SSE Riga Skills and Values Help Build the First Latvian Unicorn
Print-on-demand and warehousing company Printful is one of the fastest-growing companies in the US, with its roots and operational nerve center based in Riga, Latvia. The foundation of Printful's growth is its team which wouldn't reach its ambitious goals without the19 SSE Riga graduates currently working at Printful.
From Developers to Project and Customer Success Managers, to the Head of Sales and Chief Operating Officer… It seems like you can't take a step at Printful without coming across at least one SSE Riga graduate.
So what makes former SSE Riga students a good fit for Printful? Or more importantly—what makes Printful the right company for SSE Riga graduates who're looking to challenge and prove themselves?
The symbiosis stems from shared values. The principles that Printful esteems are the same ideas instilled into students at SSE Riga. So let's take a look at how the skills gained at SSE Riga have helped Printful grow into the first Latvian unicorn - a business that's valued at above $1 billion.
Doing what you're told and doing it well is a skill in its own right. But going above and beyond what's expected of you puts employees on the map and lets their careers flourish.
Zane Levša, Printful's Chief Operating Officer who now oversees operations in 8 Printful fulfillment centers across the globe, agrees. When starting out at Printful 7 years ago as an intern, she had no idea the direction her career would take. But she definitely had the right attitude.
“In 2014, there were only about 8 of us working at Printful from a garage in Burbank, California. I helped Printful's co-founder Lauris Liberts with tasks like optimization and administration, and anything else needed at the time. At the end of my internship, there was still so much I could help with that I stayed in the US.”
Since the early days in Lauris' busy garage, Zane has continued to take initiative and jump every hurdle in her way. Today, she's a fearless COO who runs fulfillment facilities in the US, Mexico, Canada, Latvia, and Spain.
Printful's Marketing Project Manager Mārtiņš Rungainis agrees that initiative helps you succeed and grow, and it's important to find a job that allows you to do that: “That's what I like about Printful - I can implement my own ideas and later measure their success.”
However, trying out something new and leading a team doesn't always result in amazing projects, unprecedented growth, or all-around praise. Mārtiņš explains: “Both SSE Riga and Printful showed me that it's OK to make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and do better next time.”
Take Printful's Junior Developer Artūrs Banga who's working with billing projects. The challenges Artūrs faced at SSE Riga now inform his decisions at Printful. “I had to take the Financial Accounting exam 3 times at SSE Riga. But now the theory I studied helps me see potential problems when developing billing tasks.”
That's where SSE Riga students excel - they're not afraid of making the wrong decisions and learning on the job. Because that's the only way a company and its employees can grow and become a better version of themselves.
It doesn't mean that decisions are made by blindly stabbing in the dark. “The most important thing SSE Riga taught me is rationality and critical thinking. That's what's really at the basis of good decision-making,” Zane says.
So part of the winning combination is critical thinking and a desire to lead the way. And once you have that, you can move mountains. That is, if you stay honest.
Honest communication is a must at any team that's worth its salt. What's more, openness and integrity are essential not only within the team, but also when talking with customers and business partners.
Printful's Customer Success Manager Dans Rozentāls works with customers on a daily basis. Dans shares what his time at SSE Riga taught him: “It's super easy to screw something up, especially if you're doing things for the first time (which you will). But that's totally cool! Own up to it and take full responsibility - people appreciate that the most!”
Everyone makes mistakes, and if you're not making them, you're not growing. But it's not just about the mistake, it's how you stick the landing. That's what's going to show who you are as a team player.
Openness is all about guiding expectations and being accountable when you don't live up to them. Business Development and Partnerships Manager Valts Feldbergs agrees: “The skill I appreciate the most from my time at SSE Riga is my ability to manage other people's expectations. With the strict deadlines at SSE Riga, you learn to manage your time and be accountable and honest with yourself and the project team you work with.”
Being clear with your team and customers is a habit that has to be actively developed, and it doesn't always come naturally. Both SSE Riga and Printful foster these values in their people as a way for personal and professional growth.
Being part of a successful business isn't about stroking your own ego or growing a list of CV entries to impress your next potential employers. It's about understanding that you're a part of something bigger.
Ivars Levša, SSE Riga graduate and Production Planning & Control Manager at Printful, notes: “It's very important to be a good team player. To move faster towards the goal, you need to move as a group and be flexible with your individual role.”
Working together on projects at SSE Riga prepares you for a work environment where you need to trust others, see yourself as part of a whole, and respect everyone's time. There are always people relying on you, so you have to care about not letting them down or wasting their time.
“SSE Riga taught me teamwork and the minimum viable product (MVP) principle that has been priceless in real life,” Zane Levša says. “It's especially important when leading a team.”
Managers can become bottlenecks for strategic decisions and projects. But with people waiting for your input, it's better to adopt a “better done than perfect” mentality so you get the ball rolling, and then work on improving the MVP.
“My SSE Riga education lets me see the bigger picture in how Printful works. It helps me understand what's important, resulting in decisions that don't result in long-term mistakes,” Ivars adds.
All in all, you need to care for the people you work with and the work that you do. And that's a value that needs to be practiced as early as possible.
All this hard work can only be sustained by having some fun on the way. And there is undoubtedly some legendary fun that has been had both at SSE Riga and Printful.
Ingus Zeļenkovs, Head of Business Development & Partnerships at Printful, reflects: “If you're especially fond of the second part of the SSE Riga Student Association’s "study hard, party hard" motto, then rest assured that at Printful we also know how to have fun. Printful parties, just like SSE Riga parties, end only once the hosts switch on the lights in the morning.”
Letting loose is only part of why it's important to have fun. It's also a great team-building exercise that creates powerful teams who are honest with each other and work well together once it's time to get down to business.
Well, what's next for Printful and its merry band of SSE Riga graduates? For starters, launching a SSE Riga merchandise store, powered by Printful.
Ivars Levša says: “Working at Printful is challenging and interesting. Every year spent here has been different for me. As the company grows, the obstacles change, and I never feel like I'm working on the same problems over and over again. I'm always looking for new approaches and solutions.”
And with SSE Riga and Printful being such a natural fit, it's certain that many more SSE Riga graduates will walk the halls of Printful, taking on new roles and challenges.