Spencer Wright and Sean Roylance, CEO of Like Sew sit down to talk about the origins of the company. They discuss how Sean came up with the concept for the original software and how it grew into what it is today.
Following a desire to help quilt makers and then quilt shop owners to solve basic problems lead the original founders to see an opportunity. They grew Like Sew into a point-of-sale ecommerce solution that now serves thousands of specialty retailers.
- Let your imagination guide your interests.
- Test your ideas and see what happens.
- We often underestimate how difficult new initiatives will be.
- Focus on your customers’ success and you will also succeed.
- Solving a basic problem with a minimally viable product will attract attention.
- I just had to, I had to see, you know, could I do this?
- I kind of took the day and went into my office and started working on it, and eight hours later I had designs spinning out.
- I had no idea what I was getting into, to be honest, , it was much, much harder than I think I ever realized. And I thought it would be hard much harder than I thought.
- There are a lot of people who have really been able to kind of make use of some of the tools that, that we’ve put out there to really grow and develop their business further.
- They completely saw and understood that, hey, having my website and my point of sale system completely in sync at all times where I can sell stuff in the store and immediately reflects, you know, the changes on online. I can receive a shipment and immediately it’s reflected online and so on. That they could see the power in that.
Sean Roylance founded Like Sew with the idea of helping quilters to create new quilt designs. However as new problems for quilters and quilt shop owners presented themselves he grew the software company to be the full-service point-of-sale system it is today.
[00:00:00] Spencer: Hello and welcome to the Quilt Shop podcast. I’ve got a really special guest with us here today. We’ve got Sean Roylance, the CEO, and founder of Like Sew. How are you doing today, Sean?
[00:00:33] Sean: I was doing better. But I’m doing good, thanks.
[00:00:37] Spencer: Good. We are so grateful that you’re, you know, taking the time outta your day to kind of talk with us on this you know, The Quilt Shop podcast, we typically have you know, actual quilt shop owners on the podcast. But this is a really special episode for us to be able to hear a little bit about the origins of Like Sew, you know, where it, you know, got started, why it got started, things like that.
So, I just wanna say huge thanks for being on with us today.
[00:01:04] Sean: I appreciate that.
[00:01:05] Spencer: Alright, Sean, well, I think, you know, just to get us started, why don’t you tell us, you know, a brief history of how and why you started Like Sew.
[00:01:14] Sean: Okay. I’ll try to keep it reasonably short. We’ll see if I succeed in that.
So, this is about 15 years ago. In fact, actually it was 2008 March. So actually exactly 15 years ago when things kind of really got kicked off. And what happened was, so my wife, she is a quilt pattern designer and she had been making quilts and designing patterns for, you know, a number of years.
And she had this quilt that was hanging up on the wall in our family room. And that’s why I’m looking at that one day and I’m sitting there on the couch and I’m looking at it and I’m like, I think I could write a computer program that could automatically generate the full quilt pattern and quilt pattern instructions, and everything, for that quilt right there. And my wife was like, no way. You can’t do that cuz she knows what all goes into it, you know, between assembly instructions and yardage and cutting and all that kind of stuff. And so, so like, I know my wife is always right…
[00:02:08] Spencer: Yeah, ditto, ditto Sean.
[00:02:10] Sean: But I just had to, I had to see, you know, could I do this? And so, and my background is computer programming. I’ve been doing that for a dozen years at that point professionally . And so about eight hours later, I kind of took the day and went into my office and started working on it, and eight hours later I had designs spinning out that, you know, were basically four patch, you know, blocks, quilt patterns, well, the designs for it. And then about a hundred hours of programming later I had the software finished at that point, that I calculated it at one point that it could generate 11 billion unique quilt patterns of various sizes and shapes and all that kind of stuff.
So we took that software and then we took her patterns that she had been designing and we’d never been to Quilt Market before, but she knew like the local quilt shop and have been talking to them and they’re like, yeah, you gotta take this to Quilt Market.
