Robert Keane's interview : "I think professional designers have a very bright future if they focus on high-value design"

Last friday, I had the chance to interview over Zoom Robert Keane, CEO of Cimpress. Robert kindly accepted to chat during half an hour about the situation of the group, the raising trends in the online printing industry, the impact of cost raise and the changes COVID crisis accelerated on management in general. This interview was also an opportunity to share thoughts about the future of professional designers in an environment in which online editing / creation platforms are multiplying.
First of all, what is the current situation at Cimpress ? Have you recovered from the Covid-crisis ?
Robert K. : Cimpress revenues, excluding the positive impact from currency exchange rates and acquisitions, grew 38% for the quarter ending June, 2021 compared to the same quarter in 2020, so we are moving in the right direction. But this was about 11% below revenues from the quarter for June 2019. That means that we still have more to go, especially when you recall that, prior to the pandemic, we were growing about 10% per year.
In which regions have you been the most impacted by the crisis ?
Robert K. : All regions were hit last year, but recently Europe has continued to be more impacted, whereas we have stronger performance in North America and Australia.
Q4 FY21 is showing a strong increase in sales. In which country is the bounce most spectacular ? Has this trend continued in July and August ?
Robert K. : North America and Australia have been stronger.  In the quarterly financial document for the June quarter, which we published at the end of July, we noted that trends remained positive in July, and that we still see Europe struggling more to recover revenues than other markets.
Are you confident for the end of the year and the peak season, especially considering price raise for paper pulp, inks… and risks of shortage ?
Robert K. : Like everyone in the industry, we do see pressure on the cost of these materials, and some concern with shipping. But we think we have proactive plans in place to manage through this.
As a CEO and a world citizen, what are your key learnings after 1.5 year of Covid crisis ?
Robert K. : Before the pandemic, most people took for granted the benefits living and working an integrated, cooperative, global economy. Everything from supply chains, to financing, to labor markets was so fluid. To say nothing of the enjoyment of travelling to learn about other cultures. For instance, the integration of Europe over the past thirty years has had amazing benefits. The disruptions from the pandemic illustrate how the economy and society suffer when that global system is interrupted. I hope it makes people more appreciative of the benefits we have from the changes over the past thirty years from globalization in general and from the integration of Europe in particular.
Decoration, apparel, print-on-demand, photo albums markets have boomed during the crisis, while commercial printing suffered a lot. Do you regret to have sold photo album division like Albelli in the past years ?
Robert K. : I agree that those consumer-oriented markets have done well, but we think we made the right decision to focus where we did.  We were never going to be the leader in the photobook market.
Cimpress is investing on design marketplaces, with the purchase of 99 designs. Do you think it is complementary or competing with online editing solutions like Canva ? What is your vision of the future of professional designers ?
Robert K. : We see it is complementary. Of course, over twenty years ago Vistaprint invented in-browser do-it-yourself design, which works very well customers who are not graphic arts professionals so they need templates. We like that business, but it is very different than what 99designs does, which is to serve customers who do not want to design themselves. In other words, to serve customers who value graphic arts professionals because they know that those professionals can help them look really great via design. As to the future of professional designers, I think they have a very bright future if they focus on high-value design. The simple edits and template-based work you see at Vistaprint and Canva is right for some customers, but certainly not for all.
Vistaprint just partnered with Wix : how this partnership will co-exist in parallel with the current website generator provided by Vistaprint ?
Robert K. : We expect to migrate those customers to Wix, and to focus our development resources on integration across physical and digital products. We partnered with Wix so that we can offer our customers the great technology and customer experience that Wix provides. 
Vistaprint is multiplying partnerships in professionals sports in the US : do you plan to make such partnerships in Europe to strenghten the brand awareness ?
Robert K. : Potentially, over time. But we don’t have any near-term plans to do so in Europe. We are really still only just testing this concept.
The African market is opening up to eCommerce at a dramatic speed. Multiple online printers are appearing in Senegal, Camerun, Nigeria, South Africa or Morocco. Do Cimpress plan to focus on this market ?
Robert K. : No, not for the foreseeable future.  We have too much opportunity in the countries where we are already present.
With Amazon Custom, Gelato, CloudPrinter or Imprimerie Européenne, the marketplace model is rising in the print-on-demand industry, like it happened in other markets like travel… A couple of years ago, the mass-customization platform was designed to be opened to external fulfillers or designers. Is it still relevant today ? Are independent printers able today to become fulfillers for Cimpress brands ?
Robert K. : We chose to discontinue the marketplace approach we tested a few years ago, which was called Cimpress Open. We still, of course, work with many external fulfillers via the MCP, and we have many, many happy external print partners with whom we plan to continue to grow together. We are always open to finding more partners.
Last question : in terms of company organization, will Cimpress become a long-term remote-first company ?
Robert K. : For our production facilities, of course that can’t happen. But for Cimpress central teams, and at Vistaprint, and at several other parts of Cimpress, yes, we have moved to remote-first. We are investing a lot to make this a great experience for our team members, and it is helping us recruit talent from many places where, prior to being remote-first, we could not so so.
  • Thank you Robert for taking time to answer my questions