A couple of shots of the new touchscreen kiosk that has recently gone live in the Leeds Art Gallery shop.
A couple of shots of the new touchscreen kiosk that has recently gone live in the Leeds Art Gallery shop.
The following emails, reproduced with permission, are taken from an exchange I’ve recently been having with a World War II veteran.
Iain was looking to acquire several meaningful prints:
I would like to purchase 3 fine oil prints from your World War II collection, if they are available.
They are as follows:
For your information, I served as a gunner in HMS Arethusa at Normandy and was on board when we took the King over to Juno Beach to meet General Montgomery on 16th June 1944. Exciting times. We spliced the mainbrace!
I also served in HMS Kent in 1943 and took a convoy from Scapa Flow to Murmansk in November 1943.
I am now in my 90th year and would dearly love to own these prints.
If you can email me an invoice showing cost and postage, I would be pleased to forward you my cheque by return, drawn on the Royal Bank of Scotland, Gordon Street, Glasgow.
What a great email! I was fascinated to learn more and started asking a load of questions. Iain wrote back with the following:
I was a Rangetaker gunner, on a twin 4” gun. If you look carefully at the picture you can just see me! Well, maybe not, but you can see the Spitfires protecting us.
I have unforgettable memories of my service in the Arethusa. We were very lucky at Sword Beach in Normandy.
We were anchored one night just off the Mulberry Harbour at Juno or Gold Beach when a very brave Luftwaffe pilot flew over seeding the anchorage with mines.
One fell just ahead of the Arethusa and another plopped just over our stern, blowing off our rudder and screws; a tug pulled us off the beach and all the way up to a dry dock in Glasgow. I was home again.
I was born 7/6/24: so I turned 20 on the day after D-Day and felt quite a man. Who had so many rockets and shells going off on their birthday? It was all quite an experience. I could not believe the rockets were going up for ME; and how did they know it was my birthday! I stayed with the Arethusa and went out to the Med for 18 months until I was demobbed.
Early on the morning of the 16th June 1944 when lying alongside at Portsmouth, through the early morning mist a bunch of men could be seen hurrying along the wharf. It was about 4.30 am.
It turned out to be the King, his ADC Lord Lascelles, Air Marshall Sir Charles Portal, Admiral Ramsay. Admiral Cunningham, the first Sea Lord(?) Brigadier General Laycock and a few other hangers on.
When we got over to Gold Beach, a DUKW came out and took the party ashore to meet Bernard Montgomery, General Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley who were on the beach. We should never have been allowed to get ashore.
General Rommel had been injured in a car accident and General Von Runstedt was of two minds how to repel the invaders.
The King spliced the mainbrace. Whacko!
Iain’s prints are now on the way to him in Australia.
We have just confirmed our Christmas delivery cut-off dates.
For UK Orders:
We are guaranteeing delivery on all products - on all sizes, all print formats - placed on or before 17th of December, 2013.
Although 17th December is the last date for guaranteed Christmas delivery, it is very likely that orders placed between 17th and 20th will still be delivered in time for Christmas.
For International Orders:
Today, we are introducing some extensive improvements to our service and our product models.
We’re making seven major changes:
Migrating all clients from a revenue share model to a simple, fixed wholesale price;
Freezing our ‘picking, packaging and shipping’ costs on all unframed prints at £5.00 and absorbing the latest 50p increase to our Royal Mail contract pricing (a shipping price which remains 35% lower than our competitors);
Introducing a new lower cost fine art substrate for clients who need to protect existing margins;
Ending all split charging for refunds, replacements, re-deliveries or returns. We will now fund 100% of these costs directly, regardless of circumstances;
Upgrading all 19mm canvases stretcher bars to 38mm (400gsm, 100% cotton canvas) and keeping the pricing identical for all bar the very largest size (a hugely improved product for those that wish to switch);
Increasing the range and variety of our Point of Sale products (whilst freezing prices for the third consecutive year); and
Reducing our standard delivery times across all product options by up to 50% or by 5 days per product.
We believe these changes will massively improve our overall service for both our clients and the end consumer.
