When it comes to running a small business, it’s about managing the culture, not the people, according to Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea.
Orfalea shared his experiences managing a startup company with about 250 people Wednesday night during the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast’s “Effective Startup Management” event at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion.
Kinko’s began in a 100-square-foot room behind a burger shack in Isla Vista. Orfalea said he had one copy machine that couldn’t fit in the space, so he had to roll out the machine to the sidewalk when someone wanted to make a 2.5-cent copy. He sold pens and pencils out of his backpack.
The entrepreneur admitted that when he started the company he found out his weaknesses rather quickly, so he hired people who complemented his strengths, then stepped out of their way and let them do what they do well.
“It’s not as complicated as you think it’s going to be,” Orfalea said. “People will figure out what to do. Remember to keep it simple.”
Jason Womack, an executive life coach and author of Your Best Just Got Better; entrepreneur Kathy O’Dell; and Sprigeo founder Joe Bruzzese participated in a question-and-answer panel after Orfalea’s keynote interview. Forum director Jacques Habra moderated the event.
Kinkos, named after Orfalea’s college nickname attributed to his curly hair, started with $5,000. His company grew to 80 locations in 10 years, and in 25 years his company expanded to 1,100 locations that employed more than 25,000 workers in nine countries.
“One of the most interesting things he said was everyone is so focused on defining success by the money they make and their impact on the world, but it comes down to shaking someone’s hand and doing what you say you are going to do,” Habra said.
Orfalea advised small-business owners to know their accounting and finances, building a business around relationships and understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Habra said it’s also important to be flexible.
“You have to understand that you will probably pivot two or three times in a year,” he said. “You need to make a revision on your vision. And some founders, as Kathy and Jason pointed out, are resistant to changing their vision, but the metrics are clear that if you change your vision you will be successful.”
O’Dell said that while the idea, the plan and market valuation are important, ultimately people will invest in the founder and his or her story.
According to Womack, it’s not about how much time or money the founder has, it’s about what he or she focuses on.
“The cumulative impact of what people produce is based on what they focus on,” he said. “What they decide to focus on or ignore, those will be the qualifications of what they will ultimately wind up building.”
The next MIT Forum, “Incubators: Your Workplace … Matters!,” will be held at 5 p.m. March 21 at the Catalyst Business & Technology Center, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, Suite 210, in Santa Barbara.