Getting a Taste of Mimeo’s Secret Sauce
I consider Mimeo to be one of the most interesting companies in our industry because of how successfully the company has executed its business model. Not only does it hit the sweet spot of where the growth and money is in our industry, it also speaks directly to the reality of how print is changing.
Mimeo brands itself as a “technology company that prints” and has uniquely been doing so since 1998. As an innovator of online digital printing services, the company set out on the mission to power the world of print. I think everyone can learn a thing or two from what Mimeo is doing, so it’s a pleasure to welcome Chuck Gehman, vice president of Product Platforms at Mimeo, to my blog.
Nick: When Mimeo started in 1998, it was a very early online printing company. Looking back on that original vision, what do you think are the biggest differences or surprises compared to where the company is today?
Chuck: In today’s startup world, where companies often change their business models, or “pivoting” to find success, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Mimeo is still executing something really close to our original vision. And we’re still innovating. We’re a 14-year-old startup company in many ways, albeit one with hundreds of employees and three major factories!
Nick: The level of workflow automation that makes Mimeo possible is driven by the company’s own proprietary system. Do you think it would have been possible to achieve the same results if Mimeo had instead entirely purchased from a workflow solution provider?
Chuck: It would not have been possible back in 1998 when Mimeo was founded. You simply could not buy any off the shelf Web-to-print solution, nor had anyone conceived of some of the things we do on the backend. Print production workflow had not anticipated what we are doing. Our CTO David Uyttendaele went out and bought a Xerox Docutech and connected it to a website he and the team built, and that was only the beginning.
The company invented several new ways of doing things, earned several patents, and continued to build since then. Things like JDF (Job Definition Format) didn’t exist, but Mimeo created something similar we call DocXML. Now we do use JDF in our system, too, and incorporate technologies from other developers and industry companies as appropriate.
I have never seen anyone else, whether it be a printing company, or a solution provider, that has technology that resembles our ADAP (Adaptive Document Assembly Process), which is used to automate the flow of work and makes it possible for us to meet customer requests like, “Can I order 400 books at 10 p.m. Eastern and have them delivered to Chicago by 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning?” Managing that kind of request across thousands of orders per day is when it starts to get exciting!
The software is really important, but another big part of our special sauce is really effective processes involving people. While theoretically anyone can do this, it’s amazing how few printing companies actually do. The idea of streamlining before you automate is something I’ve always believed in, and Mimeo is a great example of that Mantra. The combination of the hardware and software results in a super-efficient production operation.
Nick: When looking at the transformation of how content is being distributed through a wide pallet of cross-media services, what is Mimeos stance on expanding outside of offering print services to satisfy clients’ needs?
Chuck: Mimeo is really at the crossroads of a lot of what is going on today. We aren’t ashamed to say we’re a printer by any means, but as you mentioned in your intro, we are a technology company that prints, so we see very clearly the value of digital content and where it’s going. For the most part today, we are capitalizing on applications where print is not going to go away any time soon, but its use has evolved. We have a somewhat unique perspective because the industry has been in decline since we’ve been in business, yet we’ve grown dramatically.
Nick: For a commercial printer looking to add Web-to-print services, what have you found to be some of the biggest obstacles to achieving success?
Chuck: Less so than technology, it’s about having an accurate view of your market and where you fit in it. You’ve really got to do your homework. Look at what other people are doing on the Web, really closely. And look at it with the perspective of what you know about your own customers.
You’ll have to be very objective, because if your customers aren’t doing business with you online yet, you may tempted to assume they don’t want to. Remember that print is unlikely to be as top of mind to them as it is to you. Everyone is buying things on the Web; it makes life easier as a consumer, so of course they would want to buy from you online—if you have the right products and make ordering print as easy as ordering a book from Amazon. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to just pop up a website and they’ll start ordering.
You have to understand that you don’t just go subscribe to a Web-to-print service, and put some products up for customers to order, and you are done. It’s an ongoing investment. Selling print on the Web is an iterative exercise. You will need to constantly change and improve your offerings, and learn. You may need to use more than one software solution, depending on what your customers need. They key is to get started, because there is that learning curve to acquiring the expertise to succeed.
Nick: I understand the company has opened up facilities recently in Europe. What are some differences or similarities from the United States when it comes to both the consumers and market demand for online document printing?
Chuck: In March 2012, we opened up a brand new, state-of-the-art Mimeo facility in Huntingdon, UK, which is near Cambridge. Our sense is that this is much more of a new thing in the U.K. and Europe than it is here, and we’re happy to be a pioneer that will help shape the market.
Before opening Mimeo Europe, we were already shipping about 15 percent of our volume overseas. We expect growth, and having a local presence will improve our sales. Certainly there are differences in shapes and sizes of documents, bindings, paper stocks, etc., but we’re finding in many ways a similar demographic profile of customers gravitates to the products and services we offer. There are also new business and product opportunities, and already some unique products and services offered in Europe and the U.K. that we will bring here.
Nick: In the long term, how sustainable to the business model do you feel printing solely with digital printing equipment is? As you continuously offer new print applications, I would imagine eventually new technologies will need to come into play.
Chuck: This is a fun question, because these days it’s usually an exclusively offset printer coming to the realization that they won’t be able to continue without having digital printing equipment.
There are certainly many Web-to-print providers these days using offset capacity, batching and ganging work, to maximize the throughput and cost benefits of that equipment. And there is still a lot of higher-run-length work out there, where the economics dictate it be produced on offset gear.
Estimates vary, but at the recent GRAPHEXPO 2012 show, I heard digital is still only around 4 percent of the global print market, but is also still growing very rapidly. I don’t think Mimeo will be going out any time soon to buy an offset press, but I would hesitate to say “never.”
Having said that, though, there continue to be dramatic speed, size and productivity enhancements to digital presses, as well as new presses coming on the market, that are expanding the reach of digital into new applications and markets. The economics of digital continue to become more favorable.
Thank you, Chuck, for sharing your insight and taking the time to be part of my blog.