So it was Portland of 2008. We took all this to Quilt Market that spring. And at that time my wife and I, we had been thinking about adoption. And so, we thought, okay, this will be a way for us to hopefully earn some extra money cuz adoption is unfortunately is not cheap. So we had these kinda like grand plans in our heads and we go to Portland and we set up our booth and then it costs a few thousand dollars, you know, to get the boost space to bring the equipment, you know, your travel, all that kind of stuff. And so we’d go there and we had some, you know, pretty good success, met some wonderful people. Were able to find, you know, people who wanted to carry this software in their stores, because that was back in the day when CDs were a thing and you could actually sell CDs like in your store.
So we had some good success and by the end of the show we realized we had made about enough money to pay for the booth and the travel and so, all right. So it was okay. But as far as, like, our plans, you know, that we wanted to make some money to help with an adoption, did not go according to plan.
While we’re there towards the end of the show there was a guy named Dan Purcell. Who some people may remember. He owned a business called Websites for Quilters. Dan’s a great guy. I’ve gotten to know him over the years and anyway, but that was my first intro, introduction to him. He came up to our booth and he gave me, like, a brochure and said, “Hey, can I do websites for you?” And me, having been programming for a dozen years, most of it with web programming, I looked at it and like, all right, this is cool. I think I can do something similar to this. And so on the plane ride back, I kind of sketched out a bit of a business plan, and then all nights, weekends, holidays, everything for the next six months, I worked on the very first version of our e-commerce software.
We went to Houston that fall of 2008, my wife and I and there we presented the software for the first time and we signed up our first customers. And then a couple months later, I quit my full-time job and I had no idea what I was getting into, to be honest. It was much, much harder than I think I ever realized. And I thought it would be hard. Much harder than I thought. But anyway, we got the business off the ground and going and so here we are, 15 years later to the month from when I first wrote that program and still kicking.
[00:05:10] Spencer: Yeah. Wow. Wow. I mean, just there’s so much to, like really think about in that story where you think about like, everything that had to go right in order for, you know, Like Sew to be where it is today, right. And I don’t know that, I don’t know, I don’t talk about it very often, but obviously, you know, Like Sew has grown even beyond quilting and sewing. Right. You know, kind of far beyond that I mostly deal with quilting and sewing, but at this point Sean deals with, you know, all kinds of different small businesses and the kind of impact that, you know, going to that Quilt Market 15 years ago has had on, you know, retailers and the employees here you know, at Rain Retail. I think it’s really far reaching and pretty awesome to think about. So, you know, that’s, it’s just, thank you so much for sharing .
[00:05:58] Sean: He has to say that. No, I appreciate that.
[00:06:02] Spencer: Okay, Sean, so I’d like to talk about a couple of, like, maybe just these quick questions here. So, number one, I’m sure that people want to know this. I actually want to, I don’t know that I even know the answer to this. Where did the name Like Sew come from? .
[00:06:17] Sean: All right. So it’s kind of silly to be honest. So my wife being in the quilting and sewing space, you know, had seen a lot of businesses and different things that, that oftentimes had like a little bit of a play on words and, you know, between like “material girls” type, you know, that type of thing and yeah, and “sew this”, and “sew that”, and so, so that’s kinda like, you know, our thought process went in that direction and so we’re just sitting, she and I, in the living room just kind of kicking around ideas. My wife’s probably favorite show ever, which I admit I like too is called Hope Floats.
[00:06:50] Spencer: Okay. Not familiar.
[00:06:51] Sean: There’s probably quite a few people who might listen to the podcast. You’ll be familiar with Hope Floats. Anyway, so, towards the end of that show, Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. are in it. There’s this scene where Sandra Bullock’s character is interacting with the store owner where she works. And he keeps saying, he’s giving her instructions saying, “You do this like so. You do this like so. You do this like so.” And really, and so, so we thought okay, cuz initially what it was, was, Quilt pattern, software and pattern is instructions so that you can follow the instructions and do, you know, take these steps “like so.” So that was the initial idea, kind of, kind of corny.
[00:07:29] Spencer: Amazing! Not corny at all!
[00:07:31] Sean: But we liked it and it had like that connection for her and I and, and so we did, we went with that name and then we just kept that name throughout and so we’ve never gone away from it.
[00:07:41] Spencer: Yeah. Well thank heavens cuz now we get to tell that story. I will say I, so I did not know that story but very often when I say “like so” in whatever context, right? Like, I don’t know when I’m like, that was uh, like so cool , you know, like, or whatever. I, I say it and then I’m like, “Like Sew” , anyways just.
