If you have worked in an office of a large business, or if you sit around your desk or kitchen table every week and look at stacks of unnecessary mailings, you might want to meet your new best friend, Arpan Shah, CEO and Co-Founder of PrintEco.
The beginnings of this BizSpark company started with a mission to eliminate wasteful printing found in homes and organizations, worldwide. Towards that end, "Our goal is to save 1 billion pages by 2020. PrintEco automatically reformats documents to save paper and ink, saving on average 24%," says Shah.
How Does Someone Develop a Desire to Save 1 Billion Pages?
During college, I was frustrated by all the wasteful printing that I saw during an internship and at the computer labs. I knew there had to be a simpler way through technology to solve this. Interestingly, I observed that much of the waste came from programs like Microsoft Office. While Microsoft has been making great strides in reducing the environmental impact of their core products, I noticed a huge gap within Microsoft Office and Web browsers. Research shows that this problem adds up to over half a trillion pages each year, tens of billions in printing costs, millions of pounds of carbon emissions, and wasted time!
After months of iteration, I finally came upon the current concept. Basically, my idea was to create a product that works with your most commonly-used applications like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, IE, Chrome & Firefox and develop a dead simple way for people to print more efficiently. So instead of selecting File>Print, the user now has an option of File>PrintEco. When PrintEco is selected, the software automatically optimizes the respective document to save paper and ink. For instance, in the case of a Word document, PrintEco will reformat margins, font size, spacing etc.
We wanted to ask Shah some more questions about starting a business. Here is that interview.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
I believe that including technical members as early as possible is a good strategy. A great technology business rests on a great product. So it’s important to have the product strategy fleshed out early. For instance, answering questions such as which features to build first, what’s feasible, which platforms to use, how much time/money will it involve, etc.
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
The impetus for building PrintEco stems from my desire to make a large positive impact on the world while at the same time building a profitable business. I first became exposed to the idea of social entrepreneurship through an internship freshman year of college. I worked for a start-up company that was developing solar-powered lanterns for sale to people in India. The founder was also a student and he totally changed the way I thought about business. The idea that building a profitable business and making a positive social impact doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive was inspiring. Starting a company has also pushed my own personal growth to new levels I never thought possible - strengthening my leadership ability, creative mindset, analytical skill, and communicative power. There’s still a long way to go and I’m excited to keep growing in those areas and many others.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
The legacy I hope to make sure that every major software program has an additional option such as PrintEco. Seeing my idea flourish and live on would be immensely gratifying. I believe that offering everybody the chance to print more responsibly in an easy way would drive massive change and drive the statistics I mentioned earlier down to zero. Whether I can accomplish that with my team or through the help of a larger company, I look forward to making it happen.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
As a founder I have experienced many challenges during the last few years. One of the areas with family life was convincing my parents that going full-time with PrintEco was viable as a “career”. After I graduated college, I had a job offer lined up with a consulting firm. However, at the end of the day, my parents saw that I was serious and passionate so they eventually became extremely supportive of my goals. Socially, I have struggled with trying to find the right balance between making sure I keep work and spending time with friends separate. When work becomes such a pivotal part of your life, it’s a tough thing to do. However, I have been getting much better at this lately. For instance, it was easy for me to start thinking about PrintEco & something I had to do when I was hanging with friends. Mentally, I have become much better at making sure I keep that to a minimum.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
I believe that one of my most important characteristics is my dogged persistence. I relentlessly pursue whatever I put my mind to and at this moment, it is turning the vision of PrintEco into a worldwide phenomenon. Apart from that, I would also say that my willingness to consider a myriad of viewpoints and not completely rule any out. Sometimes we get clouded by our own biases and it’s easy to fall into that trap. Adaptability and flexibility are also strengths. For instance, during the early stages of our company, we were focused on selling our product to enterprise IT groups at large companies. When that endeavor was not the best fit at the time, I switched gears and struck deals with Fortune 1000 brands to monetize our free version. It became very clear toward the end of 2012 that we needed to focus on our free version as it was generating more revenue. At that point, we completely pivoted our go-to-market strategy.
I believe what makes PrintEco a start-up are a few things:
- Fast-paced culture
- Frequent product releases
- Innovative development methods
- Open environment – everybody, including interns, can share opinions without losing sleep.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
The relationship has been a lifesaver. BizSpark has saved us so much money by not having to buy all those licenses for Microsoft Visual Studio, Office, etc. As a cash-strapped start-up, this is a huge benefit. In addition, the support from MSDN’s technical team has been amazing. We couldn’t have resolved some pesky bugs without them.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
I believe that an entrepreneur should turn to Microsoft especially when their product can utilize Microsoft technologies. Microsoft BizSpark provides so much value at no cost! It is definitely something that entrepreneurs from the around the world should take advantage of.