Some of our prices are clearly going to be increasing but we’ve worked extremely hard to help counter this by freezing delivery charge increases, greatly improving operational performance, eradicating all post-sale charges in respect of refunds and redeliveries, improving the range of product options offered and introducing a new range of fine art prints to help you maintain - and in the majority of cases improve - your existing margins.
Q: Why are your prices changing?
The simple reason is that some of our prices need to go up due increased to costs (in some cases significant), market pressures and our determination to keep investing in new products and features that we believe will drive future growth in your sales.
New employees have been hired, a new platform has been built, dozens of new features have been launched and thousands of updates to our servers have been deployed. All of this investment needs funding from the small % margin we add onto the prices we’ve negotiated with of our manufacturing partners.
Historically, we have supported an extremely complicated revenue share model resulting in a wide variety of very similar but subtly different pricing models. Supporting all of these different models has now become completely unsustainable as our client base has grown. We need to simplify this area of our business and these new product models will help us achieve this.
We also support a very broad mix of differing client requirements, each of whom needs a product and pricing model designed for their specific needs. For example, some clients are primarily motivated by providing the highest quality products available; some are primarily interested in opening-up access to their archives at the most affordable prices; some wish to make the largest potential profit from sales. Our new pricing model better positions us to support these disparate requirements.
The upshot is that we feel this is the simplest and most fair approach to ensure our clients are able to maximise profits whilst we in turn continue to grow our business.
Q: What are your new prices?
We have sent all clients our new pricing models directly.
For prospective clients who wish to find out further information, please contact us directly.
Q: What do you actually do for your share of the margin?!
We’ve recently written a fairly detailed blog post on the full scope of services we provide for clients. We strongly recommend reading it; our print on demand service goes far providing clients with an ‘order interface’ or ‘fulfilment gateway’.
We’ve designed our business to supply clients with both a vitamin and an aspirin.
Most businesses provide products or services that help you do something better (a vitamin), take your pain away (an aspirin), or help you prevent serious pain at a later date (a vaccine).
We help you sell far more print on demand products that you could independently (a vitamin) whilst our service takes away all the pain, time and costs associated with running the service independently (an aspirin).
Q: When does this happen?
The new product and pricing model will go-live 1st October, 2013
We have been absorbing the Royal Mail delivery increase for several months already and we will continue to do so after 1st of October.
Q: What do I need to do?
Most clients will not need to do anything. Your print options and selling prices will automatically change in line with our recommended new model.
For those clients wishing to upgrade or downgrade their product substrates, or who wish to tweak their retail and delivery charges, then please get in touch to discuss your requirements.
Q: Who can I talk to about this to learn more?
As always, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.
The sole purpose of our business is to help you make money from your digital images. We know that if we focus exclusively on this goal then everything else will take care of itself.
Thank you so much for using our software and services and we look forward to many more years of serving you and your customers.
Founder, Magnolia Box
AKA “Why should I use your service when I can buy that print cheaper from my local printer?”
We make our money by adding a small % margin onto the prices we’ve negotiated with of our preferred manufacturing partners.
Most businesses make their profits by supplying products or services that help you do something better (a vitamin), take away your pain (an aspirin), or prevent serious pain at a later date (a vaccine).
We provide both a vitamin and an aspirin.
Our software is specially designed to help you sell more prints than you would be able to independently (a vitamin) whilst our service takes away all the pain, time and costs associated with running the service in-house (an aspirin).
Specifically, the full scope of our services is as follows:
We provide all our print on demand software for free.
We don’t discriminate whether you are a National museum or a small regional gallery, everyone gets the same solution, for the same low price: £free.
Our e-commerce software has been designed from the ground up to help you sell your images as custom fine art prints.
This is a crucial distinction when compared to traditional off-the-shelf e-commerce packages.
It is very difficult (read: extremely expensive and time consuming) to customise generic e-commerce software and elegantly transform it into supporting user-specified, custom print products.
Many clients have come unstuck here in the past before discovering our service.
In short, e-commerce systems designed to “box shift” single fixed items are unable to cope with the variety of size, substrate or product finishes your print customers demand. These systems aren’t designed to support an infinite range of product and delivery prices. They aren’t designed to integrate with a variety of different manufacturing partners. They aren’t fit for purpose and it is easy to squander a huge amount of time and money - destroying any potential ROI on future sales - attempting to shoehorn the required functionality into a solution which we will provide you for free of charge.