[00:08:00] Sean: S-E-W.
[00:08:00] Spencer: Yes. And I mean S-E-W but no one ever, you know, hears it that way.
Okay, Sean. Well, you know, kind of going back to Quilt Market, I’d love to hear, you know, I imagine there’s a lot of people who listen to this podcast who have been to Quilt Markets for as long as you have, or maybe even longer? Probably, yeah. Yep. I’d love to hear, I don’t know if maybe there’s, like a story from quote market that you’d like to share or anything like that. You know, I’d love to hear stories that are like, wow. Yeah, okay, this was so impactful or meaningful or however it may be. And Quilt Market’s such a community building place for our industry, you know, I would love to hear something like that.
[00:08:35] Sean: Yeah. Okay. There’s so many stories from Quilt Market. So Quilt Market has been amazing. I’ve been to every single Quilt Market since 2008, since that first one in Portland. Of course, we had a couple year break here recently. But then we were back at it again, you know, last fall in Houston. Houston, I just gotta say like, I love going to Houston because now I know where all the great restaurants are. Super, super important.
[00:08:58] Spencer: I have benefited from that, no doubt. Yes.
[00:09:00] Sean: So lots of stories and lots really amazing. You know, so, for example a couple of people that I met, the very, very first Quilt Market I went to in Portland are named Beth and Carol, and they have been great friends ever since. You know, Roseanne is another great friend. Heidi is another great friend. There’s so people that just love to see, you know, at Quilt market. Beth and Carol they, owned a shop together and one of the things that they did for many years until Beth recently retired and then Carol went and kind of joined up with another store, but they would come by the booth and, you know, once or twice every single quilt market. Usually they try to do us when I didn’t see them and they wouldn’t know, and then they would just yell out, “Hi Sean,” and, way louder than that, and tried to like, make me embarrassed, which they succeeded at. But anyway, this is just awesome people, just, you know, create relationships and so it’s something I do love about Quilt Market.
One story that, you know, one memory I have that just really sticks out in my mind. And I, feel like I’m, I keep referring back to 2008. But this comes from the very, very first Quilt Market we went to, so…
[00:10:08] Spencer: The one in Portland.
[00:10:09] Sean: The one in Portland, and so, you know, like I talked about earlier, you know, my wife and I had these ideas of what we hoped to accomplish there at the trade show, and as with any small business, you know, there’s, there’s so much risk involved with a business and you put your best foot forward and then you’re just hoping that it goes well. And sometimes it does go well. And other times it’s more of a struggle and sometimes it’s, it just does not go at all according to plan.
And so we had been there, and you know, it’s toward is, I think it’s like the very last hour on the third day when things are starting to, you know, there’s very few people left in the aisles other than just the people in their booths. And I was walking around a little bit and I kind of already knew at that point that we were about to break even for the show.
And so, I’m wandering around and, and I walked to the end of one aisle and turned the corner to the next. And I saw this lady in her booth and she was crying. And I’m, I’m pretty sure, I’m pretty sure I could be wrong, but I’m like 95% sure that she had a rough Quilt Market that it had been, you know, rougher than ours was.
And I, I kind of, you know, pictured on my mind, again, maybe I’m wrong on some of this stuff, but she probably, you know, put together the few thousand dollars that was needed to go and do Quilt Market and so, so she goes there. And then if it doesn’t go very well, now you are, you’re, you know, a few thousand dollars in the hole.
And a lot of times, I think for so many of us at different points in our life, that could be a big hit. You know, you call it together a few thousand dollars and you’re hoping to get a return on it. Instead, it goes the other direction. And someone who, you know, she was a designer and you know, had some talent and things, but it just didn’t go according to, you know, her hopes.
And for me, that’s always really stuck with me for a variety of reasons. Number one is to, it, it just helps me remember kind of, you know, what small business owners, you know, the risks they take and sometimes like how hard and how tight it can be. For us in our business, we went through those same, you know, you know, kind of years and stuff where it was really tight and things.
But it really kind of helped me just cement to my mind, you know, what people sometimes are going through. And that’s really helped me. You know, as much as I can to be empathetic and to remember, you know, it’s not all roses all the time for every and so then when we can, you know, I’ve always wanted to try to provide, you know, tools and services and things that, that can hopefully help and, you know, results vary, of course.
