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Orfalea offers advice to start-ups

By   /   Wednesday, February 15th, 2012  /   2 Comments

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Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea hates working long hours — and he said that’s a big part of the reason his small business turned into one of the most successful start-ups ever to come out of Santa Barbara County.

Orfalea shared personal advice on how to manage a start-up company with a group of about 200 entrepreneurs at an event held by the MIT Enterprise Central Coast Forum on Feb. 15. Orfalea, who never completed a formal education and has struggled with dyslexia his entire life, said one of the most important things managers can do is accept that they can’t do everything and delegate tasks to employees.

“I always wanted to get out of responsibility,” Orfalea said of starting Kinko’s, which was a one-store copy shop at UC Santa Barbara when it opened in the 1970s. “I’m not very capable of a lot of things. I don’t read much, I can’t spell, I’m not very mechanical…I hated being in those stores, so I was very good at getting out of work and telling other people what to do.”

It’s also important for managers to trust that other workers can get their individual jobs finished and concentrate on their own tasks, Orfalea said. When he launched Kinko’s, he only took phone calls on Tuesdays and had a firm closed-door policy.

“It’s not as complicated as you think it’s going to be. People will always figure out what to do. Remember to keep it simple,” Orfalea said.

The strategy has worked for Orfalea. He had the idea to open a 24-hour copy shop on a college campus after seeing a similar operation at the University of Southern California. Orfalea said he wondered why there weren’t more copy centers at colleges, because it was such a simple and profitable idea. He didn’t launch a chain of copy stores because he loved Xerox machines, Orfalea said at the event. Rather, he opened the business because he thought it would make money.

Ten years after the first store opened, Kinko’s had 80 locations across the U.S. and had brought in about $400 million in revenue. In 2004, FedEx bought Kinko’s for $2.4 billion. Today, there are more than 1,800 combined shipping and copy stores throughout the world.

Another critical piece of advice for start-up managers, Orfalea said, is to invest time and money in hiring quality employees. He said the success of each Kinko’s store is due to how well managers run the shop, not where it’s located.

Orfalea also said one area where small businesses often fail is accounting. “You better know your cash flow and you better be able to write everything you know about your finances on the back of an envelope,” he said. Many business managers don’t pay enough attention to money, he said.

Orfalea has a history of supporting young entrepreneurs. He became the namesake of the Orfalea School of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo after he donated $15 million to the school in 2001.

Other speakers at the event included Jason Womack, executive coach and author of “Your Best Just Got Better”; Kathy Odell, a well-known Santa Barbara entrepreneur; and Joe Bruzzese, founder and CEO of anti-bullying website Sprigeo.

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2 Comments

  1. Very interesting. It’s good to get the word out about how dyslexia is not a death sentence for success.

  2. Michael Spoon says:

    What a tremendous event!
    The moderator, Jacques Habra, was on point the entire time, even when Paul Orfelea made it very difficult.

    Great job MIT

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