Exclusive interview with Robert Keane, CEO of Vistaprint: the online print giant is now called Cimpress and is kicking off with the world’s largest mass customization platform, brand Vistaprint to last

17. November 2014, 2:29 PM Uhr | Background, Hot or not, News, Opinion, Tech

Cimpress is the new name of Vistaprint. Its competitors in the online print industry are certain to sit up and take notice of this move, because there is usually more to a story involving the renaming of a supertanker than meets the eye. The same applies to Vistaprint/Cimpress. The corporation, familiar to all as an online print provider, intends to boost its position as a key mass customization player. The print division remains intact and the objective is to grow it. Yet Cimpress is essentially no longer an online print service provider. Robert Keane, founder and CEO of Cimpress, explains his business’ new strategic approach in an exclusive interview with Bernd Zipper, CEO of German consulting firm zipcon consulting.

Robert Keane, CEO of Cimpress (formerly Vistaprint N.V.) talking about the company´s shift with Bernd Zipper (left), CEO of zipcon consulting.

Bernd Zipper: After 20 years in the online print business this is exciting news about the online print pioneer Vistaprint. The company now has a new name, it´s called Cimpress. What is the reason for the name change?

Robert Keane: Most importantly the name Cimpress represents our turning toward the next 20 years in the company’s history. This is our third “chapter” as a company. Chapter one was when, in 1994, I founded a direct marketing company for desktop publishing software and supplies, which became Vistaprint in 1998. Chapter two was the 14 years during which Vistaprint grew incredibly quickly, making us the world´s leader in mass customization. But as strong as chapters one and two were, I think in the future they will look like a warm-up for a football game. The real game is starting now. We decided to change our name to Cimpress to focus everyone in our organization around chapter three, which is our future. Changing the corporate name to Cimpress clarifies the distinction between, on one hand, the corporate entity and its technology and operational mass customization platform and, on the other, the company’s growing portfolio of customer-facing brands. We felt that a name change was also important to align what has become a big company: we are around 5.300 team members and generating revenues of around 1.2 billion Euros. We love the Vistaprint brand and continue to invest heavily in it, but its success can lead to tying, too exclusively, our future to the Vistaprint brand, simply because Vistaprint has so much potential in front of it.

But as strong as the Vistaprint brand is, Cimpress can unleash the mass customization technology behind Vistaprint and use that technology for a wider range of applications and brands. Pixartprinting, Drukwerkdeal or Albelli, for example, are all different brands operating under the Cimpress umbrella. Today those distinct brands are also tied to very distinct workflows. As Cimpress, we want to automate every aspect of our graphics workflow, including across our multiple brands. Software is key to this vision. We have spent 178 million dollars on software and technology development in the past fiscal year to keep improving what we believe to be the most automated and efficient graphics workflow system in the world. The Vistaprint business is thoroughly automated all the way from when customers create their design in a browser through production processes, consolidation and shipping. In the same way, on a smaller scale, Albelli is characterized by total photo book design and workflow integration. Pixartprinting and Drukwerkdeal are also each, individually, highly integrated through software. What we don´t yet have is the ability to aggregate across those brands.

Zipper: So far we already know automation in printing industry – what´s the idea behind the Cimpress automation philosophy?

Keane: Our vision is to build software systems, production facilities and supplier networks that make Cimpress the Volkswagen Group of the mass customization industry. VW operates their common platform across brands like Audi, Seat, Volkswagen, Bugatti and Skoda. All of these brands benefit from using common components and a common supply chain. Cimpress takes a similar approach. But because every order Cimpress makes is unique to every customer we serve, and every order comes via the Internet, to get to our vision we need to invest even more in world-class software. So we will invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build a common mass customization platform over the next five years. Changing our name to Cimpress is meant to align everyone around that vision.

Zipper: This means Vistaprint will continue to exist, but as a brand, not a company. And Cimpress will act as a kind of holding company?