And I know it’s, you know, we don’t always succeed in that vision or that hope to really help people. But in a lot of cases we have succeeded. There are a lot of people who have really been able to kind of make use of some of the tools that we’ve put out there to really grow and develop their business further.
And so for me, kind of seeing, you know, the one side of it then it really motivates me to do what I’m able to, to help people hopefully get to the other side of that and have that success.
[00:13:01] Spencer: Well, thanks so much for sharing that, Sean. I think, you know, it really helps us stay grounded when we’re able to really think about, you know, the lives impacted.
You know, just from a small business perspective you know, what it takes to be an entrepreneur. And I just, you know, I think going to shows and experiences like that, that you have, you know, being in the software world sometimes, like we’re really at this like thousand feet or 10,000 feet level where we’re not able to see or I guess speaking for myself, not able to see like what’s actually going on in the shops all the time and then when you go to these shows or you go to someone’s shop and you get to feel and see the emotions that they have around their business, I think there’s nothing more meaningful than that. So.
All right, Sean, so I think as we kind of heard the origin story, one thing that I’m sure our listeners are really curious about, you were talking about, you know, Like Sew as an e-commerce kind of feature or function. Tell us a little bit about when and why the transition to kind of point of sale and inventory management happened.
[00:15:00] Sean: Yeah. Okay. so that really kind of happened for the most part in 2011 and 2012. So, We had kind of gotten up and running and had a lot of you know, people using our e-commerce services and at that point in time you know, it seems a lot more intuitive now, but this is over a decade ago. And at that point in time for brick and mortar stores, not very many of them really got their products onto their website with current inventory levels and current pricing and all that kind of stuff.
And were able to keep it up to date. So a lot of people would sign up with us and we’d go through some work and help get their products up on their website pictures and pricing and all that kind of stuff. And then like a month would go by, And of course things are selling out of the shop, shipments come in, all that kind of stuff and what we tried to do at that point was we like made it so that you can export a spreadsheet from your current inventory management system and upload it to the website and then that would update quantities and pricing and whatever. But what we found was that’s just, it just took like a little bit too much effort and with the new products that you receiving, you still gotta go out and find the pictures for them and so on and, And so it just became cumbersome enough that the majority of our, you know, people that, that had websites with us, they weren’t able to successfully keep on top of that over time. With that said, there were some stores that could, whether they invested in some extra manpower or could set aside, you know, the sufficient time or whatever.
And what we saw with those stores was that their sales really took a noticeable, you know, step forward. Now it’s not necessarily always sales online. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it was just general sales, you know, between the store and the website. They took a step forward. And it was really kind of at that time where consumers were really changing. Consumer behaviors began to evolve to where a lot of consumers, they began to use the website as part of their shopping process. So if they knew, hey, this store that I frequent, they have a website and the information is, you know, generally up to date and that kind of stuff. Sometimes they’ll just go there and buy. Other times they’re going there to see, well, what’s new and maybe to browse. It’s nine o’clock at night and the store is closed. They could start looking and seeing, okay, hey, they got some cool new fabrics. They got a kit in, you know, whatever it is and they start to put together their plans. On occasion check out right then at nine o’clock at night.
But to be honest, more often than not, where the behavior was going was it would be the next day or that weekend or something where they then come into the store and make the purchase. But we could see direct correlations between, you know, having a well-maintained website and then an overall increase in revenue for different stores.
And to be clear I, I want to take nothing away whatsoever from the store owners. It’s the store owners doing the work to keep this up to date. It’s the store owners have the vision and they’re buying the right fabrics and all that kind of stuff. What we saw was stores that had like a kind of a steady growth rate then took a clear step from where they were. So we saw that and we tried to encourage people, say, “Hey, really it’s important to do this.” But then we saw that in so many cases, that just wasn’t feasible. So we looked at integrating with some point of sale systems to see, you know, could we make it so that we could just really automate that and make that a lot easier.
The problem with legacy, at that time there were no cloud-based point of sales systems and things like that. And so the legacy point of sale systems, there are a variety of issues that came up with that. Not the least of which they’re completely different technology sets. The connectivity was unreliable. And the ability to get a single piece of software installed, talking to some service in the cloud and to have two-way communication as needed in a way that you can count on, just in the end was very challenging and didn’t really work with the companies that we approached at least.
