Logo: University of Southern California

Taggle: Connecting with Customers One T-Shirt at a Time

Launched out of USC Viterbi Startup Garage, Taggle connects print shops and customers to streamline the custom apparel industry
By: Ryan Shaw
April 22, 2014 —

The Taggle story is one of start-up lore.

What started out as a humble print shop in a garage has grown into an extensive network of print shops, thousands of happy customers and over $150,000 in total annual sales. Launched out of the USC Viterbi Startup Garage, a business accelerator for engineering student-led new enterprises, Taggle brings together customers and screen printers, serving as an online marketplace.

Working out of CEO and co-founder Jason Wei’s off-campus apartment at USC, Taggle continues to see tremendous revenue growth thanks to a dedicated team and a sound business model.

The way Taggle works is simple.

Taggle vets hundreds of print shops and lets those vendors compete against one another for customers in an auction environment. Buyers search for the best deals they can find.

After the buyer evaluates the quotes and selects a screen printer, he can pay for the order through Taggle’s secure payment processing system. Taggle makes money by taking 15 percent of the sale.

The idea was to use technology as a way to connect customers with the best print shops in a much more efficient way,” Wei said. “We set out to create a reverse auction marketplace where vendors would compete with quotes on the orders.”

Marketing for Taggle is driven by nationwide email campaigns and social media engagement. Word of mouth is also an important part of Taggle’s marketing strategy. Happy customers help spread the word. According to Wei, the return customer rate is at 35 percent and growing.

“The personal level of care and service Taggle offers is extremely rare—worth far greater than what they charge for excellent product alone,” said Taggle customer Erik Tyler from Boston.

It’s not just the buyers, however, that see the value in the Taggle experience. Print shops that use Taggle have access to a network of thousands of buyers all looking to buy their product.

Lindsey Miller from R&R Enterprises said that “Taggle brings a fresh face to the screen printing world” and that it was “a great opportunity to for printers around the country to print for customers we wouldn’t see on a daily basis.”

While the Taggle story is far from complete—the company has come along way from its humble origins.

Far removed from frothy revenue projections and rave customer reviews, the early days of Taggle were defined by hustle, humility, and a garage.

Taggle founders Jason Wei, a senior at the USC Marshall School of business, and brother Josh Wei saw their parent’s garage as the perfect place to start a T-shirt printing business. After much convincing, their parents let them use a portion of the garage to set-up a T-shirt printer.

“Our parents weren’t too happy about the fumes coming from the garage, but they eventually came around,” said Jason Wei, CEO of Taggle.

The inspiration for the printing business started while Josh, now COO of Taggle, attended Georgetown University. He belonged to several on-campus clubs, and many of these organizations needed custom T-shirts. The search for a printer to make them ate up lots of time, the quality of the shirts was often poor and the price often high, Josh Wei said.

The Wei brothers saw an opportunity to improve the custom apparel experience and lower the cost.

Josh, the eldest brother, would get orders from clubs and organizations around the nation, while Jason would print the shirts in the garage when he would get home from his high school.

During Josh Wei’s time at Georgetown, the brothers sold 50,000 shirts.

The pair realized that they had stumbled upon a potentially huge opportunity, but it would take another garage to get them going again.

The Viterbi Startup Garage, founded by Jason Wei’s former tech entrepreneurship professor Ashish Soni, provided a great opportunity. The incubator program provided the brothers, along with nine other selected startups, with office space, hands-on training and mentoring, $20,000 in capital and access to a network of investors to help grow the company further.

Soni was an early believer in Taggle.

“They have the right team which includes a great mix of business and engineering talent and domain expertise,” Soni said. “They have all the right ingredients to build an amazing venture.”

Taggle emerged from the Startup Garage as a more established company ready to conquer the custom apparel world.

The Taggle team thought the Viterbi Startup Garage was a great experience.

“The mentors, office space, industry connections, and allowed us to build out from the Beta phase,” said Jason Wei.

With help from the Startup Garage and Chris Del Guercio, co-founder and chief technology officer, Taggle was born.

Del Guercio, a USC Viterbi computer engineering alumnus (class of 2013), worked hard in the Startup Garage’s Marina Del Rey offices to get Taggle off the ground.

"VSG helped Taggle in so many ways. We got put in contact with so many heavy hitters who we never would have had the chance to meet normally,” Del Guercio said. “In three months we went from a few people with an idea to a real startup with a solid plan."

The first version of the site rolled out in January 2013, producing $3,500 in sales in the first week from orders at USC.

Josh Wei, with the company rapidly growing, decided to leave his investment-banking job at RBC Capital Markets and rejoin his brother at Taggle in 2013. The pair was once again united in the custom apparel world, this time boosted by CTO Chris Del Guercio's engineering prowess.