Last-minute orders lift online print firm

New York-based Mimeo is growing in a market--document printing--that's supposed to be dying. CEO Adam Slutsky wants to build a pile of paper to the stratosphere.

New York-based Mimeo is achieving growth in a market--document printing--that's supposed to be dying. In 2005, the company, which specializes in online orders, printed more than one million documents on behalf of its clients. If piled up into a stack, the 2005 output would have measured 65,000 feet into the air.

"That's 45 times the size of the Empire State Building," Slutsky said. The company, still private, pulled in about 40 million in revenue last year and is profitable. This year, the stack will be substantially higher. (The upper stratosphere starts at 82,345 feet.) At the moment, it prints about 2 million pages, contained in about 16,000 documents, a day.

The company's business model is based around one of the chief principles of American business: namely, if it's important, wait until the last minute. Law firms, investment banks, real estate partnerships and sales representatives still tend to make revisions to their complex contracts and RFPs (request for proposals) up until the deadline.

To get rush printing jobs done, Mimeo clients submit the document over the Internet. Printers and photocopiers in Mimeo's Memphis operation then print the document and load it onto trucks, which then trundle over to the Federal Express shipping dock. Clients can order documents as late as 10 p.m. EST and still get the papers delivered in the first FedEx drop the next morning.

Other companies have similar services, but Mimeo says it has tried to make the link between printing and delivery smoother and thereby extend the deadline.

"I've got the last (FedEx) pick up in the United States. Two eighteen-wheelers do a pickup every day at my place," Slutsky said. "I can't tell you how many orders come in between 9 and 10 at night."

People with night orders, naturally, have to pay an extra fee for the rush service.

Despite the predictions of its impending death, print remains a multibillion-dollar business. At the top end, it's dominated by companies like Xerox, while the bottom end of the market is mainly small mom-and-pop print shops. In the middle sit the large print chains, and a few other start-ups providing similar services, like Mimeo and franchises such as FedEx Kinko's. Hewlett-Packard is also always trying to expand its print services business.

Mimeo was founded in 1998 by two people who now would be target customers. They worked as junior-level investment bankers, and one of their responsibilities was "giving $100 bills to the guys behind the counter" at copy and print shops in New York to take last-minute orders, Slutsky said.

Slutsky came to the company after leaving AOL in 2000. He was one of the founders of Moviefone, which AOL bought in 1999.

Besides financial institutions, Mimeo's other customers include retail and franchise outfits with a large number of employees and relatively high turnover. These companies need to provide training materials for their staff, and unfortunately, most of the employees do not work at a desk, so sending the materials via the Net is still somewhat impractical. Right now, Mimeo has about 2,000 corporate customers and is growing the account base by about 30 percent a year, Slutsky said.

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