All software requires ongoing development and maintenance otherwise it eventually corrodes and performance declines.
We continue to invest the majority of our time and money improving our software, creating new features, new applications and ensuring that you’re always using the latest available version.
One we get hold of your hi-resolution digital images and the corresponding metadata we can then run your entire print on demand programme independently, without further managerial input required from your side.
We provide completely transparent reporting so that you can always see your entire order history, collect customer data or monitor analytics but if you wished to take a hands-off approach then we are a trusted partner that is experienced running print on demand programmes completely independently.
Whenever we launch a new product update, feature upgrade, or app then you will always automatically be upgraded, free from any charges.
It (should) go without saying that we don’t charge clients for server hosting.
If your main website or corporate branding changes in anyway then we will quickly update your print on demand website for free, ensuring the design for your sites remains coordinated.
Your offer will continue to evolve over the course of our partnership. You will want to introduce new images, set-up new exhibitions and refresh your online marketing to highlight these changes.
We are happy to design all the creative for these marketing campaigns and to implement all changes, for free of charge, as soon as you’ve signed-off the creative.
There’s no need for insourcing or paying for external designers, we take care of everything in house, for free.
We fund all merchant services and payment processing directly, ensuring your margin isn’t eroded by incidental additional costs.
We have been supplying high quality fine art prints for over 7 years. It’s taken a long time but we now have a huge amount of domain expertise about the best print substrates, the best print machines, the best product options, purchasing prices, sizes and selling prices.
We have acquired a huge amount of data (from 100,000+ orders and millions of web visitors) to substantiate our recommendations. We are domain experts and we know from experience that our solutions and service will help you generate more sales than you could expect to achieve independently.
We collate all our clients orders, across all our different websites, helping everyone to benefit from our economies of scale.
This allows our clients to source extremely high quality products at much lower prices than they would be offered directly.
We acknowledge it’s possible to put ink on a piece of paper for a lot less than we charge.
You can buy a 6x4” photo print for as little as 3p online.
We aren’t operating in this space, we’ve no desire to compete here and we don’t think you should either. We don’t want to mass produce cheap prints using large format digital printers. We won’t ever sacrifice the quality of your finished products in order to make a few extra percentage points of margin.
This means we’ve invested a huge amount of time sourcing the world’s best fine art printers; ensuring we only supply your customers with the very highest quality products. It’s for this reason that we’re continually inundated with a huge amount of positive feedback.
Our order volumes enable us to negotiate extremely competitive domestic and International shipping rates.
Many suppliers inflate their true cost of shipping, helping the cost prices of their products appear cheaper in comparison or simply increasing their overall margin.
We don’t inflate our shipping prices, passing it on at cost and even subsidising pricing when it turns out to be higher than our published rates.
Any printer can provide a great print as a one-off, the real test comes in consistently providing exceptional prints to every single customer. Over the years we’ve learned which fine art printers continually delight the end consumer and which frequently fail to impress.
We collate feedback from customers, continually looking to address any issues that might occur and closely monitor each of our suppliers to ensure that every one of your print is produced to the same standards when originally sampled.
We manually crop your image files and pay for all professional repro work to ensure the best reproduction results are achieved with every print.
This work is highly specialist and expensive but is included where required without charge.
We pay for all product samples and all colour match proof samples, without passing on any of these ongoing expenses.
Our customer service team deals with every single customer service call, email and enquiry.
We provide 24/7 email and call centre support to all clients without charge.
Your customers can contact our call centre at anytime of the day and our specialist customer service team or answering service ensures their queries are handled instantly and professionally.
We have one of the most popular art websites in the UK and partnering with us immediately provides direct access to all these potential customers.
We work extremely hard on search engine optimisation to ensure the traffic received by our site continues to grow. We also run pay per click (PPC) campaigns to market your images without passing on any of these costs. Crucially, we don’t differentiate in terms of the profit you earn from an order that originated on your own online store or one of ours; you always earn the same profit regardless of where a transactions took place.
We’re continually testing new products, new print options and new partners to ensure your digital assets are working as hard possible.
