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Conquering the world of custom apparel one T-shirt at a time

Taggle serves as an online marketplace for vendors and customers

Wei brothers of Taggle
Taggle co-founders Josh Wei, left, Jason Wei and Chris Del Guercio (USC Photo/Ziva Santop)

The Taggle story is one of startup lore.

What started out as a small print shop in a garage has grown into an extensive network, thousands of satisfied customers and more than $150,000 in annual sales.

Launched out of the USC Viterbi Startup Garage, a business accelerator for engineering new student-led 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 burgeoning company’s production process is simple.

The outfit vets hundreds of print shops, allowing vendors to compete against one another for customers in an auction-oriented environment. Buyers search for the best deals they can find.

After the buyer evaluates the quotes and selects a screen printer, he or she can pay for the order through Taggle’s secure payment-processing system. The company takes 15 percent of the sale.

Savvy marketing strategy

“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 is driven by nationwide email campaigns and social media engagement. Word of mouth from customers is an important part of the strategy. 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,” according to customer Erik Tyler.

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

“Taggle brings a fresh face to the screen printing world,” said Lindsey Miller of R&R Enterprises.

Hustle and humility

While the Taggle story is far from complete, the company has come a long way.

Prior to its sturdy revenue projections and rave customer reviews, the startup’s early days were defined by hustle and humility.

Company founders Wei, a senior at the USC Marshall School of Business, and his brother, Josh, saw their parents’ garage as the perfect place to start a printing business. After much persuasion, the parents let their sons 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,” Jason said.

The inspiration for the business originated while Josh was studying at Georgetown University. He belonged to several on-campus clubs, and many of the 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, he said.

At that point, the brothers saw an opportunity to improve the custom apparel experience and lower the cost.

Josh, the older 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 high school.

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

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

‘All the right ingredients’

The Viterbi Startup Garage, founded by Jason’s former tech entrepreneurship professor Ashish Soni, provided an 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.

Soni was an early believer in the enterprise.

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

With help from the Startup Garage and Chris Del Guercio ’13, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Taggle was born.

Del Guercio, a computer engineering alum at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, worked hard in the Marina Del Rey offices to get Taggle off the ground.

“In three months,” he said, “we went from a few people with an idea to a real startup with a solid plan.”

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Conquering the world of custom apparel one T-shirt at a time

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