The successful online print business does not need to run a fleet of presses, whether digital or litho. All that is necessary is the ability to take in orders, to channel them to a company with the appropriate equipment and manage the quality and costs involved. To a large extent this is what print management does, using its staff and contacts to obtain the best value for the customer. Now software can do this.
Currently this is for the more straightforward style of work, but with developments in artificial intelligence in computing, software can be displacing and replacing the voice at the end of the phone.
Ahead in this approach to online printing is Dutch based Helloprint. It is convinced that this approach is viable and has received backing demonstrating that others think along the same lines.
It has received a “multi-million euro” injection of funding from existing investors Bregal Unternehmerkapital and Project A. This comes a year after the two funders made their first investment in the online print company.
The money will be used to strengthen the platform which directs incoming jobs to a network of partner printers using a complex algorithm to direct the work to the most suitable production outlet. For UK buyers this has often meant a printer on the Continent, limiting the ability to meet any demand for high speed turnaround or same day delivery.
Now CEO Hans Scheffer says that he aims to increase the number of UK partners in the coming year thanks to the additional investment. “Our aim is to increase the number by at least 50%,” he says. “It’s not a fixed number, we can add more than that. It’s a matter of contacting them and connecting them to the platform.”
The business is growing rapidly. “We expect to cross the 50-million-euro revenue line in 2018, a growth rate of approximately 50% compared to last year, the fourth full year since our inception.
“Our business model has proven itself over the last years, and we see interesting things happening in the fast growing online print market.”
That includes a diversification away from simple cut and fold products, flyers, business cards and the like into more complex and non paper print. “It’s still a large part of what we do. Now we have invested a lot into larger format and we also see opportunities in labels and packaging.
“We want to have the most complete marketplace where customers can buy all their printed products.” These customers are in the main small businesses, though can also include graphic arts professionals, printers and designers included “from two men with their Macs to larger design agencies” says Scheffer.
The company offers more than 3,000 product types reaching 200,000 customers last year.
And the UK is a particular target because compared to Germany and the Netherlands where online print is most integrated, it remains under developed.
And thanks to a historic connection to Printing.com, now Grafenia, there is an understanding of the UK above France, Spain and Italy which are also growing markets.
“In Germany the amount of print purchased online is still below 20%, but the percentage in the UK is not more than 5-10% we think,” he says.
Some of the investment is being earmarked to support UK expansion and to take advantage of this potential, regardless of what happens in the next year or two in quitting the European Union. “We want to build up the network of suppliers in the UK and reduce the amount of print we ware shipping from the European mainland into the UK.
“Our intention with this investment for the next year is to increase the number of printers we are working with in the UK by at lest 50%.”
This will still only be scratching the surface of the amount of print that can go online. There will be a change over the next few years, Scheffer believes. Helloprint will be in position for that, and there is little competition to its approach.
The companies working for Helloprint will need to be sustainable businesses, he explains, printing to standards and able to reinvest. The link to the Helloprint platform can come through delivery of an XML file to load into a production workflow, or through an API that automates delivery of the file into the workflow or Rip.
Helloprint is not the only online print investment for the VC businesses. Bregal Unternehmerkapital and Project A also have stakes in Onlineprinters.de, a company which focuses on producing everything that it sells.