needed and provides a roadmap for the first 30 to 60 days.
      2. Introduce them to everyone via Slack or email. We post an announcement to Slack every time someone new is hired.
      3. Have their manager introduce them to everyone else they will be working with closely.
      4. Give them a point person they can contact if they need help with anything.
      5. Trust them to take over what you give them (aka don’t micro-manage)

      4 Share
  • SH

    Shawn H

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey, Anthony!

    For operations/systems/scaling what books and/or resources do you recommend to a small business with a few sub-contractors looking to scale? Or, the first few steps to take and think about to allowing the business to run without being solely dependent on the owner.

    Recently, I've been diving deep into the topic after re-reading E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

    I appreciate your time! Keep up the awesome work over there :)

    - Shawn

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      That's a great question. I don't recall any outstanding books on this topic. I was lucky in that my cofounder is the best operations person I ever met and I personally had a strong interest in operations. The common answer is hire great people and treat them really well but how you do that is quite nuanced.

      The best advice I can give is 1) make sure your initial hires are outstanding so that they set a standard for all future hires 2) don't be afraid to let people go who don't meet your standards and 3) treat people really well.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Anthony,

    1) If you are going to start your next company, what type of business it will be?

    2) When you look to hire your marketing team leader, what skill set/traits do you look for?

    3) Does your business expand to Asia yet? I think the sticker and button ideas would be fit really well in Asia culture, if there aren't any existing business ...

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hi Hila! I'm more of an operations manager than an entrepreneur so I don't see myself starting another business. I created Sticker Mule because I wanted to see how effectively I could run a company. There's plenty to keep me entertained her and I love our team so I don't want to move onto something new.

      The traits for marketing as the same as elsewhere. I listed them here: https://www.stickermule.com/blog/characteristics-we-look-for-in-team-members
      Beyond that, ideally we want people who aim to be the best at what they do.

      We have some customers in Asia but we don't actively market there. I'd love to do more in Asia. My brother lived in China for 4 years so I spent awhile in Shanghai and thought it was a great place. Japan is our best converting Asian country so we decided to translate into Japanese for fun (https://www.stickermule.com/jp), but haven't put much effort towards Asia yet.

      Asia is quite far so to effectively serve that market we'd need an operation there which is a huge challenge. I'd love to do it but it's probably a bit too ambitious for us.

      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        almost 4 years ago #

        Cool, just an instinct, because the product, design and style of your site feels very natural to me. Asia culture is pretty big in cute little things compared to western. Japanese site look pretty kawaii:)

  • GD

    Gaetan De Pril

    almost 4 years ago #

    I'm starting my new business as a freelance after 15 years of working Corporate.
    What recommendations would you have for resources, guides, people etc to learn from that could help me learn about promoting my business, lead generation and acquiring the right kinds of clients?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      I'm not familiar with the freelancing business. We got started by reaching out to influencers, trying our hardest to impress them and then hoping we earned referrals. From the few freelancers I've talked to that seems to work well for them too.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 4 years ago #

    One more (and apologies if I don't use the right words), but is it fair to say that stickers are "wants" and not "needs"?
    If yes, what is it that you saw in the sticker business, that despite it being a "non-essential" purchase that there might be such a big demand for it?
    Can you also talk about what you do, if anything, to convert a want into a need for potential and existing customers?

    • AT

      Anthony Thomas

      almost 4 years ago #

      This is an interesting topic. A lot of companies use persuasion to improve their conversion rate and this isn't an approach we have taken. If you look at our site, you'll notice there is almost nothing suggesting you "need" stickers. Instead our focus is just making ordering easy and letting the customer decide if they want to buy.

      I think this approach goes along with our belief in the golden rule (i.e. do unto others). I don't like being tricked into buying things I might not need so I don't like trying to trick or persuade our customers.

      There's probably more we can do to educate customers about why they should buy stickers. Many of our customers tell us stickers are an integral part of their marketing. In fact, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit called stickers "the soundest investment I ever made." See: http://www.fastcompany.com/1841389/how-reddit-built-its-empire-500-bucks-stickers-and-giving-people-what-they-want

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