Company designs successful online venture for itself, others
(Business Journal San Jose; 01/26/98)

Few things are more frustrating to companies than opening thousands of business cards or reams of letterhead only to learn there's a glaring typo in the print.

IPrint believes it has a solution: Allow companies to design their business cards and letterhead via an easy-to-use Internet site,

The company, hatched in 1996 with help from a NASA Ames incubator program, employs an online program that allows companies to design everything from business cards to letterhead to other stationary products. Customers can view the product on the screen exactly how it will look when it's printed.

IPrint CEO Royal Farros said error rates dropped from 16 percent to 1 percent after Staples, the Office Superstore implemented the Internet-based system during a system test marketing.

Costs are comparable with other commercial printers. A block of 500 business cards can run a little as $15 or as much as $1,500 or more depending on the amount of color work involved and materials used.

IPrint evolved from a small software company called T/Maker, founded in 1979 by Peter Roizen.

Four years later, Mr. Roizen brought in Mr. Farros and Heidi Roizen, Peter Roizen's sister, to expand T/Maker.

In 1986, Mr. Farros and Ms. Roizen initiated a leveraged buyout of T/Maker. Three years later, they received $600,000 in venture capital.

By the early 1990s T/Maker began to supply financial printing company Deluxe Inc. with desktop publishing software.

Deluxe, in addition to being a well-known check printer for banks, also printed stationary for Staples.

Staples began testing self-service stationary design kiosks in 1992, using T/Maker's software.

Simplicity is the backbone of the system.

"The most successful automated system has been the ATM machine," Mr. Farros said. "The only time it doesn't work is when you don't have money in your account."

For the next two years, backed by Deluxe, T/Maker expanded the number of self-service design kiosks in Staples.

By 1994 Deluxe officials decided it didn't want to share this new technology with any other printing company, so they bought T/Maker and made it proprietary software.

The company was divided into two units, the existing desktop publishing arm, headed by Ms. Roizen in Mountain View, and the new electronic kiosk unit ran by Mr. Farros in Redwood City.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs were beginning to mumble about the enterprise potential of the Internet. Deluxe was going through a transition and officials weren't sure the company would remain in the printing business, much less get into a fledgling adventure on the Internet.

"I told them if they weren't going to jump on the Internet, then I would," Mr. Farros said.

In 1996, using his own savings, bought the electronic kiosk unit from Deluxe and called the new company IPrint.

In need of space for his venture, Mr. Farros heard about a federally funded incubator program at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, and signed up.

IPrint was able to get discounts on such overhead as rent and telephones, and had access to backbone hubs for the Internet.

Mr. Farros took IPrint live at the end of 1996, and in November 1997 secured an additional $3.3 million in venture capital.

While Mr. Farros is keeping revenues under wraps, he said they are increasing. IPrint also has landed what could be lucrative agreements with other printing companies to use its software.

For example, Office Max, and its Copy Max division, is using IPrint technology.

But that would seem like IPrint is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Office Max to compete with IPrint's software.

"At some points markets may overlap and create some channel conflicts," Mr. Farros said.

But IPrint's strategy is to land a piece of every online printing transaction.