So that’s when we first kinda had the idea, we’re like, we think we can create a point of sale system and do it in the cloud. And so we began down that path. What we discovered, well, in hindsight, I should say, what has since discovered is there was so much to this, so much more than we realized. What our thought was is we would target people who were just on pen and paper and we’d build just kinda like this minimal offering and then it would at least be an improvement over pen and paper.
[00:19:20] Spencer: Sure.
[00:19:21] Sean: And what we found though, was there’s a whole lot of people who were on existing point of sale systems that they completely saw, you know, the value proposition. They completely saw and understood that, hey, having my website and my point of sale system completely in sync at all times where I can sell stuff in the store and immediately reflects, you know, the changes online. I can receive a shipment and immediately it’s reflected online and so on. They could see the power in that and so we have all these people, you know, jumping in right away, coming from other point of sale systems and and should, I apologize now to the people who experience the pain at that point I mean, we still have points of pain and anyway, we do the best we can, but anyway, so, they saw that and our very first version that we released, we didn’t even have reports. There were no reports at all. because again, the bar we set ourselves was, can it at least improve on pen and paper.
So we then were in scramble mode. And to this day we’re in scramble mode.
[00:20:16] Spencer: Different kind of scrambled mode.
[00:20:17] Sean: Different kind of scramble mode. We’ve come a long, long way from that point.
But the other thing that we saw and that we realized was that technology as a whole was shifting. It was shifting to the cloud, and legacy systems, while there’s still plenty of legacy systems that run, you know, well to this day still we could see where things were going and so we decided to go all in on that. And You know, again, not that we haven’t had our rough patches and so on. But on the whole, it’s been a really you know, a really great thing, I feel like in terms of, kind of the concepts and the ideas we’ve been able to bring and, you know, for many people that they’ve been able to like really utilize the tools we’ve built with great success bringing that all together and making it where you can run your whole operation, one system and be able to reach people in your store, online, you know, at trade shows, look at your reports from home and so on. And it’s been a real difference maker. .
[00:21:12] Spencer: Yeah, no doubt has it been a real difference maker, Sean? And I’m sure that there are hundreds and hundreds of shops that would be able to, you know, kind of back that claim up, you know, probably, you know, more than 10 years since kind of the point of sale has been developed and stuff like that. You know, Sean, something I was thinking. It’s rare that people know about the history of some software that they use, right? Like that’s not really a common thing, like when you use the software, you use an app on your phone or whatever it is, it’s probably not very often that you’re thinking to yourself who’s the guy or gal that started this, right, that and so I was thinking about that as we, you know, wanted to record this podcast with you.
But I think that you know, the Like Sew system is more than just like a piece of software that people use, right? It’s like something that, I mean, it gets used a lot, right? Like if you are a quilter or fabric shop owner, You use Like Sew a lot, you know, like all the time, for hours and hours, hundreds of hours, I’m sure for a lot of our users, thousands of hours. And I think knowing the where and the why becomes a little bit more meaningful.
And so that’s why I really wanted to kind of dig in on this with you I’m sure that there are brand new quilt shops, I know there are brand new quilt shops who listen to this, who maybe won’t understand all of the history, but will be able to sense a little bit of, you know, what it means, the product and you know, Like Sew as a whole, what it means to us and what it means to you.
So I wanted to say thank you for that.
[00:22:34] Sean: Yeah. I appreciate that.
[00:22:36] Spencer: All right Sean, as kind of my final question for this, you know, segment about, you know, the origin story of Like Sew, I’m sure you know, so many of the people who listen to this, almost everyone who listens to this is an entrepreneur, right? And that’s really what you started out as, right? That’s what you are. And so as an entrepreneur, I think it’s fun to kind of ask questions and one of the things I really wanted to ask was how much of your success or the success of Like Sew and the products that have come after it, do you think are luck versus how much of it was skill?
[00:23:08] Sean: It’s a loaded question.
[00:23:10] Spencer: It is absolutely a loaded question.
[00:23:12] Sean: So skill, I don’t, I dunno about skill so much.
[00:23:15] Spencer: I mean, skill and hard work, right? Like effort.