Keane: Yes, Vistaprint will continue as a strong and growing brand. On the other hand, Cimpress has two aspects to it. In a corporate sense, Cimpress is a Dutch corporation (N.V.) with subsidiaries in 16 countries. At our shareholder meeting last week we changed our name to Cimpress N.V. But Cimpress is also the organization that delivers, or leverages, the underlying mass customization platform.

Zipper: It sounds pretty unique to me to translate this concept into a graphic communications industry. Have you identified any similar competitors like Shutterfly for example?

Keane: Not yet. You need to have huge volumes if you want to be the cost leader in this industry, and even bigger volumes to build the software we do. We really respect the leading German web-to-print players, but our heritage is a little bit different from their heritage. The best German web-to-print players certainly compete very strongly for small orders, but we have traditionally focused on even smaller “micro” orders. For instance, we had 82 million single job setups last year. We delivered those jobs in 30 million orders for 16.7 million customers – that’s only 1.8 orders per average customer.

Inside each box shipped to the customer , we average about three different items. For instance, that customer might receive 100 business cards, two embroidered shirts and 50 flyers. The typical box we sell for 45 dollars including shipping. To handle these 82 million job setups cost effectively we had to automate every single aspect of our business through software and proprietary manufacturing automation. On the other hand, our newly acquired divisions of Pixartprinting and People & Print Group have excellent online interfaces but they do not need to automate everything to the extent that Vistaprint does. Automation is nice to have in theory, but too expensive for even those businesses. But when we combine them with Vistaprint’s scale, and Vistaprint’s already amortized investment in software, the marginal cost of integrating our newer brands into our software systems will be reduced significantly. So we are in a unique position, coming from 82 million job setups under Vistaprint, to processing on top of that “just” a few million more orders that are a little bit bigger.

I´m sure this industry will have several winners and I hope we are one of those. And Cimpress’ software-based mass customization platform will spearhead our efforts to gain competitive advantage.

Zipper: I see a gap where you have micro-scale production and production where the objective, like in your recently launched Australian reseller program, is bigger print runs. How do you want to manage these differing demands?

Keane: For us a bigger order might be, let´s say, a print length of 1,000 or 2,000. Our focus is mass customization, and mass customization is all about having huge scale in small quantities. That is where we want to be the leader.

Zipper: That means IT and software technologies will become more and more important?

Keane: Absolutely, but this is not new for Cimpress. IT and software has been always important. In 2001, we were growing 100% every month and 25 out of our 35 team members had software engineering degrees. Software has always been at the core of what we do. We have over 400 engineers today. We have spent 800 million dollars on software development in the last decade. We will spend even more in the next decade and a huge part of that will go into back-end technologies to drive our mass customization platform (or MCP). Other components – the front-end, the e-commerce system and visualization will play their part, too. But the main corporate focus for Cimpress is the MCP.

Zipper: You are opening up production to more and more products that go beyond printing on paper, but I haven’t gotten any indication that Cimpress is going into 3D printing. Is that not important to you?

Keane: 3D printing has the potential to be a great mass customization application. We are certainly aware of this. Someday this might happen. However, we are looking for very large markets, where the setup cost for each order is very expensive and where the software and our production operations can reduce these costs to almost zero. When we can achieve that, we can enter markets where the old production methods are simply not cost-effective relative to us. If you look at 3D printing, the technology already greatly reduces setup costs, so we don’t see how we would be different from others competing in the market.

Zipper: Cimpress wants to grow. What revenues do you expect to generate in 2016?

Keane: Our internal aspirations are not specified in revenue numbers, but rather in earning the loyalty of our customers. In that regard we aspire to have 30 million loyal customers with a Net Promoter Score between 9 and 10. We have refocused on the customer experience and today we are halfway to our target of 30 million loyal customers.