We’re completely focused on helping our clients be as successful as possible selling physical reproductions of their digital images. This means not only must our software evolve but also our product options, sizes, substrates and finishes. Actively evolving the product offer is a core part of our service to ensure your images are always working as hard as they can.
We absorb all costs for any refunds, replacements, re-deliveries and returns.
We’re so confident about the quality of our products and the service we’ve designed to fulfil them that we no longer pass on these additional costs to our clients.
If there’s any problem with the delivery of a product then we will absorb 100% of these costs directly ourselves.
“There are two kinds of startups: the ones that achieve some modest traction on top of a pile of code of which they are vaguely ashamed and the ones that go out of business.
My first visit to San Francisco and Silicon Valley came as part of a diverse delegation of 20+ founders (primarily London based) brought together for LDN2SFO; an independent expedition organised with military precision by the inimitable Jack Gavigan.
The goals of the trip were to introduce participants into Silicon Valley culture, to identify some of the key attributes that make this culture so successful and to encourage any positive experiences to be brought back to help improve our own startup ecosystems.
A good summary of our agenda and some takeaways can be found in Julian Carter’s blog, whilst others like Dan Hopwood pt1, pt2 and Rob Johnson have summarised their experiences and observations.
The following are those aspects which made the greatest impression on me.
It’s all about execution & communication
The best entrepreneurs all shared a common set of characteristics: the ability to articulate their companies’ story clearly, concisely and charismatically.
Failing to communicate your business succinctly immediately marks you out as an amateur.
Closely allied to this is the ability to execute.
You need to state what you are going to do and then just get on with doing it, preferably at speed. Jeff Lawson, the founder of Twilio, provides a perfect visual metaphor for this attitude with his ‘owl drawing’:
#Hustle stamp on homemade Twilio ‘door desks’ (see Conspicuous frugality)
The Lean Startup pervades everybody’s thinking and language but, unlike in Europe, there is a real emphasis on actually executing better experiments, rather than, say, simply reducing capex. The emphasis is on speed and hustle; about rapidly, scrappily hacking your way to product market fit by any means possible.
ABP (Always Be Pitching)
Pitching is the most important part of a startup founders life here. You will (or should) be pitching the whole day, every day, and the most important question anyone will ever ask is: “What do you do?”
This repetition provides an amazing opportunity to refine and improve your pitch; far beyond that which we experience in Europe. Fortunately, the solution here is simple and relatively attainable: practice, peer review, repetition.
I’m sure this also partially explains why the successful founders we met were able to articulate their vision with such focused economy. They’d had the opportunity to continually refine and improve their story many, many times.
It’s an industry town
This is our Mecca. Everyone you meet is going to be connected in some way to the tech industry. This geographic density creates a highly charged atmosphere that is distinct from any other ecosystem. It’s overt, it’s tangible and it can probably only truly be appreciated in person.
I suspect the majority of us come from places where most people think we just “build websites”. It’s incredibly energising to suddenly find yourself immersed amongst a community where everyone shares your experiences, motivations and aspirations.
Everyone is either directly connected or just a single degree of separation away from each other.
The prevailing ‘Pay it Forward’ culture - where people genuinely strive to help out, to make connections, provide introductions and be as useful as they possibly can - hugely increases the efficiency of these connections.
Cynics may argue that this virtuous circle is primarily motivated by self-interest - e.g. your personal ’brand’ is your most important ‘currency’ - but regardless of whether or not this is true, it ultimately results in a net positive. You have the opportunity to meet a lot of people who are more than happy to invest their time and experience in helping you succeed.
Opinions are vital
You should be confident about your views on a wide variety of industry issues and aware of the latest new products because you’re inevitably going to be in situations where opinions are expected.
An absence of opinion shows an absence of engagement.
An absence of engagement immediately marks you out as an amateur.
Most people you meet are going to be pretty sharp and when your personal brand “is your most important currency” it’s vital you do yourself justice.
Feedback loops, motivation by association, accelerated learning
The startup culture feels highly aspirational, highly competitive and highly supportive.
People immersed in startup life will continually provide you with feedback on your opinions, ideas and strategies. Expert feedback is the “rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge, and without it no amount of practice is going to get you there”. In London we operate far more within our own silos. There’s also, for historical reasons, a deficiency of domain expertise across the board.
