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Printing no matter where you are

A new start-up is trying to beat quick-copy shops at their own game by combining Internet printing and overnight delivery.

By AMEET SACHDEV

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2000


Todd Mezrah, chief executive of a Tampa life insurance company, was hunched over his laptop in his hotel room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles last month, working on a presentation he needed the next morning.

He finished at 6 p.m., long after his office in Tampa had closed. Instead of storing the 35-page color document on a floppy disk and sprinting to the nearest quick-copy shop, he just clicked the "print" button on his screen.

At 9 a.m. the next day, Mezrah had 30 copies of the presentation, each bound and sporting a clear cover, delivered to him by FedEx. How did he pull that off?

The document was sent over the Internet to a copy center in Memphis, Tenn., run by start-up Mimeo.com. After it was printed and bound, workers took the package to the FedEx hub next door.

Sounds simple, but Mezrah admits he had his fingers crossed. "This is my livelihood," he said. After he found the pages in the right order and the charts and graphs in place and in the right colors, he became a convert to the online printing service. "I didn't miss a beat," said Mezrah, who's been testing Mimeo.com for about a month. "One client even asked what kind of color laser printer I had in my office."

With the Internet revolutionizing business-to-business commerce, it was only a matter of time before printing went online. Jeff Stewart, co-founder and chief executive of Mimeo.com of New York, said his Web site saves businesses time and offers convenience to road warriors. "For anyone who has ever had to travel to a copy shop or wait in front of a copy machine, their lives just got easier," he said.

Stewart, a 30-year-old former Web consultant, thought of the idea while enduring a frustrating wait at a copy shop in San Francisco at 2 a.m. His business plan attracted former Danka Business Systems PLC executive Charles Resnick of Tampa. Resnick invested in the company and used his contacts in the copier industry to help Mimeo.com attract other investors, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.

"We needed credibility in the print area," said Resnick, who serves as the start-up's "chief mentoring officer," a touchy-feely way of describing his role finding strategic partners and customers.

Even with the backing of a superheavyweight such as H-P, Mimeo.com faces an uphill climb. Customers fret about sending business-critical documents to a third party over the Internet, which still is battling security issues.

Moreover, quick-copy companies, such as Kinko's Inc., will be copying Mimeo.com's idea soon. Right now, Kinko's branches accept electronic files. But customers can't be sure what the final product will look like.

Mimeo.com solved that problem by developing software, which can be downloaded for free from its Web site, that allows customers to view the document on their computers as it will be printed before sending it over the Internet. Mimeo.com's customers also can choose paper quality and options for binding online.

Kinko's will roll out its software this year. And the company said it gives customers the added benefit of going to a nearby branch if there is a problem. Mimeo.com has only the 140,000-square-foot print center in Memphis.

"It's a typical problem pure online providers have," said Scott Doughman, Kinko's director of Internet product marketing. "We marry the click and the brick."

Mimeo.com is aiming its service beyond the small-business customers of Kinko's. Resnick said the Web site will support in-house copy centers at large corporations. Corporate copy centers typically are not open after business hours; Mimeo.com accepts orders as late as 10 p.m. ET for next-day delivery to accommodate business travelers. The company is trying to push the deadline to midnight.

Its prices also are competitive with places such as Kinko's. For example, a color print costs $1 per page. And freight costs are reduced because of the proximity to the FedEx hub.

The partnership with H-P will open doors to Fortune 1000 companies. The relationship extends beyond a cash investment. H-P has a seat on Mimeo.com's board of directors, and its printers are used in every order.

H-P's involvement is part of its new mission to work in innovative ways with other companies to create Web services. Carly Fiorina, H-P's new chief executive, even created an e-services.solutions group that cuts across the company's operating units.

"Increasingly our customers need virtual services to work whenever, wherever," said Kriss Kirchhoff, H-P's general manager of digital workplace services.

That describes Mezrah, the 35-year-old life insurance executive. With only 12 employees, he's looking for any timesaving measure.

"My staff doesn't have to spend time copying and binding." he said. "That's a cost savings that can't be measured."

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