paul orfalea

Are you on your business or in it?

Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s (that super famous copy center that became FedEx Office) had many great sayings and this was one of them: Are you on your business or in it?

The idea of on/in makes sense for everything in life as it makes sense for everything in business. Being “on” your business means you are developing relationships, planning for the future, opening your eyes to what your competitors are doing better then you, brainstorming the next great feature/function/product/event/service that your business will engage in. Being “in” your business means you are running the cash registers, it means you are talking with your employees about minutia, worrying over the smallest detials, basically losing yourself in the day to day of business.

There’s definitely a need for the balance but being “on” the business gives you some perspective on where things are going. This relates so much to life as well.. how often do you step back and look at your life objectively and think about your goals, your ambitions, your deepest desires without getting caught up in the day to day. 

Stop getting caught up in the day to day, take a step back at look at the beauty that is your business and your life. We don’t have long on this earth so it’s best to take a look from a different lens every once and a while.

When you are getting caught up in minutia and you get frustrated, ask you self if you are being on your business or in it? Maintain the balance.

I called it Kinko’s because of my nickname — because I had this really kinky hair. If you think about it, the first thing a baby learns is ‘Googoo, gaga,’ and if you think of good businesses like Kodak, Xerox, Google, people remember consonants — which was why Kinko’s was a good name. But really I had this big head of curly hair and before being called ‘Kinko’ I was ‘Pube Head.’ So I thought Kinko’s was better than Pubo’s.
—  Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s, in The One Percent
Persist No Matter What

The following is from “The Best Way Out is Always Through–The Power of Perseverance” by BJ Gallagher

“My learning disability gave me certain advantages, because I was able to live in the moment and capitalize on opportunities I spotted.”–Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s

“Kinko” they nicknamed him as a kid, referring to his head of wild, curly, red hair. But teasing about his kinky hair was the least of his problems. Paul Orfalea struggled with severe dyslexia and ADHD–flunking second grade twice, graduated from high school at the bottom of his class, and eked through college with a “C” average. He had a hard time sitting still, and could barely read or write. No one ever voted him “most likely to succeed.”

Paul applied for jobs and managed to get hired twice–but neither job lasted longer than a day. It was clear he wasn’t cut out for traditional employment in a 9 to 5 world. He knew he was different and that somehow he’d have to find his own way in the world.

In 1970, living in a small college town near Santa Barbara, California, Paul noticed that there were always long lines at the copy machines. “Too many students and not enough copiers,” he thought to himself. So he borrowed $5000 and opened his own copier business in a tiny little 9×12 foot storefront close to campus. His space was so small that he had to move the copy machine out to the sidewalk to use it. He hawked pens and pencils from his backpack as he stood outside drumming up business.

People told him Paul was crazy, but he’d been hearing that his whole life so he just ignored them. He knew his idea was a good one–he had the determination, energy, and persistence to pursue it despite what anyone said.

He worked long and hard, and within a year, he had made enough money to expand. Ten years later, there were 80 Kinko’s stores in college towns all around the country. And in another ten years (1990) that number expanded exponentially to 420 stores–and doubled in another seven years to 840 stores!

This curly-headed kid with severe learning disabilities had built himself a hugely successful business simply by seeing a need and filling it. He understood his limitations, so he hired great people to do all the things he couldn’t. He was the idea man–he hired others to execute his plans.

Paul Orfalea went on to establish the Orfalea Family Foundation to support causes he’s passionate about, and in 2005 coauthored a successful book to share his story and inspire others with learning disabilities (Copy This! Lessons from a hyperactive dyslexic who turned a bright idea into one of America’s best companies).

Finally, in 2004, Paul sold Kinko’s to FedEx for $2.4 billion. Not bad for a guy who can’t read or write very well.