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An Interview with the Kotu Printing Team

As a company that focuses on sustainable printing practices and printing technology, we are always on the lookout for new and inventive ways in which someone incorporates these values into their life or business. We recently came across an amazing start-up company based out of Los Angeles, CA that is using remanufactured ink for print jobs that they complete for their users. The company, called Kotu Printing, was founded just two months ago—yes, that’s really two—and the serve the UCLA campus and a small radius beyond. What is most interesting about the company very much in its infancy is that it was co-founded by four undergraduate students, the oldest of whom is 21. All signs indicate they have caught fire and are rapidly becoming a key component in the lives of the students at UCLA. The interview was conducted via email and our questions with the team’s answers appear below:

1) When was Kotu founded and why? How long has it been up and running?
Terrell Gray founded Kotu in October of 2015 because of the huge gap between current printing leaders and its customers. Kotu is much more affordable and convenient with a focus on ease of use for the customer. Ideally, with Kotu there is no need to own a home printer to avoid the costs and time costs of owning one.

2) Who are each of the key employees and their academic backgrounds? What roles do they play in Kotu?
Terrell Gray (TG) 18 Co-Founder CEO - Philosophy UCLA '17 (currently second year, plans to graduate next fall quarter)
Sonny Desai (SD) 20 Co-Founder CFO - Economics UCLA '17
Steve O'Dell (SO) 21 Co-Founder COO- History UCLA '16
Luke Chui (LC) 19 Co-Founder CTO - Computer Science UCLA '18

3) What is the reasoning behind using recycled paper and remanufactured ink?
TG: Printing is a huge environmental impact. Annually, America uses about 80 billion pounds of copy paper. Kotu wants to do it's part to help make sure the waste left behind from that is as least damaging as possible. We use Remanufactured ink to further push this cause. The plastic waste of throwing away cartridges can be a great toll on the environment. By using refillable or remanufactured cartridges we reduce our plastic waste to leave behind a green footprint.

4) What types of printers (inkjet or laser) are you using to fulfill your orders? How many do you currently use?
SO: Right now we are using Brother MFC-J470DW printers, these things get a lot out of the cartridges we use. They have the ability to function on high-yield mode which gives us about 100+ pages out of our cartridges. Ink Save mode also helps us margin in a decent amount of extra pages. We give one of these printers to each of our hired deliverers.

5) Can you talk a little bit about your process from how an order gets placed through to when its delivered?
SO: When an order is delivered a notice goes out to one of our deliverers. They print it out, they deliver it, thats it. Whatever specifications the user asks for thats what Kotu does.

6) What options can a customer choose from besides color vs. black and white? Are there any limits on the file types you currently print?
LC: There are no limits on file type. Right now our features are limited, but we plan to soon offer various options as to what paper type, size, color, and even binding options a user wants for their delivery.

7) It says on your site "Delivery to wherever you'd like". Do you have any geographic limits on your delivery area?
We currently serve the UCLA campus and about 5 miles outward with plans of expanding early in 2016.

8) Some people would balk at the idea of using remanufactured ink in OEM printers. Have you experienced or noticed any issues by opting for the lower cost alternative (compared to OEM ink)?
SD: Our purpose for using non-OEM and refillable cartridges is not to save cost on our end. Leaving a low environmental footprint is the main reason behind this, so we do take quality into account when buying non-OEM and refillable cartridges. Not to mention the printer doesn't run into most problems with non-OEM cartridges like left over ink. Brother makes a good product that really helps us get the most out of our ink usage.

9) What are your plans for next 1, 3, and 5 years? Is crowdfunding something you are looking into? If so, what are the types of things you would be looking to obtain?
1 year from now we want Kotu to be operating at 100% with a refined product across multiple locations and platforms.

3 years from now we want the household printer to be done with its run, and for the daily user to be printing through Kotu.

5 years from now we hope to have a relationship with everyday print users and enterprise printing that helps paper catch up to the technology around it.

10) Without giving away any "trade secrets", what advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs looking to start some type of business? What skills are necessary? What might be one (or more) things that someone might not be aware of?
TG: Someone once asked me what are the odds of Kotu succeeding. My response to them was that this isn't the right question. To be an Entrepreneur and start something of your own is all about believing in your ability. The great team of founders we have at Kotu are people who truly believe in their ability. To us failure is not something that happens to people, its something people let happen. So for us the question has never been how likely is it that Kotu succeeds, yet how it succeeds and at what scale.

SO: Learning by doing is a big thing for us. If you want to start a business and tell yourself you don't know how, you might as well give up. If you want to spend years in school doing case studies that might give you a hint as to how thats up to you. Here at Kotu we have a group of founders that is learning by doing, and that is a whole new game. The stakes are higher and the rewards are much larger, I'd even say we learn more from doing it ourselves. Do it or don't, its amazing how many things are that simple.

SD: Managing the books of a startup can be hard. Lots of money comes in and out in such a quick time. If you don't stay on top of things you could easily find yourself steering into the red. People underestimate the importance of making sure their startup is in the green. It shows investors responsible use of funding which is key to attracting new funding.

Startup tech teams can be a lot of work. There’s nights that are just me and a few other guys cranking out product. Nothing is better than seeing it finished and running for a user, though. Especially when everything works the way you want it to.