Tanisha Robinson, Founder + CEO, Print Syndicate //
How did Print Syndicate get started?
I grew up in a small town in Missouri, in a large Mormon family. I didn’t really fit in. In high school, with the launch of AOL chatrooms, I was able to find other odd kids like me and a place to belong. Twenty years later, the Internet is a place where, regardless of geography, people can find belonging among others just like them.
While I was the director of marketing at a company similar to Café Press, I realized that there was an interesting opportunity at the intersection of on-demand printing and creating a timely response to what people talk about on social media.
Print Syndicate’s purpose is to enable self-expression through exceptional design. And, through self-expression, hopefully to enable self-acceptance.
The company started out with meme-based content, but we realized there are lots of groups that aren’t represented in products – Supreme Court fans, cat ladies, anti-workout people, etc. We’ve been able to grow the business quickly by selling something that helps people express themselves in unique ways. Counter-culture is mainstream.
What inspires you?
I am really inspired by people who have overcome adversity in both short and long term situations. I deeply admire people who can move through those challenges and come away with powerful context, learning, and empathy.
I am very inspired and motivated by people trying to have the greatest impact that they can. It is powerful to see people work to positively change their communities, and I’m amazed by those attempting to give away everything that they have before they die.
In your opinion, what are the top 3 issues facing your city today?
Columbus is, in many ways, a dream city. It’s really young, smart, and open. However, we have significant challenges with economic mobility – if someone is born poor, their likelihood of escaping that poverty is really low. Affordable housing is difficult to access, so the number of people experiencing homelessness is increasing. The school system struggles to give students a good start and opportunity for a better life. Finally, Columbus is facing really abysmal mortality rates.
In response to these challenges, there is a huge – maybe unprecedented – commitment in the private sector to give back. They are pushing the community forward, and trying to solve these massive problems. In Columbus, it’s not left to the city and county to solve these alone. The private sector works arm-in-arm with the public sector to tackle these challenges. At Print Syndicate, we donate product to non-profits and our employees volunteer. And other small business are just as engaged as large companies in moving the city forward.
You wear many hats. What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that you are most excited?
At work, we’ve just launched a new brand – Catcollector.com – the pièce de résistance just might be “I’m Just Trying to Keep it Together for My Cat.” It’s a significant and meaningful tribe, of which many of my team members are a part, and we are really excited about launching this brand. We are also developing new products – including beach towels and socks.
Columbus Pride occurred after the shooting at Pulse Night Club in Orlando. What happened in Orlando was devastating, and it can be hard to figure out ways to be a positive force in the wake of tragedy. Our response was to design an, “I stand with Orlando” shirt that was given out at Pride.
What brought you to Columbus?
I moved here in 2003 when I left the Army because Ohio State is here, and I could afford the rent. In 2005, I received a Huntington fellowship and moved to Demascus for two years to teach English. When I returned, I stopped briefly in New York before coming back to Columbus.
Though I had options to move elsewhere, I chose Columbus because of its unique ability to access people. I am able to meet with the Mayor and City Council, as well as business leaders who are willing to spend time and be mentors. Additionally, our entrepreneurial community is a really supportive environment. Most entrepreneurs believe that we need big wins in order to continue to build the ecosystem and want to help each other.
What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
It’s possible to make money doing literally anything. Explore your options and chase opportunities, but pursue something that you are passionate about. Find purpose in your work. (And recognize that important work can still be grinding.)
What do you hope for the future of my business?
I hope that it matters to our community that we exist here, and that we are able to scale our impact. Last year our employees volunteered over 2,000 hours in Columbus. We donate whenever we can. We would love to keep making a dent in the needs of the community.
Also, because of CEOs for Cities 2013 Grand Rapids National Meeting, I got Tony Hseih (from Zappos)’s email address, and emailed him about my business. This lead to VTF Capital (his venture fund) becoming a major investor and partner in my company.