[00:23:18] Sean: Sure, yeah. certainly, there was some skill involved. You know, I did a computer science degree in college. I actually started programming when I was 12. So, fun fact: my very computer that I began programming on was a Commodore Vic 20 back in 1985 when I was about 12 years old, that had 4K of memory. And about the only thing you could do on a Commode Vic 20 was like program cuz it was, two meager of a computer to do much else.
But anyway, so, I did programming growing up. Did that as a, you know, major at the university. And then I did 12 years as a professional software developer. And, And so, so yes, developed the skills needed for this. Part of that too, like I, I learned about, you know, how to work in teams and, and for the most part I heard, I learned how not to be managed
um, And uh, I felt like I learned a lot of like, how impersonal like businesses can be sometimes and how much I didn’t like that. Sure. And so then from day one, we’ve tried to actually be very different in that regard here. So there’s experience there’s some skill for sure.
Luck: absolutely being in the right place at the right time. You know, a lot of people in the sewing industry have, you know, at one time or another, perhaps met myself and either one of my two business partners Brian King and Milo LeBaron, and this is something where, yeah, we brought a ton of hard work to it, you know, and our experience and so on. You know, we were doing just crazy hours to begin with. You know, I would start programming at about five in the morning. I would stop programming after 10 at night and with very little break in between. And I did that for years on end to get things off the ground at the beginning. And so, so lot of effort. But like one of the things that we didn’t know was, I would say, how perfectly complimentary me and Brian and Milo were in terms of our skills. Like, like I, I knew I liked these guys that had worked with them for a couple years. I knew Brian was amazing at sales. Milo I thought was good at sales. Turns out he’s OCD and turns out that he was great at making sure the whole rest of the business ran. While Brian sold, I programmed and he did everything else, and then even halfway through Milo and I kind of swapped roles because as a company grew, it evolved and changed, the needs were different and somehow our abilities just like perfectly complimented each other again, even though we literally pre pretty much swapped roles. And so so much of that is luck as well or, you know, I think of it as we are just very blessed that things kind of came together and worked out the way they did.
And I would say that, from a perspective of why did I do this and you know, what has it meant to me. For some reason, for me, being an entrepreneur and starting a business, it was just kind of in me. It’s almost like I couldn’t not do it. I had to do something at some point. It was just part of my life journey, like, like the life experience that in a lot of ways I feel like I was destined to live, for which I’m very grateful because I really have enjoyed it as hard as it has been at different times and has been ridiculously hard at different moments or different, you know, periods of time. But looking back on it, I just fully have loved the experience and the journey of it and what it’s been for me in my life.
Another thing though I feel very fortunate and blessed about is that, you know, to a certain degree, we’ve certainly had some success. And that I feel like I, you know, I owe so much to so many people both inside the company and out to so many wonderful clients that have been patient with us at times, have not been patient with us at other times when we probably needed it. That, that have provided feedback that have helped steer things, you know, over time and so on.
So anyway, so I guess, bottom line is at least in my case, I think there’s all kinds of different cases out there. In my case, yeah, it was in me. Yeah, we had brought skills, we brought a lot of hard work, but I also feel like that kind of our path was prepared for us as well and we feel very fortunate at this point.
[00:27:12] Spencer: Yeah, no, I mean, I think, you know, as we, as you know, I kind of look at it from an outsider perspective, right? I haven’t been with Like Sew for 15 years. I think, you know, the hard work is really seen and maybe with, you know, a sprinkle of luck in there to get it to where it is today.
[00:27:27] Sean: A sprinkler or two or a lot.
[00:27:28] Spencer: Yeah. Yeah. Some lucky charms. Well, Sean, I just want to say, huge thank you for coming on the podcast with us today. You know, just as you know, kind of by way of communication this was the origin story segment. We did send out an email and got a lot of questions back for things that we’re gonna ask Sean on the next segment.
So make sure you tune in for the next episode we’ll release in a couple of weeks where we’ll probably talk a little bit more about the nitty gritty, right? The software, you know, something’s coming up, you know, just more a Q and A session instead of kind of the origin story that we shared here.
So, make sure you tune into that. And again, thank you so much for being on with us today, Sean.
[00:28:07] Sean: My pleasure.