It has been a year of major milestones for Australia’s biggest consumer tech company Redbubble which is celebrating its 10th birthday, a successful IPO and stellar sales growth.
Redbubble launched in Melbourne in 2006. Today, it is the world’s largest online marketplace for print-on-demand products based on the artworks of independent artists and designers.
Founder and CEO Martin Hosking refers to the company’s early years as “the valley of death”, when it struggled to gain traction with customers. But those times are well behind Redbubble now – it listed on the ASX in May last year, and recorded gross sales of almost A$100 million for the first half of the 2016-17 financial year.
Hosking is justifiably proud of what Redbubble has achieved in a decade.
“We are the largest global consumer company to have come out of Australia,’’ he says. “We get more than 15 million visits a month, and 93 per cent of our sales are outside of Australia.’’
Redbubble employs just over 200 people – 110 in Melbourne, around 70 in San Francisco and the rest in Europe. Its website features the artworks of over 450,000 artists and designers, with over 11 million images available on a range of 62 different product lines, from T-shirts to phone wallets, wall clocks and duvet covers.
Amazingly, considering the business model, Redbubble has no printing facilities.
“We work with independent fulfillers; we don’t personally do any printing,’’ says Hosking. “We have 16 of them around the world in 22 locations, as close to our customers as possible. It’s incredibly logistically challenging.
“And it’s worth noting that in addition to the direct employees of Redbubble, our fulfillers employ another 600 people globally in hi-tech manufacturing because of the existence of the Redbubble marketplace.
“For example there’s a fulfiller in Horsham—around 3.5 hours west of Melbourne—who has been working with Redbubble for 10 years, employing about 10 people in regional Victoria, and others in Brisbane and in Sydney.’’
World of change
Keeping up with and taking advantage of technological change has been key to Redbubble’s continued success. For example, the rapid growth of digital business has transformed the way the company operates – over 50 per cent of sales are now via mobile devices.
Hosking says the company constantly continues to innovate.
“We are now doing more fashion-related products. By laser cutting, then printing and sewing a single dress or a single top, we create garments for the customer at the point at which they order them,’’ he says. “We pioneered the technology, and it’s been very successful for us.’’
Despite Redbubble’s global reach, Hosking says Melbourne – repeatedly rated the world’s most liveable city – makes an ideal base for its operations.
“The biggest asset that Melbourne has going for it is its lifestyle,’’ he says. “It’s very cosmopolitan and that appeals to many high-quality, super-calibre people with engineering skills.
“The thing that interests them is that it’s not Europe and it’s not the US; that makes it attractive to a certain sort of person. So we don’t struggle to attract the calibre of people we want.
“The other thing that appeals to us here is the legislative environment. Just as companies like ours need to innovate, governments have to be innovative in their legislation and Australia is steadily improving in that regard.’’