Creating a company one t-shirt at a time

Jeff BeckerLook around any college campus today and you’ll find something arguably even more prolific than cell phones and iPods. Greek system T-shirts. And if you’re on the University of Washington campus, chances are those T-shirts are from a UW start-up, Kotis Design, a company that has recently made the Puget Sound Business Journal’s list of 100 Fastest Growing Washington Companies for the third year in a row.

As a freshman, Jeff Becker (BA 2003) started making T-shirts for his fraternity’s dances. “One day a light bulb went off,” he said. “No one was making T-shirts that anyone really liked. So my goal became to sell a T-shirt to every Greek student here.” During his junior year, Becker took a pivotal class—Creating a Company. “My advice for any student is to take this class. You learn from doing. You actually run a company and do what a real business does: work with other people, have disagreements, experience the exciting times together. That was the most positive experience for me.”

Becker competed in the Business Plan Competition three times while at the UW, making it to the semi-final Sweet 16 all three times. He first entered the competition with HuSKIbus, a collaboration with Stevens Pass, The Ram, and Helly Hansen, which he developed in the Creating a Company class. His second and third entries were Kotis Design. While he didn’t win, he did see tremendous value in competing. “It really pushes you to think about the process behind starting a company. You might have a great idea but don’t know where to begin, so [the competition] is good practice.”

Today, Kotis provides customers with everything from design services and online storefronts, to packaging and fulfillment services. Becker emphasizes that in addition to the quality of the products, it’s the overall customer experience that keeps campus organizations and businesses around the country coming back again and again. The strong focus on customers has lead to a growth rate of roughly 50% every year. As Becker explains it, “We’ve experienced solid, steady growth because we have great people who are hard working, efficient and forward-thinking.”

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