Financially speaking, the guidance we’ve given investors is that we expect revenue of approximately $1,430 million to $1,500 million, or 13 percent to 18 percent growth year over year in reported terms and 15 percent to 20 percent growth on a constant-currency basis. We have not made any forecasts beyond that, but I believe this industry will be much further consolidated in ten years’ time. Because as we and other large players grow, costs per product will come down, the product line-up will be broader and quality will be enhanced even further.

Zipper: Where did your interest in this business come from, and is it evolving away from printed products in the future?

Keane: After graduating from university I lived in Boston in the 1980’s, where I had a lot of friends at software companies like Lotus, but even more relevant, at companies like Interleaf and Atex. Those companies were leading the world in pre-press automation and what would eventually become desktop publishing. Later in Paris, I started a business reselling Microsoft Publisher and that combined DTP software and small business printing. At that time, I saw a radical difference between industries that software had started to transform and how the low-volume print business was operating, because commercial printing was more a craft than an automated workflow or technology application. Yet there was such an obvious customer need that was unfilled: small orders. That was how I got into this business, to combine printing and software to help small customers achieve the same quality that big customers could get from traditional suppliers. Today I am still passionate about that opportunity. The difference is that today we are much more explicit about putting customer value first. Amazon is a great example of this. They use the term “Customer Obsession”. We are moving in that direction.

Zipper: You also have portals and offers for B2B customers. In what direction will these be heading in the future?

Keane: The Vistaprint brand serves DIY (do-it-yourself) customers. Those customers are challenging for the conventional print service provider: they are small and they enjoy using self-service graphic design. But through our Vistaprint reseller program, and via People & Print Group and Pixartprinting, we can offer our scale advantages to our B2B customers. We have Vistaprint brand marketing costs equivalent to 35% of revenues, and a lot of our technology cost is to help non-professionals design things on-line. In our B2B (reseller) business we don´t need to spend that amount on marketing or browser-based DTP. So we can eliminate these costs from our reseller prices when we are serving professional designers and other graphics professionals, and give them a much more competitive pricing level. Pixartprinting and People & Print Group will serve this segment very well, and we will continue to grow there because we believe that, even in 15 years, local graphic professionals who can sit face-to-face with customers, will still be in the majority of this market.

Zipper: But to meet that objective on a global scale you need to buy more companies like Pixartprinting in the future…

Keane: …and/or to develop our own. Of course we expect to acquire in the future to support our strategy, but importantly our strategy is not to grow by acquisition. It is an important distinction. Our strategy is to have multiple brands that leverage a common mass customization platform, because only by operating at huge scale can we be so competitive. We may go down the M&A route if that is a better way of achieving this strategy than organic growth alone. But even then we will remain very choosy about which companies we buy. With Pixartprinting and People & Print Group we had the right chemistry. They are as passionate about serving the customer through scale and technology as we are.

Zipper: Not long ago you bought the digital product company, Webs, for a huge amount of money. How does this digital business fit into your MCP strategy now?

Keane: We bought Webs about three years ago, and we use their digital products only within the Vistaprint brand. Cimpress will not apply their software solution to other brands. The Webs acquisition was part of the Vistaprint brand expansion to be “simply the best place to market your small business”, which includes when small businesses want simple website creation as well as physical products.

Zipper: Another growth strategy is globalization. You did recently an investment in Brazil. How about China and other not yet addressed countries?

Keane: We are a very international company in the way we do things, across Europe, North America and Australia. Today we have a presence in 16 countries and serve more than 120 countries currently. Recently we have begun to expand beyond that, like when we invested in Printi in South America. We are also very excited about our joint venture in Japan. Japan is another example where the front end customer experience is very unique. In Japan, service is incredibly important for customers, so we partnered with a company that has about 500 retail stores. Japan represents the same strategy of focused front ends that leverage common platform workflow software for production operations. The same holds true in India. The customers there appreciate buying products made to international quality standards and Vistaprint is regarded as a high-quality product company. China is a challenging market and very price conscious. Our costs for commodity printing can only go so far down relative to the huge number of competitors already in that market.

Zipper: I learned today: Strategy, IT and having the brainware are the key factors for your growth plan. Machinery is in second place.

