Kinko’s Founder Speaks at MIT Enterprise Forum

Company Started 42 Years Ago in Isla Vista

The founder of one of the most famous South Coast brand names, Kinko’s, described himself February 15 as “an expert at getting out of work.”

Paul Orfalea spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of some 250 people at the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center.

“How did the name ‘Kinko’s’ come about?” Orfalea was asked. As he has replied in the past to that question, Orfalea said, “My nickname was ‘pube head,’” referring to the tiny curls atop his balding pate.

Forty-two years ago, Orfalea founded Kinko’s in Isla Vista after noticing while attending USC that university students and teachers created a huge demand for a 24-hour copying service. His tiny enterprise quickly went from a $6 million firm to a $60 million company.

In 2004, FedEx bought Kinko’s for $2.4 billion, but in 2008 changed the name of its stores from FedEx Kinko’s to FedEx Office. Orfalea, 64, has said that was upsetting to him.

However, Orfalea told the crowd he never saw himself as a gifted entrepreneur.

“I never gave myself much responsibility,” he said. “I didn’t have the temperament to work hard.” These days, Orfalea is heavily involved in philanthropy, but he downplays himself as a businessman’s role model.

“I hated phone calls,” he said. “I didn’t believe in the open door (policy).” Orfalea said, “I managed the culture (of Kinko’s). I didn’t manage the people.”

Running Kinko’s had a lot to do with his desire to enjoy what he was doing, Orfalea said. “My father told me the mundane is a cancer,” he said.

Orfalea said after starting in Isla Vista, he opened a downtown Santa Barbara a store because he could see other customers wanted the array of services he made available.

“I always had an exit strategy: Sell,” he said. “I hate to read, so why would I want a Xerox copy?”

Kinko’s grew from a single shop to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees.


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