Growing Up with a Start-Up

In the summer of 1970, a college senior named Paul Orfalea opened a store near the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus. He called it “Kinko’s” after his own nickname, and, with his partners, he sold college school supplies and around-the-clock copying services for students. After twenty-five years, Kinko’s had grown to 1,200 stores and 23,000 employees, and Orfalea privately and lucratively sold it to FedEx.

Over the many years that Orfalea ran his start-up, his business became amazingly profitable, but also imposed enormous stress on him and his founding partners and coworkers. As he put it, “I don’t hide the fact that I have a problem with anger.” Since selling the company, Orfalea has spent many years mending relationships with those who worked most closely with him while he was building it.

What contributed to the tensions Orfalea felt while managing this burgeoning enterprise? Long hours, of course, but also the need he felt to sustain his initial success, to make each year more profitable than the last. Entrepreneurs often believe they are only as successful as their last quarter’s profit and are driven to exceed it. Orfalea also felt that he alone was equipped to call others to account and veto what he felt were bad business ideas. Anger became a chief enemy he battled.

“In my mid- to late-forties,” he said, “I struggled increasingly to manage my own emotional nature. Sometimes I felt I’d created a monster. The monster wasn’t Kinko’s, it was me.” Orfalea acknowledged the anger and resentment that he often felt toward other longtime staff at the company, which overpowered the respect that he knew he owed them. Consequently, he directed comments and actions at his colleagues that he has spent many subsequent years attempting to redress. All in all, he has labored diligently to repair friendships that he admits were frayed by his behavior alone.

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