Keane: You are absolutely right. That´s a good summary.

Bernd Zipper (left), Robert Keane (right)

Zipper: My last question to you: if I am a young print professional in Germany, my father hands over his printing company to me and I look into the future – do I have to be afraid of Cimpress?

Keane: No. Cimpress is actually seeking to partner with the local graphic professionals through brands like Drukwerkdeal and Pixartprinting, which and can help other printers succeed by performing the commoditized portion of the industry where scale and large investments in technology and capital equipment are needed to compete on price. The reality is this industry is shifting away from how it operated in recent years. People who focus on the one thing they do best will do better than the ones that try to do everything. You have to build a business model based on what the future holds, and the printing industry is not shielded from this reality. So find an area where you can be, in the eye of your customers, incredible. Unless your father left you a very big and very automated printing company, in today´s world it is very expensive to build and run competitive print production operations on the commodity end of the business, where Cimpress and many others already focus.

I think that smaller printers have a great future in front of them because they are becoming specialists, providing great customer service and being close to customers with production operations that do something unique, not because they are good at competing on commodity production prices like Cimpress does. They can simply outsource the commodity printing to the larger players. The reason we bought Pixartprinting and Drukwerkdeal is because both serve other printers, graphics resellers and professionals so very well.

You need to change to survive. Apple would not be in the position it is now if it did everything itself, even though it operated its own big production factories in the past. Partners now perform the production, while Apple concentrates on what it does best. Everyone in our industry needs to do the same if they want to thrive.

It is impossible to apply a 20-year-old business model of the printing industry with the expectation that it will be relevant today, much less 20 years in the future. Today´s world is not the same. I think people have to embrace that and not be afraid of that, otherwise they shouldn’t bother.

Commentary Bernd Zipper: New horizons for the world´s leading online printing company

Cimpress – why Cimpress exactly – it’s not a name that gets the pulse racing. Thoroughly briefed and well-prepared, I travelled to speak with Robert Keane. Prior to the official announcement by the print giant Vistaprint, I was invited to an exclusive conversation and interview with Robert Keane, the founder and CEO of Vistaprint. I expected to meet a cool, slickly friendly American, a thinker and CEO.

I found him too – but also a person, who does not perceive the print industry from a print provider’s perspective but from a strategist’s point of view. And I encountered somebody who is a living embodiment of that “passion for print”.

A longer get-to-know-you session was planned alongside the interview for beyond-print.de – mission accomplished. The guy has a story to tell, a plan, an idea and a vision. This vision is not: we’re going to take over the print industry (as he and his corporation are constantly rumored to be planning), but rather we intend to set new standards of meeting demand. Mass customization, beyond 70 x 100 sheets, covering many different aspects of life, highly automated to premium quality standards – that is the objective. During the course of my conversation with Keane I get an understanding of what the name Cimpress, the new name for the all-activities holding company and for the umbrella brand, stands for, i.e. computer-integrated manufacturing, which sounds like smart thinking. Previous brands will be retained, even Vistaprint, another smart move. And so I quickly realize that the plan makes sense. How does a giant like Vistaprint, pardon me… Cimpress keep growing? Quite clearly by offering an all-encompassing product portfolio. Ranging from cups to rucksacks, from T-shirts to printed armchairs, from pop-ups to brochures – in future the world of Cimpress can supply me with my personalized product – anywhere in the world, at any time and in any batch size. This somehow reminds me of the good old Adobe philosophy – anywhere, anytime, anything (or something like that), which was trumpeted ten years ago by Bruce Chizen.