Significant motivation also comes from the informal competition created by constantly being surrounded by your peers. Everyone is pulling each other upwards, indirectly competing to achieve greater things, at greater speed.
Closely related is the fact that a hyperconnected community can also rapidly disseminate new ideas and learning. Being continually surrounded by a hugely capable peer group creates numerous direct / indirect opportunities.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve raised over $20m like CloudFlare, you still need to live as cheaply as possible. For example, who needs a table when you can get by with a couple of old server boxes?
Several factors contribute to this culture of frugality: the area’s original hippy roots (highlighted by Eddie Yu via Chris McCann); the ‘model’ established by a long line of previous founders; latent peer pressure to conform to this archetype; even the natural personality of most founders.
More crucially there’s the awareness that every dollar you save will provide fractionally longer runway, decrease your dependence on external investors, minimise your equity dilution and increase your chances of success.
For all the “Peace and Love” ethos, it’s clear that many attributes can ultimately be distilled down to cold hard cash.
The best investors aren’t really interested in sectors that are currently ‘hot’. Instead there is intense competition to get deal flow from star teams working on sectors that have the potential to begin blowing-up in the next few years. This gives investors the best opportunity to get into companies addressing large emerging markets, at an early enough stage.
This big picture view encourages a preoccupation with the future, with what’s coming next. In Europe, the majority of startups seem far more grounded in the present; with what markets currently look like rather than trying to predict or shape the future of their industries.
Everyone in the Valley gives the impression they are thinking about the bigger picture, about what’s going to become really big in the future. Either that or they are going home (obvs).
Absence of complacency
We met some inspirational founders like Matthew Price (CloudFlare), Elliot Loh (Yammer, 500 Startups), Rich Aber (WePay), Andy McLoughlin (Huddle), Harj Taggar (Y Combinator), Aaref Hilaly (Sequoia Capital), who had either raised millions in venture financing or successfully exited their companies.
All presented themselves with a terrific blend of confidence and humility. Their lack of complacency was also striking. Everyone was striving to achieve the next thing, continually pushing forwards. When your benchmarks for success are so elevated, you probably tend to view your own achievements more modestly.
“Humility" was regularly referenced as a cultural trope and, whilst the Valley may purport to be forgiving of failure, I suspect it would be far less generous with a sense of entitlement.
Failure as a badge of honour
According to Valley-lore, failure is an opportunity for learning and many people highlighted the fact that there’s no stigma associated with failing.
This may well be true but it still sounded far from convincing. For me, Bruce Nussbaum recently wrote much more compellingly about failure: “We learn as much from our successes as from our failure and I suspect we learn much more.”
Startups are hard wherever you are based.
Locating in San Francisco might make things a fraction easier, but even those startups that are apparently “killing it” are still working desperately hard to keep all their plates spinning.
Getting a glimpse below the surface proved that, for all our cultural differences, there’s plenty we have in common. Distribution is hard wherever you are, nobody really cares wherever you are, there’s no instruction book. Figure it out, ship it and iterate.
“When personal photography was first becoming popular, it was mostly used for experimentation and artistic expression, like portraiture. Over time, as costs decreased and fidelity increased, photos gained a second function: they became a system for people to store their memories. And only very recently have we begun to experience the third major function of photography, and I think it’s far more important than the other two: photos for individual communication.
Quite a few people have been asking about image uploads using their iPhones and iPads. The implication being that they are trying and failing to get images into STACKY.
The simple answer is “Yes, this works fine”, providing you are using the latest version of Apple’s operating system (e.g. iOS6 and above).
If you aren’t using the latest version of the operating system then Safari does not support file uploads (techie bit: the lower versions of iOS do not expose your file system).
"Hang on," you’re thinking, "I can already upload photos using apps like Instagram. STACKY must be RUBBISH!”
Well STACKY isn’t a native app. It’s a web app, designed to help you publish your VERY BEST pictures (remember our motto: We only kill good trees for great images). At the present time, your very best pictures are unlikely to have beeen created using an iPhone or iPad.
It’s for similar reasons that we don’t currently support multiple uploads.
Adding each image takes a little bit of your time, requires a moment of individual focus, forcing an initial curation.
Our hope is that this will contribute to a raising of the overall bar for quality.