Every once in a while, a startup makes me turn my head. Stagr may be one of them. It’s a custom t-shirt company (narrow definition, as I’ve explain below) founded by Nick Swinmurn, who made his name in 1999 as the founder of Zappos, the top online shoe retailer with a steadfast devotion to customer service.
Mashable has a review, which is positive but undecided on the success prospects of Stagr. Mention is made that when a concept gets coverage, there seems to be ten startups that come nipping on its heels.
My initial reaction was to agree, making me wonder why Nick Swinmurn would think so boldly that he could take on an established and crowded market. Perhaps the success of Zappos made him think that he could muscle his way into this market with a superior offering. This may be part of the reason, but I would be willing to guess there are better reasons.
Number one, the apparel customization space is not won. Alone, this is sometimes smart but a difficult path to go. It would boil down to how much the newest offering can jump the curve. There are more important factors to why Stagr may succeed big.
Number two, the decision to included brands, bands, teams and personalities is really the key differentiation. Whereas online video and music are getting mashup competitors left and right, why wouldn’t someone target apparel customization? But in a mainstream world, pop culture still rules. Self-expression is great, but in a mainstream market, brands still matter. In a world of mashups, why does everyone has to wear the same thing?
Number three, everyone thinks that apparel customization is just t-shirts. I think this is just a narrow assessment. In thinking big, you would naturally think that most every piece of apparel that carries any unique statements could be subject to mashup. I would assume that eventually this is where Mr. Swinmurn wants to see his company go. I should note that this is not a shot at all custom t-shirt companies – CafePress and Threadless are two in particular that I highly, highly admire, but some companies may not entirely have their strategy set to grow as big as they could (sometimes by choice).
Number four, for reasons stated above, this has a broad appeal. One of the reasons that this has a chance for mass success is that it’s precisely what most Web 2.0 aren’t – something can actually spread beyond the techie crowd. The majority of start ups you see passing through TechCrunch and such are these types of applications. Even something very powerful like Digg may find itself destined to be similarly constrained – a mainstream audience needs to have some other motivation than techie coolness or reputation.
I remember Mr. Swinmurn from e-commerce conferences and, although more soft-spoken, he seemed to have a firm grasp of what mattered – away from all the hype. The assessment of Zappos – a product well-suited to e-commerce and a simple steadfast dedicated to customers first – was honestly all that company needed at its core to succeed. So if I’m assessing what he is thinking properly, I think Stagr has a good chance to be a big winner.