This is a Big Bang for the whole printing industry. – Bernd Zipper

But this is a smart choice of plan – the entire business can grow on the strength of the new name, under its own steam, by generating synergies, which of course not only interlink the production capacities of specific facilities by utilizing a smart IT-supported production system but also take advantage of global time zones. Great! The new IT-system is not yet ready and is actually only a logical consequence of the corporation’s size, because only smart dovetailing of processes worldwide enables businesses to really grow in new dimensions, as we have learned from the automotive industry and from Ikea. But what is important is that somebody has the confidence to develop such a system – and who can do that if not Vistaprint, pardon me, Cimpress. Who else might have the resources to think in these dimensions. My team is also working as a system architect on such a data Spyder for another provider – and I know what challenges Cimpress will now face. But this move is a bold one and makes sense. And you could possibly formulate Cimpress’ new formula for success as follows: strengthen local brands, use global synergies, move away from paper and personalize our world = success. Sounds good – and if Keane yet manages to raise a little more capital to enable him to action this plan, then this will be a genuine Big Bang. The odds are more than just good, since all the other providers in the print sector are tangled up in single products and technical debates. This does not interest Keane. He regards machinery problems as solvable by spending money and conducting his own R&D. He has long since freed his business from the inflexibility of some machinery manufacturers – and that is part of his success story.

Am I lionizing Vistaprint – pardon me – Cimpress here? Yes, because Robert Keane and his team are attempting to establish a rapport not just with me during our conversation, but also with potential partners in the industry (which amongst other things was recently highlighted by his joining the Initiative Online Print). He knows that he can’t manufacture and deliver everything himself, like some others, and he knows that he can only continue to grow by partnering with local providers. This was a remarkable conversation, during which (off the record) many a critical question did not remain unanswered. And so after the conversation and subsequent interview, which both lasted more than two hours in total, Robert Keane and Bernd Zipper went their separate ways – we both emerged a little the wiser. And we are now looking forward to our next meeting in March.

From Vistaprint to Cimpress – I see that as a Big Bang for the whole industry.

About the author


  1. Reply

    Maggie Argentine

    11. December 2014

    My/our sincere Thanks for this timely article, and great interview with Robert Keane! Lenny & I ARE one of those micro-businesses Robert spoke of, and I am thrilled to discover that his vision is exactly what this macro-picky, do-it-your-selfer DTP, micro business person - needs right now to help this semi-retired physician and nurse educator-researcher couple get our business moving!

    I spent over an hour on the phone this afternoon with Gregory from Vistaprint. Having taken extra advantage of Vistaprint's CyberSales, and additional CyberSales over the past 3 days, I’m trying to position ourselves for what looks to be a superb opportunity to Get America Healthy with an upcoming 6-week online health challenge.

    I had not heard back on a big order (close to double of the average Vistaprint $45. order) and learned from Gregory that 2 Vistaprint customer care folks weren't able to reach me to review the design work their colleagues had attempted - but couldn't complete, due to the poor quality of my originals [ ...well, I am doctorally credentialed as a nurse educator & researcher, though!] So, to cut to the chase, Gregory more than saved the day - and I was searching for how to find this Vistaprint Customer Care center in Montego Bay, to let the executives know exactly how customer focused their team is, and give them some thanks! Still haven't found them - but connecting with Robert Keane, via your excellent article should help me, right? And, maybe we can help the Montego Bay crew have 6 weeks of fun with the online health challenge, too ?
    Peace, Joy, Health, Prosperity and Blessings for all at Vistaprint - and Cimpress too; and zipcon consulting GmbH! So glad the Vistaprint Brand will continue to shine!!!


    Margaret S. Argentine, PhD, RN
    Argentine Health Partners
    Professionally certified in obesity prevention & education for helping kids & adults achieve optimal health

  2. Reply

    […] – Su apuesta por la tecnología, de tal manera que hoy en día permite personalizar diversos objetos a través de su web. “En 2004 y 2005 nos dimos cuenta de que teníamos una mina de oro de datos útiles para vender otros productos. Sabemos cuándo un negocio está en fase de creación, qué diseño prefieren y tenemos sus datos de contacto, de tal manera que podemos ofrecele todo tipo de productos complementarios a partir del software que hemos construido”, explicaba su fundador en una entrevista reciente. […]

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